District 2 candidates duke it out in a crowded field

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 07:36 PM

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of profiles about Durham County Board of Education candidates.

 

The crowded and highly competitive District 2 school board race has provided much of the fireworks for an otherwise staid election season.
In recent weeks, the candidates have been vocal in their contention that the current school board should slow down the superintendent search process to allow the board seated in July to hire the next schools’ chief.
And candidate Donald Hughes has taken Sendolo Diaminah to task over his voting record, and Jimmy Doster, a Republican, over his party affiliation.
Hughes said at a recent candidate forum that the policies of the state GOP have damaged public education in North Carolina.
With five strong candidates, the margin of victory could be razor-thin when voters go to the polls May 6. There is no run-off in school board races this year so the highest vote-getter wins.
The winner in the five-way race will fill the seat currently held by Fredrick Davis who is not seeking re-election.
Davis, a local pastor, has thrown his support by behind DeWarren Langley, a member of Davis’ First Calvary Baptist Church.
Durham’s three major political action committees have all chosen a different candidate to support in the District 2 race.
Hughes has been endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Diaminah by the People’s Alliance and Terrence Scarborough by the Friends of Durham.
Diaminah also received the endorsement of the Durham Association of Educators, and Scarborough was endorsed by The Herald-Sun’s editorial board.
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 May 6.
Their responses appear below.


Name: Sendolo Diaminah
Age: 28
Employment: Lead Community Organizing Trainer, BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership & Dignity)
Education: High School, Some College

1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?
The first thing I would do to improve Durham Public Schools would be to make parent, teacher and youth engagement a regular part of school and school system decision-making. Truly strengthening school-based management through effective School Improvement Teams made up of students, parents, administrators, and community representative. Unfortunately, not all schools use School Improvement Teams as they should. These councils need to have real decision-making power; they should do more than just “advise.”  We have the mechanism in place. Now we just need someone with concrete organizing experience to empower local communities to participate, and restore confidence in our school system as an institution that respects and encourages community involvement. I believe I am the only candidate with the skill set to make that happen.
Second, I would bring back the teacher mentorship program that was phased out in the last few years of budget cuts. Good teachers are the lifeblood of strong schools.
Third, I would deepen the partnership between DPS and Pre-K early literacy programs. Too often children are already behind when they arrive in our kindergarten classrooms. By the time our students reach high school, the problem has often deepened leading to increased suspension and drop out rates. We can avoid problems that are a decade away by ensuring all our students have a strong educational foundation.

2. Durham Public Schools’ high rate of suspensions, particularly of black and Hispanic males has been the subject of several recent “community conversations.” Share your ideas to curb the suspension rate.
Because children of color and children with disabilities (who are also suspended at a high rate) face a tremendous amount of challenges in their lives and development, they often need specific attention and resources. As resources are cut, the system relies less and less on having an adequate team of highly-skilled professionals and more and more on removing children seen as “problems” from the classroom. This is the way that seemingly neutral policies become, in practice, forms of institutionalized racism and ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities).
More than anything, what suspension rates and disparities reveal are the serious challenges our schools face in meeting the specific needs of children of color and children with disabilities and, given the low level of resources at our disposal, a reliance on punitive rather than restorative practices. Thus, we need to unite as a school Board, school district, and a community to fight for the resources our schools and children need so they receive the attention and help they deserve.
As a BOE member I would ensure implementation of restorative practices and suspension alternatives, as well as advocating for more support services, like counselors and social workers, so that every student gets the attention they deserve.

3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
One of the greatest challenges of public schools is meeting the needs of all students — each one’s particular strengths and weaknesses.  This is also what makes public schools such a critical part of society.
DPS has developed many innovative programs that serve a wide range of students: magnet schools with different areas of focus: early and middle college, Holton Career Center and many others. Across the country and across the state, more and more school systems are becoming majority people of color and majority low-income. Durham has been facing these challenges for decades and has proven practices that I think others can learn from. So, the programs that cater to academically high achieving students, like early and middle college, IB (from elementary to HS), AP, AIG programs certainly exist in our district. Of course, there is always room for improvement and in order to do this, I am interested in asking the students themselves where they think we could improve.

4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
If charter schools were used as they were originally envisioned —as places of innovative teaching and learning — they could be an effective part of the public school system. Many low-income and families of color are attracted to charter schools because our public schools have been defunded and are struggling. The reality, however, is that charter schools have increased income and racial segregation in schools. Rather than offering more choice to those who need it most, they tend to siphon public resources into schools that serve the more privileged. When charter schools don’t offer transportation, free and reduced lunch, special education and ELL services, they are not functioning in the way they were originally envisioned. I believe that we should invest in our traditional public schools — increasing resources, teacher training, innovation, and special programs -- rather than giving our public dollars to private groups to run charter schools.

5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?
For a superintendent to lead our school system effectively, he or she must have the confidence and support of parents, educators, administrators, and students. The superintendent must be aligned with the values and the vision for our schools that comes from DPS stakeholders, the Durham community, and our board. In addition to strong competence in personnel and financial management skills, a successful candidate should be interested in investing in DPS for the long-term and not simply looking to build a resume to move on to a bigger school system. He or she should also share a commitment to transparency and decision-making that involves all stakeholders. Finally, as there are bound to be conflicts on the board and within the DPS system, we also need a superintendent who is able to use conflict generatively.

Name: Jimmy Doster
Age: 22
Employment: Business Analyst
Education: The Ohio State University, Fisher College of Business

1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?
 Work with fellow board members to ensure that DPS is defined by all the successful and innovative programs and results achieved by our hard-working administrators, teachers, parents, volunteers and students. We must have a louder voice than the naysayers — we must convert the naysayers. I would expect the vocal support of the county and city leaders, as public schools are always a key factor in any community’s success.
 Increase the number of children in high-quality, pre-kindergarten classes.
 This will among other things, require a judicious top to bottom review of our current expenditures and programs. I will not hesitate to shift resources to our most important and leverageable programs. There will be no sacred cows to me while I am a board member.
 Retain and recruit excellent teachers, with great emphasis on professional development. For instance, the use of a Master Teacher can provide development through coaching of a less experienced teacher, leverage our exceptional teachers, and give a career path for excellent teachers.

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.
DPS has been working on changing its school suspension policy for some time but we have not seen data on suspensions: Was it a safety issue such as fighting or a violation such as wearing the wrong clothes? This data is essential to develop a new policy.
Special attention must be paid to out-of-school suspensions, which remove a child from education and place special burdens on working parents. The board, through fiscal prioritization, must be sure that each school has the resources to deal with the issues that cause suspensions on an equal basis for similar situations.

3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
DPS provides many challenging courses for our most gifted students. And we must continue to improve the education for high-achieving students.
Right now, I see at least two cultural issues that need addressed:
First is a culture that does not reward scholastic excellence sufficiently. I am told that some students avoid top-level classes because they fear being labeled as outcasts or worse for their academic excellence.
My second concern is that the community must do more to celebrate academic excellence, as much we do athletic excellence. “Good enough” must not be the goal for our students. As DPS proficiency improves, the path to celebrate academic excellence, and its rewards in education and the job market will become more open for our students. Overall I see this more as a cultural issue than one of the courses provided by DPS.

4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
I respect the concerns raised regarding charter school. With that said, maximize choices for families. Learning best practices through competitive benchmarking is a principle that I support. Choice provides an incentive for parents to learn about different school options and get involved in their child’s education. Our Board of Education can learn from the Charter School System and vice versa. We need trust in teachers and what they think is best for their classrooms; therefore I advocate for less regulation from the state government, leading to more opportunity for alternative methods of instruction, classroom organization and restructuring course sequence.
We must face the fact that some parents are not satisfied with the education provided by DPS at this time. School choice is a way for these parents to stay here in Durham, while finding an education that satisfies their needs. In essence, school choice can lessen the flight of families to surrounding communities. We all want families who care about their children’s education to remain in Durham.

5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?
Through collaboration with the search firm, the board needs to assess the skills and experience the candidates have. Given the achievement gaps so widely discussed, I believe that the best candidates will have experience in a school system with the socio-economic characteristics similar to those found in Durham. While one can compile a long list of useful attributes, in our search we must concentrate on the key elements.
While financial management competency is necessary in the
superintendent’s position, it is equally important that our new superintendent have significant experience in dealing with low achievement scores, especially in reading, and in building community support for the schools and their effort to bring all our children to the proper level of education they need for their future. Also, experience in revitalizing early childhood education is important, as we know that a house with a solid foundation will not crumble.

 

Name: Donald Hughes
Age: 26
Employment: Online Advertising
Education: MPA, NCCU / B.A. Economics, UNCG
1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?
My top priorities if elected to office would be:
 Providing schools with resources and support needed to improve basic literacy and numeracy skills for all students.
 Strengthening partnerships with local businesses and community organizations to support the school system’s vision of providing every student with a world-class education that prepares them for college or careers.
 Addressing disparities in school suspensions and working to end “school-to-prison” pipeline.
 Fighting to protect public education funding in order to attract, retain and support great teachers, teacher assistants, and other important staff in our schools.

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 disparity in suspensions of African-American and Hispanic male students is a significant challenge that Durham Public Schools must work hard to combat. Over the last few months, I have worked with the school system as a facilitator at a series of public meetings aimed at gathering community input about the district’s suspension issue and developing solutions for more effective disciplinary policies.
As a member of the school board, I would work to implement a restorative discipline program that focuses on the prevention of conflict and misbehaviors that lead to suspensions rather than simply punishing students. This program would engage students, teachers, administrators and parents in a supportive process that focuses on positive behaviors and reinforcement, which have proven extremely successful in reducing suspensions in other school districts across the nation.
DPS must also commit the resources needed to address social challenges faced by students. Using funds from the unassigned fund balance, the number of social workers in our schools must be increased to help students with issues (such as hunger, domestic violence, mental health challenges, substance abuse and more) that our teachers may be unable and unequipped to handle.

3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
I do think that high-achieving students are sufficiently challenged in Durham Public Schools. As a product of Durham Public Schools (DPS), I completed the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. The goal of the IB Program is to provide students with challenging coursework, aligned with international standards, that prepares them for post secondary education at universities across the world.
Realizing that programs like the IB Program and others exist within DPS, we must do a better job of expanding these challenging programs and courses to more, if not all, students. In order to do this, we have to be sure that teachers are adequately trained to teach these rigorous courses and that all schools and students have the same resources in order to succeed.

4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
Charter schools, as originally intended, were designed to be labs of innovation. The idea of charter schools is a good one, but the execution has not quite lived up to the original intent. Understanding the political reality in our state, leaders of traditional public schools and charter schools must work together to ensure that we are providing all students with a world-class education and are equipping them with the skills they will need to compete for jobs in today’s 21st century global society.
As a member of the school board, I will seek to forge closer ties with charter school leaders and urge the DPS administration to think of creative strategies and approaches, such as joint professional development workshops for teachers, to facilitate a better understanding and working relationship between traditional public and charter schools in Durham County.

5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?
The next superintendent should have a strong record of success in terms of improving student achievement, particularly with populations similar to the demographic makeup of those in Durham Public Schools. The next superintendent should also have a demonstrated record of collaboration and community engagement. Durham is a vibrant community with active and engaged citizens that want to be a part of the school system’s continued transformation and our next superintendent must embrace this unique quality of our community. Finally, the next superintendent should have sound financial management skills and experience with a budget comparable to DPS’ $407 million budget. Our community needs a leader that we can have trust, have full faith in their skills and will serve as a vocal supporter and advocate for public education.


DeWarren K. Langley
Age: 29
Employment: Document Review Associate, Synergy Legal Professionals.
Executive Director, Charles Houston Foundation, Inc.
Education: Candidate for Certificate in Nonprofit Management, Duke University (2014)
Juris Doctor; Concentration in Civil Rights & Constitutional Law, N.C. Central University School of Law (2011)
Certificate of Completion, Citizens Police Academy (2008)
Certificate of Completion for Technology of Participation Group Facilitation Methods, The Institute for Cultural Affairs (2008)
Certificate of Completion, Durham Neighborhood College (2007)
Bachelor of Science in Business Management & Economics; Minor in Leadership Studies, Hampton University (2007)
Diploma, C.E. Jordan High School (2003)
 
1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?
Education is the key to pathways of opportunity and success, thus my top priority when elected, is to work together to ensure all students are given the key. Every child in Durham County deserves and will receive a high-quality education that prepares them to reach their dreams in college, the workforce and as engaged citizens. As a member of the school board, I will:
Foster achievement for all students to reduce disparities in achievement and discipline to ensure our students receive a high quality education by making decisions in the best interest of our students.
Promote accountability among all stakeholders by monitoring policies and initiatives consistent with the mission of DPS and making corrective measures when necessary.
Work tirelessly to ensure that the highest level of accessibility, ethics, transparency is afforded to our students, our teachers, our schools and our community. Attend and host community meetings to share & receive information to make the best decisions for our students.
Achievement, accountability, and accessibility are essential ingredients that will drive the success of our students, Durham Public Schools and the community at-large.

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.
Studies have shown that there is a connection between poverty, minority status and discipline problems, resulting in the disparities between the races. In recent years, we are leaning more on suspension and juvenile court referrals rather than traditional/alternative or restorative justice solutions which correct the behavior yet keep students in school. This will require strategic relationships to be built between government and community-based youth service agencies to work on solutions to connect problem students with needed services and resources to mitigate those challenges to improve classroom outcomes, keeping students in the classroom.
Many students in Durham Public Schools are dealing with social, economic and mental health challenges beyond the training of teachers, which requires additional social workers to better assess student needs and connect the student with needed services and resources to mitigate those challenges to improve classroom outcomes. Connecting students with the services and support they need would deal with the underlying issue and keep students in the learning environment. To effectively provide services, it will require strategic relationships with government and community-based youth service agencies and engaging teachers, students and parents to assess student needs and connect the student with the appropriate service provider.

3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
I believe students must be sufficiently challenged in the classroom to meet the challenges that they will see upon graduation. If you look at our counterparts across the world, we rank lower than we should. That is due in part to our children not being sufficiently challenged and given high enough expectations. In addition to those high expectations, we must create and sustain a learning environment to help students of all achievement levels reach their goals through sufficient support inside the classroom and outside the classroom. Our children can meet and exceed the levels of other competing nations and we must challenge ourselves to do whatever we can to help them meet and exceed our high expectations. By doing so, we align our educational system to build a pipeline of workforce talent for Durham County and empower youth with the tools, resources, motivation and support to navigate successfully into the workforce.

4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
I do not support the expansion of charter schools in Durham County, however, I believe the Board of Education must develop and sustain a working relationship with charter schools, which would permit the exchange of ideas and practices to provide all students with a high quality education. Charter schools are divesting Durham Public Schools of state revenue, not held to the same academic and accountability standards as public schools and are not open to all students in the district due to the limitation of not providing free and reduced lunch and, or transportation.
Charter schools must work collaboratively with regular public schools, ensuring all students are given the best education possible, even if they are not in charter schools. I believe we should work collaboratively with both existing charter schools and new charter schools to make sure all students are receiving the best education possible.

5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?
The Board of Education relies on the superintendent to provide an accurate and transparent accounting of district financial resources. The next superintendent must have sound judgment in the use of district financial resources and the board should require the superintendent to report financial information on a quarterly basis to provide sufficient oversight. These reports should be carefully reviewed by the board to ensure funds are being spent appropriately. In the era of tight budgets, we must ensure money is being spent efficiently and effectively.
The most important decision of the Board of Education is the selection of a superintendent. The successful candidate for superintendent of Durham Public Schools should be able to provide visionary leadership and sound judgment in:
curriculum and instruction, goal setting and monitoring achievement, fostering community and/or intergovernmental partnerships, administration and organization of short-term and long-term strategic planning, budgeting and personnel and facility management, strong communication and effective team-building,
procuring additional funding, visibility and involvement in community activities, leadership in maintaining safe and orderly school environments, planning and funding of school facilities,
decision-making, delegation and follow-through, effective board relations, appropriate and effective principal, teacher and student engagement and promoting technology in the classroom.

Name: Terrence “T.R.” Scarborough
Age: 38
Employment: Assistant Director of Licensure
University of North Carolina – General Administration
Education: University of North Carolina, Bachelor of Arts Degree – Industrial Relations.
N.C. Central University, Master’s Degree – Public Administration (Magna Cum Laude)


1. If elected to the school board, what would be your top priorities?
My top priorities, if elected are:
 To grow parent and community involvement ,
 Work to unify and mend the relationships between the school board, superintendent and teachers.
 Provide alternatives to out-of-school suspensions.
 To increase per student spending.

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 overall, the suspension policy is fine. The recent policy amendment that gives individual administrators more flexibility in determining when to suspend a student is a progressive step forward.   
The issue is not the suspension policy, but the inconsistent interpretation, application and enforcement of the Code of Student Conduct policy. It is this policy that is grossly abused. 
As a board member, I would ensure that students, parents, faculty and administrators understand the difference between the two policies. I would set up workshops specifically for faculty and administrators to explain how to interpret the policy and how to identify which consequence or behavioral intervention is to be applied to situations. I would also suggest distribution of the policy to students and parents at the beginning of each academic year.
Additionally, I would implement a comprehensive In-School Suspension (ISS) Vocational program wherein students remain under school supervision when they have violated a rule. The ISS Vocational program would require that students in ISS complete a certain number of community service hours (i.e. help build houses with Habitat for Humanity; maintain local community gardens; learn specific vocational trades such as masonry, etc.). The objective is to teach students to be accountable for their actions while simultaneously teaching them a new skill set, giving back to their community and how to be responsible in fulfilling their respective assignments.

3. Do you think high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools are sufficiently challenged? Explain your answer.
I believe that there is the opportunity for high-achieving students in Durham Public Schools to be sufficiently challenged. With class sizes having grown over the years, budget cuts reducing teacher assistants and other support personnel, and teachers leaving the profession, the number of teachers able to teach Advanced Placement courses has decreased. Consequently, fewer high-achieving students are being challenged by their school’s course offerings. 
However, due to the collaboration with Durham Technical Community College, high-achieving students are able to take more rigorous courses while simultaneously receiving college credit free of charge. 
Additionally, students are able to enroll in more challenging courses offered by N.C. Virtual Public School. Here, students are able to enroll in over 150 Advanced Placement, Honors, Traditional, and Credit Recovery online courses. 
I believe this is an excellent example of how Durham Public Schools has been able to meet a need through collaboration. These opportunities for high-achieving students to challenge themselves may not otherwise exist in their traditional school course offerings.  I applaud Durham Public Schools for thinking outside of the box on how to best deliver education to its students.

4. What do you think is the proper role of charter schools in the Durham community?
As budgets are being reduced for public education overall, it is no wonder that our Exceptional Children’s (EC) programs are experiencing significant challenges. According to the 2012-13 budget, DPS is facing a 1.1 percent unfunded gap for EC services. 
I believe the proper role of charter schools is to address a need that Durham Public Schools is not currently meeting. Collaborating with charter schools could prove beneficial for all parties involved if specific needs are met. Creating charter schools with a focus on identified areas (i.e. EC) would allow students to matriculate in an arena tailored to their specific needs. Parents and students would then know that this particular school was designed with their child in mind. We use this same philosophy for our magnet school process where we create schools with a tailored and specific curriculum and students attend the school because of that curriculum. We could employ a very similar philosophy and approach with a collaborative venture with charter schools.

5. What qualities would you like to see in the next superintendent?
I believe the next superintendent should possess the following attributes. They should be a civil servant who is ethical, has integrity and high positive morals to help restore the trust that has been lost. 
The next superintendent should be disciplined, charismatic and a visionary in order to galvanize the community around a common goal. I would hope that they are intentional and transparent in their conversation. We need a strong leader that is competent and able to ease the fears and calm the anxieties that we face during this transitional period.
The next superintendent should be an adaptive leader who is able to adapt or bend with the ever-changing environment of public education, but not break under the pressure that accompanies the position. The superintendent does not only represent the school board, DPS and the community, they are role models for our children. Consequently, they should be held to a higher standard.