Students help rebuild New Orleans schools

February 19, 2008 7:23:23 PM PST
Some bright minds are meeting at U.C. Berkeley to find ways to help public schools in New Orleans. Those schools were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Fewer than half of the students once enrolled are back in their classrooms.

Students at the Haas School of Business organized this competition, attracting teams from Stanford, Duke and Northwestern, to name just three. It's not only a competition, but an opportunity to incubate ideas for schools in a beleagured city.

Twelve teams from business schools across the country competed for a $5,000 prize. The real winner, though, will be school children in New Orleans.

"I fully intend to take all their suggestions back to the Recovery School District and see what it is that we can do with them and hopefully contribute to the success of the students in New Orleans," said Rayne Martin, Recovery School District Information Officer.

Under-achieving schools there are supervised by the state. Higher-achieving schools are under local control.

Many of the teams recommended the schools be placed under a unified district.

The MBA students used pure business concepts, referring to the school superintendent as the CEO or chief executive officer. They also suggested a marketing plan to open lines of communication with parents and the community.

Other ideas urged innovation.

"We think that because New Orleans has sort of a clean slate to work with, that they should be pursuing some of the more innovative models in the classroom around creating safe spaces for children to learn how to practice conflict resolution and kind of provide them an environment that helps them heal," said Paul Tomasiello.

Paul Tomasiello was one of several students with a personal interest in seeing New Orleans make a comeback. He has volunteered twice to help build housing in the crescent city.

The teams also stressed strategic goals -- the kind of talk common in board rooms, but not necessarily in classrooms. For instance, forging strategic partnerships with high-achieving schools in other cities, generating new revenue sources and retention of teachers.

This MBA student, part of the University of North Carolina team, is a former teacher.

"Bringing together students from MBA programs and having these collaborative, innovative ideas is a means to this end. It's a really great way to bring a bunch of innovative ideas together and to find the solution that best suits that city," said Danielle Brown.

Four of the 12 teams made it to the finals. Those four teams gave a presentation Friday afternoon to the panel of judges. The winning team was the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.