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What would an ideal DPS look like with unlimited resources?
 
Published Monday, April 16, 2018
by Mick Schulte, Correspondent

DURHAM – Last Thursday night, Bryan Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, led the first in a series of three meetings where educators, students and parents came together to create a vision for how they would answer that question.

“No one ever asks what we really want in our schools because we’re always trying to get back to zero,” said Proffitt. He encouraged small groups to write lists of what they feel schools need to thrive during the forum at Southern High School. “Our first step is to create a vision of what schools would look like if we had all the resources to make our dreams happen.”

The DAE is the local chapter of the largest teacher’s union in the country, the National Education Association. The group’s current campaign is “In This Together: A Vision for the Durham Public Schools We All Deserve.” The visionary theme started with a survey of over 1,000 people last fall, where they asked three open-ended questions:

  1. What is working in our schools?
  2. What are the barriers keeping our students from succeeding?
  3. If you had unlimited resources, what would our schools have in five years?

Lisa McCool Grime, the high school director of the DAE, told how the survey generated some surprising results. “I saw answers with everything I thought I’d want in a school and even some things I didn’t know I’d want,” she said.

Grime gave the example of responses from custodians. “I didn’t realize our custodial services wanted to be back in-house instead of working as contract employees. Because of this survey, we were able to work with them and push for the school board to make them DPS employees again,” she said.

The group has achieved other victories through organizing and influencing. They helped stop the privatization of both Lakewood and Glenn elementary schools, prevented the loss of physical education and arts classes, and derailed budget cuts.

Proffitt and other members of the DAE believe that positive changes like these can continue to happen if people stand together. “This is exactly why we have these forums, so we can begin a rich conversation about why these things are important,” he said.

Throughout the meeting, community members referred to a document that listed the main outcomes from the survey. For example, one of the objectives is “all students receive the resources they need to be fluent readers by the end of third grade.”

Mika Twietmeyer, a biology teacher at Riverside High School, explained how the current system fails in this area by sharing that over half of her students are not reading at a high school level.

People also expressed concern for teachers’ benefits and pay. The objective from the survey states “all full-time employees work for DPS and receive a living wage, paid sick leave, vacation and health insurance.”

Proffitt stressed the importance of this point in light of a recent bill passed by the N.C. legislature that says teachers who begin working for the state in Jan. 2021 will no longer receive health insurance when they retire. Other issues addressed were easier access to supplies for teachers, bilingual training for school employees, diversity in honors and AP classes, full-time nurses at every school, and leadership retention.

Megan Lewis, a fourth-grade teacher, said she has worked at Creekside elementary for three years and has had three different principals in that time. “When a new principal explains their long-term goals for upcoming years, then they leave over the summer, how can you build any trust?” she asked.

The DAE hopes to address these issues by inspiring people to push for change. Proffitt held up pictures of Durham school board members and board of commissioners, and reminded everyone that “they are just people. They have names. They can be influenced.”

He also charted out a series of activities the DAE is organizing to get the attention of lawmakers. Now through the next school board meeting on April 26, they are asking educators to take a personal day on May 16. The group hopes to prove to the school board that they have the power to shut down the school system, and they are encouraging teachers to participate in a demonstration at the Legislature on May 16, which is the General Assembly’s first day back in session.

The group is also hoping to march to the polls to vote for local school board elections on May 5. Even though she’s not old enough to cast a ballot, Odalys Sanchez, a 10th-grader at Riverside High, is excited to be a part of improving Durham’s education system.

“Before this meeting, I didn’t know all of these teachers were fighting for better schools. I came here and realized there is a lot going on, and they can actually make changes,” she said.

The DAE wants to welcome more community members into the conversation at the next two forums: April 24 at the Durham School of the Arts and April 27 at Hillside High. Both events begin with dinner from 5:30-6 p.m., then conversation from 6-7:30 p.m.

Visit https://daenc.com/ for more information about upcoming DAE events.

 

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