School board not quite united on charter school collaboration

Jan. 10, 2013 @ 07:38 PM

The Durham Public Schools Board of Education Thursday sought common ground with charter schools that in the past have been a point of contention.

But it’s not a united front just yet.

Board members voted 6-1 during a special meeting to approve a vision statement calling for “quality schools for all children.”

“We envision a community that will equitably confront, together, our fundamental challenge of weakening the powerful link between socioeconomic disadvantage and student learning,” the statement reads. “All of our public schools will share equally in this challenge to educate our impoverished children, with no barriers to admission, retention, and success.”

DPS as a whole, facing enrollment challenges from a growing number of local public charter options – including as many as 11 more on the horizon, based on recent letters of intent received by the state Department of Public Instruction -- seems intent on trying to find ways to collaborate.

“Our Vision incorporates a culture of cooperation, transparency, accountability, and collegiality in the management of public education, rather than one of competition and division,” the statement reads. “We envision a climate of reciprocal trust in which we celebrate each other’s successes. All Durham’s public schools – whether they be traditional public schools or charter public schools – will operate as elements of a fair and efficient system with multiple parts interacting and working together toward our common goals, under local accountability for student success.”

The vision statement already has support from local charter schools, including Voyager Academy, Central Park, Maureen Joy, Kestrel Heights and Global Scholars.

“The hope is that by being able to agree on a vision, we can figure out how we can work together to achieve this vision,” said Heidi Carter, chair of the DPS board.

Board member Frederick Davis provided the sole voice of dissent against the vision statement.

“Equity of access to charter schools in Durham is not happening,” he said. “I don’t want to put my name on a vision that I know is not going to happen.”

Carter said she understood his concerns, but wanted the board to take a chance on making this first step.

“It’ll be a leap of faith until there’s an actual working agreement,” she said.

Board member Leigh Bordley said that she has struggled with the reality of charters.

“They are fragmenting our community,” she said, making it impossible for some students to attend and coaxing children out of schools. “I see this as an opportunity to change their hearts….If we can get charters to say these words often enough, we can make this vision more of a reality.”

Ultimately, Carter said, the board would seek an agreement that included local governing authority to manage charter schools rather than relying on an overburdened state office.

“This is a baby step toward a more cooperative, collaborative working relationship in Durham,” Carter said.

The board also Thursday voted unanimously to pass its 2013 legislative agenda, which will be presented to Durham’s state lawmakers at a breakfast meeting next Friday.

That agenda, which board members acknowledge faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, includes:

-- Restoring state funding, including elimination of discretionary reductions – take-backs of money previously allocated to schools, exemptions of public schools from the state sales tax and reinstatement of corporate income tax for capital or educational use.

-- Adding funds for pre-kindergarten programs and elimination of A-F grading system for schools.

-- Capping charter school enrollment in Durham, opposing capital funds for charter schools and ensuring equity by requiring charters to provide transportation and food services, as well as demanding that they reflect the region’s diversity.

-- Raising teacher pay and increasing benefits while opposing merit-based pay driven by high-stakes standardized testing.

-- Supporting state and national efforts to limit military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and fight illegal gun trafficking.

In other action, the board approved a policy change for the current school year so that a student’s grade on state-mandated end-of-course tests or Common Exams that are used to evaluate teacher efficiency only count for 15 percent of their final grade.

Administrators sought that change after the state waived a requirement that those exams be worth 25 percent of the final grade. Board members thought the reduction was fair, given the lack of familiarity with the content of Common Exams and the fact that DPS students are still adjusting to the new Common Core standards introduced this year.

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