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New Orleanian of the year: Anthony Amato Orleans Parish Schools Superintendent
For Anthony Amato there was far more good news than bad this year. First, the good: New legislation gives him increased authority over public education. School board members who were hostile to him were voted off the board. He enjoys strong public support as made evident by our readers’ choice of him as the “New Orleanian of the Year.” Most of all, if public education improves, he will clearly be the one deserving the credit.
Now for the bad news. If, after a few years, public education continues to fail, it will clearly be his fault.
This was the year when finger-pointing was eliminated from the Orleans Parish Schools system. In the past, board members and a revolving door of superintendents could point to each other as the cause of ills. Now that has been eliminated. The show belongs to Amato. No superintendent has ever been given such clearly defined authority, no superintendent has ever had such a chance to make a difference.
School board politics can be a vipers’ nest, not just among board members, but within the system and even among employees and angry parents. Amato took some stings this year, including a cutthroat effort to undermine him with misleading charges that he used school employees to board his home as Hurricane Ivan approached. The public at large, however, continues to believe in him, except for those who benefited from the old ways.
No level of government stirs more emotion than does education, which deals with people’s children. No level of education is as difficult to govern as urban systems, with their crumbling buildings, eroding tax bases, ethnic divisions and responsibilities to care for the poor. Yet few challenges can be as fulfilling. Anthony Amato faces hard work and big obstacles, but with that comes something precious – a chance to achieve greatness.