A school as transformative force

Jan. 22, 2013 @ 11:41 PM

It is a work in progress, but it is a work whose progress is heartening on many levels.
Maureen Joy Charter School is moving ahead on schedule with renovations that will put it into much larger quarters this fall, and quarters that will be more convenient for many of its students and their families.
It’s possible to look at the Maureen Joy narrative of the last several months without delving into larger issues surrounding the question of public charter schools. As we’ve said before, even recently, on these pages, we appreciate the complexity of the charter school issue and the passions that surround it on all sides.
Maureen Joy’s move into East Durham is not upsetting the status quo on charter schools – the school has existed for years, most recently just off the U.S. 15-501 bypass on Cornwallis Road.
The school, by all accounts, has prospered there in recent years, especially since Alex Quigley, a former Teach for America leader, took over as principal. It serves a student population that, like the overall student population in Durham, has a large number of children who qualify for – and receive – free and reduced price lunch or who need – and get – publicly provided transportation to school.
What’s exciting about the impending move is how it promises to help the school pursue its mission – and accomplishes other important community goals, as well.
Self-Help, the Durham-based microlender and real estate developer that has played a critical role in downtown Durham’s revival, is investing in renovating the old East Durham Graded School (later known as Y.E. Smith Elementary) to lease to Maureen Joy.
Moving to the old school at Driver and Main streets will put Maureen Joy closer to many of its students. “Many of our kids live here in this area,” Quigley told The Herald-Sun’s Wes Platt last week. “Part of our vision is that we want to demonstrate that a school can be a transformative force.”
Part of that transformative force is helping to breathe new life into the troubled East Durham neighborhood, where several organizations are working to make that long-depressed area a vital one again with stable residential neighborhoods and re-born retail and commercial activity.
In investing in the old Y.E. Smith school, Self-Help and Maureen Joy are lending their considerable assets to that cause.
And as a plus, the work is restoring the historic school building, once a center of community activity and an example of period school architecture, to a new life. Its continued decline – it was in precarious shape when Self-Help acquired it – threatened to lead to the disappearance of an important East Durham landmark.
The progress made so far in restoring the building – and the prospect of restoring a neighborhood’s health – are encouraging. We are eager for the start of school this August.