As the school year steps into full gear, New Orleans Public Schools welcomes a new member to its board. Political newcomer Heidi Lovett Daniels, an assistant professor of education here at Dillard, ran for the District 1 position on the Orleans Parish School Board Sept. 18 and won.
The process for her was straightforward. She needed to qualify and pay the qualification fees, which then put her name on the ballot. The final step was to campaign to be elected. Although there were some difficulties with the voting machines arriving on time, Daniels clearly earned her seat.
The school board race was closely watched because of the integral role it plays in a state hit by education woes. Daniels’ primary duties as a board member will be to increase student performance and hire and retain a superintendent. While the responsibilities may seem to be straight forward, they are far from easy. Daniels said she recognized the extreme and immediate problems that District 1 of Orleans Parish faces.
“Thirteen out of the 15 schools [in District 1] are failing,” Daniels said.
This is something that she feels people are not aware of and should not take lightly. It hits home for Daniels because she matriculated through the New Orleans public school system.
“I am a product of the public system and I was disgusted by the current situation and the quality of education the children were receiving, so I ran,” Daniels said.
This passion for whatever she undertakes is not uncharacteristic of Daniels. When she served as president of Xavier University’s Student Government Association, she built a reputation as a hard worker, someone who took her responsibilities seriously, and someone who could be depended on.
“[They knew] me as a no nonsense kind of person. I’ve always been that way,” Daniels said.
The voters obviously agreed because Daniels won with over 60 percent of the vote beating the incumbent Cheryl Mills, and another opponent Teresa Williams. Daniels’ passion for this cause is evident to her Dillard family as well.
Paula Henry, a junior secondary social studies education major, is confident that Daniels will make many positive changes for Orleans Parish.
“I admire her as a teacher because she is very passionate about her work. She will be great because there is so much to be done in Orleans Parish. I am very happy that she won the election,” Henry said.
Dr. Kassie Freeman, dean of educational and psychological Studies, shares Henry’s confidence in Daniels’ abilities.
“It’s a great honor for her, and for our division and the university. The school board will greatly benefit from her. She’s intelligent, very accomplished, and very qualified for the position,” Freeman said.
Freeman also acknowledges the bottom line of Daniels’ whole campaign, student achievement.
“I know without hesitation that her mandate for her work is all about student achievement…this is just the beginning for her. She’s enormously committed to student achievement at every level. She works tirelessly to ensure students are working at their maximum potential,” Freeman said.
Daniels’ platform centered on her slogan, “It’s time for a return on our investment,” which advocated for aggressive, positive change of the Orleans Parish District 1 school system. Her feelings of community involvement echoed through her campaign.
“It’s important for everybody to find someway to be a part of the solution for the children in New Orleans public schools,” Daniels said.
Her new position does not mean that she will be leaving Dillard behind.
Daniels will still continue to teach at Dillard while she serves her post as member of the board. In fact, she feels that this is a better chance for Dillard students to get even more involved with a cause that affects everyone, the children.
With the combination of the mandatory community service hours needed for graduation and the education department, Daniels feels that Dillard will always be a part of her effort to address the community’s needs.
“Dillard is inclusive of a whole university community and inclusive of a whole business community. These two entities will help increase student performance…Dillard University students continue to be active, especially through the community service program by volunteering at public schools. These are all things that Dillard was doing already,” Daniels said.
Daniels’ win was definitely a cause for celebration. While the board handles the dissension about the voting machines, one thing still stands certain, Daniels won. Daniels had a victory party after she received the news of being elected.
“There was a victory party, and we anticipated success. There will be another one on the day of inauguration,” Daniels said.
Daniels was not the only one celebrating. Signs, banners, and flowers were placed throughout the Division of Education and Psychological studies offices as tokens of the pride the Dillard family feels for Daniels. Freeman agrees.
“As a division we are extremely proud, as evidenced by the signs hanging around the office,” Freeman said.
The inauguration of Daniels into the school board will be held on Jan. 24, 2005 at 4 p.m., which is also the first board meeting of the new year. School board information is located at www.nops.k12.la.us.