“Why don’t you write about the positive things at Hillside,” another student asked. It is a common argument launched at those in the press. People blame the media for reporting the news. Mine is a difficult position. As a journalist, I have an obligation to share the news-not make news. As an advocate for youth, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve the conditions of those who lack the resources needed to achieve their dreams.
Reporting on Hillside was a difficult task. My blog was written with the intent of sharing a culture at Hillside that must be reversed before changing the perception of the school. I hoped to bring to the forefront that Earl Pappy has been set up to fail, and that the next person appointed Hillside’s principal is doomed the day he or she takes reign.
Meeting with the students at Hillside reminded me of all that is right with the school. The truth is Hillside suffers from some of the same dynamics facing others schools within the Durham system. There’s one major difference. Hillside is being sabotaged by outsiders. The alumni and parents of Hillside have been given far too much control. Hillside struggles due to a serious identity crisis. In holding on to the old, it grapples with moving forward in a way that prepares students for life in this new technological age.
I listened as students fought to maintain the integrity of their school. Some of them emailed me, “This is a student at hillside high, I'm an junior, i was here when Mr Earl Pappybegin working at hillside,” a student wrote. “He has been the best principle that i have ever had. Also as much as society has depicted hillside give the students no reason to change our actions. Mr Pappy gives students hope that we all could be something. Mr Pappy has been very successful in helping students get in to collage such as thr graduates of 2007 2008 2009. So please pray for our school and not talking about the next generation also if more adults would fall on there knees instead of opening there mouth and moving on there own wheel and do gods wheel. THING AT HILLSIDE WILL GET BETTER!!! Hillside Students love Mr pappy past his strict rules and his high standard for us and our success!!! THANKS GOD BLESS.” I read and posted it as it was written.
“hello how u doing i am student at hillside high school and i was reading what you wrote about hillside and i just want to say something how can you write about us and you dont walk these halls everyday you cant get your information base of off what one student tell you i am in the 11th grade and i feel like that Mr.Pappy have done a lot for this school and he care about the students and they stafey so until you come and visit the school please dont bad mouth us thank you.” Again, I read and posted the email as it was written.
I looked past the grammatical errors to get a feel for the emotions the students at Hillside carry. They are frustrated at how their school has become the subject of criticism. The consistent theme is their deep admiration for Earl Pappy. They all feel he has made a huge difference. Yes, they understand the school has problems, but, in their minds, things have gotten better-much better.
Many have pointed at the decline in test scores since Pappy arrived at Hillside. What many of the critics of Hillside fail to share is the change in the test. The end or course test administered by the state became more difficult after Pappy arrived. The decline in test scores is a reflection of those changes more than an indictment on the work of Earl Pappy.
The students at Hillside are reading my blog. They are upset due to the perception their school has been portrayed in a negative way out of malice. The truth must be told about Hillside and the other schools in Durham. Hillside is not alone. Hillside has problems with gangs. Northern has problems related to race. What gets reported and how it is shaped is often rendered out of presuppositions based on race. Hillside is suffering due to a long standing battle to overcome its image, and the students are angry that they are measured based on those assumptions.
What will it take to change things? The first step is to take power away from the groups that are sabotaging the school. The alumni should be silenced. They have a level of control not found in any other Durham High School. Next, community groups like the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People need to be checked. Their role in managing Hillside has circumvented the function of the principal. In addition, parents should assume a more positive posture in promoting the education of their children. Their role is not to fight against the principal, but to work alongside the principal to advance the goals of the school.
Add to this the need for stability among the staff at Hillside. The high turnover is impacting the school in a negative way. Changes need to take place within the guidance office. Far too many mistakes are made related to the management of classes needed for graduation. Finally, there is a need for a critical examination of the role of security at Hillside. There are far too many incidents of fights started by law enforcement.
The problems at Hillside are not the fault of Earl Pappy. He is the scapegoat forced out to cover deeper issues within the school. The alumni, parents, law enforcement, burn-out with staff and frustrated students all bundled together equal a school in need of change.
So, to all of my friends over at Hillside, I’m not the bad guy. I’m that dude who wants to see things change.