Single-gender idea goes back to committee

Jun. 27, 2013 @ 10:24 PM

After two hours of discussion and high emotion, the Board of Education voted 5-1 to take the single gender academy back to committee in August for further discussion.

More specifically, the board voted to take male achievement in Durham Public Schools back to the committee for discussion.

The Rev. Frederick Davis was the lone voice of dissent not wanting the single-gender discussion to go back to committee, an action that would have kept the concept alive for further discussion rather than killing it in the water Thursday night.

The single-gender item was moved up on the agenda and Davis made the motion that the board accept the task force’s recommendation for a single-gender academy to address male achievement in DPS. Discussion began after board member Omega Curtis Parker quickly seconded.

Before a live and televised audience, board members debated whether a single-gender academy is the best way to help the district’s underperforming males.

In the middle of the discussion, DPS Superintendent Eric Becoats explained an email that he sent to the board earlier in the day, which included a compromise of the task force’s recommendation, with a single-gender model being employed in a single class, the results measured and action taken from there. That would’ve been a dramatic shift from the prior proposal, which called for spending about $12 million to renovate a school campus for the academy.

The superintendent’s compromise may still be a topic of discussion when the administrative services committee meets again in August.

Board Chair Heidi Carter said that the board disagrees on the best way to educate children and has been divided on the issue.

“The board has been divided and this divide has been along racial lines,” she said. “With some saying those who question (the single-gender academy concept) must be blind to the plight of students or risk the racist label. I am not motivated by race but to help the most challenged children.”

Three attempts to accept the task force’s recommendation resulted in a racially divided vote with the black members in favor of the recommendation and the white members against it.

Board member Natalie Beyer was still not convinced of the single-gender model.

“I think that the community wants to work on this, but this isn’t ready,” she said. “I’m still unclear on the urgency of this vote. It feels orchestrated. It feels pushy.

“We have to have proof that this is the only option we have left and that has never been clear to me,” continued Beyer. “Have we exhausted every option?”

Beyer said that the data is trendy and has been stacked and wondered why the solution is to separate boys and girls.

Davis argued the merit of the single-gender academy, noting that it would be a choice like the other specialty schools throughout the district.

“This is a choice,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the young males in Durham to choose from. It’s a choice. DSA (Durham School of the Arts) is a choice, but to me it’s segregated for students interested in music. It’s a choice. That’s what it’s about. This is all about an educational choice.”

Board member Leigh Bordley said that the small parameters of the single-gender school still made her uncomfortable.

“The goal is to help the largest number of students possible and have several options,” said Bordley. “I want to move forward. I came tonight in favor of the single-gender school with all of these concerns. I am willing to move forward, but I want to know what the next hurdle is we’ll have to clear.”

Bordley added that she did not want to see this one school have a flood of community support, while others struggle or see resources poured into a school of high achievers when there are children who need the additional help.

It was also revealed during her comments that Bordley attended an all-girl school and hated it, which is part of the reason she is reluctant to bring that model to Durham.

Minnie Forte-Brown, the board’s vice chair, referenced previous statements by Becoats that in some instances it is easier to create a culture than to alter one and compared it to attending a historically black college or university.

“We’ve had all the experts come in and nothing has changed. We need to do something different. What we have done is not getting it done.”

When a large portion of the audience left following the board’s continued discussion, Forte-Brown said that it signaled something much bigger than being tired after a long day.

“This shows how disheartening it is when this task force took their own time to study this. I think it speaks of disrespect,” she said. “You ask them to commit, they say they do. There is no more information that we can get. You’re saying that they’re saying what you want to hear, that we have a better way of reaching children of color and they’re people of color.”

Said Parker: “The community already predicted how the vote would go and it’s embarrassing.”