Pascal Mubenga, the newly hired superintendent of Durham Public Schools, once suspended his own daughter while working as a principal of a Jones County middle school, a member of that district’s school board recalls.
Larry Walston, of the Jones County Board of Education, said Mubenga’s daughter got into an argument with another girl on a bus and Mubenga suspended both girls.
“You don’t get much more of an advertisement for fair play than that,” Walston said. “It probably wasn’t even her fault, and I’m sure he [Mubenga] had to live with the repercussions at home.”
Mubenga, who was hired to lead DPS on Monday, confirmed the story.
He is currently the superintendent of Franklin County Schools (FCS) and will begin work in Durham shortly after Thanksgiving.
In addition to being a principal who went out of his way to be fair, Walston said Mubenga is also known for quickly turning around the middle school and later Jones Senior High School.
Mubenga served as the high school principal from 2007-11, turning a perennial low-performing school into one that routinely surpassed the state average on students’ end-of-course tests.
From the 2006-07 school year to the 2010-11 school year, the passing rate for students in the high school increased from 60.7 percent to 88.4 percent.
The school’s passing rate peaked during the 2009-2010 school year when 90.5 percent of students passed the state high school tests, which measure proficiency in math, biology and English II.
Mubenga detailed the turnaround in a mongraph titled “Turning Around a Low-Performing School: Learning From the Story of Jones Senior High School” he developed with fellow educators Laura Fleming and Julia Edmunds.
Walston, who was a volunteer football coach when Mubenga arrived in Jones County, recalled that Mubenga spent time after school tutoring students in math at the middle school and later at the high school.
He said Mubenga inspired people and that his circle of influence crossed racial and gender lines in the largely economically depressed county sandwiched between Jacksonville and New Bern.
“He just had that touch with people, but he also had that professional side,” Walston said. “He crossed racial lines, gender lines and we were just lucky for every minute he spent here.”
Mubenga’s work in Jones County stood out for Durham school board member Matt Sears.
“What impressed me are the number of years that he was able to improve achievement over all demographic groups,” Sears said.
Mubenga, who worked with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction as a district transformation and school transformation team leader and coach after leaving Jones County, also has impressive school turnaround credentials in Franklin County.
In just two years under Mubenga’s leadership, FCS has reduced its number of low-performing schools from seven to one.
On the most recent state tests, the district had a 59.8 percent passing rate on state tests and 13 of its 16 schools either met or exceeded growth, which is amount of academic progress students make over the course of a grade or class.
Only one of its schools was awarded a state letter grade below “C,” which is based 80 percent on test scores and 20 percent on growth.
Off the hook
“Phenomenal, that’s how I would describe him,” said Elizabeth Keith, chairwoman of the FCS school board. “He’s given our system a boost.”
Keith said Mubenga has the ability to build relationships and to inspire those around him to work for the greater good of educating children.
“He [Mubenga] works with everyone with a focus on students,” Keith said. “He’s a data-driven person but not data for data’s sake, but data so it can be used to help each student,” Keith said.
She said her phone rang off the hook Tuesday as people began to learn that Mubenga had taken the job in Durham.
“I’ve gotten so many calls,” Keith said. “I’ve even had calls from students wanting to know what happened.”
Keith said everyone, including county commissioners, the county manager, teachers, principals, parents and others, are happy for Mubenga but sad that he is leaving.
She noted that this school year was the first in memory that FCS has gotten all of the funding it requested from county commissioners.
“He’s a tremendous asset to a school system,” Keith said. “I attribute it to the fact that we’re doing so well academically and I have to attribute some of it to the teachers and principals but certainly, he is a big part of it.”