STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This day is opening day for many New Orleans schools. It's an especially big day for students who live in Broadmoor, a neighborhood determined to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Many Broadmoor children will be attending a local school for the first time in two years.
But as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, the reopening of Andrew Wilson Elementary is bittersweet.
(Soundbite of footfalls)
LARRY ABRAMSON: Walking around some parts of New Orleans is like an archeological tour of an ancient civilization. Last spring, Broadmoor resident Latoya Cantrell showed me around what would be the coliseum of this neighborhood - the derelict building that used to house Andrew Wilson Elementary.
Ms. LATOYA CANTRELL (Resident, Broadmoor, New Orleans): So this was the cafeteria here, and then along the bottom levels, we had K through first grade.
ABRAMSON: Back then, Cantrell was mad that the building had sat moldering since the flood. But she was confident that with her take-no-prisoners style, she could single-handedly persuade the state to renovate the school. Cantrell had already helped bring two-thirds of Broadmoor residents back to a neighborhood that the city was ready to bulldoze. But when I spoke to her a couple of weeks ago, she admitted she's failed to get the school rehabbed, and may even have to turn to the private sector.
Ms. CANTRELL: And this community cannot, cannot lose our public school. Once it's gone, it's gone. So if we're not selected, then we move forward with raising those dollars necessary to renovate.
ABRAMSON: The community was convinced they could not revive Broadmoor without a school, so they decided to jumpstart a charter school in another building just two miles away. And that effort has been a success.
(Soundbite of a drill)
ABRAMSON: Workmen are putting together desks, and painters are putting the finishing touches on the Wilson Charter School.
Ms. CONNIE YEATON (President, Broadmoor Charter School Board): This feels wonderful. It's like a dream come true.
ABRAMSON: Connie Yeaton is president of the Broadmoor Charter School Board. She's legally blind and she uses a cane, but she's here to make sure the school is clean and painted in time for opening day.
Ms. YEATON: I know the (unintelligible), they come in now, they say it's so clean. I said, no, it's not, but it's going to be there.
ABRAMSON: Are you going to be here on the opening day?
Ms. YEATON: Am I going to be here? Yes. And I hope those school board's here with us. And I know we're going to have a lot of exciting moments in there.
ABRAMSON: The temporary home for the Wilson Charter is the old McDonough 7 Elementary School, a grand 130-year-old building. It looks more like a church than a school, comfortably surrounded by the homes of this quiet neighborhood off Napoleon Avenue. A former New Orleans principal and local resident has come out of retirement to lead this school, and she loves her new digs.
Ms. SHEILA THOMAS (Principal, Wilson Charter School): With the beautiful high ceilings and brand new furniture, as you see, it's being put together and…
ABRAMSON: Before Katrina, Sheila Thomas was an educator in New Orleans for 35 years. Wilson will be run as a charter school under the direction of for-profit Edison Schools. But Sheila Thomas says she feels just like any other school principal now.
Ms. THOMAS: Because the fact of the matter is, whether we're an Orleans Parish public school, a recovery school or a charter school, if all of us don't succeed, then really, none of us succeed.
ABRAMSON: When kids show up on the first morning, they'll find many bright spots, including some pets in the cafeteria.
Mr. THOMAS: The aquarium was brought in by a neighborhood woman who put it together, and whether you would believe this or not, those fish survived Katrina.
ABRAMSON: This school is beginning to feel like home. But for many in Broadmoor, this is still a temporary home - a placeholder - until they can bring back the real Andrew Wilson Elementary.
Larry Abramson, NPR News.
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