Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Benjamin Banneker Elementary School

Last Friday was a tough day for me and everyone else at Banneker. We said goodbye to our beloved principal Ms. Cheryllyn Branche. A native New Orleanian, Ms. Branche has been involved in public education for over 30 years in southeast Louisiana and Michigan. She has been the principal at Banneker for nearly a decade, leading the school through many difficult changes since 2003. She is moving on to private education, taking over the reigns as principal at her high school alma mater, Xavier University Preparatory School.


Ms. Branche has a way of talking to you that makes you lose track of time. On my first day at Banneker, she spent two hours telling me about the history of the school and its unique challenges. It felt like a ten minute conversation. She told me how Banneker was one of the first two schools to open after Hurricane Katrina. Even then, she said, the school still seemed like a community. Most students lived within a mile or two of the school, and their parents were actively involved in their children’s education. All that has changed over the past five years; as school choice became the norm, more of Banneker’s students came from across the city, from the west bank and New Orleans East. At the same time, parents stopped coming into the school. Ms. Branche felt her school community slipping through her fingers.


If anything, Ms. Branche is straight-forward on her feelings about education reform in New Orleans. She has never feared criticizing aspects of the system that seem to neglect the city’s children. Similarly, she worked hard to keep teachers that she knew were talented when their jobs were threatened by low test scores. Her fearless honesty is one of the many things that make her such a great leader.


Throughout my year of service, Ms. Branche has gone above and beyond what I would expect from a supervisor. She not only worked with me to achieve common goals, but she made it her personal mission to educate me about the unique education experience in New Orleans. I know that Banneker’s new principal will do a terrific job, but I also know I have lost a mentor and friend. More importantly, New Orleans public education has lost one of its most dedicated leaders.


-George Doonan Martin, Tulane CPS Education VISTA, Benjamin Banneker Elementary School




About Tulane VISTA

Notes from the field from the AmeriCorps VISTA team at Tulane University.

One comment on “Field Report: Benjamin Banneker Elementary School

  1. Cheryllyn M. Branche
    July 24, 2012

    George, what a wonderful commentary. I had no idea you had writen this and I am ever so thankful and appreciative of your perspective. You succinctly captured what the service to Banneker’s children meant to me; I am humbled by your comments. God bless you in your continued work.

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