Durham County

Wanted: ‘Visionary’ for next Durham Public Schools’ superintendent

The Durham Public Schools held its first “kitchen table” conversation to give residents a chance to weigh in on the search for a new superintendent at the Hayti Heritage Center (pictured) on Wednesday night.
The Durham Public Schools held its first “kitchen table” conversation to give residents a chance to weigh in on the search for a new superintendent at the Hayti Heritage Center (pictured) on Wednesday night. gchildress@heraldsun.com

Short notice put more school system leaders and employees than the public around the first “kitchen table” conversation on what characteristics the community wants to see in the next Durham Public Schools superintendent.

DPS has two more “kitchen table” conversations scheduled. The next is 7 p.m. Monday, June 5, at South Regional Library, 4505 S. Alston Ave. and the final one is 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 6, at the DPS Staff Development Center, 2107 Hillandale Road.

Though small in numbers, the 15 people or so people who gathered at the Hayti Heritage Center on Wednesday night engaged in a spirited conversation about what the next leader of the school district should bring to the education table.

John Lucas Sr., a longtime Durham educator and former school board member said the person chosen to lead the school district must be a visionary and have integrity.

“That person will also have to have courage, real courage” Lucas said. “You have to have the courage to lead in spite of the community. The person must have the courage to stand for what he believes is right.”

And as is often the case in Durham, a conversation about DPS usually includes charter schools and the impact they’ve had on the school district’s enrollment.

“I think the new superintendent will have to understand that charters exist and are here, and how do we work around the fact,” said Wendell Tabb, a theater teacher at Hillside High School. “Do they have a plan to bring those kids back to Durham Public Schools? If we keep losing kids, we’re going to have a problem.”

Long list

Jim Polk, a retired Durham educator, presented a long list of characteristics that included the next superintendent having been a principal, teacher, guidance counselor or assistant superintendent.

“It would be ideal if they had prior superintendent experience before they came to Durham because Durham has so many challenges at so many levels for not only the superintendent but for the educational system that this superintendent must be a visionary, a politician extraordinaire, they must have vision that exceeds most folks’ comprehension, the ability to plan for the future and balance between what’s best of the new and not forgetting the excellence of the past,” Polk said.

Polk continued with his list, adding that the superintendent must be an innovator, protector of values, consummate business person, dedicated educator and a general all while showing compassion for humanity.

Afterward, school board member Minnie Forte-Brown quipped: “Jesus – that’s who we need.”

Experience

Marty Ramirez, an educator who works at Durham School of the Arts and Jordan High School, said it’s important that the next superintendent has a background in education.

“I think it would be important for them to have that experience,” Ramirez said.

Charryse Fredrick, a former DPS parent, said the person selected must have a plan to create equity in the school district.

Fredrick said her family left the school district for a private school after her child did not win a seat in the magnet lottery to attend Durham School of the Arts.

“Unfortunately, they [the private school] had a scholarship and we got the [state] voucher, so guess where he is?” Fredrick said.

Jovonia Lewis, a DPS parent, said the next superintendent must collaborate with local businesses and institutions to take advantage of the region’s resources.

“We have these major universities all around us, and while this person won’t be the answer to all of the problems or have all of the answers, he or she must know how to collaborate and mobilize a team of people,” Lewis said.

School board member Xavier Cason said residents are increasingly telling him to be sure to look internally for the next superintendent.

“That message is there,” he said.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

Ths search process

The school board has hired the N.C. School Boards Association to search for a new superintendent to replace Bert L’Homme who is set to retire August 4.

L’Homme has said he will stay on the job until the end of September if the school board needs him to do so.

The school board hopes to have finalists for the position selected by July 26.

The timeline sets Oct. 4 as the date the new superintendent would be named and introduced to the community and Nov. 3 as the start date of the new superintendent’s employment.

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