A defiant community vows to fight state takeover of Durham elementary school
With a decision possibly days away, a defiant crowd of parents, teachers and elected leaders gathered at Glenn Elementary School on Tuesday to stand against a possible state takeover of the school.
Glenn, which the state labeled low-performing, is one of four schools across North Carolina targeted by state education officials for the N.C. Innovative School District. If chosen for the NCISD, Durham Public Schools would be forced to close the school or hand it over to a private charter-school operator.
During a news conference before more than 220 people gathered in the school’s media center, parents said their children are better off under the local school board’s control.
“We will not stand for it,” Tamara Vanie said, directing her comments to Eric Hall, superintendent of the NCISD. “You assumed we wouldn’t notice you slithering in here on the back of words such as innovation and educational improvement. So, let me tell you, we see you and we know what you’re doing, we know what your language means.”
School board Chairman Mike Lee said he spoke Tuesday with Hall, who told him a decision on which schools would be chosen for the NCISD could come Friday.
Although Durham’s Lakewood Elementary School was removed from the list of six schools on NCISD’s list last week, dozens of Lakewood parents, teachers and administrators joined Tuesday’s rally to support Glenn. A similar rally of more than 250 people at that school last week was attended by Glenn parents and teachers.
“We cannot allow the state to sell our schools and sell our communities to companies,” said Hyewon Grigoni, the mother of two Lakewood students. “We can’t stand for that. We’re going to fight, fight for Glenn and we’re going to keep fighting.”
State Rep. Mary Ann Black, (D-Durham), attended the news conference to support Glenn and to fill in for State Rep. Mickey Michaux, (D-Durham), who could not attend the event.
Glenn is in Michaux’s district.
Black called on state officials to give the local reform plan proposed for Glenn a chance to work.
“Let’s give the people at Glenn and the new superintendent and the parents [a chance] to implement the plan that they have already started working on,” Black said. “We do not want to have a private company come into Glenn and not know our community and not understand the needs of our children.”
Glenn and Lakewood are among 14 DPS schools granted charter-like flexibility by the State Board of Education in July.
Under the “restart” school-reform model, the schools will have more scheduling flexibility and the freedom to route money to professional development and to support specific areas that affect student achievement.
State Sen. Floyd McKissick, (D-Durham), said instead of taking over public schools such as Glenn, state lawmakers should give them the support needed to help children succeed.
“If they find that schools are not reaching their targets, if they want to make schools more effective, then rather than simply giving them a letter grade, give them the resources they need and deserve,” McKissick said.
He took aim at charters schools, contending that the majority of children who attend them perform worse than they did in public schools.
“Why would we turn over our schools to a failed model that is ineffective, and we know that,” McKissick said.
Paula Clough, the parent of three children at Glenn, said teachers there go beyond the call of duty to help children learn.
Clough shared that one of her child’s teachers tutored her in math so that she could help the child with homework.
“She taught me the basic math I needed to know to help my baby succeed,” said Clough, who acknowledged she struggled in school as a child.
‘A lot of uncertainty’
Glenn Principal Cornelius Redfearn said the prospect of Glenn being taken over by a charter school operator has weighed heavily on teachers.
“It’s just there’s a lot of uncertainty we’re dealing with,” Redfearn said, adding that the staff has handled the stress well and has remained focus on educating the children at Glenn.
Including Glenn, there are now four schools on the list. The other three are Williford Elementary in Nash-Rocky Mount, Willis Hare Elementary in Northampton County and Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County.
The 48 schools initially listed for consideration for the NCISD on Sept. 7 were picked because they’re among the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in North Carolina.
Only 32.3 percent of Glenn students passed 2016-17 state tests while just 28.2 percent of Lakewood passed the tests.
The results are based on standardized end-of-grade tests in reading and math in third through eighth grades, science tests for fifth- and eighth-graders.
Neither school met expected growth and both received state performance grades of “F,” which is based 80 percent on the school’s achievement score and 20 percent on students’ academic growth.
Lee said last week that Hall cited new leadership at Lakewood and a belief that the school has the tools in place to improve academic outcomes as part of the reason Lakewood was removed from the list.
James Hopkins, an experienced administrator who most recently served as an assistant principal at Carrboro High School, became principal of the school in August. Before that, Hopkins was an assistant principal at Jordan High School and a teacher at Riverside High School, both in Durham.
Critics of the NCISD have likened it to an Achievement School District in Tennessee and similar programs in Detroit and New Orleans, which they contend have failed students.
“Public school privatization has failed in Tennessee, Detroit and New Orleans,” Lakewood parent Amanda Ragsdale said in a statement released by Defend Durham Schools before the start of the community meeting. “We don't want forced privatization at Glenn Elementary, we don't want forced privatization in Durham and we are ready to fight to keep forced privatization out of North Carolina.”
The Durham Council PTA released a statement Monday, Oct. 9 “vigorously” opposing the NCISD on the grounds that there would be no local accountability and no true partnership between citizens and the state.
The PTA council also contends there is uncertainty about funding for NCISD schools, no evidence that charter schools improve academic performance for minority students and that such districts in other states have failed.
“We support Durham Public Schools staff and the Durham Board of Education because of their proven track record and deep compassion in service to our students,” Council president Danielle Bonner wrote. “Together we can improve all of our schools.”
The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People also made a statement Tuesday against the NCISD.
“We value empowered community with local accountability,” said Jovonia Lewis, speaking on behalf of the group’s Education Committee.
Antonio Alanis, the education coordinator with El Centro Hispano, a local nonprofit that advocates for equity and inclusion for Hispanics/Latinos, said Durham cannot allow Glenn, where more than 50 percent of the students are Hispanic, to be turned over to a charter-school operator.
“Allowing our schools to be stolen from our community is unacceptable,” Alanis said. “It will derail the entire school experience and remove the community from their education.’
Last week, the Durham County Board of Commissioners wrote to Hall to make the case for Glenn and Lakewood remaining under DPS control.
“Durham already has quite a variety of charter schools, not to mention magnet school options and other choices available to parents,” Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs wrote. “The Durham Board of County Commissioners simply does not believe that additional charter options are the key to helping Durham schools succeed.”