Edna Karr High School: Not Just Football

Introducing Edna Karr High School in New Orleans and its passionate high school band director, teacher Christopher Herrero! Under the umbrella of the InspireNOLA charter schools, Edna Karr has boasted an “A rating” from the Louisiana Department of Education for several consecutive years, despite the change in the state’s overall performance formula that went into effect in 2015. The school graduates 95% of its students and 68% of their graduates enroll in college—10 points higher than the state average.  

While the school’s academic performance is stellar, its football team is perhaps one of the most talked about high school teams in the state—even in the nation. In 2019, the Edna Karr Cougars won the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s State Championship. The team was also named to the 14th Annual MaxPreps Tour of Champions, presented by the Army National Guard, a recognition reserved for the top teams nationwide. Half a dozen Edna Karr alums have been drafted into the NFL since 2002.   

In addition to academics and athletics, the marching band at Edna Karr is also a force with which to be reckoned. Directed by Jackson State University alum Herrero, the band has performed in TV commercials, NPR radio, in two Beyoncé videos, appeared in ESPN Magazine, and in 2016, the band marched in the London New Year’s Day parade. Studies have shown that extracurricular activities can improve academic performance and foster positive classroom behavior.  

But what’s the secret sauce for this band’s success? 

We chatted with Herrero to give us his opinion on how the band spells success for the students.  

UNCF: What lessons do you incorporate into your direction of the band? 

CH: Band is not just about music. Being in the band, you learn self-discipline, time management, and you learn to balance academics with your band responsibilities. In the band, we prepare you musically and academically.  

UNCF: As the band director, how have you set the groundwork for continued learning?  

CH: We work with them from ninth grade until they’re in 12th grade, so I get to know them well. I encourage them to go to college, get that experience, and guide them the best they can. We have become one of the most influential bands in the city and have love and passion for our kids here. We emphasize pride in yourself, program and family. This is definitely a family. This is their home away from home and can be a release for them. We have like to incorporate fun in learning and give them a sound music education in the process.

UNCF: What makes kids come year after year to learn music and instruments—even those who’ve never played an instrument in their life?  

CH: Band is not just about music. Being in the band, you learn about self-discipline, time management and how to balance academics with a rigorous band schedule. 

UNCF: You’re a Jackson State University alum. How did your HBCU experience shape your professional decisions? 

CH: If I hadn’t gone to JSU, I wouldn’t have pursued music as a career. I was in college during Hurricane Katrina, and my HBCU took me under their wing. And that’s what I want do—give back.  

UNCF: How important is it for you to incorporate the culture of New Orleans into your performances?  

CH: Music is New Orleans. It’s a huge part of our culture. There’s at least one person in every family who has had someone in a band. New Orleans without music is not New Orleans! I’ve had students take the skills they learn in the Edna Karr band, go out and perform in their own bands. I love to see that and know that something I’ve done has sparked talent in our students.  

UNCF: Talk to me about the support your program receives from your local community—partners? Volunteers? 

CH: We have the most supportive parents in the world. Even after long practice hours and performances, our parents and community are very supportive of the band. Band alumni are even strong supporters. We’re the most exciting band in the city for a reason and part of that reason is the support and love shown by our community.  

UNCF: Lastly, what would you want others to know about the Edna Karr band? 

CH: Despite not having all the resources we need, we always find a way to make band, performances and travel happen for our kids. The band teachers have passion and pride for our kids, and in turn, the students can tell if you really care about them. They tell their friends, and their friends want that attention from their teachers as well. Band provides them with an outlet to stay out of trouble and keeping them out of the streets. These are very hard-working kids, and I’m proud of them each and every day. 

Learn more about Edna Karr by visiting www.ednakarr.org.