Rising to the Top: 10 Years After Katrina

On Friday, Aug. 28, former President George W. Bush with former first lady Laura Bush visited the Gulf Coast to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Included in the visit was a stop at the Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans, whose principal is Alexina Medley. President and Mrs. Bush toured the school and participated in a roundtable discussion on the school’s progress over the past 10 years.

President and Mrs. Bush first visited Warren Easton in August 2006 to mark the first anniversary of the storm that transformed New Orleans. The school benefited from the Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative, a special fund of the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries established to help Gulf Coast schools rebuild their book and material collections.

[Related: Ten Years After Hurricane Katrina]

Medley, a native of Nassau, Bahamas, has lived in New Orleans for nearly 40 years. She is a former principal of Thurgood Marshall Middle School, which was nearly completely destroyed in the storm. After Katrina, she assumed the helm at Warren Easton, which had been heavily damaged. The first floor was flooded and the library was ruined, hence the aid of the Laura Bush Foundation which the school’s librarian had solicited.

Medley attributes the school’s survival, in part, to its alumni charter board. “We have a strong alumni base that worked with teachers and volunteers to raise funds,” she says. “Once we reopened, we allocated a substantial amount of funds to building a presence online so we can keep our community informed about the school.”

Warren Easton has taken a practical, yet innovative approach to meet the needs of its students. It meets six days a week. It’s created its own health clinic and keeps a nurse and social worker on staff. It also offers a supper program, because Medley and other school leaders had noted that the students were hungry; and its students wear school uniforms. (The students get uniforms whether or not they can afford them.) Even detention is given a positive spin–it’s called beautification club; the students pick up trash and tidy the neighborhood. The school graduation rate? 100%

At one point Warren Easton had eight feet of water flooding its first floor. It’s now one of the city schools that’s rising to the top.