SCHOOL BOARD DISTRICT 1: Incumbent Parker faces two challengers

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 11:28 AM

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles profiling the Durham County Board of Education candidates.

The District 1 school board race features two challengers vying to unseat incumbent Omega Curtis Parker who has held the seat since 2006.
Although challenger Mike Lee is one of the two newcomers, he appears to be the frontrunner, having garnered the endorsements of all three major political action committees.
Lee has been endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, the People’s Alliance and Friends of Durham as he seeks his first election to political office.
Meanwhile, Parker has received endorsements from the Durham Association of Educators and The Herald-Sun.
Poole hasn’t received any endorsements from the PACs.
A public records check revealed that Poole has been arrested in 1989 for possession of powdered cocaine and sentenced to supervised probation.
In an interview, Poole acknowledged the arrest and said that he is a much different man than he was in 1989.
The Herald-Sun asked the three candidates to answer five questions we believe will provide insight into how they might govern if elected to the school board on May 6.
Their responses appear below.
  
Name: Michael “Mike” Lee
Age: 40
Employment: Product Manager of Global Data Services at Credit Suisse
Education: B.S. of Computer Science, Alabama A&M University
MBA, Information Technology Management, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?

  • Teacher satisfaction and retention.
  • As a board, we should work directly on keeping and training our talented teachers. In order for growth to happen we have to take care of our teachers.
  • Increasing reading scores for K–3 grades: We should look at all solutions including new innovations in technology to help increase reading levels in the lower grades.
  • Increasing technology in classrooms: As a board, we should find all viable technological solutions to integrate in our classrooms to assist our teachers in curriculum.

2. Durham Public Schools’ high rate of suspensions, particularly of black and Hispanic males has been the subject of several recent “community conversation.” Share your ideas to curb the suspension rate.

The Durham Board of Education has a very robust and detailed policy regarding suspensions. Over the last 20 years it has been updated eight times to account for the changing needs of DPS’ students.
As a board member, I would like to add an intermediary step to suspension to empower the involved student(s) to avoid disciplinary actions. I will propose if a student is involved in a lower level violation, time will be given to “cool off.”
This proposed time could be the rest of the school day or a period of time in an office or in a neutral environment. The student will be given all information regarding the policy, punishments and next steps. The following day the student and a parent will meet with the principal, staff and other persons involved. At that time, the student will be given the opportunity to reconcile with the affected parties and the ability to avoid suspension. This option will only be available for two occurrences. Upon the third incident, regular procedures will be activated. I believe this will drastically reduce the number of disciplinary actions resulting in out of school suspensions.


3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
Yes, I believe there are options for high-achieving students to be sufficiently challenged. Throughout the DPS system, there are many very high-achieving students. Because of this, our public school system has incorporated many different options for these students to be more challenged and fulfilled. For example, DPS has a very robust AIG (Academically and Intellectually Gifted) Program. This program provides more resources and challenging curriculums for those nominated, tested and subsequently selected. In many cases, the classes associated with this program are weighted higher and allow students to obtain college credit. These types of programs (AIG, Advanced Placement Classes, etc) are available throughout the system will continue to challenge those advanced students within DPS.

4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
Charter schools serve a growing segment of students from DPS. Many of them have specific targets for which they serve. I think the role of charter schools should be that of a targeted population of students who might thrive better in smaller groups, or parts of the student population who might need extra help in growth. I’ve seen information about a charter school program in Charlotte whose mission is to address students after they drop out, or when identified as high probability of dropping out. I see a need and a purpose of these types of targeted charters in DPS.

5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?

  • A successful candidate should at the very least have experience with the diverse set of challenges we face as a district.
  • The candidate should arrive with ideas on how to support and retain talented teachers in a tough budget environment, a vision on success of lower performing schools and students, a plan to retain and grow teachers, students and parents on the administration of common core standards.
  • It is also important for the candidate to have a record of making hard decisions and taking ownership of the results.
  • Also the candidate should have experience working with business partners, in the area of their previous districts, to develop and offer opportunities for students.


Name: Omega Curtis Parker
Age:
Employment: Retired educator
Education:

1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?
   If re-elected, my top five priorities are:

  • Increasing the graduation rate.
  • Improving student achievement.
  • Reducing the suspension and dropout rate.
  • Providing adequate resources for all schools.
  • Working with my fellow board members and the superintendent to move the district forward to make it a top-notch school system.

2. Durham Public Schools’ high rate of suspensions, particularly of black and Hispanic males has been the subject of several recent “community conversation.” Share your ideas to curb the suspension rate.
I believe that in order to curb the high suspension rate, the district must ensure best practices in teaching and learning. There must be consistency in suspension. There is not only disparity in suspension within the district; there is also disparity in suspension within the individual schools. There is definitely a need for diversity training for teacher to help them understand cultural differences of students. When there are problems or issues in the home, students tend to react and act out at school. Durham Public Schools must continue to provide more wrap-around services to assist students and families by providing information on available resources within the community. This would help families with problems, such as, homelessness, physical and mental health conditions and unemployment.

3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
There has been much emphasis placed on low-achieving students; however, there is a need for challenging our high-achieving students. A greater effort should be made to identify AIG students. After identification, sufficient funds should be made available to provide an adequate number of teachers for the students. Within the regular classroom, teachers should be given adequate resources and assistance in moving the students into higher levels of learning. An adequate number of honors and advanced placement classes should be available in all schools.

4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
Recognizing the fact that charter schools are public schools, it is imperative that the charter schools and Durham Public Schools work together to put in place strategies for educating all students in the Durham community.

5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?
The qualities that I would like to see in the next superintendent are:
      (1) Honesty (2) Compassion (3) Integrity (4) Confidence (5) Collaboration
       
Name:  Thomas M. Poole
Age:  58
Employment: Community Advocate - Retired (Educator)
Education:  Bachelors degree, Geography, N.C. Central University
Minor - Public Administration                                            
Non-Profit Governance & Management (Rules, Roles, & Responsibilities for Boards) N.C. Central University. Law School, Oct. 2012 - June 2013

1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?   

  • A child-first priority environment.
  • Leadership and guidance with a purpose atmosphere. 
  • Provide real communication with the students, parents and the community.
  • To make sure the board is articulate in presenting its mission, accomplishments and goals. 
  • Provide proper fiduciary oversight and establish adequate resources to carry out the mission.
  • Provide integrity and standards and strengthen the current programs and services.

2. Durham Public Schools’ high rate of suspensions, particularly of black and Hispanic males has been the subject of several recent “community conversation.” Share your ideas to curb the suspension rate.
  I propose that:

  • The school board will instruct the superintendent to have the three school entities of high school principals, middle school principals and elementary school principals to separately hash out an agreement on a school-wide suspension and discipline policies for their respected entity to be submitted to the Superintendent’s Office. 
  • The superintendent or deputy superintendent will then present the three proposals to two board members for review. 
  • The two board members will present the items to the entire board for discussion.
  • The Board of Education will schedule four community meetings throughout Durham.
  • Then the board will issue the results from all entities for Policies and Procedures to be implemented as stated by the DPS board.

3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
Yes! As a parent of an eighth-grade student at W.G. Pearson Middle Magnet, my son has won academic awards since 1st grade and recently was accepted into J.D. Clement Early College High School. 
The STEM program is outstanding! There are a lot of good things in DPS such as clubs, activities and some collaboration with statewide competitions.
Can DPS do more? Yes.

4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
For DPS, I will be working to make the first choice of the parents of Durham County, the Durham Public Schools. And more importantly, it is the parents who choose what school their children attend. Remember the parents are citizens and taxpayers too.
Focus on the children and their first teacher -- their parents.
For me, I am a respecter of all educational entities that provide a child-first environment.
     
5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?

  • Solid educational leadership background.
  • Solid communicational skills.
  • Must love working with children and youths with a child-first-attitude.
  • Honored to be the face of DPS.
  • Character with a champion’s personality for the students, parents and the community.
  • Must be able to assemble an executive staff to improve student achievement, diminish the gap between high and low performing students and establish strong community outreach.
  • Must demonstrate knowing the value of teachers and teacher assistants.