The road ahead in Durham schools

Staff WriterFebruary 18, 2006 

After a long day of meetings, Deputy Superintendent Carl E. Harris takes time for a chat with Larry McDonald, director of athletics for Durham Public Schools. Harris will succeed Ann Denlinger as school superintendent later this year.

STAFF PHOTO BY HARRY LYNCH

With his contract settled last week, Carl E. Harris will become Durham Public Schools' next superintendent when Ann Denlinger retires in June. The Durham school board named Harris, currently the district's deputy superintendent, Denlinger's successor in October. But since it is official now, we gave Durham residents a chance to have Harris answer a few of their questions about how he intends to lead the district.

Q. How will Harris "harness and harmonize the school board? It is the most important thing right now." Cortney Phelon, 37, a Durham real estate agent.

A. "I plan to work directly with each board member individually and as a full board, and I hope that we can work together as a unit to model the type of collaboration and behavior that we expect from our students every day," Harris answered after some robust laughter at the question.

Q. "Does [Harris] value the programs already in place to prevent gangs and violence, or does he feel that they are working?" Amy Sheets, a guidance counselor at the Durham School of the Arts.

A. "I do think we have some programs in the schools that are working, but it is going to require the community and the schools working together. I think we all must accept some responsibility, while also not labeling all of our students as gang-involved or gang-related.

Q. "What does he plan to do to help more kids stay in school?" Linda Leekley, 52, a nurse.

A. "This year we have focused a great deal of our efforts on truancy and putting programs in place to support [students] in being more academically successful. There is more tutoring then ever before and more focus on intervention programs during school hours. It is based in our belief that the more academically successful students are, the more likely they are to stay in school."

Q. "What are some of the methods being used to bring about better discipline?" Selena Hunter, 63, a retired Durham schoolteacher.

A. "We've reached out to parents more to make them an integral part of managing students' behavior. We've provided our teachers with staff development [to learn to better deal with misbehavior.] We want to prove to every parent and every student that they can come to school every day and feel safe and be supported in their academic rigor."

Q. "What's he going to do for [Neal Middle School] to make it better?" Samantha Buck, an eighth-grader at Neal.

A. "We are going to raise the academic expectations for students and make sure we put the proper support system in place for the staff. Neal is one of the schools where we have a team of administrators, [including] the superintendent and the deputy superintendent, working ... right now."

Q. "I'd like to know what he is going to do about the fairness of long-term suspensions," Denise Gigetts, a Southern High School senior.

A. "I'm not going to say that the system is unfair now. Each case will be looked at as an individual case, and based on the facts, a decision will be made to recommend or not recommend long-term suspensions."

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