Solid progress, but ‘further to go’

Jan. 24, 2013 @ 04:34 PM

Durham Public Schools have, despite considerable challenges, unmistakably made progress in recent years in some key areas. 

That’s not to say – and we have been among those who often say it – that there is not still much ground to cover to ensure that all Durham public school students are getting the best education possible and graduating from high school fully prepared to enter higher education or the workforce.

But many indicators point to improving schools, and Wednesday school leaders invited in the community for a celebration of what has been accomplished.

“Although we have a lot of work to do, our schools are moving in the right direction,” Heidi Carter, chair of the DPS Board of Education, told the audience at the Carolina Theatre.

School officials cited several areas in which the system is making significant progress toward meeting, on or ahead of schedule, goals in its strategic plan. In two, academic acceleration and talent development, the finish line is quite close, with the system judging work 93 percent complete on those goals.

In the weakest area, technology alignment and an energy master plan, the system is less than half-way to meeting its stated goals, but in those areas, too, officials have recognized that more funding will need to be found to fully implement the plan.  In energy efficiency, especially, the schools face a challenge familiar to businesses and individuals. Retrofitting older buildings and systems to meet today’s energy efficiency expectations will cost a chunk of money up front to save money – and be kinder to the environment – in years ahead.

By next year, the system wants 80 percent of students who entered high school to graduate, and officials think last year’s 77 percent graduation rate is on pace to meet that goal. Still, 363 students dropped out of Durham schools last year and our dropout rate is one of the highest in the state.

On the “needs improvement” side, Superintendent Eric Becoats noted that the system is “still a little off the trajectory” to hit its goals in some important academic areas such as reading to learn and reading with comprehension. And there is a persistent gap in the performance between African-American and Hispanic students on the one hand and white students on the other.

Becoats summed up the results as showing a lot of progress but also indicating “we have much further to go.”

That seems a fair mix of celebration and a call to even greater effort to teachers, students and the community.