Durham News

May 16, 2014

Durham charter school founder not coming back; students go on strike

Dozens of Kestrel Heights School students went on strike from their classes Thursday morning, demanding to know why their principal and two teachers at the charter school would not be returning next year.

Dozens of Kestrel Heights School students went on strike from their classes Thursday morning, demanding to know why their principal and two of their teachers would not be returning next year.

Principal Tim Dugan and social studies teacher Christian Infinito and math teacher Teressa Balmer will not have their contracts renewed. The two teachers revealed the news at the Kestrel Heights board meeting Tuesday by asking board members why.

A person answering the school’s front office phone declined to comment and hung up. Board members did not return calls or declined to comment on why the three contracts were not being renewed.

“The members of the Board of Directors respect the passion of the students and parents who have expressed their concerns regarding these changes,” the board said in a news release. “However, the Board is responsible for all aspects of the performance of Kestrel Heights High School and takes this responsibility seriously. It is the policy of the Board of Directors not to discuss personnel matters with the general public, as doing has the potential to violate individual privacy rights.”

Dugan was one of the founders of the school, which also has elementary and middle schools, and has served as executive director and high school principal.

Kestrel Heights received a silver medal and ranked 1,744th among the top 2,000 high schools in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 Best High Schools list.

However, last year the school board demoted Dugan from executive director to principal of the high school.

Since opening in 1998, Kestrel Heights has been unable to secure a 10-year charter renewal. In December, the state Office of Charter Schools recommended “a maximum of three years with specific conditions that must be annually met or the charter is to be surrendered.” Three years earlier, Kestrel Heights received a similar three-year renewal, which included stipulations related to testing, exceptional children and teacher preparation.

During the December State Board of Education meeting, however, the Charter School Advisory Board recommended a five-year renewal that could be subject to drop down to a three-year renewal. The Board of Education unanimously approved the five-year renewal.

Charter school advisory board member Alex Quigley asked the now director of Kestrel Heights, Richie Mitchell, why the school failed to meet goals for academic growth in the 2012-13 school year. Mitchell replied that “it was the high school that brought scores down.”

Graduation rates also decreased.

Last year, the four-year graduation rate dropped by nearly 7 percentage points. In 2011-12, Kestrel Heights had a 75.5 percent graduation rate. In 2012-13 it fell to 68.7 percent, below the state average of 82.5 percent.

Black students’ graduation rate dropped from 73.9 percent to 61.5 percent.

Kestrel Heights School is one of 10 charters in Durham. The school serves students in grades K-12. Its mission statement is “Kestrel Heights School provides an environment where academics are emphasized, where children are encouraged to excel and perform at their maximum potential and that promotes creativity and excellence in accordance with the Paideia Principles.”

According to its website, the Paideia program engages students through thought-provoking seminar discussion, growth of intellectual skills, and mastery of information.

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