For The Teachers

The Allstate Sugar Bowl is Part of a Multimillion Dollar Effort to Improve New Orleans Schools

by Trey Iles for the Allstate Sugar Bowl

[This story originally appeared in the Official Game Program for the 2020 Allstate Sugar Bowl.]

It was a moment that Jana Milan knew she was making a difference. Subtle though it was, and something that probably wouldn’t have been noticed by most people, it reminded Milan, an English/language arts teacher at KIPP East Community Primary School in New Orleans, exactly why she became a teacher.

Christopher Dier from Chalmette High School is presented with a check for a classroom makeover. Photo by CFP Images.

Milan’s class was studying non-fiction articles and how to identify the main idea of a particular piece. Weeks earlier, her class had studied different text structures used by authors, such as chronological order, problem-solution style and cause and effect. One of her students put the two lessons together.

“We were in a group setting, working on identifying the main idea of the article,” Milan said. “One of my students told me the main idea. But then she also told me that the text structure was cause and effect. She made that cross-lesson connection that we like to see from kids. That was a neat moment, especially coming from an 8-year-old. She put all the information she had learned together. I’ve had something like that happen several times. And it’s not just with me. If you were to come to our school and pop into any classroom, you’re going to see kids that are very thirsty for knowledge.”

Stories like this have had a profound impact on officials from the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the College Football Playoff Foundation and the New Orleans College Football Championship Host Committee for the 2020 CFP Championship Game, which was stagedin the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020. It’s why they join forces to come alongside Orleans Parish Public Schools and assist the system in overcoming some of the many challenges it faces.

“One of the phrases I use is we’ve historically had a gumbo of issues with our public-school system,” said Allstate Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Jeff Hundley. “So we tried to get our arms around how we could make an impact and where best we could assist the system. Fortunately, the CFP Foundation came in and initiated a series of meetings over the better part of a year with many partners inside and outside of Louisiana. We were able to take that input and formulate a strategy that we believed would have the greatest affect.”

The resulting project, which enjoyed robust corporate sponsorship from Entergy, focused on the approximately 2,700 teachers who make up the Orleans Parish Public Schools System. After Hurricane Katrina’s strike in southeast Louisiana in 2005, Orleans Parish public schools were in shambles. But the devastation allowed officials to work with an almost blank canvas to remake the system. It worked well as student achievement improved.

Bernard Harris speaks at the Teacher Summit. Photo by CFP Images.

“New Orleans, particularly Orleans Parish and its public schools, is one of the most unique educational ecosystems in the country,” said Britton Banowsky, the executive director of the CFP Foundation. “It’s a system of charter schools that grew from the backside of a disaster. In the years following Katrina, they saw steady student achievement. But then in the last few years, it plateaued or began to dip. And they attributed virtually all of that decline to the lack of stability in the teacher workforce.”

About 30 percent of Orleans Parish Public School teachers were leaving the system each year. “You look at that over a three-year period, you lose your entire workforce,” Hundley said. “How do you have continuity or build anything when that is happening?”

So, teaming with many partners, including New Schools New Orleans, New Orleans Public Schools, the Louisiana State Department of Education, the American Institute of Research and the Cowen Institute, the team has begun working to stem the tide of departing teachers.

“We’ve had a great partnership with the Sugar Bowl to support teachers in New Orleans for many years,” Banowsky said. “As we got to the point where we were bringing the championship game to New Orleans (in 2020) we realized we had an opportunity to take the partnership to an exciting new level. More resources. A way to be more thoughtful in our impact. So, we targeted a multi-year strategy to accelerate some of the local initiatives involving the teacher workforce.”

At the time of the championship game, $3 million had been allocated to the project. But it’s more than just handing out money and wishing the recipients good luck. The coalition of partners has developed plans to assist, primarily by recruiting, retaining and recognizing teachers in the Orleans schools – the three Rs as Hundley said.

“Our focus is on improving the recruitment of quality new teachers to the district while at the same time encouraging the great teachers who are in the classroom to stay,” Banowsky said.

Teachers enjoy themselves at the Teacher Summit. Photo by CFP Images.

The recruiting piece of the project has several spokes, including from where Milan came. She is part of the Teach for America program, a non-profit organization that identifies teachers who commit to expanding educational opportunity, beginning with at least two years teaching in an under-resourced public school.

Milan, from Knoxville, Tenn., is in her third year as a teacher in New Orleans and seventh as a teacher total. She started and taught two years in Indianapolis then moved to a KIPP school in Nashville. Then, at the urging of a friend, she came to New Orleans.

Part of the recruitment tool involves bringing in qualified teachers from college students at local universities. The CFP Foundation’s Go Teach Project is also part of recruiting as it seeks to bring in and place student-athletes from local universities into Orleans Parish schools.

Recognizing and retaining teachers go somewhat hand in hand. The host committee and CFP Foundation had several recognition events in 2019 and also visited all 87 Orleans schools to show their appreciation for teachers. There was also an event at Rock N Bowl in New Orleans attended by about 500 teachers. During that event, a $50,000 classroom makeover was awarded to one teacher’s school.

“When we did the kickoff recognition at McDonogh 35 (High School) and saw the number of teachers that showed up, a light went off with me that these teachers don’t get recognized a lot,” Hundley said. “To see the smiles and the pride they took in their jobs, it kind of made it real for me personally. We felt like we were on to something and it was going to be a worthwhile endeavor.”

What’s being done in New Orleans is part of the CFP Foundation’s goal of improving education by assisting teachers in all cities where the CFP Championship has been staged. Entering 2020, the foundation had invested about $30 million into the many projects. And the work doesn’t stop after the CFP Championship has been played.

“We’ve been doing this in the host community for four or five years,” Banowsky said. “In Tampa, we were focused on college readiness. In Atlanta, we were focused on early literacy. In the (San Francisco) Bay Area, we were focused on STEM learning.

“We’re still doing work in Atlanta and the Bay Area. We’ve been in New Orleans in the last year doing work. We plan on continuing these investments well after the game is played. We develop a sustainability element to this so the local leaders can continue to fund the work after the championship game.”

Like so many who come here, Milan has been captivated by New Orleans. But she also enjoys the children of her school and their love of learning. She admits that there are challenges with the teaching profession and doesn’t necessarily know what the future holds for her. But she said she’d like to stay in education.

“You have to have the right mindset and keep in mind everything that you’re doing is because you want what is best for kids,” Milan said. “When those challenges come up, and they will, you have to keep in mind why you’re doing this. My job is to teach, be here and be the best that I can be for my students.”

The CFP Foundation, the New Orleans host committee and the Allstate Sugar Bowl are working to make sure she can reach her lofty goals.

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