Durham charter schools committed to all students

Lisa Gordon-Stella
Lisa Gordon-Stella

To be sure, Durham Charter Collaborative (DCC) is a diverse group – as diverse as the county in which each of our schools resides. In 2015, Durham charters came together to discuss ways in which we could work together and in partnership with Durham Public Schools to provide high- quality public education for all Durham students. Now its own independent nonprofit, the DCC has connected all Durham charter schools.

Durham’s public charter schools are nonprofits, nearly all of which were founded by local Durham residents, born out of the dreams and hard work of individuals committed to a better Durham – a Durham where EVERY child has the opportunity to attain a high quality public education.

Of the 13 charters in Durham, nearly all reflect the demographics of the community in which they live. Yet, we cannot ignore the realities that at least 70 percent of public school students in Durham are from low-income families, almost all of those families are people of color. It’s not possible for most public schools in Durham, district-run or charter, to be truly diverse.

However, most of Durham’s charters have stayed true to their missions and serve the students they committed to serve when they received their charters. Look at Maureen Joy, Carter Community, Global Scholars, Reaching All Minds, Healthy Start, The Institute for the Development of Young Leaders and KIPP Durham, whose missions are to serve low-income students of color and whose student populations reflect that mission.

And, it’s Research Triangle High School that became the first public charter school in North Carolina to enter into matriculation agreements with Maureen Joy Charter School and Global Scholars to provide high school options for low-income students of color through a priority lottery.

As to the one Durham charter that has publicly recognized that they are not serving the students their mission intended, we applaud Central Park School for Children for its courage in admitting that serving a student body of 56 percent white students does not reflect Durham or align with its mission. Yet, CPSC, a member of DCC, has taken steps to rectify this through a weighted lottery, and we support any other steps they might consider such as providing school bus transportation or eliminating their sibling preference to open up even more spaces to welcome the students they originally intended to serve.

What can you expect to see from Durham charters? Our community’s charters provide a range of innovative and sought-after curriculum that enables Durham to offer a more diverse set of public educational choices for all families. We empower all families, regardless of what neighborhood they can afford to live in, to pursue high-quality innovative options for their children’s education. Each Durham charter is different, appealing to a wide range of learners and philosophies. Some highlights include:

▪ Research Triangle High School, which has partnered nationally with Summit Public Schools in California on Personalized Learning. With this innovative program, RTHS almost doubled math skill proficiency levels in black and low-income ninth graders in one year.

▪ Voyager Academy, an Ashoka Changemaker School, whose curriculum includes building empathy and service because teaching empathy and social/emotional development is just as important as students’ academic development.

▪ Maureen Joy Charter School, which utilizes an Instructional Coaching Model that includes a grade-level coach in each grade (K-4) and a Content Coach for each middle school content area (ELA, Math, Social Studies, Reading). Instructional Coaches have reduced teaching loads and provide weekly lesson plan feedback, instructional observations, and weekly or biweekly coaching meetings.

▪ Carter Community and Central Park School for Children, which are both Peaceful Schools focused on developing character and social skills in youth and preventing acts of violence in educational settings.

▪ The Institute for the Development of Young Leaders, a project based learning model designed to promote seamless differentiated instruction and give opportunity for students to apply their growing knowledge.

▪ Excelsior, which offers a classical curriculum focusing on knowledge, reason, eloquence and character. Their character education program teaches students citizenship, civility, justice, courage, respect, honesty, responsibility and integrity. Teacher professional development includes training on implicit bias. In their third year, the school’s population is 55 percent white and 45 percent students of color.

Despite each school’s different approaches, the DCC’s focus is on collaborating to improve the educational outcomes of all children regardless of race or socioeconomic status. We know that there is a lot of work to be done to improve public education in Durham. This responsibility is one we share with our fellow district and private schools. And, as we have learned at the DCC, public education is not a competition, it’s a collaboration. We welcome any teachers or administrators from Durham Public Schools to join us in exploring new, innovative ways we can serve students together.

Lisa Gordon-Stella is a member of the Durham Charter Schools Collaborative.