Thursday, October 27, 2011

Siemans Competition Gives Durham Reason to Celebrate

The full page ad on page 6A of Thursday’s USA Today caught my attention. “Nerd, Know-it-all, Poindexter, Bookworm, Boss, Professor, Doctor, Nobel Laureate,” the ad began. “See, the name calling never stops.”

It was the list of the 2011 Siemens competition in Math, Science and Technology. For the past week I have pondered the conundrum of Durham, North Carolina’s public education system. It is the unquestionable example of what Dickens meant when he coined “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Durham is that tale of two cities. One city with rolls of trees that hide geniuses inside cobblestone buildings built to educate the nation’s brightest students. Another city obscured in a valley within the shadow of blood dried by the sun. It is the best of these, it is the least of these. The best of these-The North Carolina School of Math & Science-is there to remind us of the brilliance in our city. They stand pitted against the numbers that tell the sad truth about Durham’s school system-it lags far behind the rest of the state.

I wondered who made the list “2011 Siemens Competition Semifinalists,” the heading read. “North Carolina: Avi Aggarwal, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Jiawei Cui, Chapel Hill High, Chapel Hill; Edgar Ferrer-Lorenzo, East Chapel Hill High, Chapel Hill; Kevin Huag, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Ivan Kuznetsov, William G. Enlow High Magnet High School, Raleigh; Pranav Maddi, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Jeehae Nam, Hillside High School, Durham, Vipul Vachharajani, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Hun Wong, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham.”

The finalist for North Carolina read “Peter Fan, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham; Aakash Indurkhya, North Carolina School of Math & Science, Durham.” Wow,” I uttered in amazement at the representation from the North Carolina School of Math & Science. Although the school has representation from across the state, there is something to be said about the school being based in Durham. Five of the nine semifinalists are students at the school, and both finalists are enrolled there.

I also marveled at the dominance of the region. Every finalist is attending a school in Wake, Orange or Durham Counties. Way to go Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. We are known for more than just basketball. All of that caught my attention, but it was one name on the list that made me bust in pride. Jeehae Nam, Hillside High School. If you’re not standing, stop what you’re doing and give Jeehae a standing ovation.

Yes, all of the students listed deserve special attention for their accomplishment. What Jeehae Nam has done is to prove that great things are coming from what many regard as Durham’s worst of times. Hillside has been labeled a low performing school. Wake County Judge Howard Manning has the school under watch with a threat to close the school due to its struggle to provide a quality education for those enrolled. Maybe Judge Manning needs to take a look at the list!

You see, good things can come from what is considered the dark side. Many have only seen the weeds at Hillside High School. What hasn’t been told is the rest of the story. A flower has bloomed in the middle of the weeds. That made my day. That made me proud to be a citizen of Durham.

I will be at the Northern/Hillside football game on Friday. I will be rooting for Northern. Connie’s daughter is a cheerleader for Northern, and, you get the drift. I will be there to be entertained by that fabulous Hillside Band and to watch the reigning State Champs play. I will celebrate Jeehea. I don’t know Jeehae. Is Jeehae a girl or boy? I don’t know, but I know I’m proud.

Friday will be a celebration of education in Durham, North Carolina. Yes, we have the School of Math & Science over on the West end. We also have that school with a rich tradition on the Southeast side of the city.

Darn it, I want to celebrate Durham! Will you join me?

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