Years before Louisiana’s post-Hurricane Katrina education reform movement and the establishment of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, a New Orleans businessman would ride through the public housing developments of city. It was the late 1990’s and Ronald Briggs was convinced that at-risk, underserved kids were trapped and the only way out was through education.
“It’s just heartbreaking to know that is so bad here in Louisiana for low-income children. These kids for whatever reason don’t have a shot,” said Briggs.
Briggs’ vision to help these children was further inspired by the late Rev. Harry Tompson, S.J., who opened The Good Shepherd School in 2001. As a founding board member and now chairman, Briggs leads the Catholic school that educates children in grades K-7. The school’s mission is to help low-income, urban youth realize their fullest potential.
When Hurricane Katrina closed the school in 2005, Good Shepherd and the New Orleans education system had to rebuild from the ground up. “Katrina was a wide eye opener. It was a curse, and it was a blessed event. But it really shook your roots and reality that something had to be done,” said Briggs.
Briggs saw the newly conceived Student Scholarships for Education Excellence Program (now the Louisiana Scholarship Program) as a way to serve even more students. He became a very visible advocate for the new program, often testifying before legislative committees.
Briggs was willing to become an advocate for school choice when many in his position were reluctant. “We made the commitment early on that we had to get involved. So many people don’t want or can’t get involved because of the political issues.”
As a participant in the Louisiana Scholarship Program, since its inception in 2008, Good Shepherd now has 100 percent of its students on free and reduced lunch — compared to 85 percent in 2001.
With one of the highest Scholarship Cohort Index scores in the state, Briggs is proud of Good Shepherd’s academic performance, which he attributes to thinking out of the box. “If tradition tells you for 20 years we’ve done it this way, then I tell my people to look another way.”
“In the last 15 years I’ve seen the difference we can make. I’ve seen the injustice and the imbalance. So, it’s just a wonderful opportunity to give back,” said Briggs. “Because of school choice we have a chance of a lifetime and I thank God I could be part of that.”