Reinventing America’s Schools

Towana Pierre-Floyd

Founder & School Leader, KIPP Renaissance Early College Academy New Orleans

I'm a product of the New Orleans Public School system, a very proud product. I know that sometimes the story we tell of New Orleans education before Katrina is a really negative one, but there were incredible teachers, incredible schools here far before I got here, whose shoes I stand in and whose shoulders I'm standing on. This work matters so much to me because this is home. This is the place where any opportunities I've gotten really came from, and so the opportunity to give those opportunities back to my students matters so much. I think beyond that, the history of this city is so rich and incredible and people of color have meant so much to this city, especially when you talk about the music and the food and the history.

So being able to have our kids not just learn math and science and get a traditional education, having them be able to understand, appreciate and know the history of this city, their history in a way that we don't always prioritize in our country, so that they are understanding that they're not starting from scratch. They're not building something that hasn't been done, they're actually themselves building on the shoulders of giants and becoming legends because of all the legends of New Orleans who were here before matter so much.

I think New Orleans, actually, even when we've not acknowledged it as a country, has always been on the forefront of change. When we talk about the Civil Rights movement, we often talk about Selma, we talk about Martin Luther King, all of whom are incredibly important, but we ignore the absolutely essential role that New Orleans played.

I think New Orleans similarly is at the forefront of what it means to rethink education in this country. We've got some things figured out and we need to actually move on to being able to say, "This is what works, this is what we know should be available to all kids in all schools across the country." And the country has a responsibility to look to New Orleans to support these efforts because if we do this right, we can change what it means to be an educated person in the United States of America and have that be more than just again getting that math and ELA credit, but understanding the history of this super-complicated, super-rich history of this country in a way that makes us all better.

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