Monday, July 1, 2013

The Durham Public School Board's decision not to approve all-boys academy viewed as disrespectful by those who served on task force

In voting down a proposal to develop an all-male academy, the Durham Board of Education may find it difficult to restore trust among those who worked hard to create the plan.

Race relations in Durham have taken a step in the wrong direction.

The motion failed in a 3-3 vote. Board members voted to take the issue back to committee to be reviewed at the August meeting.  Although the proposal is not dead in the water, what remains is the tarnishing of relationship between white board members and core black leaders who worked on the proposal.

It’s critical that hard work go into restoring trust, or the Durham Public School system could face serious consequences going forward. At the root of the divide is the perception that Board Chairwoman Heidi Carter, Leigh Bordley and Natalie Byer, the three white board members in opposition to the all-boys academy, are incapable of hearing what the black community needs.

Even more troubling is the sense that members of the special task force entrusted to develop a strategy for the all-boys academy aren’t being respected.  Members of the task force represent some of the most esteemed leaders in Durham.  They were given the task of investigated the feasibility of the all-boys academy. 

17 people served on the task force.  They represented a wide range of interest and brought considerable knowledge and expertise to the process.  Members included Farad Ali, former member of the city council and vice-president of the Minority Business Development Agency, Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan, Bill Ingram, president at Durham Technical Community College, Michael Palmer, coordinator at Self-Help Credit Union, Leslie Winner, executive director at Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Phail Wynn, of Duke University, to name just a few.

The impressive assemblage of task force members adds to the infuriation caused by the school board’s inability to move forward.  Board members undermined the hard work task force members volunteered after moving on a recommendation outlined in the school system’s strategic plan.  The task force was not assigned the responsibility of determining the merit of an all-boys academy, but to investigate the best way to facilitate what had been approved within the school’s planning process.

Failing to vote on a proposal that was already approved as part of the strategic plan leaves members of the task force, and members of the black community, soured by a lack of perceived integrity related to Durham Public School’s Strategic Plan.  Members are left frustrated and confused regarding the rationale for their serving on the task force.  This could undermine long term relationships between DPS and community leaders asked to collaborate with the school system.

Many who served on the task force have significant ties to the population the all-boys academy is aimed at supporting.  Their work lends a perspective that adds credibility to the process.  By failing to support the recommendations of the task force, board members have refuted their expertise by suggesting the proposal isn’t in the best interest of DPS.

Can you hear “you don’t know what you’re talking about”?

It’s safe to assume that the will to collaborate with DPS has been damaged by the lack of will to move forward on this proposal.  Damaged are relationships between DPS and the key stakeholders at the table to address the needs of minority boys.  Damaged is the hard work that went into altering the reputation of the Durham Board of Education.  Damaged are trust and the willingness to form a strategy that significantly impacts the population with the greatest need.

In an earlier blog, I warned that the failure to move on this proposal will hinder race relations in Durham.  Durham’s black leadership is left disappointed and confused by this process.  They feel compromised and disrespected after committing time in service.  Board members need to find a way to honor their service while respecting the expertise and recommendations of those who served.

Failure to do so will pit white board members against a black community both frustrated and annoyed after not being heard.  The outcome could be the formation of an all-boys academy not endorsed by Durham Public Schools.  Members of the task force may decide to build the school on their own, and, if that happens, we may witness the final nail in the coffin leading to the re-segregation of the Durham Public school system.

If white board members are unwilling to concede the wisdom of the best minds in Durham, how can blacks trust the school board has the interest of black students in mind when making tough decisions? Leaders came together to propose a plan to open an all-boys school.  They did so with the assumption the board had approved the concept based on the school’s strategic plan.  Members of that task force are now forced to concede a lack of interest in the plan among white school board members - despite it being in their own plan.

How do you reclaim trust?  What steps need to be taken to make this right?  How do you apologize to those who worked hard and believed in the proposal they presented?

Maybe members of the board don’t care, but they should.  The black community is watching, and the gap is broadening more and more every day.

Expect and all-boys academy built by black leaders fed up with being told no.  This is a decision that will not go away overnight.




  1. Perhaps they had issues because it was all boys. It was the women who voted against it.

  2. There is a racist pathology in suggesting because a task force's suggestions are not accepted it has been 'disrespected'. My reading is the school board found issues that needed to be addressed -- so let the task force address them.

    The notion that this is to be not just for boys but your suggestion it is for black and brown boys is racist and suggests you're in favor of a return to race based schools. That is as unforgivable coming from you, a black man, as it would be coming from me, a white one.

  3. Leigh Bordley explained her concerns on this blog a few days ago. She went into the meeting prepared to vote for it, however it was and is a bad idea for DPS as a whole. The cost to result ratio is not good. If the task force and the black community are in a snit because it was voted down, they may need to decide if they have the students well being in mind or are the upset that someone had the audacity to say "No" to them.

    Tod A. Puckett


    From the link above:
    "Superintendent Eric Becoats was prepared to offer an extremely reasonable compromise plan for the single-gender academy idea, which wouldn’t have come with a $12 million price tag. It would’ve allowed the district time to develop curriculum and study its effectiveness before requiring a major financial investment by the cash-strapped district."