As much as he wanted to avoid talking about charter schools, Superintendent Pascal Mubenga couldn’t get around discussing their impact on Durham Public Schools during his town hall meeting Tuesday night at Hillside High School.
Durham’s charter school enrollment, about 4,800 students four years ago, has climbed to nearly 6,400 students.
Mubenga said that “because I’m the superintendent of DPS and not charter schools,” he didn’t want to spend too much time talking about charters, but felt compelled to do so because of the impact they have on DPS.
“With that number, the money that we’re getting from county commissioners, we have to pay $21 million to those charter schools because money follows the students,” Mubenga said.
And even though the school board is committed to making sure the district offer “specials” such as music, art and band, Mubenga said it’s going to become more difficult to afford such programs if students continue to leave the school district.
If parents would check charter school achievement data, they would see for themselves that those schools are not serving students well, he said.
“Go on line, check on the report card,”he said. “As much ... we struggle a little bit [with academic achievement] and we’re going to fix [that], look at the charter schools, they’re not doing well.”
If Durham is not careful, Mubenga said its schools will become segregated like they were in the 1950s.
“We’re going to segregate our schools, and that’s not good,” Mubenga said.
DPS’ enrollment is currently about 82 percent black and Hispanic and 18 percent white. Many schools are already nearly completely black and Hispanic, as white parents have chosen charter schools and private schools to educate their children.
A strategic plan
Since he became superintendent in November, Mubenga has visited 18 schools and met with numerous community groups to learn more about Durham and to listen to ideas citizens have about improving the school district.
“In the next few months we’re going to go through the process of developing a strategic plan for the next five years,” Mubenga said. “This is not something that’s going to come out of my head. I need input from you guys.”
Tuesday’s meeting was the first of three scheduled over the next couple of weeks.
Parents and educators split into two groups to discuss concerns and strategies for improvement, which were later shared with Mubenga.
He asked the more than 100 parents, students and educators in attendance to consider his four guiding principles as the groups talked:
▪ Raise the bar for the level of performance through high expectations.
▪ Provide outstanding support through a service-oriented approach to schools (teachers and principals) and students and their families.
▪ Hold everyone accountable in their roles and responsibilities for increasing student achievement.
▪ Celebrate successes along the way.
Some attending the meeting cited poor communication between teachers and parents, an inability to get good information when they call the central office, too few text books and bullying. Others said DPS must market its programs better to compete against charter schools.
LiBria R. Stephens came with a specific concern in mind.
Stephens, the mother of a Hillside junior, wanted to be sure that Durham Public Schools will continue to fund the International Baccalaureate Programme, an academically rigorous college preparatory program housed at the school.
Her son David Madzivanyika, 16, is enrolled in the program, which suffered a big enrollment decline a couple of years ago when rumors surfaced that DPS was going eliminate it.
“I want to make sure the money stays here for the IB Programme,” Stephens said. “I’m tired of having that debate every year when this program produces such great scholars.”
Jennifer Williams-Salifou, the parent of a Burton Elementary School student, also spoke in favor of the IB Programme and the language immersion program at Burton and Shepard Middle School, which are feeder schools for the IB Programme at Hillside.
“I think it’s something that’s under-advertised,” Williams-Salifou said. “I think raising the level of performance and kind of pulling these parents from charter schools, you’ve got to let them know they have some excellent programs [at DPS].
Mubenga agreed that DPS has a lot of such programs that are virtually untapped by parents.
He said the team working on the strategic plan will take a close look at DPS’ magnet programs.
‘Your points are well taken and we’re going to explore those as we begin talking,” Mubenga said.
There are two more town hall meetings scheduled this month. Each meeting will start at 7 p.m.
▪ Monday, Jan. 22 – Jordan High School 6806 Garrett Road
▪ Tuesday, Jan. 23 – Northern High School 117 Tom Wilkinson Road