Poised to excel: Swearing in of Bert L’Homme as superintendent

Jul. 14, 2014 @ 10:47 AM

What’s more exciting than the return of LaBron James from the Miami Heat to the Cleveland Cavaliers?  Why, it’s the return and swearing in of Bert L’Homme as the new superintendent of Durham Public Schools, his own hometown team. 

In two weeks’ time, our year-round schools will welcome their first students of the 2014-15 school year, and all of our other schools will follow suit in August. With some 33,000 students soon to be walking through our halls, this is an exceptionally busy time .  Our new superintendent must hit the ground running, and we know L’Homme is ready to do just that.

L’Homme is particularly well-suited to tackle some of the toughest issues facing our district. At the state level, there are budget fights in Raleigh and multiple pieces of legislation that threaten to undermine our teachers and our schools. Locally, we must deal with gaps in academic student learning, especially literacy. When L’Homme was the assistant superintendent for instruction in the early 2000s, he brought innovative, results-driven programs to Durham Public Schools that helped our district reach its goal at that time of 95 percent of third graders on grade level in reading.

We also face the challenge of ending disparities in student discipline and out of school suspension.   L’Homme led the development of Lakeview School, the district’s alternative school setting, to prevent an interruption in student instruction for suspended students.  We need to strengthen Lakeview, keep students on track academically, modify behavior, address underlying causes of misbehavior and reduce out-of-school suspensions, all without lowering standards for student behavior. L’Homme has experience in this arena and has worked with Marion Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund as the champion of their End the School to Prison Pipeline campaign.

We also must take care of the social and emotional needs of our students.  L’Homme began his career as an exceptional children’s teacher and has widespread experiences working with emotionally troubled youth. L’Homme understands the profound impact social and emotional skills have on school success.

Additionally, we absolutely must position Durham Public Schools as the best choice for Durham families – and that’s going to take some real focus on our programming, our image, our message and how we interact with our families and our community.  We challenge Superintendent L’Homme to help us demonstrate the value of our education system for children from all backgrounds and all ranges of talent and ability.

The Board of Education chose L’Homme as our next superintendent for a reason – because we truly believe he is a leader who can face all of these challenges and move DPS into a new era of growth and success.  He has roots in this city, and believes in the people and potential of DPS and Durham.  We believe L’Homme instinctively knows that success only comes when the right people are working together to foster a superior and nurturing learning community for all students.

That spirit of collaboration is another reason we chose Bert -- because as passionate as he is about education, he is equally passionate about restoring trust and partnerships among our own staff and beyond. He understands the value of working as a team of equals and can advance a “we’re in this together” culture in our schools, our district and ideally, throughout our community. For the City of Durham to fully realize its renaissance, our citizens must have individual and collective confidence in and ownership of our schools.

Let us thank all of our board members, past and present, who stepped up to the challenge of selecting a new superintendent with determination and resolve.  We also want to thank our entire community --parents, guardians, teachers, staff, volunteers and citizens -- who shared your thoughts about what we needed in our next superintendent.

I believe we heard you, and I believe we all got it right. True to his name, Bert is the Man!

Heidi Carter is chairwoman and Minnie Forte-Brown, vice-chairwoman of Durham Public Schools Board of Education.  This is adapted from remarks at L’Homme’s swearing in Monday.