Durham News

Candidates weigh in on charters

Thirteen candidates are running for four open seats on the Durham school board 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 and our first-part of the two-part series at thedurhamnews.com. The election is May 6, and early voting is underway.

Today’s question is: If elected, how would you like to see Durham Public Schools collaborate with charter schools? Or do you disagree with collaborating?

District 1

Omega Curtis Parker: Durham Public Schools and charter schools should collaborate. I would never be opposed to any initiative seeking to educate the students in Durham. Recently, several efforts have been made for DPS to work with the charter schools. DPS and charter schools must agree to work together to educate ALL students.

Thomas Poole: Establish an interaction between students and programs from different DPS schools and charters in Durham County. By using the arts, science, and technology areas where all the learning entities can establish clubs to compete county-wide in events that can be sponsored by other resources. This is something I will gladly take the lead to establish.

Mike Lee: We all serve for the betterment of our students, and the more we can share ideas, programs and opportunities, the more our students benefit. The charter school movement is here, so we should work together to make the best of it. Personally I would like to better understand the motivations of the teachers, students and parents of charter school to see if DPS could use some of the ideas to increase teacher, student and parent involvement and motivation within public schools.

District 2

Sendolo Diaminah: Collaboration has to be based on this commitment to serving ALL of Durham’s children. Charters were originally envisioned as places of innovative teaching and learning, but too often they don't offer transportation, free and reduced lunch, special education or ESL services. That’s not serving all Durham’s children. We need to create space for autonomy and experimentation, and they need to be part of a unified system guided by commitment to all children and led by a democratically elected leadership.

Terrence Scarborough: Creating charter schools with a focus on identified areas would allow students to matriculate in an arena tailored to their specific needs. Parents and students would then know that this particular school was designed with their child in mind. We use this same philosophy for our magnet school process. We could employ a very similar philosophy and approach with a collaborative venture with charter schools.

Jimmy Doster: The board should engage in more collaboration with and fewer attacks on charter schools, a commonsense step to find pragmatic solutions. Given the political landscape, charters are part of the education landscape. DPS has apparently not followed through on collaboration suggested by the county commissioners. Charters can learn from DPS and vice-versa. Currently charters help families stay in Durham, providing education that satisfies their needs, lessening the flight of families elsewhere. We want families who care about their children’s education to remain in Durham.

DeWarren Langley: While charter schools may not be popular in the district, due to the actions of the General Assembly, they are a fact of life. I believe we should work collaboratively with both existing charter schools and new charter schools to make sure all students are receiving the best education possible. I would invite board chairs of charters to regular meetings to begin talks to foster more collaboration between charter schools and public schools for the systems to complement each other in providing a high quality education to all students of Durham County.

Donald Hughes: With our community facing significant challenges such as extreme poverty, high unemployment rates and many young people in the pipeline to prison, we cannot afford to draw uncompromising lines in the sand while fighting ideological battles. Leaders from traditional public schools and charter schools should come together to share ideas and successful models for improving student achievement, particularly for those students that are at the greatest risk for low achievement and dropping out. Durham must lead the way in this effort.

District 3

Matt Sears: While charters are a valuable part of our community, I will focus my work as a board member on DPS students, day in and day out. I do not want to see charters grow further in N.C. in areas that are becoming saturated like Durham, and I oppose for-profit Charter Management Organizations. Charter schools are designed to be places of innovation and experimentation in education and they serve that role in their current capacity. Charter schools were not designed to be competitive alternatives to Local Education Agencies.

Lisa Gordon Stella: As vice president of Maureen Joy Charter School, I have spent the past year working on charter school collaboration. There are many ways Durham’s district and charter schools can collaborate and we should look to models in Denver, and Alameda, Cal., to guide us. Areas for collaboration include transportation, food, professional development and better serving high-achieving and at-risk youth. For example, DPS could collaborate with charters who are using flipped classrooms, effective professional development to deal with behavior problems, and those closing the achievement gap.

Steven Gatlin: I want the board to serve the students, teachers, and families of DPS first and foremost. Collaboration should start on a school to school or teacher to teacher basis such as joint projects or partnerships for community service. The board should be open to this type of collaboration and do nothing to oppose it. The 11 charter schools in Durham exist as 11 separate entities and do not have a unanimous voice. DPS must treat each of them separately. Once relationships are established, DPS and charters could possibly share certain facilities and transportation to improve the equity of education.

Deborah Bryson: It appears that the charters will be a fixture on the education landscape and collaboration will be a necessity. If the charters are successful in improving education performance within the confines of fair and equitable community access, we need to find a common ground. That is providing the best education we can for all children without the sleight of hand that sometimes take place when choosing who gets in certain charters. I will work to establish ways for the school board and charters to collaborate and to inspire a passion for lifelong learning in both settings.

District 4

Natalie Beyer: I helped write a vision statement for Durham’s public schools regarding collaborations between district and charter schools. In 2013, the school board approved that vision statement. It supports equity of access, responsibility and accountability for all public schools in Durham. Several Boards of Durham charter schools also approved the statement. The current N.C. charter school law creates a competitive rather than a collaborative environment. Collaboration could improve charter school legislation, ensure charter schools operate more like magnet schools, ensure only high quality public schools remain, improve efficiencies and advocate for more autonomy for district schools.