Hurley: DPS and Woodcroft: personalities and ironies

Jan. 27, 2013 @ 02:46 PM

This essay responds to a thoughtful editorial in The Herald-Sun Jan. 17 occasioned by the possible restoration of the Woodcroft neighborhood to Jordan High School (which is across the street from it).

First, full disclosure. The author is the same old grouch who's never stopped fighting the schools merger of two decades ago and who's never stopped ragging on the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

The deep background on this is as follows. The Durham County School System (which featured good instruction, and demographics representative of the United States as a whole) was merged with the Durham City School System (which featured wretched management, and a virtually all-black demographic) in 1992. Earlier attempts to so merge the systems had been gunned down by the voters of the county, state law having required a referendum for such actions. The solution that the (white and black) merger crowd hit upon was to change the law and to get the benighted voters out of the picture.

Which brings us to our first personality and our first irony.

State Rep. George W. Miller.  Miller, a Durham white Democrat, was entreated to challenge the proposal to allow merger through fiat of the County Board of Commissioners. Loathe to provoke the above-mentioned Durham Committee, he refused. A few years later, the Committee tired of Miller's white face and tossed his white butt overboard anyway.

Durham County Board of Commissioners Chair Bill Bell.  In this previous incarnation, Bell has often been credited with politically engineering the merger project. Many thought Bell's behavior revealed disloyalty to county interests and secret affiliation with city interests -- inasmuch as average home values within the former County school system decreased by around $50,000 on the day merger was made official. Bill Bell shed his Durham County political career and became Mayor-For-Life of Durham City a dozen years ago.

DPS School Board Chair Kathryn Meyers.  This lady was an early proponent of merger circa 1989 while a junior member of the Durham County (!) School Board. Highlights (or lowlights) of her tenure included (1) first use around here of the term "diversity," and (2) an expression of horror that there might be children in the Durham City School System who had never sat next to a white child (it remaining unclear what magic obtains from this, or how it is transmitted). Meyers served multiple terms as leader of the new system's board, and was tormented without cease by the fractious black minority on that 4-3 divided body.

Jordan High School Principal Delia Robinson.  One of the elements in constructing the brave new world of a merged school system was the reassignment of principals. Robinson, veteran of the city schools and wife of Durham Committee political kingpin Ike Robinson, was moved into the head shed at JHS. Her welcome to the students and high-expectations parents (including many RTP executives, professors, physicians, etc) in 1994 reflected her city school issues background and proved unforgettable: "First, don't forget to come to school ... Second, don't let your pants fall down ..." Hundreds of jaws dropped open, loudly.

The Clueless Victims Of Woodcroft.  Another element was the reassignment of neighborhoods, which followed closely on merger. Woodcroftians, who had been oblivious to plentiful warnings, thought they had arrived on another continent as they dropped off their kids at Hillside on the first day of school. Happily, there was some indication that the School Board would be liberal in allowing transfers-for-cause. Since a special emphasis on environment and agriculture had been sorted to Jordan, we had the hilarious spectacle of nerd professor types trying to look rustic and to persuade dubious school authorities that what their families really wanted to do was to get off their duffs and till the soil.

The Folks Of The Surrounding Counties.  Our friends in Wake and Orange counties never tire of poking fun at Durham. Yet, they are the beneficiaries of our foolishness. At the instant of merger, the student population of the new Durham Public School System was slightly over 50 percent white. Bad guys like myself who warned of white flight were generally shouted down -- or worse, ignored. The referenced Herald-Sun editorial notes that the figure is now 19%. But Apex, Wake Forest, and Chapel Hill are whiter than ever. So much for diversity.

Frank Hurley has a PhD in aerospace engineering and is retired from a career in national defense R&D management. He cheerfully notes that in 2010 he ran in the Republican primary for Congressional District 13 and finished dead last. His email is