Exciting choice for schools

Jun. 07, 2014 @ 04:44 PM

Perhaps the most striking – and heartening – aspect of the Durham Public Schools board decision to hire Bert L’Homme as its new superintendent was the vote tally.

The board voted unanimously, 7-0, for the veteran educator.

This board has struggled through a tumultuous period to find harmony. The painful disintegration of Eric Becoats’ troubled tenure split the board, exemplified by a 4-3 vote to accept his resignation and honorably and decisively remove him.

We don’t doubt that individual board members may have entered the final selection discussions with differences – in fact, we would be disappointed if the two finalists were not so strong that a spirited case could have been made for either.

But to close ranks publicly reassured the community that the board was unified in its support for L’Homme. To have done otherwise would have been to cast a potentially troubling shadow over the selection.

And based on what is known about the new superintendent, the decision looks like a home run.

We felt from the outset that the board should cast a wide net in looking for candidates, which clearly it did. Experience, especially in urban and challenged school districts, was important. A background in curriculum and instructional leadership would be critical, a fact underscored by the absence of that background on Becoats’ resume. And experience in the classroom and as building leader would provide invaluable insight into the challenges teachers and principals face daily.

L’Homme brings that package.  Adding to the attractiveness of his resume, several years of his experience were not just in a district similar to Durham -- they were in Durham. He combines familiarity with the district -- and appreciative recollections of his time here -- with the broader perspective from leading a public school district in Franklin County and the urban, parochial-school district he has overseen in the nation’s capital.

Given Durham’s socio-economic challenges -- and the multiple efforts by the mayor and a growing cadre of business, civic and educational leaders to grapple with them -- we’re excited by L’Homme’s experience coordinating the Cradle to Prison Pipeline campaign for the Children’s Defense Fund.

School board member Natalie Beyer, after Thursday’s vote, characterized L’Homme as an inspirational leader. “I’m excited about the teacher-leader Dr. L’Homme will be for our school district,” she said.

That excitement has seemed widespread in the selection’s aftermath, and in a city as congenitally contentious as Durham, there has been, encouragingly, nary a public negative remark.

Board member Leigh Bordley specifically took note of the board’s unanimity Thursday. “The fact that the vote was unanimous is a tribute to Dr. L’Homme and shows our commitment to the children of this school district,” she said. “This board did a great job.”

We acknowledge we had concerns the board had set too ambitious a timetable in vowing to complete the job before membership changes July 1.  Clearly those concerns were misplaced.

We concur with Bordley – it appears the board has done a great job.