Students, the bell tolls for thee

Aug. 24, 2014 @ 03:30 PM

For nearly 30,000 Durham Public Schools students who attend schools on a traditional calendar, the long summer break has come to an end.

They return to class today following several thousand DPS students enrolled in year-round and specialty programs who have already gotten their 2014-15 school years underway.

More than 3,100 year-round students started classes at DPS’ five year-round schools on July 21. Classes began Aug. 7 for nearly 850 students who attend the district’s City of Medicine Academy, J.D. Clement Early College High School and the Middle College And for those principals set to start school on Monday, beware:  Pearsontown Elementary School Principal Rod Teal has issued an ALS ice bucket challenge to all principals in the district. See for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmaoKP7UMbg.

The summer break has been one marked by a change for DPS. There is new leadership at the top, the district’s leadership team has been reorganized and there have been several key principal reassignments.

“I’m excited,” School Board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said last week. “I think we’re in a really solid position for the start of school. The staff has been as confident as I’ve ever seen them.” 

New Superintendent Bert L’Homme started work last month after spending the last few years as superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington.

L’Homme is a former superintendent of Franklin County Schools and a former DPS associate superintendent.

He inherits a school district where high rates of student suspensions and the ongoing struggle to move state tests scores in the right direction are constant concerns.

In the most recent round of state testing, Durham students scored at a 34.8 percent proficiency rate, which was 11.4 percentage points behind the 46.2 percent state proficiency rating.

While noting some successes, such as the district’s improved graduation rate, L’Homme made it clear at a recent school board work session that there is much work to do.

“I do think we have to be very, very honest with our parents and with our community,” L’Homme said. “We’re still below the state average in almost every category.”

 In addition to new leadership, students and parents will notice other changes.

This year, for example, all 33,000 or more students enrolled in Durham Public Schools can breakfast each morning at no charge.

The school board approved the free breakfast program in May in an effort to remove the stigma associated with receiving free or reduced meals at school.

School officials believe the “Breakfast is on Us” program will encourage more students to eat what is widely considered the most important meal of the day.

National data show that school districts with universal free breakfast programs have higher test scores, fewer disciplinary problems and more focused students.

Families in neighborhoods along busy Garrett Road near Jordan High School will find a new stretch of sidewalk extending from Swarthmore Road to the school, giving students the option of walking to Jordan instead of driving or catching a bus.

Although much of the construction appears complete, remaining work could continue to tie up traffic along Garrett Road in the coming days.

The school district’s website -- http://www.dpsnc.net/pages/Durham_Public_Schools -- is a good source of information for parents and students who have questions as the first day of school approaches.  

The district has also created an info video for parents with children who will be entering kindergarten. That video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ5g39WeGoI.