Giving Compass' Take:

New Orleans school system made incremental changes, giving more schools flexibility on teacher recruitment and curriculum guidance, leading to higher graduation rates and academic achievement.

Can other struggling school districts follow suit? How can education donors be of use to the New Orleans school system now?

Read about the awards that New Orleans schools have received in the past year.

Sixteen years ago, the state of Louisiana took radical steps to push New Orleans schools to better serve children and families in the Crescent City. The move was controversial, but it paid off — and it proved to be critically important two years later, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The result was fast-moving change that has had historic benefits for many students who had struggled in the broken system of the past.

New Orleans has ushered in a new era of education, one that embraces the flexibility for each school to determine its path when it comes to hiring teachers, choosing curriculum, and establishing school culture, while also insisting that schools be accountable for improving student outcomes.

The numbers speak for themselves: Our high school graduation rate is 73 percent, compared with 54 percent in 2004. And just 11 percent of our students attend the lowest-performing schools in the city, compared with 62 percent when the storm hit. We know our work is far from finished, but these numbers show that thousands more New Orleans students are thriving.

And though our school leaders are empowered to make many of their own decisions, our unique structure allows us to create systemwide policies, so we can better serve children and families. For example, we learned that the open enrollment policy made it difficult for children to attend neighborhood schools, since students from across the city were eligible for enrollment at those campuses.

In addition, our unique system means, in certain instances, that individual schools have the power of a fully centralized district. That means we can pay for specialized student support services instead of making each school shoulder the full cost, and we can bring education advocates from across the city together around common goals.

Read the full article about the success of New Orleans school system by Henderson Lewis Jr. at The 74