Top Ten Stories of 2012: No. 9

Durham Public Schools celebrates a year with no low-performing schools
Dec. 22, 2012 @ 06:27 PM

Durham Public Schools saw an increase in its graduation rate and overall academic proficiency in 2011-12.

But the accomplishment most touted by administrators: For the first time in more than a decade, DPS had no low-performing schools – schools that fell below 50 percent on their proficiency composite scores or failed to meet academic goals.

The DPS graduation rate for high school seniors climbed to 77 percent, 3.2 percentage points below the state average of 80.2 percent (a record high) but up 3.1 percentage points from the previous year.

“I’m thrilled that our graduation cohort continues to improve,” said James Key, the district’s area superintendent for high schools.

Pearsontown proved to be the top-performing elementary school, with an 89.51 percent proficiency rating in reading, mathematics and science. Among middle schools, Rogers-Herr came in first with an 82 percent proficiency in reading, mathematics, science and algebra. J.D. Clement Early College, a high school program based at N.C. Central University, finished tops with a 96.82 percent proficiency score for algebra, biology and English.

Four DPS schools saw their proficiency scores improve by more than 10 percentage points over the previous year: Holt Elementary, Y.E. Smith Elementary, George Watts Elementary and Hillside High.

The state Department of Public Instruction recognized City of Medicine Academy and Early College as “Honor Schools of Excellence.” Seven Durham schools earned recognition as “Schools of Distinction:” Easley Elementary, Little River Elementary, Mangum Elementary, Pearsontown Elementary, R.N. Harris Elementary, Rogers-Herr Middle and Durham School of the Arts.
The district had five low-performing schools in 2009-10, but reduced that to two last year. One Durham elementary school squeaked by this year: W.G. Pearson had a proficiency rating of 50.6 percent. Pearson and other schools clearly have more work to do.

However, measures are changing now that the district is making the transition to Common Core Standards. So, scores garnered in 2011-12 won’t be comparable next year. Nevertheless, DPS leaders enjoyed the outcome.

“We are definitely pleased with the results and want to thank our students, parents, teachers and volunteers for their hard work,” said Superintendent Eric Becoats. “It is clearly paying dividends.”

DPS hasn’t been coasting on the momentum of these academic accomplishments.

The district also celebrated the opening of Lucas Middle School – the first new middle school to open for Durham students in 24 years.

DPS this fall unveiled plans to convert soon-to-close Chewning Middle School into a new magnet program called the School for Creative Studies. Neal and Lowe’s Grove middle schools will have new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) magnet programs.

The district then started “Moving in the Middle,” an effort to promote focused learning opportunities in middle schools that don’t have magnet programs.

Lucas, as designed, will maintain a concentration on project-based learning. Brogden will focus on leadership development. Carrington chose to cover global connections. Githens will offer students the chance to learn leadership through service.

“We had lots of discussion in our community in regard to program offerings in our middle schools, wanting to make sure our middle schools had programming that would serve all students, regardless if they attended a magnet middle school or a traditional home-based middle school,” Becoats said.

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