Citizen-run boards have suddenly been thrust into managing individual schools all over the city. Neophyte teachers barely out of college instruct students sometimes older than they are. A wide range of teaching styles has been employed, from the rotelike call-and-response methods of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Foundation school to more traditional textbook-based approaches. For the first time, parents are being asked to choose schools for their children (though in many cases the parents are absent, and the student is being raised by relatives).
Success will be a tall order in a school district where 85 percent of some 32,000 students are a year and a half to two years below their grade level. In a typical district, the figure would be around 15 percent, said Paul G. Vallas, the new superintendent here.
Worse, a third of the students here are some four years below grade level, a challenge that Mr. Vallas, a veteran of the Chicago and Philadelphia schools, calls “extreme.”
Yet nearly a year into the job, Mr. Vallas professes to be unfazed. With no politics in his way — he answers neither to the neutered parish school board nor to the mayor, but to the state — he is far freer to plan grand schemes than in the much larger cities where he made his mark.