Darryl C. Kilbert

Beginning the week of August 22, 2005, Hurricane Katrina was forecast to hit the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. At that time, serving as the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) Area Superintendent responsible for operations, I sent a memo to school site principals to follow the OPSB Emergency Operations Protocol Manual that pertained to hurricanes. 

In that memo, it stated that principals should use that hurricane template checklist and look to hear from their Area Superintendent via cell phone, text, email as well as listen to broadcast from the media for directions to return to New Orleans and to work in the next three or four days. What started out as a Category 1 Hurricane quickly intensified into a Category 5 Hurricane. Three or four days came!

A few days after Katrina, a small team of OPSB staff relocated operations to the State Department of Education Building in Baton Rouge. We began to attempt the daunting task to recover and rebuild the OPSB with no template or guide of how to do so. Katrina’s devastation and destruction was the first of its kind anywhere known to man. Of the 126 building occupied by the school district, 110 of those buildings were completed destroyed or severely damaged. The barriers listed below are just a few that we had to content with:

  • How do we assess the damages to all of the buildings and how do we get the funds expeditiously to begin to rebuild
  • How do we get information to families that relocated across the country so their children can enroll in school or return to New Orleans to School
  • How do we communicate with each other as cell phone towers were down (this is when we all learned to text)
  • What is to be done with the 8000+ employees lives as they attempt to return work or  relocate to other employment 
  • How do we involve the community in rebuilding schools

After the OPSB fought with FEMA to receive funds to address the more than 2 billion dollars worth of damage, a Master Plan (community discussions across the city) of what schools should look like both physically and educationally began to evolve. Simultaneously, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDoE), under what it called “reform”, crafted a takeover plan of Orleans Parish Public Schools and created the Recovery School District (RDS).  The takeover removed the operation jurisdiction of the majority of schools from OPSB by using a formula that was different from what schools were measured by prior to Katrina. No longer was there a school system operated by the elected school board in New Orleans like in every other parish in the state; New Orleans now had a “system of schools”!

As planning discussions and debates took place around school buildings, teachers/staff being terminated, where children would go to school, the OPSB and RSD had to co-exist in the best interest of providing educational services to students.

Fast forwarding fifteen years later, on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as we stare down the face of Hurricanes Marco and Laura, along with addressing how to educate students during Covid-19; we can all agree that we now have all new or newly renovated school buildings…a plus! However, depending on whom it is you ask, have we improved the teaching and learning process for ALL students? One thing we can say, only working together, and listening to the needs of the community, can we make the best decisions to educate ALL the children of the New Orleans Public Schools!

Darryl C. Kilbert

Retired Superintendent

Orleans Parish School Board