New Orleans 100: Interview With Mark Martin From NOLA 180
All Day Buffet has compiled the New Orleans 100, a list of innovative and world-changing ideas that have come out of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Designed to encourage discussion about the rebirth of the city, the NOLA 100 highlights the good that has grown out of the tragedy.
PSFK sent a few questions to 5 of the groups from the New Orleans 100 list who are making change for the better in New Orleans.
First up is Mark Martin from NOLA 180. This organization transforms failed public schools into high-performing charter schools that prepare students for college.
What is NOLA 180? Who are you, what you do?
We started a college preparatory K-8 charter school in New Orleans, a city
that desperately needs quality public education. Our program is unique and
innovative in a number of ways. First and foremost, we believe all children
should get quality educations that prepare them with the social and academic
skills necessary to have the opportunity to attend the college of their
choice. All children want to learn and can learn, but it doesn’t always
look the same. We are seeking to reach all of our scholars where they need
it, and use that as a starting block to college. Our grade levels are named
after the year they will graduate high school and enroll in college,
therefore we don’t have a third grade, we have the Class of 2018. All of
our homeroom classes are named after their teachers alma maters, therefore
we don’t have Mrs. Williams’ class but Southern University. Our kids will
be hearing about college and getting exposed to higher education from the
moment they first set foot on our campus.
How did the tragedy of Katrina provide a unique opportunity for
innovation, change and growth?
Prior to Katrina public education in New Orleans was abysmal at best.
Corruption, low expectations, and poor academic performance were rampant
throughout the system. Something had to change.
Katrina overhauled this failing system overnight. The opportunity we have
to redefine public education in New Orleans IS the silver lining of the
storm. We have been able to come in with a unique and bold new idea to
start a school that effectively reaches and teaches all of its children. We
didn’t have to fire teachers or close down a previously failing school
(which gets dirty) because Katrina essentially did the work for us. We
started from scratch and hired passionate, motivated, and capable teachers
whose primary objective is to get our scholars to college. We have been
given an opportunity to create a sustainable and thriving new way of doing
public education in a place that had previously never stood a chance.
People have said the children of New Orleans can’t or won’t learn and go to
college. We’re building something that begs to differ.
What about New Orleans inspires you?
The resiliency of the people inspires me to do something to benefit them.
If New Orleans is to be a great global city, it must start with education.
For decades children growing up in this city have been pigeon-holed to drop
out of high school and join the tourist industry full of low-paying jobs
with little to no long term growth opportunity. A college degree changes
everything. The people who have lived in New Orleans the longest know that
her children deserve more. They returned to a broken city to see it rebuilt
and be a part of something greater than themselves. They are willing to
sacrifice to see that this happens, so I am encouraged to do whatever is in
my power to do the same. We are rewriting the history of New Orleans and
raising the future leaders of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the United States