All-or-nothing mentality wrong lesson for male academy

Jun. 30, 2013 @ 03:09 PM

Pastor Frederick Davis was right about one thing: The Durham Public Schools Board of Education had a choice on Thursday night.

Or, at least, it should have.

Superintendent Eric Becoats was prepared to offer an extremely reasonable compromise plan for the single-gender academy idea, which wouldn’t have come with a $12 million price tag. It would’ve allowed the district time to develop curriculum and study its effectiveness before requiring a major financial investment by the cash-strapped district.

He had notified board members of this idea by email. It sounded like skillful navigation of the middle ground on a thorny issue.

But Davis apparently short-circuited the choice by immediately making a motion to just approve the recommendation for an all-male academy put forth by the task force on which he served. For two hours, as The Herald-Sun’s Jamica Ashley reported on Friday, board members argued the merits and risks of that plan. It wouldn’t reach enough at-risk students to make a significant difference, opponents said. And if the district only offered the option for boys, DPS would face the prospect of litigation from parents of girls who wanted similar opportunities.

But supporters rightly noted that the district hasn’t been able to do enough to catch struggling students before they fall to the wayside or get trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline. Something should be done to help them.

Despite the division among board members in the week leading up to Thursday’s meeting, it actually seemed that members Leigh Bordley and Heidi Carter intended to support Becoats’ compromise plan if it was on the table.

“I want to move forward. I came tonight in favor of the single-gender school with all of these concerns. I am willing to move forward,” Bordley said, “but I want to know what the next hurdle is we’ll have to clear.”

It might have been a unanimous vote, with the district taking a measured, sensible step forward in this important challenge.

Instead, Davis stubbornly clung to an all-or-nothing mentality, and found support from Minnie Forte-Brown and Omega Curtis Parker.

So the all-male academy plan failed in a tie vote.

The single-gender idea isn’t dead, though, just delayed. The board turned around and voted 5-1 to take the plan back to committee in August. Davis was the lone dissenter on that motion – a disappointing show of stubbornness that strikes us as a bad example to the children he professes to want to help.

The plan deserves to go forward for further discussion, especially in light of the superintendent’s compromise idea, and we are confident cooler heads will prevail in August.