Mission and History
The mission of Benjamin Franklin High School is to prepare students of high academic achievement to be successful in life.
Benjamin Franklin High School was founded in 1957 as a school for the gifted children of New Orleans. The founders had a vision. Opened ahead of the National Defense Education Act that would put new focus on science and mathematics, Ben Franklin was a public school with the best educators teaching the brightest in the city. Admissions requirements with IQ testing were introduced, and in New Orleans, it was a first.
Ben Franklin developed a legacy of firsts. In a 1960 case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stated that Franklin was “one of the finest schools in the country for superior students” and as such, should be open to all of the students of New Orleans. In 1963, Franklin became the first desegregated public high school in the city. By 1965 Franklin’s spirit for excellence had taken root, and the school saw 38 of the 96 seniors recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
Advanced Placement programs were added, and education evolved to keep up with technology. By 1990 Franklin students were limited only by an inadequate facility. (The old Carrollton Courthouse, while a hub of great memories for the alumni, could barely hold the student body. A “cafetorium” served as cafeteria, auditorium, gym, band practice hall, and meeting room. Portable classrooms from the 1950s offered limited space, and classrooms were used in neighboring churches. A lack of basic comforts, such as air conditioning, challenged an efficient learning environment.) With the Ben Franklin spirit and a hopeful vision, the school moved to the Leon C. Simon location in March 1990.
Hurricane Katrina proved the single greatest threat to the school in 2005. Flood damage, mud, and mildew growth left the school boarded up with no assurances for a future in a struggling city. But the Franklin vision could not be blinded. Franklin supporters, including administrators, faculty, parents, alumni, and friends, led by teacher Charles Firneno, did not wait for a federal go-ahead or city permission. They went to work repairing the facility. Former Principal/CEO Carol Christen and Board President Duris Holmes ’80 spearheaded the effort to make Franklin a public charter school, raising more than $1.9 million in private funds. On Jan. 17, 2006, Benjamin Franklin's birthday, Benjamin Franklin High School opened as a public charter, the first public high school to reopen after the storm.
In the years since Katrina, we have worked hard to recruit new students, and we now have a robust and diverse student body of 1,000 students from every neighborhood in the city. Our academic achievements grow with each graduating class, and our vision has evolved. We are consistently named the No. 1 school in the state, and U.S. News & World Report ranks us as the No. 15 charter school in the nation. Now as at the time of our founding, however, our mission remains the same: We prepare students of high academic achievement to be successful in life.