The Durham Public Schools has a “healthy and diverse” program for academically gifted and talented students, Beth Cross, the school district’s advanced academic director, told members of the DPS Board of Education on Thursday, June 1.
Cross and Laura Parrott, DPS’ advanced academics coordinator, were asked to make a presentation during the board’s Academic & Student Services Work Session in the wake of an investigation by the The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer that found disparity in the treatment of bright students who come from low-income households.
The series of articles reported how high-achieving, low-income students across North Carolina are far less likely than their more-affluent peers to be placed in advanced or challenging classes.
DPS was one of the school districts on which the series focused.
“We are healthy,” Cross said. “Our AIG [Advanced and Intellectually Gifted] program in Durham Public Schools is a healthy and diverse program, and I’m proud of it.”
The report showed that in DPS, the percentage of African-American and Hispanic students enrolled in AIG courses are much higher than their peers across the state.
Of the 5,761 DPS students enrolled in AIG courses during the 2015-16 school year, 33.9 percent — 1,953 of them — were black compared to 10.4 percent of all North Carolina black students in grades K-12.
Also, 15.4 percent of Hispanic students — the equivalent of 886 students — were enrolled in the DPS AIG program compared to just 7.4 percent of their peers throughout the state.
Black and Hispanic students make up 76 percent — 46 percent black and about 30 percent Hispanic — of DPS’ enrollment of about 33,000 students.
Meanwhile, white students made up about 18.5 percent of the district’s enrollment but make up 41.4 percent — 2,387 students — of the students in the DPS AIG program.
Their white peers throughout the state made up 71.8 percent of the 179,343 students in North Carolina AIG programs overall. That was about 128,768 students.
“We added this at the last minute, largely in response to the stories that were in the paper,” said school board member Steve Unruhe. “We knew that Durham had a different story to tell.”
Unruhe said the report presented by Cross and Parrott shows that the school district can be “inclusive and still be rigorous.”
“Having a broad range of students having access to advanced academics is critical, and that’s what we’re doing,” Unruhe said.
School board member Minnie Forte-Brown said it’s important that parents know that a child can be referred to advanced academic programs by teachers, parents, family members or other advocates and that testing for AIG goes on all year long.
“Sometimes parents miss that important thing,” Forte-Brown said.