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Crescent City Schools Staff Spotlight: Karen Johnston


Karen Johnston copyKaren Johnston is a K-1-2 teacher and team leader at Harriet Tubman Charter School. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Johnston is a founding team member of Tubman who began as a 4th grade teacher in 2011.

With more than 8 years of teaching experience, Johnston first decided she wanted to teach because of her love for children. She soon realized how rewarding it was to be in a classroom. “It is truly fulfilling to motivate and influence my students’ growth on an emotional and academic level,” she said. “Being able to watch them develop their own abilities, skills, and talents has given me the opportunity to really make a difference.”

When asked about her favorite part of teaching, Johnston said she most values the relationships she is able to make. “It is important to me that I have strong communication with my students and their families. I am providing a service to both, and I want their family members to know I am available when needed.” Johnston also appreciates being able to witness the academic gains of her students. “I love when my former students return for a visit; to see the accomplishments they have made reminds me of the love I have for being a teacher.”

Johnston attributes a lot of her own growth in the classroom to her colleagues at Tubman. “Though my team I have learned the importance of teacher actions and how it has a great influence on student actions. I set high expectations for myself and know that my students will use my example for their own success,” she said. “I truly believe that academic habits and personal values are influential to student progress.”

As one of the first teachers her students will have, Johnston knows that she is responsible for building a strong academic foundation. “I want to encourage my students to take risks and engage their minds in everything they do; I want them to understand that lifelong learning will be what cultivates their dreams.”

Crescent City Schools Staff Spotlight: Rachael Gainer


R. Gainer copyRachael Gainer is the 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Harriet Tubman Charter School. A graduate of Smith College, Gainer will be entering her third year as an educator this August.

It was in college where Gainer first realized she had a passion to be in the classroom. “As I became more aware of the injustices in the education system, I realized I wanted to be active in finding a solution,” she said. “I know we have made a lot of positive impacts, but we still have work to do. I know it is important for me to stay with my scholars at Harriet Tubman.”

When asked about her favorite part of teaching, Gainer said she enjoys the power of being able to open young minds to new theories or ideas. “As an educator you get to impart knowledge to your scholars and spark a desire to consider something their minds had never considered before,” she said. Gainer adds that, in addition to what she can teach in her classroom, she also values what she can learn from her scholars. “I keep my ears and eyes open so I am constantly able to learn things, especially about New Orleans.”

Gainer acknowledges that one of the challenges of teaching is finding ways to invest her students in learning. “I grew up in an environment where memorization and repetition were the tools used to pass information from teacher to student. At Tubman we bring the classroom to life, but in order to do this I’ve had to relearn what it means to be both a teacher and a student.”

Gainer attributes her growth in the past two years to the team at Crescent City Schools and Harriet Tubman. “I can’t imagine any other organization providing its staff with the level of support I have received here. I know that each day I come to work someone is going to push me to be a better teacher,” she said. Gainer also recognizes the growth she has seen in herself as a student. “Working at Harriet Tubman means that you are always responding to feedback, not only from colleagues, but also from students. This has allowed me to practice the skills of listening and learning from others.”


Harriet Tubman Charter School Holds 8th Grade Farewell Ceremony


DSC_0113The 8th grade class of 2015 at Harriet Tubman Charter School attended its Farewell Ceremony on June 4. The evening was full of heartfelt goodbyes and well wishes as 8th grade teachers took the opportunity to speak about each graduating scholar. After remarks were given by 8th graders, Shyan Lawson and Da’Quan Jefferson, each scholar stood up to proudly announce the high school he or she will be attending in the fall.

DSC_0253Tubman’s Director of Family & Community, Angelo Cross, expressed how the high school decision-making process is vital to our scholars’ future. “We believe that the next four years are crucial in ensuring that students build the skills and habits of mind necessary to succeed in college. We are excited that our scholars have selected high schools that will keep them on that path to college,” he said. This was a particularly special Farewell Ceremony as over 90% of the graduates will be attending a “high-performing” high school, which we define as sending 85% or more of its graduating class to college.

6th Grade Teacher and Team Leader Recognized by The Collective – Greater New Orleans


Gary BriggsHarriet Tubman Charter School 6th grade teacher and Team Leader Gary Briggs was recognized on May 20 for his excellence in the classroom by The Collective – Greater New Orleans (GNO).

Briggs, who has taught at Tubman since it’s inception in 2011, has been an influential leader for not only his colleagues but also the community at large. His accomplishments were acknowledged last week during the “Making an Impact Together: Catalysts for Change” event, where he received the Alumni Continued Excellence in the Classroom Award.

The Collective – GNO, is an association of Teach For America’s alumni of color. The organization works to empower students, the community, and alumni to take action towards creating educational equity in New Orleans. They accomplish this by serving students in partnership with the community, building strong ties, and nurturing the leadership potential amongst alumni of color.

Briggs acknowledged what this award means to him. “Being honored by The Collective, a group that cares deeply about ensuring that every child in our city receives an excellent education, was truly humbling. The Collective strongly believes that people of color offer unique perspectives in the classroom, understanding that as a group we hold the potential to influence the lives of thousands of students across the city.”

Tubman Scholars Place at MindSteppers Championship


1The Harriet Tubman Charter School Dance Team was featured in the 2nd Annual MindSteppers Championship on May 15 at the NORDC Lyons Center. With over 100 public school children from Orleans and Jefferson Parishes participating, Tubman scholars took home various awards from the event. MindSteppers was created with the mission to spark interest in partner dancing among kids and teens; a social activity which has been shown to improve children’s behavior, build their self-confidence, and teach them social and life skills.

2Scholars competed in Swing Dance, Salsa, Waltz, Tango, and Merengue. Fifth graders Khamani Simmons and Lajae Todd took home the 1st place award for swing dancing; while 6th grade scholars Armond Jupiter and Warrenisha Washington came in 3rd place. Tubman scholars were also recognized in the Merengue category, as 5th graders Belvin Baker and Ja’mari Myles placed 1st. In the same category, 5th graders Khamani Simmons and Lajae Todd placed 3rd, and 5th graders Khalil Brooks and Raygan Taylor placed 5th.

Ribbons and trophies were awarded according to merit, and dance scholarships were awarded to the competition winners so they may continue learning at a private New Orleans dance studio.

Harriet Tubman dance coaches Kaitlynn Cunningham and Krista Rae Szaflarski enjoyed watching their students grow from this experience. “It has been fun to see them embrace dancing. Their hard work and dedication really paid off,” said Cunningham. “I was most impressed with their ownership and commitment to learning their dances and creating unity among the entire team,” Szaflarski added.

The championship is the culmination of the MindSteppers Teacher -Training Program, aimed at getting partner dancing and its associated benefits in schools across the area.

Tubman to Host Open Houses for 2015-16 Kindergarten Scholars


our school-newHarriet Tubman Charter School will host several Open Houses for Kindergarten on January 21 (8:30 to 9:30 a.m.), January 28 (5 to 6 p.m.), and February 4 (8:30 to 9:30 a.m.). Interested families and scholars are invited to tour our classrooms, talk with our teachers, and learn more about the innovative multi-age classrooms at Tubman. We are located at 2832 General Meyer Avenue. For assistance, please call 504-227-3800.

1/21:  8:30 am to 9:30 a.m.
1/28:  5pm to 6 p.m.
2/4:  8:30am to 9:30 a.m.

Elusive Desk Fairy Agrees to Rare Meeting with Principal Julie Lause


The Desk Fairy meets Ms. Lause
After nearly four years of missed meetings, the Desk Fairy finally revealed herself to Principal Julie Lause, during the 2014 celebration of International Binder Week. Although Principal Lause has longed to meet the Desk Fairy face-to-face for many years, the Desk Fairy always flew away too quickly in the past.

“It was an honor and a thrill to introduce myself at last to the world-famous organizational master, the Desk Fairy,” Lause said. “She reminded me during our meeting about the seriousness of an organized workspace. She even refused to reward me with a silver pencil because my computer desktop is so messy. I promised her I would get my act together and clean it up. I’m hopeful that she’ll come back and bring a pencil for me soon.”

The Desk Fairy encouraged Ms. Lause to continue to improve her organizational skills, and to encourage Harriet Tubman scholars to do the same.

“Everyone benefits from an organized life,” said the Desk Fairy. “Organization helps us to live the Tubman habits of mind and our values. It helps us to prepare for high school, college, and beyond. I was so happy to see so many great desks and binders during the Binder Fashion Shows this week!”

To learn more about International Binder Week and the importance of organization, watch the video at


Tubman Hosts Alumni BBQ


tubmanbbq1The faculty and staff of Tubman gathered on Saturday, September 6 to host the first ever Alumni BBQ in honor of the classes of 2012-2014. It was a day of food, celebration, and support as the former eighth-graders began the academic year at their high schools. Organized by Angelo Cross, Director of Family & Community, the event included BBQ prepared by Tubman staff, music, and socializing for the student alumni with their former classmates and teachers.

tubmanbbq2“We had a great day catching up with our former scholars,” Cross said. “It is important to us to maintain relationships with our students as they progress through high school, college, and beyond. We want them to know they have our continued support, and that Tubman is always home.”

In addition to inviting past Tubman scholars, current high school teachers were also welcomed.

“We hope to make this an annual event,” Cross said. “As our alumni base grows, we want to continue to build those relationships and hopefully someday, our scholars will want to return and work with us or send their children to our school.”

Tubman Holds 8th Grade Farewell


DSC03690Harriet Tubman Charter School held its 8th Grade Farewell Ceremony on May 29. Staff and families gathered under a tent on the school grounds to recognize the class for their accomplishments and wish them well as they move on to high school.

Principal Julie Lause reflected on the achievements of the group and their many experiences as a class.

8th grade teachers and staff then recognized each scholar individually and highlighted each student’s importance as a member of the Tubman student body. Scholars later gave letters to their families thanking them for their support during their educational journey and watched the end-of-year slideshow.

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 10.40.37 AMTubman scholars celebrated their high school choices, which include 90% of the class planning to attend high-performing high schools that send more than 80% of their students to college. We are confident that these scholars will stay on the path to college they began at Tubman. Schools include: Sci Academy, Benjamin Franklin High School, International High School, Metairie Park Country Day School, St. Augustine High School, Carver Prep, Carver Collegiate, Edna Karr, and Warren Easton.