Every year, the U.S. Department of Education honors a handful of school principals, nationwide, who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in guiding their schools to Blue Ribbon status. This year, our own Kathy Riedlinger has been singled out by the Department of Ed for a special “Lifetime of Leadership” award. We’d like to congratulate Mrs. Riedlinger for this HUGE honor, and thank her for her continued leadership.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of her work occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failure, which devastated more than 80 percent of the city of New Orleans in August, 2005. Lusher faced not only the physical challenges of rebuilding the school, but housing was needed for families, staff, and teachers. The school community faced the same emotional struggles everyone in the city faced. Thanks to the strength of the school community, as well as the resilience of its leader, the Lusher community responded with vision and enthusiasm.
Lusher’s core values of kindness, responsibility, respect, and hard work were key in helping students, families, and staff heal. This “resurrection” was a key part of the school’s healing; the school needed to make sure their students could trust again, hope again, and feel they could direct their lives in a meaningful way.
Undaunted by these challenges, Ms. Riedlinger quickly mobilized the Lusher community, realizing the importance of school-community partnerships. Working closely with local and international partners, such as Tulane University, Ms. Riedlinger reopened Lusher’s doors to students in January, 2006, and Lusher became the first school to have a post-Katrina charter approved by the local school board. In just a few short months, she raised over $3 million in private donations to renovate and open a high school campus and build a state-of-the-art performing arts center at the original, lower school campus. She was instrumental in founding, and then elected president of, the Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools, now known as the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools. This organization mentored other local educators to re-open schools as locally-run charter schools at a time when the public school board was incapacitated and unable to open the school district.