Durham County

County commissioners join fight to keep state from taking over pair of Durham schools

Lakewood Elementary School
Lakewood Elementary School Google Street View

The Durham County commissioners have joined teachers from across the school district in standing up for Lakewood and Glenn elementary schools, both of which are being considered for a state takeover.

County Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs drafted a letter to Eric Hall, superintendent of the N.C. Innovative School District, making a case for Glenn and Lakewood remaining under the control of Durham Public Schools.

“Durham already has quite a variety of charter schools, not to mention magnet school options and other choices available to parents,” Jacobs wrote. “The Durham Board of County Commissioners simply does not believe that additional charter options are the key to helping Durham schools succeed.”

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The Durham school board received the letter Thursday, Sept. 28 during a DPS Board of Education meeting at which both threatened Durham schools weighed heavily on the minds of school officials.

“We have a plan to improve student achievement at Glenn and Lakewood,” said soon-to-depart DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme. “The State Board of Education approved our restart schools application which would give these schools and others almost charter-like flexibility without losing their accountability to you.”

The two elementary schools are among 14 in the district granted charter-like flexibility by the State Board of Education in July.

DPS will use this year to plan, then implement, charter-like changes for the 2018-19 school year.

The 14 schools will have more scheduling flexibility and the freedom to route money to professional development and to support specific areas that affect student achievement.

“While we remain concerned about overall results in these schools, we believe the best long-term strategy for their success is to give them even greater flexibility in their management but to allow final accountability to remain with Durham parents and elected boards here in Durham.”

On Friday, two Durham school board members were denied entry into a hastily called meeting with state education officials and a handful of Glenn Elementary School parents selected to help with a comprehensive assessment of needs at the school, which is one of two Durham Public Schools at risk of being taken over by the state.

School board members Natalie Beyer and Matt Sears both said they were denied an opportunity to observe the proceeding, which took place early Friday morning.

“Our concern is that we were shut out, we were not allowed in as observers,” Beyer said. “The process was not inclusive.’

Sears said officials with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction claimed the presence of two school board members would be disruptive to the process.

“They said they only wanted to hear from current parents, so we said go ask parents if they are comfortable with their elected officials listening to them discuss their concerns,” Sears said.

He said the parents were never asked if he and Beyer could observe the meeting.

“I’m going to fight this as a parent and I’m going to fight this as a board member,” said Sears, who is the parent of a child who attends Lakewood Elementary School, the other district school at risk of being taken over by the state.

The release of the names of six schools at risk of being taken over and made a part of the N.C. Innovative School District has spurred school officials, teachers and others to action in Durham, which has two schools on the list.

Paula Clough, the parent of three children at Glenn, was one of the parents invited to speak with state officials about the school’s needs, Beyer said.

Clough also spoke to the school board on Thursday, explaining that the school’s academic woes are due to a shortage of resources, an influx of Hispanic students who do not speak English and behavioral problems.

“The teachers need more help,” Clough said. “And one more thing, parents need to be more involved.”

Clough also said Glenn recently lost the majority of its teaching assistants, which has put an additional strain on teachers.

“We went from like 15 to five (teaching assistants),” Clough said. “We need that for our school to succeed. We need that extra help. I don’t think it’s the staff that’s not doing what they need to do, we need extra resources and parent involvement.”

School board Chairman Mike Lee and the board has vowed to do whatever it takes to fight a state takeover of the two schools.

“We’re going to fight it, with every option that we have” said school board Chairman Mike Lee. “We will not leave a stone unturned.”

The Durham Board of County Commissioners simply does not believe that additional charter options are the key to helping Durham schools succeed.

Wendy Jacobs, chairwoman

A decision on the takeover by the N.C. Innovative School District is expected in December.

The Durham Association of Educators has started an online petition and is using the moniker Defend Durham Schools (DefendDurhamSchools.org) as a rallying cry.

“It is important for teachers and staff at Lakewood and Glenn to know they are not alone,” President Brian Proffitt said. “We look at each other as family, because we spend as much of our lives with each other as we do with our with our actual family.”

More than 20 schools have expressed their support for the schools, he said.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews