The school board has a “tough decision” in choosing one of 11 applicants for the District 2 seat vacated by Sendolo Diaminah in August, Board of Education Chairman Mike Lee says.
Lee spoke Tuesday night after nine applicants got five minutes each to summarize how they would contribute to a number of goals, including academic excellence, teaching the whole child, racial and social justice, teacher retention, achievement for boys of color, and access to early childhood education.
Hitting all those notes in a few minutes challenged most. But the meeting gave a sense of each candidates’ focus, achievements and background. (You can find more information on the DPS website at www.dpsnc.net/Page/646)
Two candidates came in with familiar resumes. Fredrick Davis represented District 2 on the board from 2006-14. Regina George-Bowden also served eight years on the board.
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Davis, the first applicant to speak on Tuesday, moved through the list of goals quickly.
“I still believe that our focus should always be on equity, and rigorous curriculum courses to prepare our students for the global world they shall face,” he said. On teacher retention: “We must seek out individuals who desire to be teachers, and not just opportunists to have loans paid off.” He also came out strongly for early childhood education.
George-Bowden noted that she’s a Hillside graduate and “product of Durham public schools.” A sociology professor and director of social studies at Shaw University, she has about 40 years of educational experience. Addressing racial equity and teacher retention, she said DPS “must recruit from colleges and universities that are trained in urban school curriculums” and “classroom management for high-need students.”
Other candidates also talked about their longtime involvement in the community and/or experience.
▪ DeWarren Langley, a District 3 co-facilitator for Partners Against Crime, and a member of The Citizen Capital Improvement Panel, calls himself a “son of Durham.” He advocated a “collective impact strategy” that effectively utilizes Durham’s public and private resources to improve public schools and close the achievement gap.
“We have all the resources we need,” he said, “but what we have to develop is a common guiding vision, and a real strategy to help us leverage those resources to create real change in our community.”
▪ Elizabeth Ruth Lindquist, co-owner and president of Whitehall at the Villa Antiques in Chapel Hill, and a community volunteer, said she favors using data analysis to examine the best-performing schools in DPS and around the country, and using that information to institutionalize their best teaching practices at all Durham schools.
After mentioning that average DPS proficiency scores in math and reading were in the 40s for fifth graders in 2016, she said: “We need to spend less on remediation, and more on getting it right from the start.”
▪ Jenna Hyland is an account development manager at Family Health International. She’s the single mother of a first grader at E.K. Powe, with a background in humanitarian development that has taken her to Afghanistan, as well as a job at the Atlanta Police Department (where Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis comes from).
“I’m not an expert on Durham,” she said. “I wasn’t an expert on Atlanta. But I’m an expert on policy, and I’m an expert on working with people, and listening, and getting things together.”
▪ Bettina Umstead, is the middle school program director at Durham’s Student U, a college access program. She stressed identifying and correcting “implicit bias” in the school system.
“Our world is broken by structural racism, poverty and systematic injustice,” she said. “These problems prevent our students, and this community, from reaching its fullest potential.”
▪ Ann Michelle Hartman, a pediatric nurse and assistant professor at Duke University School of Nursing, said she’d draw on her nursing experience to help “address health disparities,” toward meeting social justice goals.
“If we are going to improve educational outcomes, the school board must work simultaneously to address heath disparities,” she said, while also noting that school systems are often the leading mental health care providers for many children.
▪ Recent UNC graduate Cecilia Stefany Polanco was the first Latina ever to be elected student body president at Durham’s Northern High. She recently started a food business that specializes in Salvadoran-style pupusas, to finance a nonprofit scholarship foundation. She said she wants to be “part of the change” and a voice for students who often feel left out.
“For me, representation is very important,” she said. “It’s been important for me to see students who look like me, teachers who look like me, administrators who look like me.”
▪ Marshall Edward Williams, a community volunteer, voiced his disappointment at the decline of afterschool programs that he’s seen in recent years.
He said that racial and social justice “has been a long tow.”
“All I see is people talk,” he said. “It’s the same rhetoric, over, and over. And I wonder why.”
Another special meeting is scheduled for Monday, to introduce the public to remaining applicants Christine Folch and Nadiah Porter, who could not attend this week’s meeting. The current members of the board will announce the new member Oct. 5.