When no more than 60 students are present in school on any given day, and you have 19-, 20-, and 21-year-old sophomores, turning around a school takes patience, time, and a whole lot of TLC. Coming in March, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will begin airing Blackboard Wars, the six-part story examining the dramatic transformation of NOLA’s John McDonogh High School, a dangerous and under-performing high school that previously had a terrible attendance rate and a 54% dropout rate.
The series goes behind the scenes with Green Dot Public Schools Founder and TSC Featured Signatory Steve Barr along with Principal Marvin Thompson, as they work on reinventing and reviving the struggling school. In 2010, John McDonogh High became a charter school. Students are in school from 7:30 am until 4:30 pm – a school day that is over an hour and a half longer than traditional district schools. With a new principal, new rules, new dress code, new teachers, and a new schedule, the school now has 409 students enrolled and an attendance rate around 80%.
Over the next two-to-three years, Barr expects that the graduation rate will be near 90%, with 75% of students going on to post-secondary education. Given the unique history of New Orleans, the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, and the many issues around violence that have plagued this school, we are excited to see this remarkable transformation lead by Barr and Thompson and fulfilled by the hard work of its students and teachers. I’m personally eager to see how they restructured the school day in order to both get teenagers in the door and engaged to stay all day.
And maybe this series will excite Oprah about expanded learning time and she’ll sign on to be a Time to Succeed Coalition signatory – hey, a girl can dream!
Stay tuned for more – this six-part documentary series is set to premiere in March on OWN.