Durham CAN assembly questions school board candidates

Apr. 27, 2014 @ 08:17 PM

Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods asked school board members and candidates to agree to its education agenda, then set out on a march to the polls for early voting Sunday.
Hundreds of delegates packed the CAN assembly held at Nehemiah Christian Center downtown on Mangum Street. All 13 school board candidates were there, including members Natalie Beyer and Omega Curtis Parker, who are seeking re-election, and also Heidi Carter. Beyer is running unopposed for District 4. Candidates for District 1 are Parker, Michael D. Lee and Thomas Poole. District 2 candidates are Sendolo Diaminah, Jimmy Doster, Donald A. Hughes, DeWarren Langley and Terrence R. Scarborough. District 3 candidates are Deborah Lorraine Bryson, Steven Gatlin, Lisa Gordon Stella and Matt Sears.
All the candidates voted yes to Durham CAN’s agenda that if elected they would go on a retreat with CAN, are in favor of a universal breakfast, want to meet with the new superintendent within 60 days of he or she being hired, and more transparency and training about the budget.
Universal breakfast means a free breakfast for DPS students, something Parker said is very helpful but that some students don’t take advantage of it because of the stigma. Parker also supports CAN’s desire for Durham Public Schools to hire interpreters and family facilitators to work with Spanish-speaking students and families.
Beyer said the need for interpreters and support is profound, but the board has a long list of competing priorities.
“If we put these things in, we will need to remove other things,” Beyer said.
Carter said there are other crucial needs and that for Latino families, they might want to fund more mentors, counselors, alternatives to suspension and more mental health support in schools. All of those things cost money, Carter said, and the board will try to make wise decisions.
Candidates were each given a few minutes to speak, and talked about their families, jobs and work in the community. Lee’s three young children wore T-shirts supporting their dad, and he suggested that budget discussions include looking at the last year’s end budget as well. Poole stressed his experience in the community raising money for children. Diaminah talked about his work community organizing and said CAN’s agenda is about social justice. Doster said he was disappointed other candidates were not being bold, and thinks the board is rushing the superintendent hiring process. Hughes, who noted he was raised in Northeast Central Durham, said school board members need to understand budgets. Langley said that hiring interpreters would help every DPS child receive a quality education, and that education is the pathway to success. Scarborough noted his family’s funeral home history in Durham, and Bryson talked about starting a Montessori school. Gatlin said that as a teacher on the board he would always ask about teachers. Stella talked about her work in truancy court, and Sears noted his time as a teacher at Hillside High School.
Beyer said that she wished the job of a school board member came with a magic wand, but it doesn’t. She said their work is getting harder with the current General Assembly, and advocacy is incredibly important.
Those congregations, associations and neighborhoods represented at the assembly included Watts Hospital-Hillandale Association, Watts Street Baptist Church, Durham Economic Resource Center, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church, Judea Reform Congregation, Durham People’s Alliance, El Buen Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, New Creation United Methodist Church and several others.
The Rev. Herbert Davis, pastor of Nehemiah Christian Center, said that what was called “voter ID” legislation is really voter suppression.
“We must vote, and we must vote strong,” Davis rallied the assembly, and as the meeting ended, a crowd gathered and march toward the polls together.