DURHAM Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme is retiring in August, he announced Monday evening.
Citing dramatic changes in “the landscape of public education,” L’Homme said he “realized that I likely will not have the physical or mental energy to respond to those challenges, while at the same time dramatically accelerating our academic growth.”
L’Homme announced his decision to retire during a Durham Board of Education closed session.
School board Chairman Mike Lee said he caught the board by surprise, leaving its members speechless.
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“It caught the board off guard,” Lee said. “There was dead silence.”
Lee said L’Homme has been a tireless worker for the district.
“I do believe he has given us more than 100 percent,” Lee said. “I think he felt it’s time to spend more time with his family. The board supports him and we are grateful for his service. We’re happy for him and hopes he finds his place of peace.”
L’Homme’s contract extends through 2020.
“The next superintendent will find that our team has laid a strong foundation for achieving greater success,” he said in a statement.
L’Homme’s decision to retire comes as the district embarks on a major redistricting, prepares to open the Whitted School, a preschool with eight classrooms for 144 students and struggles through a third consecutive tight budget year that could force DPS to layoff some workers.
“I have asked the Durham Public Schools Board of Education to give me enough time for our board and staff to adopt a 2017-18 school budget without disruption, open our year-round and traditional schools, and establish a transition plan for an interim superintendent and search plan for DPS’ next leader,” L’Homme said.
He acknowledged that the job he’d hope to do has not been completed.
“It is hard to retire when the job’s not yet done,” L’Homme said. “But in a progressive community such as Durham that stands for every child without exception, I have no doubt that the next superintendent will build on those accomplishments and move DPS into a great future.”
Because of budget constraints, DPS was forced to cancel the opening of Eagle Academy, a Science,Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.)-themed middle school that was supposed to open on the campus of N.C. Central University this fall.
It would have been one of L’Homme’s crowning achievements.
He said he will leave behind “strong principal leadership, committed teachers and staff, fiscal integrity and transparency, stability in the district office and academic growth.”
“Our board, staff and community have come together to foster greater equity among our students and schools, especially as demonstrated by the Code of Student Conduct Task Force’s work and all that has followed,” L’Homme added.
County Commissioner Heidi Carter, who was chairwoman of the school board that hired L’Homme in June 2014, said his departure will be an “incredible loss” to the school system.
“He is a superintendent with the ideal of combination of skills, background and personal attributes that Durham needed,” Carter said. “I was hoping he would be here longer.”
School board Member Steve Unruhe said he will be sad to see L’Homme leave.
“I really like working with Dr. [Bert] L’Homme,” Unruhe said. “He’s been fabulous for the school system, but I can understand the physical toll of it all.”
L’Homme succeeded Eric Becoats Jr., in June 2014.
Becoats resigned after the board voted not to extend his contract when it expired in 2013. He had been disciplined for credit card spending and using a school activity bus for personal use.
Lee said he would like to have a new superintendent either identified or in place before L’Homme departs.
“We like to have someone on board so we can have a smooth transition,” Lee said. “What that process [of selecting a new superintendent] will look like, I can’t identify at the moment.”