Charter Update & Superintendent's Support

Exciting news for New Harmony High in the article entitled "New Orleans superintendent recommends new charter school dedicated to coastal ecology apply to state, not district" published in The Advocate overnight thanks to the persistence of Sheila Grissett.

Oh, Louisiana.

Oh, Louisiana.

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Orleans Parish Superintendent, also voiced his full support for New Harmony High as we pursue the Type 2 charter with BESE. As per OPSB's press release today: 

“Per current state law and BESE policy (Bulletin 126, Section 503(A)(5)), any charter application seeking to operate in Orleans Parish has to first be submitted to OPSB,” said Superintendent Lewis. “New Harmony has complied with this process and I thank them. We recognize that this organization has a vision which extends to serving students and families beyond Orleans Parish, a sentiment that was echoed at our public hearing earlier this month by students from Plaquemines Parish. It is my desire and hope that through the BESE Type 2 process they have the opportunity to operate and serve students and families from Orleans Parish, as well as additional surrounding areas. We have committed to providing our full support to the New Harmony High team in this process and have already communicated with the state department regarding the nature and rationale for our decision."

Positive news for us and promising news for the students and families of Louisiana!

School in the Cloud

Image borrowed graciously from The New York Times.

Image borrowed graciously from The New York Times.

One of our founding team members of New Harmony High passed this video along. Onstage at TED2013, Sugata Mitra makes his bold TED Prize wish: Help me design the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can explore and learn from each other — using resources and mentoring from the cloud. Hear his inspiring vision for Self Organized Learning Environments, and learn more at ted.com/prize.

I think Sugata Mitra speaks very clearly toward a vision we at New Harmony High have of guiding our students towards knowledge acquisition rather than bombarding them with direct instruction. He talks for about 22 minutes, and the stories are inspiring.

Get on with it.

Seven Million Fish?

Tuesday morning's adult field trip to English Turn turned out to be way cooler than I thought. As an admirer of collections and collectors, I hit the proverbial jackpot. Fish!

Rows and rows of metal shelves are lined with over 200,000 glass jars full of fish.

Rows and rows of metal shelves are lined with over 200,000 glass jars full of fish.

Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute (TUBRI) has the world's largest post larval fish collection-- over 7 million fish specimens, the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection. These fish are in glass jars of liquid on metal shelves in a curated space in an abandoned military bunker next to the Mississippi River on the West Bank in Plaquemines Parish.

(That might have been a personal record for sequential prepositional phrases.)

Over 200,000 jars line metal shelves in a retired ammo bunker near the Mississippi River in English Turn. Look past the glass jars to get a sense of the depth of the room.

Over 200,000 jars line metal shelves in a retired ammo bunker near the Mississippi River in English Turn. Look past the glass jars to get a sense of the depth of the room.

You might wonder, who needs 7 million fish?

Well, we do. We can use these specimens to learn about climate change.

Over 7 million specimens sit in museum quality glass jars.

Over 7 million specimens sit in museum quality glass jars.

Get this: fertilizers applied to farmland in the upper midwest run off into streams that eventually enter the Mississippi River. Forty-one percent of the nation’s water ends up flowing through the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. As the water enters the gulf, the heavy sediment drops. The water clears a bit. The fertilizer causes a huge growth of algae. The algae dies, sinks, and robs the water of oxygen. Fish are able to move away from hypoxic areas, but invertebrates go into a state of shock. Imagine a tired worm, couch-potato style on the bottom of the gulf. That worm becomes an easy target by certain groups of fish who can swim in and swim out of hypoxic areas, snacking on those tired worms. The fish grow and thrive, while other specimens don’t— and we can study those changes because of collections like this one held by TUBRI, comparing past specimens to present ones.

Startling fish specimens look out from glass jars at TUBRI in English Turn.

Startling fish specimens look out from glass jars at TUBRI in English Turn.

The folks at TUBRI are tasked with, among other things, maintaining the specimens and collecting more. Royal D. Suttkus, the scientist who previously curated the collection, and for whom the collection is named, is responsible for a large percentage of those 7 million fish. I asked the current TUBRI Director, Henry L. Bart, Jr., Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, how often he fished.

“You mean, sample?”

Turns out, not much. TUBRI is leading the charge on geolocating, digitization, and providing remote access to their archives of fish by using technology to create time and space. That means people can study a 3-D image using fancy machinery they built that takes over 200 photos of a single specimen in a very short amount of time (to limit the exposure to air). This isn’t just fish— it’s technology, engineering, craftsmanship, journalism, investigation, photography, communication, AND science— all of this taking place at a dead end gravel road in a former ammo bunker just outside the city, eventually providing access to scientists around the world.

A new toy at TUBRI was built to photograph fish specimen. These machine parts are 3-D printed, loaded with cameras, and set to take over 200 images that will be strung together to create a model that can be used for remote access to the largest fish collection in the world.

A new toy at TUBRI was built to photograph fish specimen. These machine parts are 3-D printed, loaded with cameras, and set to take over 200 images that will be strung together to create a model that can be used for remote access to the largest fish collection in the world.

This is evidence of what we mean when we say new harmonies— the creating of new work, new combinations, new ways of thinking about studying and understanding our coast and climate and what’s happening under the surface of the water, from our past to our present, to the ways our New Harmony High students will impact the future of the Louisiana we love.

Mud. Machine. Man.

One of the most frequent questions I get when talking about our vision for New Harmony High is about the location. On the Mississippi River? (Yep.) On a barge? (Yep. BargES. Maybe more than 1). Will it move? (If necessary.) Who will move it? (Someone who is licensed. Not me!) Will kids be on it if it moves? (No.) Are you afraid kids will fall off? (No.)

The Mississippi River is a treacherous body of water with highly trained and specialized pilots who captain the giant ships. Being a river pilot is mostly a family business. Someone has to sponsor you, take a risk on you, let you watch and learn and practice. Captain Jared Austin's story on Narratively, Meet the Master River Pilot Who Conquers the Mississippi Every Day, is a wonderful profile of one of these highly trained navigators. Get a glimpse into what makes Louisiana a major transportation hub, and the planning that goes into moving massive ships along the mighty, moody Mississippi.

From: Narratively. Captain Jared Austin checks the logbook aboard a Greek freighter. Photography by Michel Varisco

From: Narratively. Captain Jared Austin checks the logbook aboard a Greek freighter.
Photography by Michel Varisco

Old Mudbugs: Vintage Crawfish Photos

1970  "Earl Becnel displays his prize catch, crawfish." (Original caption)
Photo by James Guillot, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Crawfish season is upon us. Standing around tables with friends and strangers alike with your own personal pile of crawfish shrapnel is unlike other shared eating experiences: lips on fire, arms dirty and dripping to your elbows, round 2, round 3, the random pork chop you might find thrown in if you're lucky. Mudbugs and crawfish boils have been a staple of spring in the South for a kabillion years, as these vintage photos from The Times Picayune demonstrate. Take the extra moment to read the original captions, noting the local names and the strange beauty of our rich heritage.