Few public school systems have vanished as quickly from the ranks of the largest U.S. districts as the Orleans Parish (La.) district. After topping 86,000 in 1994-95, when it was the nation's 27th largest district, enrollment had been declining steadily for a decade and was down to 65,308 in 2004-05 (55th largest, according to the National Center for Education Statistics).
Then Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. Thousands of evacuees relocated in the wake of the devastation from the storm and flooding, and its official enrollment for 2005-06 was 5,874.
In the four years since the storm and the subsequent flooding decimated the New Orleans area, student enrollment numbers have been rising slowly and steadily, but many people have never returned to the area. In the meantime, the school system that existed prior to the hurricane has been drastically transformed into a mix of state-run campuses, charter schools operated independently or overseen by the state, and just a handful run by the now-tiny Orleans Parish school district.
According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, 35,976 students were attending public schools in Orleans Parish in February 2009. Students attend 86 schools: Five are run by the Orleans Parish school board; 10 are charter schools under the auspices of the Orleans Parish board; 33 operate as part of the state of Louisiana's Recovery District; 27 are charter schools authorized by the Recovery District; nine schools are run by the Algiers Charter School Association; and two are independent charter schools.
In August, officials dedicated the new Langston Hughes School, the first newly constructed public school in New Orleans since the hurricane. The 90,000-square-foot facility houses a Recovery District charter school. Over the next four years, Orleans Parish will see construction of 22 schools and the restoration of 10 campuses as part of a master plan approved by the state and the Orleans Parish board.
The neighboring Jefferson Parish district also fell from the list of the 100 largest school districts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Its enrollment fell from 51,403 (86th largest) in 2004-05 to 41,625 in 2005-06 — a 19 percent drop. Figures from the Louisiana Department of Education show that enrollment in Jefferson Parish has rebounded slightly — 44,018 in October 2008 — but remains significantly less than pre-hurricane numbers.
Read the main story, "2009 AS&U 100," to learn more.