Durham News

School board candidates ponder ways to diversify public schools

DURHAM The Durham News starts a two-part series today with the candidates for the school board race.

Thirteen candidates are running for four open seats in Districts 1-4. The two incumbents running are Omega Curtis Parker in District 1 and Natalie Beyer in District 4.

The challengers in District 1 are Thomas Poole and Michael Lee; in District 2, Sendolo Diaminah, Jimmy Doster, DeWarren Langley, Terrence Scarborough and Donald Hughes; in District 3, Matt Sears, Lisa Gordon Stella, Deborah Bryson, and Steven Gatlin.

To learn more about the candidates read our candidate profiles at thedurhamnews.com. The election is May 6, and early voting is underway.

Today’s question: Durham Public Schools is losing many white and middle-class families to private or charter schools. What will be the key to regaining public confidence in the school system?

District 1

Omega Curtis Parker: We must concentrate on doing a good job of marketing the schools and making parents aware of the opportunities which are available. DPS has nationally recognized schools, strong traditional schools, stellar magnet schools, and great pathway programs. Parents should be aware of Middle College High School and Early College High School where students can earn college degrees. We should always strive to provide adequate resources, highly qualified teachers, and a safe and healthy environment.

Thomas Poole: 1) Establish a child-first priority environment for parents to make DPS their first choice in Durham County. (2) Provide proper fiduciary oversight and establish adequate resources by creating “endowments” that would guarantee academic, EC programs, arts and humanities, STEM, athletics, and teacher incentives that are sustained. (3) Establish an “actual” collaboration with students, parents and the community. (4) Take a personal “hands on” review of the EC and Title 1 Programs of DPS. (5) Ensure that the school bus stops are actually safe and environmentally sound.

Michael Lee: With the influx alternatives, parents feel they have new options with similarly motivated children including more involved parents. I believe this to be a red herring since generally, successful students will have similar results at any school they attend. A student’s success is independent of the school they attend. The board has to find ways to “compete” with alternatives and make bold choices to draw confidence back. This starts with having a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences, such as mine, on the board to offer new and exciting ideas for our district.

District 2

Sendolo Diaminah: First, we must focus on the needs of the black, Latino, and low-income students who make up the majority of our school system. Second, we must empower our staff, students, and families to build stronger schools from the building level up. Our best schools are ones where parents and communities are involved and where staff have input on school direction. That's why we need strong School Improvement Teams with real power. When we make DPS a place where black, Latino, and low-income students succeed, we'll have built schools where every child can succeed.

Terrence Scarborough: DPS must have an honest discussion on diversity and equitable distribution of resources. I would ask stakeholders to be candid and intentional about their needs and suggestions. DPS has to strengthen its marketing strategy to highlight its achievements at all of its schools: both diverse and less diverse. Board members must increase their visibility. Town Hall meetings make members visible, therefore relatable to the community. DPS must prove that it can manage its budget effectively with discipline and forethought. I would evaluate current allocations and identify areas that could be revised

Jimmy Doster: I’ve knocked on nearly 2,000 doors. In general, these families choose the best option they can for their children, and I don’t fault any family for doing what they believe is best. That said, my vision is for DPS to be chosen as the best by ALL Durham families regardless of socio-economic background. My focus is to 1) increase literacy 2) invest in early childhood education 3) eliminate red tape so our gracious Durham community can easily help DPS educate and graduate reading proficient, prepared, and potential achieving students.

DeWarren Langley: Our system is only enhanced when students are able to learn in a diverse environment. If elected, I will work to ensure we increase our efforts in introducing more diversity in our schools. We must ensure that DPS are the best they possibly be so those families in private education would reconsider returning back to the district. We must provide principals and teachers with the flexibility to incorporate innovative teaching strategies and technology to better engage and educate our students. We must also be responsive to parents and students suggestions on how to improve operations.

Donald Hughes: It is unfortunate that our schools are becoming less diverse. Research has shown that diversity is good for our students and schools and correlates to increased student achievement. The key to regaining public confidence in the school system is simple-- fully funding our schools. If our schools are fully funded, we will be able to attract and retain great teachers, provide students and teachers with the necessary resources and technologies to use in the classrooms, and effectively prepare students for college or careers in today’s increasingly global 21st century society.

District 3

Matt Sears: Durham Public Schools is the first choice for all Durham families. It is a good choice and we can make it an even better one. Focusing our efforts on student achievement is the best way to ensure that our community believes in our schools. I believe in the research that clearly describes the benefits to the community when schools are diverse. I think we need to gauge the community’s interest in looking at diversity as an issue, and I will research this issue during my work on the board should I be elected.

Lisa Gordon Stella: The first step is to select a dynamic superintendent committed to creating a responsive school system populated with dedicated, intelligent individuals focused on educating our students. DPS must also hire strong principals that meet the needs of the school and hold them accountable, and hire and retain excellent teachers. DPS needs strategic visionary leadership for support services to ensure we are providing results-based programs that truly address our students’ challenges. Lastly, schools must academically challenge students and provide a rich learning environment.

Steven Gatlin: Safety, smaller class sizes, and curriculum rigor are the main reasons parents cite for leaving DPS. None of these issues exist because charter schools exist. DPS has perpetuated segregation with the creation of some magnet and other “school inside a school” programs. Students may stay within DPS, but struggling students remain left behind, and the quality and equity in education remains segregated. Teacher empowerment is the true key to retaining families in DPS. Teachers can restore public confidence in Durham Public Schools, but teachers must be consulted first and trusted most.

Deborah Bryson: Success will require the board and the community to promote diverse, enhanced schools that move beyond blame and work to transform DPS to serve all students well. We need to establish a culture that cares about and respects all manner of children and families. I will work to create a welcoming and equitable learning environments for all students and their families. School leaders must engage the entire school community in creating an attractive education ecosystem that takes into account cultural, racial, and economic differences.

District 4

Natalie Beyer: Durham values diversity and equity yet 25 of our 55 schools are very racially isolated. This is largely due to poverty and segregated neighborhoods. The most cost-effective and convenient schools are vibrant neighborhood schools with learning opportunities that challenge every student. The board works with administrators to strengthen schools, develop challenging programs and inform our community so that all Durham families will consider our schools. We added instructional themes at every traditional middle school. Magnet schools are another method for increasing integration and arts.

Coming Wednesday: The candidates answer how they would collaborate with charter schools.