Written by Patricia Hawke for www.schoolsk-12.com

Nearly two years ago, in the fall of 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged her way through New Orleans. Not only were homes, families, businesses, and business owners drastically affected by the storm, so were the students, teachers, staff, and administrators of New Orleans Schools. Prior to the storm, student enrollment in the New Orleans Schools system numbered at approximately 65,000. Presently, fewer than 22,000 students have returned to the area. The devastation wreaked by Katrina was horrific. But if every cloud has a silver lining, for the New Orleans Schools that silver lining is the chance to rebuild the system from the ground up.
Many see the storm’s devastation as a chance to “showcase” what the private sector can do to help facilitate urban school reform in New Orleans Schools. Private groups are helping to finance charter schools and are also supporting non-profit groups that are working hard to recruit teachers and principals. A recent study performed to evaluate the New Orleans Schools two-district system reported three major flaws: 
1. Student access to quality neighborhood schools is inadequate; many students either do not have access to bus transportation to New Orleans Schools that are open, or do not have a neighborhood school to attend.
2. A severe teacher shortage is affecting quality classroom instruction; virtually all pre-Katrina teachers were fired, and the New Orleans Schools need to hire an estimated 400 - 700 teachers in time for the fall semester.
3. The balkanized school system is a nightmare; the “two-district” system consists of a “maze of state, parish, and charter-operated schools with separate processes for applying and registering with different rules and regulations.  … [It’s] a bureaucratic nightmare that shouldn’t be copied elsewhere,” said United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) president, Brenda Mitchell.  (The UTNO are calling for legislative fixes during the upcoming special or regular legislative sessions).
Unfortunately, while the nation’s eye turns to the state of New Orleans Schools only after Hurricane Katrina hit, many of its problems have existed for years. New Orleans Schools were known for low achievement, crumbling infrastructure, and rampant corruption. 
While all inner-city schools face challenges, the universal issue is poverty. Whether in New Orleans Schools or Chicago Schools, studies show that a child who comes from a low-income household faces far greater challenges than a child in even a low middle class situation. Now teachers in New Orleans Schools must also deal with the traumatizing “post-shock” experiences their children face. Counselors in the New Orleans Schools relate understandable stories of children coping with stress and fear. Perhaps the spotlight that Katrina has shone on the New Orleans Schools will provide some of the funding and incentives needed to help leaders address both old problems and new.