Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Parents of students at W. G. Pearson Magnet Middle School refuse to go away

Public schools aren’t what they used to be.  They were once the center of the neighborhood.  They were deeply rooted in tradition, and carried stories going back to our parent’s days.  Today they serve one purpose.  Teach em and move em out.

Those challenged with school administration are confronted with counting the beans and carrying eggs gently so they don’t drop.  That balance between counting beans and carrying eggs keeps Durham’s school board members in the middle of community outrage.  The most recent topic is the anticipated closure of W. G. Pearson Magnet Middle School.  Those proud of the history connected to the school, and the neighborhood surrounding it, are miffed that students will be sent far away.

What were they supposed to do?  “There is no space for an athletic field,” Natalie Beyer, member of the Board of Education, informed me after I posted a blog that shared the frustration of a parent. “Students feel disappointed when they travel to other places to attend sporting events.”

It’s one of those simple matters that many may not consider.  Beyer was one of the parents who pushed to transform W. G. Pearson into a magnet school.  The hope was to offer students a chance to explore their creative sides.  Two of her children completed middle school at W. G. Pearson.  With all the good at the school, the structure lacked the basics to substantiate keeping it open.

Sports matter to middle school students.  There was more to contend with.  The classrooms are too small.  The school system struggled with keeping the doors open beyond the two year window offered to give current students a chance to complete their middle school education at the school.

When the school opened as a magnet a waiver was granted for students living within the school’s zone.  The number of children within that zone declined when the Fayetteville Housing community was flattened to accommodate student housing for NCCU.  The Durham Housing Authority sold the land, but it has stood vacant with no indication of building on the site.  Many students who would have attended W. G. Pearson were forced to other parts of the city.

It’s part of a complicated history that reflects a series of decisions that obstructed the stability of the school and the community surrounding the school.  Part of it was the ruin of the old Hayti community.  Another part is the undermining of Rolling Hills and Southside.  There are efforts to fix all of that, but what happens to the school in the meantime is uncertain.

The promise of W. G. Pearson rapidly faded.  Those parents who came craving what the school pledge soon reneged on that commitment. “Many families at WG Middle Magnet School began to contact DPS about their dissatisfaction with their experience at the school,” say Heidi Carter, member of the Board of Education.  “Areas of concern included lack of facilities for middle school athletics, as well as numerous other complaints about the WG building being old and designed for elementary aged and sized students

As enrollment declined, the Board of Education and school administrators were forced to contend with the swift decline in white student enrollment.  Due to the under-enrollment of schools, discussions were vital regarding how to restructure attendance lines.  Chewning Middle School had to be redesigned to offset declining attendance.

These changes leave parents feeling defenseless in addressing how they envision their children’s education.  For those who are black, it feels like some old demons reemerging from the grave of hate.  It feels like some plot to destroy black communities and to impede the development of those young minds. 

Something much deeper is at the core of all of this. 

The culprit is white flight from public education.  The truth is black families are also opting out for other options.  They, like white parents, are sold on the message that public schools are failing.  Parents have chosen to remove their children from the public education system to protect them from the madness.  Schools are being built to target parents on the edge of leaving the system.  They’re being built to offset the lure of Voyager Academy and the Central Park School. 

W. G. Pearson gets the chop for multiple reasons.  Board reasons say it is partly due to a lack of space to expand and inadequate classroom space.  That may be true, but, if it is, opening the new W. G. Pearson Magnet Middle School in 2006 was a big mistake.  It reflects a lack of forethought among those who made the decision to open the school knowing it lacked space for athletic facilities, and had classrooms too small to meet the needs of a middle school.  If there is to be criticism, and there should, it’s geared toward those who decided to open the school in the first place.

Now we are left with a new truth.  Those parents who love W. G. Pearson aren’t going anywhere.  They refuse to back off.  They demand being heard, and they will take this to the grave. Why? Because there is too much worth preserving to remain silent. 

The board has taken a new position on the building.  “Earlier this year Dr. Becoats and the DPS administration recommended that the WG Middle School program be discontinued and the building re-purposed,” Carter says. “I don’t think the intention is to close the building forever, but rather to study the community needs and wishes, then make decisions about if and how to use the facility, being sensitive to the historical significance of the building.” 

That’s good news for those fighting parents. Zelda Lockhart (see: has called a meeting to enact an action plan to keep W. G. Pearson open,  The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 24th at 6:00 p.m.  It will be held at 819 Wilkerson Avenue. 

“It's time now to put our heads together on the facts, figures, logistics, legalities for keeping W.G. Pearson open in its neighborhood,” Lockhart says.  It's time for our proactive action plan.”

Something good should come out of the meeting.  If school board members are willing to listen, and people in the community are passionate about this school, a way can be found to keep everyone happy.

But, you know me.  I like to look at the glass as half-full.


  1. Carl,
    Keep pounding away. Because until we have a frank discussion about race and racism and how they have shaped the decisions for DPS, it will be impossible to move forward and realize the potential of our school system.

    Steve Bumgardner

  2. I wish DPS would concentrate on the people who are choosing to stay with they system instead of reacting to charters and privates by creating magnet schools. Why not "repurpose" this middle school as a neighborhood school? I always hear involved parents are needed and it seems like WG Pearson has that.

    Thanks for the update and please keep us posted. Your blog has brought a new understanding to me about this issue.