Parents Pleased with New Orleans Charter School

Most public schools in New Orleans were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Many of the schools that have sprung back to life after the storm are now charter schools. Parents with children at one charter school say it is an improvement over their pre-Katrina schools.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

NPR's Larry Abramson has been reporting on the rebirth of schools in New Orleans for a series this week on MORNING EDITION. It's a school system that was destroyed both by Katrina and by years of neglect. In one new charter school, Larry spoke with some parents about how their expectations and their hopes have changed since the storm. Here's a look inside his Reporters Notebook.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Parents usually have a pretty good idea about whether their kid's school is working. But they see things through their own prism. That was clear when I gathered two moms and a dad in the cafeteria of the KIPP Believe College Prep School, a new charter school in New Orleans. They had been through varying degrees of hell since the storm. The dad, Edward Wilkes, says his extended family had lost a total of six houses among them. So he was pretty pleased to have his son Tyrone at a functioning school. His memories of the old Orleans school system, pre-Katrina, were completely negative, and one thing stood out in his mind.

Mr. EDWARD WILKES (Parent): They didn't have any bleach to clean the bathrooms with. When you walk in the door and there's just - urine is the first thing you smell. And it's like, wow, you know, the kids will have to learn in this. You know, you're in there sweating bricks; it smells like urine, they've got flies. And like I say, it was upsetting.

ABRAMSON: The bathrooms here at KIPP Believe are nothing special, but they're clean. Wilkes says he also thinks Tyrone is getting help with his dyslexia. But of course he can't really be sure of that, not until his son has taken tests and shown some real progress in reading. That will take time, a lot of time. For now, the bathrooms stand out, and something else. Tiffany Munier(ph) says she's pleased that her son Dante is being taught by young, energetic teachers.

Ms. TIFFANY MUNIER (Parent): You don't worry about the experience or how many years of teaching. You look what's inside of that person, if they're there for the reason. Like I mentioned before, if somebody has the heart to teach your child, they're going to put all of their effort into it.

ABRAMSON: A lot of people do worry about experience. Teachers in most school districts get paid according to their years in service. There is also research showing that the least experienced teachers get placed at schools with lots of poor minority kids. KIPP Believe is 100 percent African American. Most kids are low income. These teachers may not be equipped to deal with the behavior and learning problems these kids have. But how can you argue with parents whose minds are put at ease by the fact that the teachers at this school care about the kids or that the bathrooms are clean?

SIMON: NPR's Larry Abramson following up on his series this week on the fall and the rise of New Orleans schools.

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