Durham County

Durham school board names Franklin County’s Pascal Mubenga new superintendent

The Durham school board didn’t travel far to find the district’s new leader, choosing Pascal Mubenga, the current superintendent of Franklin County Schools, to become the next superintendent of Durham Public Schools.

Mubenga, who has more than 20 years of experience in North Carolina, has led the nearly 16-school, 8,300-student Franklin County district since 2015.

He said Monday, Oct. 16, that he expects to begin work in Durham shortly after Thanksgiving.

“I look forward to working with the Board of Education members as we strive to make Durham Public Schools the best choice for parents and students,” Mubenga said in a statement. “I believe high expectations coupled with support, accountability, and celebrations will yield desirable outcomes for all stakeholders.”

Mubenga, hired on a 6-0 vote, will earn $222,500 under an employment contract with DPS that expires June 30, 2021. School board member Minnie Forte-Brown was traveling out-of-town and unable to attend the board meeting.

Mubenga was introduced to the Durham community during a welcoming ceremony at the DPS Staff Development Center on Hillandale Road. He was accompanied by his wife Chantal, two daughters, a family friend and his pastor.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 150 people, many of them DPS employees and elected officials, Mubenga pledged to begin an extensive assessment of the district as soon he starts work.

“As soon as I'm released from my current job, I plan to spend the first 90 days to collect qualitative data by meeting with all of you so that together we should be able to come up with a plan, a strategic plan, but I prefer to call it a blueprint that is going to move us forward for years to come,” Mubenga said.

In an interview with media, Mubenga noted the proliferation of charter schools in Durham County is one of the major challenges he will face as he attempst to make DPS a first choice for “parents and students.”

He also cited his success in Franklin County of reducing the number of low-performing schools in the district from seven to one in two years.

Mubenga said the district was able to do so by raising expectations, providing good support for everyone, holding everyone accountable and celebrating successes throughout the school year.

School board Chairman Mike Lee said the data from the other school districts in which Mubenga work, is proof that the board selected the right person to lead DPS.

“He is exactly what Durham Public Schools needs,” Lee said. “With the issues that we’re facing now, I think we need a leader who is focused on the data and knows where to put the equity in the system.”

Lee also said Mubenga has a track record of improving academic outcomes for children of color.

“Dr. Mubenga is a proven leader who has moved students and schools [academically] in North Carolina, including large improvements for boys of color,” Lee said. “We’re excited to have this rock-star superintendent in Durham to continue our path of success for all Durham students.”

Before working in Johnston County, Mubenga served four years as a district transformation coach and school transformation team leader with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Mubenga was also principal of Jones Senior High School in Jones County in eastern North Carolina from 2007-11 and previously served as an assistant principal in Franklin County and math teacher in Johnston County.

He was a math teacher at Chewning Middle School in Durham for three years, and began his career in in public education as a math teacher for Nash-Rocky Mount Schools.

Mubenga earned a doctorate from Capella University in 2007. He also has a master’s in secondary education from Liberty University and a bachelor’s in mathematics from Shaw University.

Challenges ahead

The new superintendent will replace Bert L'Homme who was hired to lead the district in June 2014 following a stint as superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Washington.

L’Homme, also a former Franklin County superintendent, stunned the community in April when he announced that he would retire in August. He later agreed to remain on the job another month while the school board continued its search for his replacement.

In announcing his retirement, L’Homme cited dramatic changes in “the landscape of public education,” and 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.”

Mubenga will inherit those challenges.

The new superintendent takes charge of a racially and economically diverse school district with nearly 32,000 students, the majority – 67 percent – of whom receive either free or reduced-price lunch.

The school district has nearly 4,700 employees including a teacher corps of nearly 2,250.

On the most recent round of state tests, DPS students made modest gains, posting a 46.4 percent passing rate, a 1.5 percentage point improvement over the 44.9 percent passing rate posted the previous year.

Opportunities ‘endless’

Mubenga says he is ready to take on the challenge.

“The opportunities for improving our schools are endless,” he said in a statement. “Through stakeholders’ development, buy-in and ownership of a vision for our district, we will transform low-performing schools, increase growth for our higher achieving students, provide educational innovation as well as collaborate with community and business partners.

Mubenga’s hiring comes a few days after Glenn Elementary School was removed from a list of schools being considered for the North Carolina Innovative School District (NCISD), a state effort to improve low-performing schools by handing them over to a charter school operator.

The Durham community rallied around Glenn and Lakewood Elementary, which was also under consideration for the NCISD but removed a week earlier, vowing to aggressively fight the state takeover of the schools.

The new superintendent will be asked to make more than incremental progress toward closing a stubborn achievement gap and to continue the school district's focus on equity in educational opportunities for all children.

Mubenga will also have to rebuild the district's leadership team.

In the past few months, DPS has lost its deputy superintendent of operations, assistant superintendent of human resources, two area superintendents and more recently its deputy superintendent for academics, who is leaving to take a position with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

What the community is saying

Parents, elected officials and DPS employees buzzed with excitement after Lee announced that Mubenga was the board’s choice to lead the school system.

“It sounds like the school board did an extensive search and thorough interview process,” said Jovonia Lewis, the mother of three boys who attend George Watt Montessori Magnet School. “It sounds like a great pick. I'm excited about it.”

Antonio Jones, a Durham parent, who told The Herald-Sun earlier this year that the school board's search for a superintendent could “make or break” the district, said Mubenga appears to be a good choice.

“I look forward to meeting with him and certainly to see the strategic plan he talked about,” Jones said.

He was also pleased that Mubenga expressed a willingness to meet with members of the community.

“That's a good sign that he is willing to meet with all stakeholders,” Jones said. “There's a lot of excitement in the room, but time will tell [whether the board has selected the right person]. So far, so good.”

Jackie Tobias, principal of City of Medicine Academy, said she has friends in Franklin County Schools who have shared information about Mubenga.

“They love him, so I'm excited,” Tobias said. “I love the NCDPI credentials. Transformation coach is always a great thing to me. That means you come with lots of curriculum background. He has a high school background, so I'm excited about that. I look forward to the growth that we're going to make.”

David Hawks, principal of Durham School of the Arts, said he is ready to support Mubenga in creating academic success in Durham.

“I hear that he has a lot of integrity, and that's a good thing,” Hawks said. “He's got a big job in front of him, but we'll all stand behind him.”

County Commissioner Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs said she is excited about Mubenga’s background as a state transformation coach and his experience as a teacher and principal.

“He’s had extensive experience on all levels,” Jacobs said.

Meanwhile, School board member Xavier Cason, who joined the board in 2016 said, he hopes he's participated in his last search for a superintendent.

“That means I'm looking for stability and he's got a record of stability,” Cason said. “He's checked all of the boxes for me, having been a superintendent, understanding school reform and turnaround, a community-minded individual, engaging. I'm really happy.”

School board member Natalie Beyer said she is eager for Mubenga to begin work in Durham.

“I hope we can get Dr. Mubenga here as soon as possible so we can get out into the community and start meeting and talking to people,” Beyer said.

School board member Matt Sears said Mubenga's ability to move Jones High School [academically] stood out among his other accomplishments.

“And if you look at what he's done in Franklin County, specifically around low-performing schools, he has nothing but a track record of success and I'm confident he's going to bring that to Durham,” Sears said.

The 42 applications received from candidates wanting to become DPS superintendent was the second-highest total ever in a superintendent search conducted by the N.C. School Board Association (NCSBA).

Asheville City Schools received the highest applicant total in an NCSBA search in March when 53 candidates applied to replace Pamela Baldwin who stepped down to become superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

Q&A: Meet Dr. Mubenga

What interested you in applying to lead Durham Public Schools?

My interest in applying to serve Durham Public Schools as the superintendent is linked to nearly 30 years of living in the Research Triangle area. I know the history and challenges of DPS and view this as an opportunity to strategically connect human, material and financial resources to targeted areas that yield desired outcomes for all children and the greater Durham community.

What is your approach to leadership, and how do you apply it to your vision of excellence in public education?

I operate from a transformational leadership approach which is guided by four principles: 1) Raise the bar for the level of performance through high expectations; 2) Provide outstanding support through a service-oriented approach to our schools (teachers and principals) and our students and their families; 3) Hold everyone accountable in their roles and responsibilities for increasing student achievement; and 4) Celebrate successes along the way.

What opportunities do you see for improving our schools?

The opportunities for improving our schools are endless. Through stakeholders’ development, buy-in and ownership of a vision for our district, we will transform low-performing schools, increase growth for our higher achieving students, provide educational innovation as well as collaborate with community and business partners.

What strengths do you think we can leverage?

We will leverage the talents and resources of teachers, principals, district level staff, businesses, the community, and faith based organizations in the rebranding of our district. This is necessary for parents to view DPS as the best choice for their children.

What can families, teachers and staff look forward to in the coming months?

Within the first 90 days, all stakeholder groups can look forward to interacting with a visible leader involved in gathering both quantitative and qualitative data. The district and school level administrators can look forward to meeting with me to share their perspectives on the current state of the district and offer suggestions for improvement. Families can look forward to regional level meetings where they are provided an opportunity to share their perspectives as well as feedback on how we can partner to make DPS the choice for parents and students. It is my hope that together we will begin the process of developing our strategic plan that will guide our work.

Source: Durham Public Schools

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