Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hillside Students Marching for Truth

“How many students did you interview,” one of the students in Mark Greenstreet’s public speaking class asked. “Where did you find them?” The class flooded me with questions after reading my blog about their beloved Hillside High School. They attacked me for presenting their school in a negative way. I listened as they shared their deep frustration with how Hillside is portrayed in the press and in the community.

“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.


  1. It's commendable that the students are reading. That they choose to read your blog is an indication that they care about their school and how it's represented publicly. Reading and caring are good. It's troubling, though, that they have such difficulty with the mechanics of writing, especially at their ages. Hillside will get a better public grade when it does a better job of helping its students, who obviously have the desire to express themselves, to be understood and to make a difference.

  2. First, thank you Carl for giving the students at Hillside a platform to express their perspectives. I, too, commend the students for taking the initiative to give voice to their experiences.

    As a public high school teacher, I would like to also point out that developing solid writing and literacy skills in students begins in the formative preschool and elementary years. Tragically, too many students are not receiving the necessary foundation in reading and language development during these preschool years at home. The need for strong preschool programs to supplement what is not happening in many homes is perhaps more urgent than ever. Nevertheless, educators at all levels, including high school, must still uphold the demands of our profession to facilitate students' growth academically, socially, and individually. And, students, it is never too late to pick up a book and begin reading!

  3. Forget all that! How many days did you spend at Hillside? To whom did you speak? How many were interviewed from student and staff populations? You call yourself a reporter, but a responsible reporter does adequate research and reports based on supported facts not hearsay.

    As for the student posts, I find it sad that you would use those to purport the literacy skills of the attendees. The time the students wasted to rebut your commentary speaks volumes! They are spirited, and do not want someone outside looking in (briefly) to make sweeping judgments about them, their school, or beloved administrator who has worked damn hard to earn their respect. There were gross errors in spelling, mechanics, and structure; however, the students probably sent these messages via a cell phone and typed as if they were sending a text to their friends. You have a few errors yourself. What’s your excuse?

    Believe me, all is not lost here. Students put out a school newspaper, present projects and win awards at various artistic and academic competitions. This school graduates scholar athletes who go on to top rated schools on athletic and academic scholarships. The drama department performs exceptional productions every year. The band is top rate. The administration works hard to provide experiences to the students that broaden their minds, bodies, and hearts. Did you know they have a sister school in Mexico with which they communicate? Probably not.

    Earl Pappy has a high turnover rate because he wants the best teachers in the school to teach the children. It’s hard for a mediocre teacher to be comfortable under the expectation of excellence. Much is expected of anyone working with him to provide a positive, productive educational environment. I am speaking from experience. At what point did you speak to Mr. Pappy? I didn’t read any comments from him about what you “witnessed” and gleaned from your informants.
    I find it hard to believe that you do not think the community should not be involved in the school. Why were you there if not doing your civic duty to mentor and engage the young minds of Hillside? The community needs to help change the perception of the school; it’s a concept called school/community relations—you should look it up.

    As with any urban school, Hillside has its issues (that are reflection of certain segments of the community). But what are you going to do? 1) Tear them down and dismiss their accomplishments as exceptions, or 2) continue empowering the youth to do better than what society expects? They must excel beyond the expectations of naysayers, including you sir! Don’t perpetrate the fear and low expectations so many have of our Black children!

    As a minister and journalist in the community, what have you done to be a part of the solution instead of the problem as you have shown here?

  4. thank you this is all that we ask is for people to help us and not fight us people really dont understand how much harm u don when you talk about something are someone that they really care about again thanks for taking the time out to write this

  5. I have to disagree with you about the difficulty of the End of Course test. The test did not get that difficult. I tutor a student from Jordan High School with AP English and AP US History. He informed me he always makes 4's on the EOC because they are so easy. Instead of taking his word for it I went to the NC Department of Public Instruction website and took the sample US history EOC for myself. Out of 20 questions, I got 18 correct. And I have not taken US history in over 20 years.

    So what did this tell me? This tells me if a student half way listens in class, he or she can get a 3 on the EOC's. The student I tutor also told me the teachers do an extensive review for the EOC.

    I truly believe that there are some deep seated issues with Hillside and Southern. The community thought money would fix it or new leadership would fix it. Clearly, after 14 years being in that beautiful building, that is not the case. I began my career with Durham Public Schools in 1994. I remember all the heated discussions about the new Hillside and how Woodcroft parents did not want to send there children to Hillside. Until the Durham community truly analyzes the problem, which is mostly a social issue, money or new leadership will not solve the problem. People's thinking must change for Hillside to change.

    I also believe that people in Durham need to stop holding on to the glory past of Hillside from 40, 50 years ago. Yes, I do understand Hillside has a rich history. My great-uncle graduated from Hillside in 1928! This was during a time when African-Americans had to leave their communities to go to high school because there was no public high school for Blacks in rural communities due to segregation. So I clearly understand the history and pride for the school. But I feel this holding on to past memories is what is keeping the school and the Durham community from moving forward.

  6. I guess Pappy wasn't "dismissed."

  7. Brim over I assent to but I dream the collection should secure more info then it has.

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