Andre Perry’s Good Fight

Staying in the fray for education reform

KENT HARDOUIN PHOTOGRAPH

A few days before Paul Pastorek surprised educators with his decision to resign as the state’s Superintendent of Education, Andre Perry, the CEO of The University of New Orleans’ charter school network, also abandoned a demanding position at the helm of education reform.

Though not as central to the reform process as Pastorek, Perry’s reasons for moving on were basically the same: Moving education forward against stubborn resistance takes superhuman energy that gives out eventually.

“It was time,” Perry says. “I was losing energy and folks were probably losing energy with me.”

In media interviews, Perry’s openness about the frustrations of dealing with state and local bureaucracies – and especially meddlesome politicians – sharply contrasts Pastorek’s tight lipped parting remarks. Nonetheless, the widespread belief that Pastorek simply got fed up with criticism and political interference is based on the difficulties of his four-year stint, which included a losing battle to break the influence of politicized local school boards.

Pastorek’s only hint as to the reasons for his decision to take a position as chief counsel for an aerospace contractor based in Virginia was a reference to his family’s desire for him to work less. But his decision to not only leave Louisiana, but to abandon education reform as an occupation speaks volumes.

“I don’t think you become completely accustomed to criticism,” Perry says. “You just don’t want to go through it again and again when you don’t have to.”

Perry has been in a position to understand the pressures of leading an education reform effort on an important, but smaller scale. One of his goals as Associate Dean of UNO’s education department and CEO of a network of charter schools was to spearhead a greater cooperation between UNO’s education faculty and school operators and teachers. He says he failed in that goal because neither side was enthusiastic about the integration.

“‘No, we have to do it this way.’” Perry says he heard over and over. “I don’t want to hear it anymore.”

Unlike Pastorek, however, Perry isn’t giving up on education reform; he’s moving to what he considers a more progressive environment. This summer he begins work as a consultant at Loyola University, which has plans to take on a greater role in educating local teachers and principals.

 “Andre, with his wealth of experience, will be looking at what programs we can develop, especially in the charter school environment,” says Louis Miron, director of the Institute for Quality and Equity in Education.

Loyola University cut its department of education after Hurricane Katrina, which put a number of faculty members out of work and brought lawsuits. Miron says that with the litigation finally settled, the institution plans to move forward with a different approach to educating teachers and school leaders. New programs will be created and new faculty will be hired who can assist in teacher training as part of their duties in liberal arts departments such as political science, psychology, English and math.

Loyola plans to join the national trend of discipline based teacher education that requires students to take more credits in their fields of study and spend less time studying subjects such as philosophy and history of education. In other words, math teachers will have an abundance of training in math, not educational theory.

Those plans brought Perry to Loyola. He says colleges of education have taught teachers and principals the same way for 30 years – and it’s time to find a new way. His plans include service learning requirements as part of degree programs that will put undergraduates to work helping teachers in schools. With luck, such hands-on experience will attract some of them to teaching as a profession, and they’ll decide to enroll in alternative teacher certification programs. Alternative certification programs have popped up all over the nation as ways to quickly steer non-education majors into schools that are in dire need of talent.

Perry says one of his main goals at Loyola is to develop a diverse and larger teaching pool in New Orleans, which is currently too heavily dependent on inexperienced Teach for America recruits. The Teach for America program recruits college graduates from some of the nation’s most well respected universities to teach in low-income kindergarten through 12th grade schools. They are well-educated, energetic, dedicated, predominately white and mostly in the program for resume experience. The organization requires graduates to commit to a two-year contract and the majority move on after the contract is fulfilled, which creates a revolving door of teachers in some New Orleans schools.

“We don’t want to have a Bourbon Street profession. I want people to invest in the community,” Perry says. “The goal is to have a diverse teaching core. They should be white and black. We have got to increase the number of male teachers, Latinos and Asians. When you walk into a school, you should see the community.”

Perry says that he could have taken a position out-of-state, but he didn’t want to leave New Orleans. Loyola is a perfect fit, he says, because it’s reform-minded and has a “social justice bent.” But the greatest asset for him, he says, is he won’t have to deal with state politics.

He says politicians have taken on too great a role in education reform and educators are too often ignored.

 “When experts aren’t part of the discussion,” he says “I have a real problem with that.”

3 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ANDRE PERRY

Born to a single mother of four in Pittsburgh in 1970, he was informally adopted by a neighborhood child caregiver in a loving and book-filled environment.

After receiving a Ph.D. in Education Policy and Leadership from the University of Maryland, he taught at UNO until appointed associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development and CEO of the Capital One-UNO Charter Network in 2008.

His 13-page curriculum vitae lists dozens of publications, presentations and grant awards. He also provides regular commentary on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
 

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