The Durham school board will choose one of 11 candidates Wednesday afternoon to replace Sendolo Diaminah, who resigned from his District 2 seat in August.
Nine candidates were presented to the public last week. Christine Folch and Nadiah Porter, the two remaining applicants, took the podium in a special board meeting Monday.
Candidates were urged to speak specifically about improving academic achievement for boys of color; improving teacher retention; and increasing access and community support for early childhood education.
Porter, a local education advocate, school volunteer and teacher who focuses on reading and literacy, said she was seeking the District 2 seat “to revive faith in the community, to revive faith in the board, and to revive democracy within the Durham Public Schools system.”
Among all the goals listed on the evening’s agenda, she stressed her desire to improve early childhood education services.
“Although education expenses are covered for all students in Title I schools, and additional funding sources mandated by the (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) cover students with disabilities, my daughter and a majority of her classmates are only able to attend for three out of the five days each week,” she said. “She is therefore left to fill in her education gaps in a daycare system that is not prepared, or required by law, to follow any type of developmentally appropriate education plan.”
Low-income families, Porter said, rely on free, high-quality early education, so that parents can work and provide for their children.
Speaking to the achievement gap for boys of color, she referred back to the Second Chance Lobby Day held last May at the Legislative Building in Raleigh. The event was organized by The N.C. Second Chance Alliance, which promotes policies, such as “ban the box,” that “remove barriers to productive citizenship for individuals with criminal records.” The box refers to a question on job application forms that asks if a person has been convicted of crimes.
She said that while she was there, she noticed a group of students there on a field trip. None of them, she said, were students of color. Her own fourth grader, she said later in an interview, has only gone on two field trips since she was in kindergarten.
“I imagine a school system where our children, particularly young boys of color, have exposure to education outside of the classroom,” she said.
On teacher retention, she suggested the school board change “retention” to “restoration,” and look at ways to address teachers’ needs as the word implies.
Folch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology and environmental science and policy at Duke University, introduced herself as a “product of public schools,” and noted that she teaches many such students in her current job.
She said that, as a board member, she would be mindful of the rapid demographic shifts in Durham, and look at diversity as an opportunity.
Folch, who noted that Spanish was her first language growing up, spoke about the growing Hispanic and Asian populations in Durham schools, as well as budgetary challenges presented by higher numbers of students participating in free meal programs.
“The students in our classrooms have needs that require creativity,” she said, adding that she views those needs as “a source of strength for this community.”
“We live in a globalized world, and Durham is, already, a global city,” she said. Diversity in the classroom, she added, “prepares young people for a world where they’re constantly having to cross cultural boundaries.”
Folch told the audience that she’d like to see Durham’s public school students get acquainted with a culture of local educational resources such as N.C. Central University and Duke University, before they reach high school.
Wednesday’s vote to choose a board member representing District 2 takes place at 4:30 p.m. in Room 307 of the Fuller Administration Building at 511 Cleveland St.
The school board vote to choose a District 2 board member takes place at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in Room 307 of the Fuller Administration Building at 511 Cleveland St. in downtown Durham.