Turning Around Low-Performing Schools

Turning Around Low-Performing Schools
Turning Around Low-Performing Schools


AYPF partnered with the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices to provide a field trip to New Orleans for the four states (Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and Mississippi) selected to participate in the 18-month NGA “policy academy,” which provides support and resources as states undergo school turnaround work. Policy leaders from Indiana also joined the trip, as well as participants from NGA’s partner, Mass Insight.  The trip, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, enabled participants to learn about school turnaround initiatives at the state level, and more specifically about the efforts of the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans.

Before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) was operating 128 schools but enrolled only 63,000 students, leaving many of those schools half-empty. As for student performance, OPSD ranked 67th out of the state’s 68 districts. And while Louisiana has a national reputation for the quality of its school accountability system, it ranked 45th among the states on student achievement.

The creation of the RSD predated the hurricane, and had already been charged to intervene in academic systems of the state’s perpetually underperforming schools. The immediate impact of Katrina was to devastate an already troubled district.  In response, the state board of education amended its rules to permit the takeover not only of failing schools but also of failing districts. The RSD was charged with the complete control of all New Orleans schools performing below the state average for three or more years. Until the 2008-2009 school year, the oversight of the RSD was limited to schools in the New Orleans area. Currently 66 schools in Orleans Parish are managed by the RSD.

Under strong leadership from the state superintendent, Paul Pastorek, and the RSD superintendent, Paul Vallas, the RSD has implemented a variety of strategies for improvement, included providing “charter-like” authority and flexibility to school principals, and encouraging principals to foster having high expectations for all children, to implement rigorous curriculum, to make high quality instruction a priority, and develop professional learning communities.  To date, RSD has seen test score gains and other indicators of progress (such as rising attendance and retention) in grades K-8, though high schools are improving more slowly. Securing adequate funding remains an ongoing challenge, too, with enormous amounts of construction and other projects still underway.

During the trip we met with state and district leaders, and these meetings will provide time to delve deeper into the strategies and policies being implemented to turn around low-performing schools. We met with students, teachers, and school leaders to hear about their on-the-ground experiences with reform efforts. Meetings and site visits helped provide context to the invaluable discussions and peer learning opportunities throughout the trip.


Erin Bendily currently serves as Governor Jindal’s policy advisor for education, which includes issues ranging from prekindergarten through postsecondary education. In addition to advising the Governor on policy-related education matters, she also serves as a liaison to the Department of Education, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Board of Regents, and the postsecondary education management boards/systems. Before joining the Governor’s staff, she worked for then Congressman Jindal as Deputy District Director for the first congressional district, overseeing constituent services. In this position she helped citizens resolve issues involving federal agencies, including Social Security, immigration, and hurricane recovery. Prior to joining the Jindal team, she was employed by the Board of Regents in the Sponsored Programs division, where she helped to coordinate federal research grants to colleges and universities. Erin was active in campus, system, and state-level higher education governance as a student leader at Southeastern Louisiana University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in business management. She went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Louisiana State University and is currently a doctoral candidate in LSU’s educational leadership and research program. She and her husband Brad live in Baton Rouge and are the proud parents of a new baby boy, who is just eleven weeks old.

Sarah Morgan Carter is the Development and Communications Director at New Schools for New Orleans.  Carter received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Education from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from Stanford University in June 2007 with a Masters in Education. Her graduate studies focused on Policy, Organization, and Leadership. Morgan’s educational background has enhanced the broader interest she has long held, which is to improve the public education systems in our country. Morgan joined New Schools for New Orleans in June of 2007 as the Development and Communications Director.



Patrick M. Dobard serves as the Deputy Director of Governmental Affairs for the Louisiana Department of Education.  He serves as the main legislative liaison for the Louisiana Department of Education and assists and advises the superintendent on all education policy related matters.   He also serves as the primary contact for district superintendents and school boards around the state and is on the state superintendent’s Senior Leadership Team which is currently working on the existing mission of the department and also working on an academic improvement plan for the state.

A native of New Orleans, Mr. Dobard received his B. A. in Secondary Education with a focus in Social Studies from Southern University in New Orleans and an M.A. in History from Southern University in Baton Rouge.

Before joining the Louisiana Department of Education, Mr. Dobard spent eleven years in the classroom.  As a teacher, Mr. Dobard’s career has taken him to Orleans, Tensas and East Baton Rouge Parishes where he taught Math and Social Studies on the junior high and high school levels.  While at Northdale Magnet Academy in Baton Rouge, Mr. Dobard created the Young Men’s Club pairing male high school students with the Cortana Kiwanis Club to facilitate mentoring opportunities.  After leaving the secondary education arena, Mr. Dobard fed his passion to educate by serving as an adjunct professor of History at Baton Rouge Community College for the past seven years.

Mr. Dobard also spent several years as the Executive Director of the Louis A. Martinet Foundation of Baton Rouge, a non-profit organization of African-American attorneys.  While there, he created and directed the Martinet Mentors Program which linked at-risk elementary school students with professional adults who offered tutoring, shadowing, cultural exposure and community service opportunities.

In 2001, Mr. Dobard joined the Louisiana Department of Education as the Social Studies Program Consultant within the Division of Student Standards and Assessments which implements the state’s nationally recognized accountability system.  As the program consultant, he oversaw the implementation of the Social Studies portion of the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) and Graduation Exit Examination (GEE) program.  Several years later, Mr. Dobard was promoted to Program Officer within that division  and managed the multi-million dollar statewide assessment contract.  Named the Senior Education Consultant for the Office of Student and School Performance with the Louisiana Department of Education in 2005, Mr. Dobard helped manage two divisions, the Division of Student Standards and Assessment and the Division of Educational Improvement and Assistance which oversees Title 1 programs, statewide reading initiatives and special education programs.

In April 2007, Mr. Dobard was selected to serve under Paul Pastorek as his Confidential Assistant.  Since serving under Mr. Pastorek, Mr. Dobard has worked extensively with the New Orleans Recovery School District addressing the human capital needs, coordinating the procurement of goods and services for all the Recovery School District operated and Recovery School District Charter schools.  He has coordinated several community meetings, served as the main contact for the New Orleans legislative delegation as well as the New Orleans City Council.  He has been intimately involved with school facility planning for New Orleans including the Master Plan for School Construction.

Mr. Dobard serves on the Louisiana Commission on Civic Education and is also a member of the Louisiana Serve Commission.

Mr. Dobard has been recognized for his talent and dedication being named “Outstanding Young Educator” by the Baton Rouge Jaycees in 1998 and “Adjunct Faculty of the Year” in 2002 by the Baton Rouge Community College.

Mr. Dobard is married to Nevonda Reed Dobard and together they have a son, Xyan and a daughter Sydne.  Mr. Dobard also has two daughters Kristian and Kali Dobard of Natchez, MS.


Kevin Guitterrez serves as the Chief Academic Officer of the Algiers Charter Schools Association (ACSA), where he supports the implementation of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) as well as other major educational and development initiatives.  The ACSA was founded in October, 2005 and is composed of three high schools and six elementary schools, serving over 5,100 students in New Orleans.  Prior to his current position, he worked for the Louisiana Department of Education’s Distinguished Educator program and was an administrator and teacher in St. Charles Parish Public Schools.

Guitterrez also serves on the Louisiana Department of Education’s Accountability Commission, the Recovery School District’s Alternative and Transitional School Task Force, and the New Orleans United Way School to Career Advisory Committee.  He has also served on the executive board of Project GRAD New Orleans and continues to serve as a school board member for his church parish.  He holds a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of New Orleans and is a doctoral student at Southeastern Louisiana University.  Born and raised in the New Orleans metropolitan area, he is a proud husband and father of two.


Paul Pastorek was appointed Louisiana’s State Superintendent of Education in March 2007 by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). In January 2008, BESE re-appointed Mr. Pastorek to the position.

Mr. Pastorek served on the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from 1996-2004, including the last three years as President of the Board. On his departure from the Board, Louisiana was noted as having the best rated statewide Accountability program in the United States.

For the last 20 years, Mr. Pastorek has been working to improve public education in Louisiana.  He started as a passionate volunteer in a New Orleans inner city junior high school. His experiences led him to study education issues and he began working through the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce to push for improvements.  His work came to the attention of Governor Mike Foster who appointed him to BESE.  After stepping down from the Board in 2004, Mr. Pastorek formed Next Horizon, a non-profit organization that serves as a statewide think tank to connect Louisiana’s leadership – education, government, business and community – as a force supporting school improvement.

Mr. Pastorek is an attorney and was licensed by Louisiana to practice law in 1979.  He joined the law firm of Adams and Reese, then a New Orleans based law firm.  He has been associated with Adams and Reese for over 27 years, first as a litigator, and later a corporate and transactional attorney.

In February 2002, was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as General Counsel to NASA. He served as both the chief legal official for the agency and as a trusted advisor to then NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe. In addition, he served on and led several senior management and leadership committees, including leading the team that developed NASA’s 2004 “transformational” reorganization plan.  For his service at NASA, he received NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal and NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.  After two and half years of service, Mr. Pastorek left NASA to return to Adams and Reese.

Mr. Pastorek is a volunteer in his community; he has served on several boards, participated in many business groups and is the recipient of numerous awards and medals from various organizations and groups. He is married to Kathy Pastorek. They have three grown children, Ryan, Jeffrey and Kaitlin.

Carol Roberts is the Executive Director of Secondary Schools, Recovery School District Department of Academics in New Orleans. She has spent thirty-nine years in public education, and has served as a teacher; assistant principal; Director of Secondary Education and Instructional Technology; and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Recovery Projects.  Having received her degrees at Louisiana State University, she has worked in the Louisiana parishes of East Baton Rouge, Plaquemines, Ascension, and presently serves in the Recovery School District in New Orleans as Executive Director of Secondary Schools.  She is committed to her educational theory of action that increasing teacher quality makes the biggest difference in student learning; she is including that focus on teaching and learning in the exciting high school redesign efforts going on in the Recovery School District.

Debbie Schum is the Deputy Superintendent of Academics, Recovery School District in New Orleans. She earned her Bachelors Degree in Mathematics from Southeastern Louisiana University and a Masters Degree in Curriculum /Supervision and Elementary / Secondary Principalship. She taught Mathematics in both East Baton Rouge Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish for 20 years.  She has also served as a district level curriculum coordinator, staff developer and testing coordinator. She was a secondary school principal for 11 years and she was chosen as the 2003 Louisiana High School Principal of the Year.  She currently serves as the Chief Academic Officer for the Recovery School District in New Orleans and supervises 33 schools and principals at each site. She has implemented change in High Schools using the Johns Hopkins Talent Development Model, LINCS, WFSG (Whole Faculty Study Groups), Small Learning Communities, Data Driven Instruction and flexible schedules. She also served as a member of the High School Redesign Principals Leadership Team and is a trainer for Breaking Ranks II (Strategies for Leading High School Reform). Though she was born in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida she has been a resident of Louisiana for 40 years and Laplace, LA for the past 31 years.  She is married to Galen P. Schum and is the mother of three children and one grandchild.

Don Trahan joined the Louisiana Department of Education as the Director of the Regional Education Service Centers on October 1, 2008. The former Lafayette legislator resigned from his role in the House of Representatives to work full-time for the Department in the area of external affairs. As a former teacher and chair of the House Education Committee, his focus is on strengthening the Department’s relationships with business leaders and public interest groups statewide.

Trahan was elected to the Louisiana Legislature in 2003, representing District 31, which spans from south of Lafayette to Vermillion Parish. His experience in local and state government spans more than three decades, including serving as interim chief administrative officer, director of planning, zoning and codes, and director of community development for the city of Lafayette. Trahan also served as assistant to Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field from 1996 to 2001 and as an aide to the late Cecil Picard in the 1970s.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Trip Resources:

School Visits:


  • This webinar will offer research-based recommendations to improve low-performing schools from the IES Practice Guide, Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools (PDF). The webinar also will showcase resources from the Doing What Works website, illustrating how these recommendations have been carried out successfully.  Presenters include Nikola Filby, Director of WestEd’s Innovation Studies Program; Rebecca Hermann, Principal Research Scientist at the American Institutes for Research; Fred Tempes, Director of the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd; and Jan Phlegar, Director of Learning Innovation.  The webinar also will showcase resources from the Doing What Works website, illustrating how these recommendations have been carried out successfully.


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.