Kids, parents, teachers, elected officials, and community members gathered Tuesday for a press conference and community meeting organized by Defend Durham Schools in response to the selection of Lakewood and Glenn Elementary Schools by the State B Casey Toth ctoth@heraldsun.com
Kids, parents, teachers, elected officials, and community members gathered Tuesday for a press conference and community meeting organized by Defend Durham Schools in response to the selection of Lakewood and Glenn Elementary Schools by the State B Casey Toth ctoth@heraldsun.com

Durham County

Durham avoids 2-front war but ‘will fight’ possible state takeover of 1 local school

By Greg Childress

gchildress@heraldsun.com

October 04, 2017 06:00 AM

DURHAM

One Durham elementary school has been taken off the state’s list for potential takeover by the N.C. Innovative School District (NCISD) but another remains in jeopardy.

Lakewood Elementary School was removed from the list of six schools on NCISD’s list. The list has been reduced to four and still includes Glenn Elementary School of Durham.

Durham school board Chairman Mike Lee said he received an email message from NCISD Superintendent Eric Hall on Wednesday alerting him that Lakewood would be removed from the list.

“I’m extremely excited about Lakewood being removed from the list and also excited that Hall and the committee selecting the schools are listening to the community,” Lee said.

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He said Hall cited new leadership at Lakewood and a belief that the school has the tools in place to improve academic outcomes as part of the reason Lakewood was removed from the list.

Lakewood is led by James Hopkins, an experienced administrator who most recently served as an assistant principal at Carrboro High School. Before that, Hopkins was an assistant principal at Jordan High School and a teacher at Riverside High School, both in Durham.

Lee said the Durham Public Schools and the DPS Board of Education will now turn their full attention to staving off a takeover of Glenn.

“Now, we will focus all of our attention on saving Glenn from this experiment,” Lee said. “I look forward that challenge.”

School board member Matt Sears, the parent of a Lakewood stuent, also vowed to continue to fight to save Glenn from takeover by the state.

Sear said the process for selecting schools for the NCISD has been flawed and he intends to let the State Board of Education know exactly that.

“This is bad news for everybody,” Sears said. “They’ve made this decision without getting any more data, other than doing a drop-in at the schools.”

Lakewood progress noted

In removing Lakewood from the list, Aaron Beaulieu, the interim superintendent for DPS, said state officials noted the progress that Lakewood and DPS are making.

“We hope that the next time we hear from the ISD, they will have drawn the same conclusion about Glenn Elementary,” Beaulieu said. “We support all of our schools.”

NCISD and the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) staff have met with local superintendents, school boards, principals, teachers and parents in each of the previously identified six schools. They asked questions, shared and discussed performance data, and learned more about the strengths and challenges of each school and its students.

In addition to Glenn, Williford Elementary in Nash-Rocky Mount, Willis Hare Elementary in Northampton County and Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County remain on the state list.

Removed from that list, along with Lakewood, was R.B. Dean Elementary School in Robeson County.

The next step in the process is to analyze the final comprehensive needs assessment reports conducted by DPI and continue discussions in each community to finalize a recommendation on which schools should become part of the NCISD.

Hall plans to make a final recommendation for which schools should be included in the NCISD for the 2018-2019 school to the State Board of Education at its November meeting. The board is expected to vote on the recommendation in December.

Parents, supporters rally

On Tuesday, supporters of Glenn and Lakewood rallied against the possible state takeover of one of the two schools and vowed to fight any effort to turn them over to a charter school operator.

“Durham will fight, and if you hadn’t experienced a fight about education, get ready,” Lee vowed, aiming his remarks at the General Assembly.

More than 240 parents, teachers and elected officials attended the rally at Lakewood to learn more about the NCISD program under which Glenn could be turned over to a charter-school operator.

Several Glenn and Lakewood parents spoke against the NCISD program.

They described teachers and principals at the schools as compassionate and professional and argued that state test scores and letter grades don’t convey what goes on at Lakewood and Glenn.

Hyewon Grigoni, the mother of two Lakewood students, said she made her first visit to Lakewood to pick up transfer slips.

“What mom would put her kids in a school that the state had named low-performing?” Grigoni asked.

But after meeting with Lakewood teachers and administrators, Grigoni said she grew to believe there is a major “disconnect” between the state’s designation of the school as low-performing and the learning that takes place at the school.

“I went with my gut,” Grigoni said about her decision to send her children to Lakewood.

David Vanie, the father of twins at Glenn, said he doesn’t consider Glenn a failure and he took aim at NCISD superintendent Eric Hall.

‘He [Hall] has assumed that less accountability and less transparency somehow are going to result in more successful outcomes,” Vanie said.

Accountability questioned

After the rally moved from school grounds into Lakewood’s media center, Brian Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, explained that private charter school operators wouldn’t be accountable to parents like the school board is.

“We actually don’t have any power over these people,” Proffitt said.

In an interview on Tuesday, Hall said he respects the “passion of the community” but said Lakewood and Glenn simply haven’t improved outcomes for students.

“These are schools with a history of low-performance and not enough children are achieving academically,” Hall said.

Critics of the NCISD have likened it to an Achievement School District in Tennessee and similar programs in Detroit and New Orleans, which they contend have failed students.

“Public school privatization has failed in Tennessee, Detroit and New Orleans,” Lakewood parent Amanda Ragsdale said. “We don’t want forced privatization at Lakewood Elementary, we don’t want forced privatization in Durham and we are ready to fight to keep forced privatization out of North Carolina.”

Hall discounted those claims.

“Our model is completely unlike any of the others,” Hall said, explaining that NCISD will have only a few schools, which should give it a better chance to succeed than the larger programs in Tennessee, Detroit and New Orleans.

The 48 schools initially listed for consideration for the NCISD on Sept. 7 were picked because they’re among the lowest performing 5 percent of schools.

After Lakewood and Glenn made the list of six schools targeted for state takeover, Durham officials, teachers parents and others pledged to vigorously defend the two schools. Organizers of Tuesday’s rally displayed a petition with nearly 1,000 signatures supporting the schools.

Charter-like change coming

Former Superintendent Bert L’Homme said in a statement last week that Durham will move ahead with planned improvements for the two elementary schools, which are among 14 in the district granted charter-like flexibility by the State Board of Education in July.

DPS will use this year to plan, then implement charter-like changes for the 2018-19 school year.

“Our school board and staff know that our students will be served best by school reforms that come with local accountability,” said L’Homme, whose last day on the job was Sept. 30. Beaulieu will serve as interim director until a new superintendent is named later this month.

The school board is expected to revisit the restart plans for Glenn, Lakewood and the other 12 schools when it meets Thursday.

The Durham County Board of Commissioners had written to Hall to make the case for Glenn and Lakewood remaining under DPS control.

“Durham already has quite a variety of charter schools, not to mention magnet school options and other choices available to parents,” Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs wrote. “The Durham Board of County Commissioners simply does not believe that additional charter options are the key to helping Durham schools succeed.”

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645