Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School
Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School was one of the first district-run schools in New Orleans to open after Hurricane Katrina, and it has flourished in the face of adversity. Teachers, students, staff and parents have worked tirelessly to make their community proud of their school, and their efforts have paid off.
The neighborhood surrounding the school is known for high crime and drug activity. Many Bethune students lost homes in the hurricane, and the majority of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Despite such poverty, every fourth-grader passed Louisiana’s state test in 2009; seventy-nine percent surpassed the basic level in English, achieving “mastery.” Bethune students are achieving at higher rates than their peers in the rest of the district and the state; a much larger percentage of the school's fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders scored basic or above in English, mathematics, science and social studies. In fact, the Louisiana Department of Education recognized Bethune as one of 35 “high-performing, high-poverty” schools in 2010.
The school’s culture is based on collaboration. Administrators and teachers understand the value of having parents involved. For example, not only do all students at Bethune receive laptop computers, parents receive technology training as well. Boys in the school are rewarded for good behavior and good grades with membership in the “Distinguished Gentlemen” club, for which they receive blazers, shirts and ties. Girls who exhibit good behavior and achieve good grades earn membership in their own club, the “Ladies of Destiny.”
Principal Mary Haynes-Smith holds high expectations for all students. For this administrator, basic proficiency on state assessments is not enough—a score of mastery is the goal. Haynes-Smith believes that all students can excel, and her school is well on its way to proving it.
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