Education

‘Kitchen table’ attendees want energy, passion in next superintendent

The Durham Public Schools held the second of three “kitchen table” conversations to give citizens a chance to discuss the search for a new superintendent at the South Regional Library on Monday, June 5.
The Durham Public Schools held the second of three “kitchen table” conversations to give citizens a chance to discuss the search for a new superintendent at the South Regional Library on Monday, June 5.

Durham’s next superintendent must bring energy, passion and a willingness to connect with community, several attendees of the Durham Public Schools’ second “kitchen table” conversation said Monday night.

“You can’t see that in a resume,” said Linda Hubbard Curtis, a former DPS administrator, referring to passion.

Curtis, now the vice provost at St. Augustine’s University and director of the Center for Teaching, Research and Leadership at the university, said the school board can gauge passion by looking at a candidate’s involvement in community and through feedback from previous communities the candidate has served.

Held at the South Regional Library, the “kitchen table” conversation drew more than 15 people on a stormy night punctuated by heavy rain and occasional thunder.

Several attendees said the new superintendent must engage business leaders to make sure DPS takes advantage of the high-tech opportunities in the city.

Others said the next superintendent must pay close attention to equity issues and racial disparities around students enrolled in Advanced and Intellectually Gifted courses.

Baiyana Muhammad, the parent of children at Southwest Elementary School and Jordan High School, said the district must also focus on children on the other end of the educational spectrum, those who are not doing as well academically.

“There is very little attention given to them,” Muhammad said.

She said her family has children who are in advanced courses and those who need extra help.

“We’ve experienced firsthand the disparities on both ends,” Muhammad said.

Ava Thompson, a recently retired DPS school counselor, said the next superintendent should be responsive to parents, articulate a vision for the district and embrace the fact that the district is nearly 80 percent African-American and Hispanic.

Robin Marcus, the parent of a Holt Elementary School student, said she worries that having someone whose background is in education only might lead to a “boxed-in” kind of thinking that does not allow room for creativity to try different strategies that might improve the school district.

Thompson said the school board must also find someone with the expertise to navigate the various political landmines in Durham.

“It’s full of all kinds if IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices],” Thompson said. “If you are not aware, it can be disastrous.”

Meredythe Holmes, the executive director of Made in Durham, said it’s important that the new superintendent is open to new ideas.

“Let’s look at other places and see if we can bring in new ideas,” Holmes said.

The third and final “kitchen table” conversation will take place Tuesday, June 6, at 7 p.m., at the DPS Staff Development Center, 2107 Hillandale, Rd.

The first “kitchen table” conversation was held May 31 at the Hayti Heritage Center.

It was attended by about 15 people, mostly DPS employees and retired educators, who said the next superintendent should be visionary, bold and courageous.

Some stated a preference for a superintendent who has been a teacher and have previous experience as an assistant superintendent or superintendent of a school district.

You can also weigh in on the superintendent search by taking an online survey.

To take the survey in English, go to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3Z6NTTT

To take the survey in Spanish, go to: https://es.surveymonkey.com/r/GTG99TY

All survey responses must be submitted by June 15.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

The search process

The school board has hired the N.C. School Boards Association to search for a new superintendent to replace Bert L’Homme who is set to retire August 4.

L’Homme has said he will stay on the job until the end of September if the school board needs him to do so.

The school board hopes to have finalists for the position selected by July 26.

The timeline sets Oct. 4 as the date the new superintendent would be named and introduced to the community and Nov. 3 as the start date of the new superintendent’s employment.

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