New Orleans schools chief chips away at big issues

Becky Bohrer:

Paul Vallas recently passed his first major milestone when fourth- and eighth-graders in the city’s woeful public schools posted significantly higher test scores on state tests.
The superintendent of a 33-school district that includes many of New Orleans’ worst-performing schools has received mostly positive reviews after his first year on the job, but many challenges remain. Too many students continue to fail or not show up for classes, there’s limited funding for dilapidated buildings and the district needs to retain quality teachers.
Vallas, 54, was known as a hard-driving reformer in Chicago and Philadelphia. After a year as the Recovery School District superintendent in New Orleans, the tireless worker has lengthened class days, decreased class sizes and increased classroom technology. He also is helping create schools that revolve around themes like the arts and technology.
The public school system here is fractured. A handful of the city’s best-performing schools are run by a local board and not under Vallas’ control. Private organizations run a few dozen others as charter schools.
Money is limited. The district’s $260 million operating budget has no cash reserve, and decrepit school buildings need an estimated $1 billion for renovations.