Durham News: Opinion

Bert L’Homme: Behind the scenes work to better support our students

“Graduate Durham” – that’s the theme our schools are rallying around this school year.

Durham Public Schools has – justifiably and proudly – touted the consistent growth in our four-year graduation rate for the last six years, from 63 percent in 2009 to 81.5 percent last year. So why continue to focus our efforts on something we seem to be doing well?

We have two reasons.

First, even though our graduation rate is close to our state’s average, it still means that close to one in five DPS students will not graduate on time. We can do better.

Second, we are using “Graduate Durham” to help our elementary and middle schools focus on preparing their students for future grades. Graduation rates are not only an indicator of a high school’s success, but also of the experiences a child had before high school. This is a way of helping all of our schools work toward the same goal: every child graduating on time, college- and career-ready.

Three months into my work as superintendent, I see fantastic opportunities ahead for our students and schools as long as we emphasize strong academic achievement at all levels. From speaking to teachers, administrators and support staff across DPS, I have heard a common refrain: they believe they can do great work as long as we do our best to offer them a stable environment. Our Central Services team will do our best to support them without creating additional distractions.

That said, some changes are unavoidable; we have serious district-level work to do in some areas to improve student achievement. In order to better support our schools, we have reorganized our Academic Services division to ensure that our staff is playing to its best strengths.

Here are the changes that will most directly benefit schools:

• We have built a strong Student Support Services team from existing positions to intensely focus on mental health services, behavior supports and alternative settings tailored to our students’ needs. This is a great opportunity to help redirect and positively influence our students who struggle with behavioral or emotional challenges.

• Our three area superintendents, who used to be divided by elementary, middle and high schools, will instead work with groups of schools in the same geographical area. This will help us build continuity and consistency among our schools and ensure that students leave elementary school ready for middle school, and middle school for high school.

• We’ve restructured our Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment department to better support teachers in delivering rigorous, standards-aligned learning opportunities for teachers and students across DPS.

We have a lot of smart, dedicated educators and support staff in Durham Public Schools. It’s time to unleash that creative energy to help strengthen every student and school. I am excited to see what the future brings for Durham Public Schools.

Bert L’Homme is the superintendent of Durham Public Schools.