Schools’ pivotal moment

Jul. 08, 2014 @ 12:26 AM

When the Durham Public School board was sworn in for a new term Monday, with three new faces around the table, board Chairwoman Heidi Carter observed that "we are well-poised to meet our challenges."

After several tumultuous months, that appears to be encouragingly true.

The three new members bring a fresh wave of energy and diverse perspectives to the board, and they already have had a taste of the board’s challenges by observing the final stages of the choice of a new superintendent. The newcomers – Sendolo Diaminah, Mike Lee and Matt Sears – should be ready to hit the ground running and seem ready to mesh with the returning members.

With the re-election, as expected, of Carter to the chairwomanship and Minnie Forte-Brown’s continuing as vice chairwoman, the board retains its veteran leadership.  Carter especially demonstrated her tactical diligence and blend of patience and persistence in guiding the board through the final months of Eric Becoats’ troubled superintendency and the somewhat tense dissolution of his employment.

Right on the heels of the board’s taking office Monday, new superintendent Bert L’Homme arrives on the job next Monday.

The board’s unanimous choice of L’Homme, a former DPS administrator who most recently managed the Catholic school system in Washington, was widely acclaimed when it was made and has continued to be met with broad community acceptance.

Thus, DPS finds itself in a potentially robust position.  It has been showing momentum toward improved performance in its schools, some of which just a few years ago were among the poorest-performing in the state. While that momentum was compromised by the unraveling of Becoats’ tenure and the distractions surrounding it, the system is in a position to essentially reset and more forward.

L’Homme and the board face no shortage of challenges.  DPS confronts difficult terrain, with a large portion of its students coming from low-wealth households and with many of the city’s more prosperous and engaged families having chosen to send their children elsewhere. Many students arrive on DPS’ doorstep at kindergarten well behind their peers in language development and the softer social skills – sharing, waiting a turn – that smooth the transition to school.

Meanwhile, state funding has been ravaged, teacher salaries essentially frozen, textbook purchases delayed – and teachers vilified in many quarters. After teachers and administrators struggled to learn to develop lessons and measurements to accommodate the new Common Core curriculum, they now face uncertainty over how much, if any, of those standards will be preserved.

So when Carter promised the board Monday she was ready to work hard, she knew that the board and their new superintendent face some very heavy lifting.

But that’s what these board members signed on for, and they have shown every evidence of being ready to meet those demands. 

We wish them every bit of luck and fortune – and urge the community and its leaders to support them – as they take on a task as vital to our success as it is daunting.