Friday, May 18, 2012

The closing of the W. G. Pearson Magnet Middle School draws attention to Durham's battle with disparities

I keep praying that we will get past the growing pains of school merger.  After all that fighting, and Bill Bell putting his political career on the chopping block, the deal was made in 1992.  It wasn’t easy convincing the black community to surrender control of the predominantly black city school system.  White parents feared what would come of the county school district once little black kids began attending their schools.

It was a nightmare waiting to unfold.  It’s been 20-years now, and those fears have become our reality.  The merging of the former Durham Public School and Durham County School systems continues to strain Durham’s public education.  The hope was to create a new district that reaped benefits from the strengths of the former systems.  It’s a work in progress.

Many parents are angry with how money fuels decisions.  Zelda Lockhart, 2010 Piedmont Laureate for Literature in her region of North Carolina, is among the parents refusing to remain silent. “My daughter has the right to be educated in her community, at a school that has historical significance for all people of Durham, and in a space where she can walk less than a block and continue her education at the library that is also part of her historical neighborhood, where her love for art and science are nurtured.,” she says in response to the closing of W.G. Pearson Magnet Middle School.

W. G. Pearson was touted for drawing gifted students interested in the arts.  It’s located in an historical black neighborhood where many residents remember the glory days before decay settled in to rob so many of their dreams.  The school represents more than a place to teach their children.  The building along with the youth who walked to school reminds residents of what could be there again. 

W. G. Pearson became expendable when the Lucas Middle School was built. The North Highlands neighborhood requested a middle school closer to their children.  The new school with state of the art technology will open in August. Treyburn in North Durham, is a neighborhood where the average home price is over $270,000.

 “The scenario is all too familiar to my own as a teenager,” Lockhart says. “I slipped through cracks of development in the City of St. Louis when many of the inner city schools were slowly closed in favor of county development, and by the time I was ready to attend high school the schools that remained open were on the other side of town and there was no transportation save for my bus pass.”

 Lockhart contends there is a deeper political issue surrounding the closing of W. G. Pearson’s successful program.  That is the closing a thriving institution that serves an underserved population to accommodate for the building of a new facility that will serve a privileged population.

“Problem solve for our children the way you problem solved for the children of upper income parents,” Lockhart says.  She wants the school board to redraw the district lines. “And make sure that you keep your promise to provide all students with an outstanding education that motivates them to reach their full potential and enables them to discover their interests and talents, pursue their goals and dreams, and succeed in college, in the workforce and as engaged citizens.”

“What is key in keeping that promise is that the W.G. Pearson children never again walk out of the school at the end of their day feeling like second class citizens because one school far north of their neighborhood will open with new technology, while their facility is left to fall apart and thus be closed because it has been ignored,” Lockhart says.

Rather than improve the school within walking distance of students, a new one is built far away. The assumption felt by children is the best schools are over there.  Why can’t the best schools be over here?

There’s an interesting twist to all of this merger talk.  Jeanne H. Lucas was the first African American female to serve as a state senator.  Prior to that, she worked with the Durham City School System.  The new school named in her honor is far away from the students she once taught.  I wonder what she would think about the closing of W.G. Pearson?

All in the name of merger.


  1. Great Blog I agree with everything you wrote. The only problem I have with the article is that it is written from the assumption that WG Person was opened for the reasons that DPS stated. The real Reason that WG Person is open is because Natalie Byer (now School Board member) and her parent group for Club Blvd. school did not get their link to DSA directly from Club Blvd. So they got together and petitioned DPS to open WG Person magnet because they felt they could control. Then they realized they did not like what they got so they stopped supporting it. I fact Natalie only sent one of her children to that school the other one is at Lakewood Montessori (that is a whole other story). Another one her group, Ann Rebeck, did not send any of her children to the school she fought so hard for. When I questioned her about it she said that logistically it made more sense to go to Rogers Herr. She did not have that concern when petitioning for the school to be opened.

    I think the bigger story is, why have we always given the White parents what they have wanted to the detriment of the overall education to the majority of DPS students. Understand I am not saying this because of what I believe. This comment comes from empirical evidence and personal experience. Such as a school board member Leigh Boardley said to me, “We have to placate the white parents.” When I pressed as to why the response was “so we can pass bonds to build new schools” When I pressed further as to I the wrongedness of that assumption. She responded with this is a conversation the entire board has quite often making sure to include the fact that Minnie Forte and Rev. Davis feel the same way.

    Or, an Assistant Superintendent telling a teacher when explaining why she was removed from a classroom teaching position due to a compliant from a couple of white parents ( whose children are doing well) in her classroom to the detriment of the brown children (whom she had been to bring up to grade level) who’s parents had not complained and in fact had spoke on her behalf to the powers that be at DPS that she not be removed from the classroom. The teacher was told magnet parents (read “white”) run things. So she was removed from the classroom and the brown kids got the shaft once again.

    I have many more examples it just makes me sad to look at the potential of what we could be yet we still let the wants of a few outweigh the needs of the many. I hope that you will delve deeper into this issue a spark a real discussion.

  2. All I will say to Ms. Lockhart is that all for evil to triumph is for Parents to remain silent. It's time people in Durham understand the lay of the land, we're picking up the Hat and missing the Ball. The Game is not on TV, it's happening right here in Durham. Keep writing Preacher Man!