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The Voice of the Black Community

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DPS parents want more black teachers, equity training, fewer suspensions
Group will present feedback to school board Oct. 18
 
Published Friday, September 21, 2018
by Freda Freeman, Correspondent

DURHAM – Incentives to attract and keep black teachers, especially men; provide test preparation for students who need it, not just the high achievers; and make school suspension a last resort are just a few of the things black parents and educators said they want to see in Durham Public Schools.

About 50 parents, along with 10 DPS personnel, gathered at the Self-Help Credit Union Tuesday to participate in a Black Parent Empowerment Workshop: Racial Equity in Durham Public Schools to give their input on a five-year strategic plan to increase diversity and to improve Durham schools. The workshop was sponsored by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People Education Committee.

Kicking off the meeting, three panelists – Ronda Taylor Bullock, Jovonia Lewis, and Harvey Hinton III – gave their perspective of DPS as a teacher, parent, and student.

“As a system, the curriculum was not set up for black and brown children,” said Bullock, a former teacher, and co-founder and director of we are (working to extend anti-racist education). “Teachers have a direct line to make sure there’s racial equity, starting with our curriculum. Teachers play a pivotal role. We have the power to be change agents. We have a moral and social duty to do better for our students in our classrooms than what was done for us….It’s time, it’s been time, it’s past time; we’re actually late. We need to show up because we have a lot of ground to make up.”

Lewis, head of the DCABP Education Committee, gave an analogy to illustrate her point: If you pass a lake and see a dead fish, you wonder what’s wrong with the fish. If you go by the lake again and see a lot of dead fish, you wonder what’s wrong with the lake.

“For too long, we’ve been in the business of fixing fish instead of looking at how to change the system,” she said. “Racial equity in education is important to me because for change to be realized, we have to organize and come together to challenge the structural racism and implicit bias to get better results for black and brown children.”

Hinton, who has worked in urban education for about 15 years, said black and brown boys tend to be at the bottom of educational achievement data, and that there’s some systemic work that must be addressed.

“Black boys want the same exact thing as everyone else, the exact same thing, and that same thing is they want the right to define their future. They want the same opportunity as everyone else to say this is what I want. The issue is that history makes it difficult for us,” Hinton said.

Deputy Superintendent of Academic Services, Nakia Hardy, then gave an overview of the strategic plan, after which parents and educators gathered in smaller groups to study it in more detail.

A 52-member planning team worked on the plan from March to May. It was approved by the Durham Board of Education in June. The “truly inclusive” plan is built upon core educational values, equity, shared responsibility, higher expectations, and a child-centered approach to ensure all of DPS’s 33,000 students are “successful, graduate, and contribute to the Durham community as well as the global community,” Hardy said.

The plan has five priorities: increase academic achievement; provide a safe school environment that supports the whole child; attract and retain outstanding educators and staff; strengthen school, family, and community engagement; and ensure fiscal and operational responsibility.

Each priority has specific goals, which include ensuring that by 2023 at least 60 percent of students achieve grade level proficiency, up from 49 percent, and that the graduation rate is at least 90 percent, up from 82.4 percent.

The plan calls for reducing the number of students being suspended from school to 4 percent or lower by 2023. The current suspension rate is about 7.4 percent.

“This goal is really about the environment that our children are in at our schools, making sure that we are being intentional about how we’re meditating, and then also being intentional, if poor choices happen, that we are ensuring that suspension is the absolute last resort for our children,” Hardy said.

Additional goals include reducing the teacher turnover rate from 18.3 percent to less than 14.3 percent, and increasing the percentage of Hispanic and Latino educators and staff. Several parents said they want to see a similar coalition or concerted effort to increase the number of black teachers and staff.

The goals also call for improving the perception of individual schools; strengthening family, school, and community engagement; forming community partnerships; maintaining school buildings and grounds; and exhibiting fiscal responsibility.

The next step is to share the parents’ feedback with the school superintendent’s office and subsequently present it to the school board Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m.

 

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