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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 19, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks After a Visit to New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School
New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School
New Orleans, Louisiana
1:51 P.M. CDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Ashley. Ashley, you were terrific. Thank you very, very much for the very lovely introduction, but I don't know about revealing the year I was born. (Laughter.) But thanks a lot for a wonderful introduction.
I want to also thank Barbara MacPhee. Thank you very much for letting us be here in your school today, and for your great work at keeping your school together through the hurricane and opening back up so students can come back to school and come home and have a school to go to.
I also want to recognize Mary Garton, who is the executive director of Teach for America in the greater New Orleans area. Where is Mary? There's Mary, right there. Thank you, Mary, for your great work. (Applause.)
And, of course, the new Louisiana state superintendent of education, Paul Pastorek, thank you very much. Thank you for taking on this very important job. (Applause.)
Teri Mojgani is the librarian of the New Orleans Charter for Science and Mathematics High School. Teri is right here. Her library, this library, received a grant from the Laura Bush Foundation, and Teri is very carefully picking out the books that will most support the curriculum here, that's taught at this school, as well as every one of the students. So thank you, Teri, for your hard work. (Applause.)
Teachers, parents, community leaders, and students, thank you very much for your warm welcome to New Orleans. Each time I visit, I'm more encouraged to see progress -- the clearing of debris, the new construction, and especially the new schools.
Schools are essential to the recovery that's under way. And we know that young people who have suffered trauma heal best when they can resume a normal routine at their own school. After Katrina, children getting back to school required an unprecedented effort. Never before in the history of our country had school superintendents and state officials faced the challenge of building whole school districts as fast as they could.
According to the United States Department of Education, more than 1,000 private and public schools in the Gulf Coast region were damaged or destroyed. Today, 94 percent of the schools in Louisiana have reopened. In New Orleans, 58 public schools are now up and running. Many are now run as charter schools, like New Orleans Science and Mathematics High School. These newly rebuilt schools need good new libraries.
In September 2005, the Laura Bush Foundation for America's libraries established a special fund to help schools rebuild their book and materials collection. So far, the foundation's School Library Recovery Initiative has awarded approximately $2.5 million to 54 schools on the Gulf Coast, including this one.
These grants will help librarians build brand new collections, specially chosen to support their school's curriculum. And they'll help young people who use these libraries find comfort and information in their favorite books.
Students also need qualified, effective teachers. Currently, New Orleans has a shortage of about 100 city teachers. As more students return home this summer, that shortage is expected to grow to 650.
One organization that's helping address this shortage is Teach for America. Across the United States, Teach for America places talented college graduates in some of our country's underserved classrooms. Here in New Orleans, 57 Teach for America corps members reach about 5,000 students. One hundred fifty Teach for America alumni are improving education in the Crescent City, as public school teachers and principals.
Teach for America alumni also serve as officers in programs like New Schools for New Orleans, Communities in Schools, KIPP, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. One alumnus, Ramsey Green, now serves as the education policy director for the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Is Ramsey here? There you are. Stand up, Ramsey, so everybody can see you. Thanks a lot. (Applause.)
Today is the actual day that Teach for America acceptance letters will go out to the 2007 corps members. Thousands of soon-to-be graduates hope their packages that come in the mail will be fat ones. Many hope they'll contain the Mardi Gras beads that signify an assignment in New Orleans. Today I'm delighted to announce that Teach for America will fulfill their hopes -- and the hopes of a recovering city -- by bringing 100 new teachers to New Orleans in the coming school year. (Applause.)
As many as 75 of these teachers will serve in Recovery School District classrooms. Teach for America has also pledged to bring another 100 new corps members in 2008. And by 2010 -- which will be the 20th anniversary of Teach for America's service to the Crescent City -- TFA plans to reach nearly 13,000 students in the New Orleans area.
With help from Teach for America, more young people in New Orleans can be educated by effective and dedicated teachers -- teachers like the teacher whose classroom I just visited, Margo London.
Margo is a native of Norman, Oklahoma, but since 2001, she's called New Orleans home. Margo enrolled at Tulane, attracted by this city's strength in the arts. Yet while Margo loved her time in college, she realized something was missing. "I'd used New Orleans for all the great things it's known for -- its food, arts and entertainment," she says, "but I hadn't really given back." Margo applied for Teach for America, and in August 2005, joined Walter L. Cohen High School.
Margo's first days teaching math at Walter Cohen were challenging. She didn't expect to be tutoring her students in basic skills, like how to study or take notes. She also wasn't prepared for how much she would enjoy the challenge, and enjoy making a difference in her students' lives.
One Saturday, three weeks into her new job, Hurricane Katrina forced her to evacuate. Margo didn't bother packing any clothes or personal items. She did bring her laptop, her pins and her stack of quizzes that had to be graded by Monday. Those quizzes were never returned. Katrina closed Walter L. Cohen High School.
Margo lost her job, but she never lost her commitment to New Orleans. She joined FEMA's recovery center downtown. There, she and her colleagues spent months working nearly 90 hours a week, but Margo never gave up her goal to get back into a New Orleans classroom, and her goal was to be here at New Orleans Science and Math. She was impressed by your outstanding director, Barbara MacPhee. She admired the school's diversity and open admissions. Margo knew she'd be made welcome by the superb faculty: 11 of your 22 teachers are Teach for America corps members or alumni.
Most of all, Margo was impressed by the students' commitment to academics. And I saw their commitment just this morning in one of Margo's classes. Here at New Orleans Math and Science, the renewed motivation has paid off. At the beginning of the year, only 14 percent of entering freshmen were reading at grade level. But after a rigorous new reading program, your December tests showed a different result. After just one semester, that number soared to 43 percent. Congratulations to all of you. (Applause.)
To Margo, your schools's success highlights why people should come to New Orleans to teach. "My experience here has come full circle," Margo explains. "When I first arrived at Tulane, I thought this city would provide lots of opportunities for the arts. Now it's a place for tons of opportunities for everything. Where else can a 23-year-old with only one year of teaching experience have this kind of impact?" I'd like to ask Margo to stand up. (Applause.)
Margo is just one of many committed teachers making a positive impact here on the Gulf Coast. She's joined by dedicated teachers like Nicole Gilliams, Meacco Verdun, and Chris Stowe-Surge, who are also with us this afternoon. In fact, now I'd like to ask for all the Teach for America teachers and alum to stand up. (Applause.)
Today I want to urge teachers from across our country to consider building your careers here. As these educators can tell you, it's a decision you won't regret. Your work will help families come home to a newly renewed Gulf Coast, one that promises better schools and more opportunities for children.
Thanks very much to Teach for America, and to all of you for your dedication to rebuilding the Gulf Coast, one classroom at a time.
May God bless you all. (Applause.)