Levitt Fellow Emily Pallin Studying Reconstruction of New Orleans School System - Hamilton College
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Emily Pallin '08
Emily Pallin '08

Levitt Fellow Emily Pallin Studying Reconstruction of New Orleans School System

By Lisbeth Redfield
Posted August 8, 2007
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Last March, Emily Pallin, a rising senior from Grisworld, Conn., was a leader for Hamilton's Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip where she and a group of students traveled to New Orleans to help the reconstruction effort. Pallin remained concerned with the city's rebuilding process, and she returned this summer as co-coordinator of Hamilton's first Summer Service Trip. Pallin, however, went back to New Orleans in two capacities; a dedicated volunteer, she also has a Levitt Fellowship to study the reconstruction of the New Orleans school system.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had the 50th largest school district in the nation with 65,000 students. The hurricane destroyed about 90% of the city's schools. Although New Orleans lost most of their school network, this destruction was not, Pallin insisted, the catastrophe it would have been in any other city because what was destroyed was not functioning well in the first place. "In a single day," Pallin wrote in her grant proposal, "a natural disaster physically demolished what was already one of the worst school systems in the nation."

New Orleans now holds the unusual position of being able to rebuild its school system from scratch. Pallin, whose research is partly in government documents and reports and partly work in the city, will focus her inquiry on "the reasons for the failure of the schools in New Orleans pre-Hurricane Katrina, the effects of the storm, and the strategies being used to rebuild all aspects of the school system."

Pallin is working with three types of schools: the so-called Recovery School District, the New Orleans public schools, and newly-opened charter schools, many of which have sprung up in New Orleans during the reconstruction process. Charter schools, publicly-funded schools which replace public school regulations with an alternative type of accountability dictated by a charter, are somewhat controversial in the U.S. where they have achieved isolated success. They offer, however, increased education choice for students and system decentralization, both of which are considered positive for the school system.

The city "seems to be taking a proactive step towards reform," Pallin concluded. She believes that the planners are aware of their unique opportunity to completely reinvent a bad system, although the fragmentation of the new school system "will be interesting to watch in the coming years."

Pallin was drawn to her first summer of research through her work with ASB and her experience as an intern with New Visions for Public Schools, a large school reform organization, as part of the Hamilton New York City Program. She explained that her work with New Visions made her aware of the challenges facing public schools and gave her a beginning point for her New Orleans research.

During the year, Pallin is active in campus service groups as the director of Hamilton Action Volunteer Outreach Coalition and an ASB and Urban Service Experience leader. She is also a tour guide and will serve as an Admissions Intern this year. After graduation next May, she plans to attend graduate school in New York City, pursuing a degree in public policy or education policy with a future career in education law.

Pallin's research this summer is funded by the Levitt Research Fellows Program, operated through the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center. The students spend the summer working intensively in collaboration with a faculty member on an issue related to public affairs; Pallin is collaborating with Christian A. Johnson Excellence in Teaching Professor of Sociology Dan Chambliss. 

-- by Lisbeth Redfield

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