For One New Orleans School, an Uncertain Future An elementary school in the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans sits empty while residents and community leaders decide whether or when it will reopen.
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For One New Orleans School, an Uncertain Future

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For One New Orleans School, an Uncertain Future

For One New Orleans School, an Uncertain Future

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Andrea Seabrook.

In New Orleans today, there are areas just as desolate and dark as they were right after Katrina swept through. But street by street, other parts of the city are coming back to life.

NPR's Larry Abramson reports on the return of the Broadmoor neighborhood where residents say they're still missing one key institution - a local school.

LARRY ABRAMSON: In a stately pink stucco building in Broadmoor, there's a classroom that remains almost untouched since the day Hurricane Katrina hit. Local activist LaToya Cantrell has helped preserve a teacher's message on the blackboard.

Ms. LaTOYA CANTRELL (President, Broadmoor Improvement Association): She says, today is Monday, August 29, 2005. The weather is partly sunny. Today my behavior will improve, and I will listen and obey my teachers, and every adult I become in contact with. I want to be caught being good.

ABRAMSON: The perfect teacherly handwriting on the blackboard looks like it was written yesterday, but Classroom 306 hasn't seen a student since the storm. Andrew Wilson Elementary - once a centerpiece of this community - sits abandoned, but rooms like this one are in good shape.

Ms. CANTRELL: They were studying hurricanes and...

ABRAMSON: Oh, wow, they were studying hurricanes. That's bizarre.

Ms. D. Young was teaching her students about hurricanes before a very big one put this school and this city out of business. Posters of Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks hang on the walls. In the cloakrooms that were once common in schools, hooks still await the jackets of little kids.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

ABRAMSON: Downstairs, the first floor has been gutted. Volunteers from the neighborhood got tired of waiting for an official response, so they ripped out the soggy drywall earlier this year. Cantrell says they were trying to stem the damage that's occurred since the storm.

Ms. CANTRELL: The building has not been secured since the storm. Still wide open, we're still having vandals come in and take whatever copper, plumbing and wiring that's left in the building.

(Soundbite of birds)

ABRAMSON: Outside, a little marquee sign stands in the front yard - the letters are falling off but you can still see the message, welcoming students back to school for the 2005-2006 school year. Right now, kids from Broadmoor are scattered throughout the city. In September, they will have the chance to go to a local school.

The Broadmoor Improvement Association has permission to run a charter school. Edison Schools, a for-profit organization, will run the facility and is recruiting teachers, but they will be bused to a renovated school a couple of miles away. Cantrell says students should go to school right here in this building.

Ms. CANTRELL: This school has to be under active renovation by September of '07. We do not want to send our children and our families outside of this community for educational purposes and not allow them to see progress within their own community.

ABRAMSON: Cantrell blames officials from the state-run Recovery School District for letting this building fall into disrepair. But the truth is, there are lots of buildings in New Orleans that once served noble functions and now sit moldering. Some old schools have been brought to life. Robin Jarvis, outgoing superintendent of the Recovery School District, is sympathetic to local concerns.

Ms. ROBIN JARVIS (Superintendent, Recovery School District): Yes, I definitely understand, and I will tell you that every community in New Orleans feels that way. We are going to have some funding available for new schools, and there are some of those older facilities - and we don't know which ones at this point -that may eventually be replaced. And so you need to have a long-term plan before you just move forward with every single school.

ABRAMSON: LaToya Cantrell is determined - some might say hell-bent - on reopening the school. And that's because she thinks that Broadmoor's resurrection depends on this school.

Ms. CANTRELL: How are you doing, ma'am. I'm LaToya Cantrell, president of Broadmoor.

ABRAMSON: Actually, Cantrell is the president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association. But she might as well be queen of this working-class neighborhood. As we walk by one lovely, old stucco home, residents sitting on their porch jump up when they see LaToya with a reporter.

Ms. CANTRELL: Yes, ma'am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ABRAMSON: They actually start to weep in gratitude for the work she's done to save this area from the bulldozer.

Unidentified Woman #1: Well, we appreciate you because you have played a major role in us helping this neighborhood come back, all of us.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yes, ma'am.


Unidentified Woman #3: You're all doing a wonderful job. Fantastic.

Ms. CANTRELL: Oh, thank you, ma'am.

ABRAMSON: Cantrell says, when planners surveyed the area after the storm, their recommendation was give it up, turn it into green space. Cantrell and her neighbors beat back that decision. Now the neighborhood is buzzing with activity. Using a combination of elbow grease and political savvy, they have cleaned up Broadmoor - but the work is never ending.

(Soundbite of motor engine)

Ms. CANTRELL: And someone dumped that trash there yesterday and we just cleaned, you know, planted new trees on the neutral ground as I showed you those green areas. That's one of them.

ABRAMSON: The people in that first home we passed have moved back in. Others are camping in trailers, working on their homes when they can. For many, it is an enormous struggle that may never pay off.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Mr. MARCUS BLANCO (Resident, New Orleans): I'm doing all right.

ABRAMSON: Marcus Blanco is clearly not doing all right. The floodwaters lifted his house off its foundation. So despite all the work he's done on the roof and the interior, he can't move in. He's been living in Jackson, Mississippi, and he desperately wants to come home.

Mr. BLANCO: It took my daughter over a year to come back and see this property. She's 13 and...

ABRAMSON: She was too afraid?

Ms. CANTRELL: Just the emotion or the trauma.

Mr. BLANCO: All - everything - the trauma, you know?

You get rooted away from this area. You get put into a school system where it's totally different and so on.

(Soundbite of videogame)

Mr. DWAYNE PARKER (Truck Driver): Okay, this is the boys' room. They're in there playing their videogames.

ABRAMSON: Dwayne Parker, a truck driver, lives just a few houses away from the school with his four kids and wife, Nancy Parker, a New Orleans policewoman. The doormat from the previous owner still welcomes visitors to this Catholic home with a Shalom greeting - another sign of the diversity this area has fostered. Nancy says she looks forward to spending a lot of time at the local school if it reopens.

Ms. NANCY PARKER (Policewoman): And with us being so close to Wilson, I may be on the payroll.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PARKER: I mean, hey, I mean, that's my kids. I love my kids. I want to support them. And their education is important to me. And it's going to be important to them, so I have to make sure that they get it and I want to do everything that I can to try to make Wilson work.

Mr. PARKER: Anything's worth a try. Instead of what we're doing now, and instead of the school just sitting there and just getting - just going to the kaputs, you know, as it's just sitting there.

ABRAMSON: All four kids are going to a parochial school right now. Nancy and Dwayne say they plan to enroll them in the local school in the fall and hope it will eventually move to Wilson Elementary.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

SEABROOK: More on bringing back New Orleans' schools at

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