Stakeholders share thoughts on next Durham superintendent

Apr. 23, 2014 @ 10:06 AM

Only a handful of people turned out to have their say at a Monday forum about the next Durham Public Schools superintendent.

But those who attended brought plenty of ideas to share with Iowa-based Ray & Associates, the firm hired by the DPS Board of Education to conduct the district’s search for a new superintendent.

“I think it would be very important that they have classroom experience,” said Roger Reed, a DPS parent. “I think a lot of that [being a superintendent] is hard to do without that.”

Sheldon Lennon, a DPS parent and former PTA president at Eno Valley Elementary School, said the next superintendent should be a people person.

“If you’re not that people person, and you get that position, you go into your office and shut that oval door,” Lennon said.

Paul Scott, a community activist, said DPS needs a “revolutionary” to lead the school district.

Meanwhile, Stephen Bumgardner, the husband of a DPS teacher, said the next superintendent needs to be someone willing to be held accountable and to take ownership of the district’s successes, disappointments and problems.

“I want him to own this job,” Bumgardner said. “His decisions, he owns them. His successes and failures, he owns them.”

Sharron Hunter-Rainey, a former DPS parent, said she wants the new superintendent to be a “data-driven innovator.”

Monday’s forum was the first of two scheduled this week by the board. The second will be today at 11 a.m. in the board room of the Fuller Building downtown.

The search firm met with several focus groups on Monday, including one composed of school board candidates, and asked group members to weigh in on the same topic.

In a news release, District 2 candidate Jimmy Doster said that he wants to see a new superintendent with a track record of success in improving students’ literacy proficiency.

“If a house has a solid foundation, it will not crumble,” said Doster, who attended the session for school board candidates.

The board has set an aggressive timeline to name a new superintendent in June so he or she may begin work in August.

Gary Ray, president of Ray & Associates, asked those participating to tell him what they thought were the most critical issues the next superintendent will face.

He said he would share their responses with those who apply for the post because it’s a question he is often asked.

“A lot of candidates will say, ‘Gary, you’ve got me interested in the job, but once I sign that contract, what are going to be the critical issues that I’m going to be faced with,’ ” Ray said.

Lennon said the chosen candidate likely will spend the first six months rebuilding trust between the superintendent’s office and DPS stakeholders.

“There’s got to be a whole new foundation, and it’s not going to happen in 30 days,” Lennon said. “You’ve got to build trust.”

Rebuilding trust was a recurring theme throughout Monday’s forum. Although no one mentioned former superintendent Eric Becoats by name, it was clear the remarks were made in reference to his final year on the job.

Becoats stepped down in December under a cloud of controversy over his management of the school district. 

Scott said for the past 15 years, the school district has met a couple of time each year to discuss plans to save black males.

“The superintendents have changed, but the problems remain the same,” Scott said. “I guess the most important thing he’s going to face is that same problem.”

Bumgardner, who said his wife is quitting her teaching post after this school year, said high teacher turnover is another problem for the next superintendent.

And he said low pay isn’t the only reason teachers are choosing to leave the district and the profession.

“We were having high teacher turnover even before stagnant wages and I really think that had to do with mismanagement of staff and lack of support and a lack of a lot of other things,” Bumgardner said. “So, a strong employee/manager could turn that around and make Durham, as far as teachers are concerned, a place professionals want to be.”

Hunter-Rainey said the next superintendent should take a look at DPS processes to make sure that the district’s diversity is reflected in its AIG program and honors and AP courses.

“When you walk into some schools, there are segregated AIG classes in schools that have more diversity,” Rainey said. “So, you might have a school that’s a third African American, a third Caucasian and an equal part Latino and Asian, but when you go and look at the AIG classes inside that school, in any grade level, pick any grade, it’s going to be predominately Caucasian.”