• Blog Post #10: A Safe Place

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/19/2022

    As a new member of the Durham Public Schools family, I was required to complete a safety training course that put me on notice and reminded me that as an employee of this school district, I am responsible for the safety of the 32,000 students we’re serving. Having worked in Communications for four school districts in my career,  I‘ve remained acutely aware of the challenges that many students face at home, from abuse to hunger to homelessness. As school district employees, we are mandated– like every citizen of North Carolina–to report child abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

    The mandatory training includes human trafficking awareness; child abuse identification and intervention; child abuse mandatory reporting; workplace injury prevention; bloodborne pathogen exposure prevention; and of course, a COVID-19 school health program overview.

    Our commitment to our students means that we are dedicated to continuous learning and improvement.


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  • Blog Post #9: Holt Elementary

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/19/2022

    Holt Elementary Language Magnet School Donya Jones, Principal  Principal Donya Jones credits the educators she had with drawing her into the field of education.  In turn, she is now using her credentials and positive experiences as a student  to prepare h

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  • DPS Celebrates

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/19/2022

    #DPS Celebrates began in 2021 to explore our commonalities and acknowledge the plethora of cultures represented throughout the Durham Public Schools stakeholder community. The monthly virtual event is designed to promote engagement between the district and its communities around topics of interest and relevance.

    “This is an opportunity to share knowledge, empower and promote awareness through remote learning district wide,” said Melissa Perez, K-12 Specialist, World Languages. 

    The DPS Celebrates campaign has featured notable women, character traits, equity-related topics such as race and culture’s influence on the media, arts in the schools, and special observances like National Foreign Language Week and Black History Month. 

    DPS Celebrates programs can be found on the district’s YouTube channel


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  • Blog Post #7: The School for Creative Studies

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/19/2022

    School for Creative Studies

    Renee Price, Principal (retired)

    Current Principal is Chaundra Clay


    Students at the Center for Creative Studies are attending the school of their dreams– their career dreams that is. The year-round school–where the vision is “There is no box”--is open to sixth through twelfth grade students who want to pursue their creative ambitions.

    Teachers help to recruit candidates for whom the school is the perfect fit by serving on the interview committee alongside Instructional Assistants and office staff.

    “Everybody is a part of this community,” said Principal Renee Price. “Students come to know that everyone here cares about your achievement.”  Price’s expectation also means that “everybody can correct you,” she says. “There are high expectations with a high level of support.”

    The teaching philosophy at this calendar and theme school is to acknowledge that the students’ strengths are the focal points. 

    “We teach to strengths not deficits, and fill in the gaps with support,” said Price.

    One of the ways that strengths are recognized and reinforced is a recognition of two to three students each month, spotlighting students who personify the school’s mission of “Creativity. Communication. Collaboration. Community.” 

    Its theme centers on applied creativity, media, design, and communication arts. The program of study features coursework selections including Creative Entrepreneurship & Marketing, Digital Media & Design, Video Technology & Communications, Design for Living: Architectural Design, Music & Audio Production, Visual Arts, Healthful Living/Outdoor Education, and Spanish.

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  • Blog Post #6: The Hub Farm

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/19/2022

    The Hub Farm

    Stepping foot onto The Hub Farm at Eno Valley immediately elicits peace.  Roosters and chickens strut about, tiptoeing up to visitors, and pecking at bits of food from staff who sit at a picnic table eating lunch. There’s a body of water , a handmade bridge, and goats. It’s a perfect teaching and learning environment, giving students and teachers alike the opportunity to learn in a classroom called the outdoors. 

    Outdoor learning is a curriculum in the Durham Public Schools. Aspects may include learning and teaching in an outdoor setting, experiencing the outdoors, hands-on learning, improved skills in nature-related sports, survival skills, leadership skills, increased physical activity, personal and social development, gardening and agriculture, culinary skills, and more. Students learn how to grow vegetables and flowers, study wildlife, and enhance their appreciation of the environment. And on a good day, one can get fresh veggies and eggs to take home to use in home cooked meals.

    “Outdoor learning is important because it engages a wide array of students, supporting the whole child through sensory learning, tactile experience, and more,” said Hannah Ball-Damberg, an educator at The Farm, which the district opened in 2012.


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  • Blog Post #5: Southern School of Energy and Sustainability

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/19/2022

    Southern School of Energy and Sustainability

    Jerome Leathers, Principal

    Southern School of Energy and Sustainability is lit and adorned outside by lamp posts and solar panels atop its building, gifted by the Environmental Protection Agency .  Before a visitor even steps into the building, there are visible signs of its commitment to energy sustainability. 

    Just as importantly, there are signs everywhere of the school’s commitment to a student-centered program.  

    Southern offers four different academies: Technology and Engineering (to include the ever-popular drone operations and licensing instruction); Biomedical; Business; and, Construction Engineering.  Southern students interested in learning and acquiring trade certifications can enroll in a skills pathway that includes plumbing, heating, and automotive instruction.

    From an outsider’s perspective, all of these moving parts may seem overwhelming.  But leadership makes the difference.  Principal Jerome Leathers is committed to two-way communications with his students and staff; formal onboarding to help acclimate students and staff to Southern; and, supports.

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  • Equity 401: Justice Lessons

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/12/2022

    When I sent my three sons to school during their compulsory school attendance years, I had high expectations that they would achieve great things. I also had high expectations of the principal and teachers who had access to their minds and spirits for at least six hours a day.  I wished for them an educational experience that they would look forward to every day. Idealistic? Perhaps.  But at the very least they deserved to be treated justly and to have equitable access to learning opportunities. I questioned, advocated, and challenged consistently.

    Being asked to assist with one of the DPS Equity and Professional Development department’s Equity 401 interactive presentations gave me hope that there are professionals– privileged with access to young, impressionable minds and souls– who truly want the same for their students that parents like me wanted.

    The presentation was so engaging, informative, and appreciated that of the 600 attendees, at least 100 stayed after the presentation to ask follow-up questions, ask for guidance, and share.

    “As an Office, we realized the necessity of cultivating a space where we were able to begin shifting our thinking and learning around what it means to be agents of change in education, making it more practical and authentic to the needs and experiences of DPS educators and staff. The purpose of this session was to highlight the importance of equity-focused work not being a sole responsibility of administrators and teachers, but all staff, students and even our community partners and stakeholders,” said Dr. Iwinosa Idahor, the department’s Student Engagement and Opportunity Coordinator.

    Programs and work are data-driven, which empower both the department and its stakeholders to courageously advocate for all students.

    “In creating the structures for this session, it was important for us to center district data, increase teacher agency and ultimately, enhance student experiences in school.  A goal of our Office is that these sessions will evoke a ferocious sense of hope, care and urgency in our equity work, considering the opposition that has become even more covert over the last several months,” said Dr. Idahor.

    About Equity Affairs

    Equity Affairs was established in 2017; in 2022, the office became Equity and Professional Development.  Its goals are to:

    • Collaborate with various departments and school leaders to analyze data (i.e. Graduation and discipline data for students of color; Black and Latinx enrollment in AIG, Honors, AP/IB classes; recruitment and retention of high quality educators of color, etc.), and develop action plans to address disparities (Strategic Plan Goals 1A, 1B, 1C, 2B, and 3B).

    • Design and facilitate professional development for educators that focuses on racial equity, implicit bias, and culturally responsive teaching (Strategic Plan Goals 1A, 1B, 1C, 2B, and 3B)

    • Increase/enhance partnerships with community organizations that can support the work of addressing educational inequities (Strategic Plan Goals 1A, 4B, 4C).

    • Identify, apply for, and manage grants and research that will support the work of equity in the district and help to eliminate academic disproportionalities (Strategic Plan Goals 1A, 4B, 4C)

    • Establish mechanisms for effective communication with stakeholders (Strategic Plan Goals 4B, 4C).

    “Our commitment to equity across the district continues to manifest in multiple ways and across departments, emphasizing the belief that equity is more than just a buzzword but an integral part of meeting the goals of our district strategic plan and adhering to Dr. Mubenga’s non-negotiables. As more professional learning occurs around equity-focused topics, we have been able to notice shifts in policies, practices and expectations in multiple areas including our dress code policy, child nutrition, and human resources.,” siad Dr. Idahor.

    In 2019, Equity Affairs introduced a series of learning modules designed to introduce and immerse teachers into the work of educational equity. These leaders have also facilitated the development of an educational equity policy based on five pillars:

    A. Disrupt and Dismantle Systemic Inequities to Eliminate the Opportunity Gap

    B. Honor and Strengthen the Connections between Home and School

    C. Address Social and Emotional Well Being of Students and Staff

    D. Ensure Access & Representation in Academic Programming in Schools

    E. Build Staff Capacity for Equity-Centered Practices

    Data, coupled with testimonies from educators and staff who have participated in the professional learning opportunities offered by Equity Affairs, uphold the department’s work.

    “At the core of our work is going back to the mission and vision of our Office–ensuring that students experience educational equity regardless of race, ethnicity or any other identifiers, and addressing inequities due to disparities found in various data sets,” said Dr. Idahor. “We strive to use various forms of data to illuminate and amplify the perspectives and experiences of DPS students and staff. The intentional use of data is also used to ground us as equity-focused practitioners–reminding us of our ‘Why?’ along with our ‘What, So What, and Now What?’ as poignantly stated by education pioneer, Dr. Dudley Flood.”

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  • Blog Post #4 | Southwest Elementary

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/12/2022

    Southwest Elementary School

    Nick Rotosky, Principal

    Students at Southwest Elementary School can honestly say that they are greeted by at least five trusted adults each day. That’s because Principal Nick Rotosky expects that from his staff.  It’s one of the non-negotiables he and his administration have developed to make school appealing and inspiring for the students who attend Southwest Elementary School. Rotosky, who entered the field of education as a lateral entry physical education teacher 18 years ago, has been at the helm of Southwest for eight years.  His Assistant Principal, Torrey Flores, has been at his side that entire time, plus the three years she served Southwest before Rotosky’s tenure began.

    Southwest is a dual-language themed school, where students whose parents entered them in the lottery-based program start in kindergarten with a 90 percent immersion into Spanish– that means, classes are taught in Spanish 90 percent of their time in school. Like sponges, they take their lessons in, becoming fluent very quickly due to the immersion model.

    Rotosky calls his academic program student-driven, offers an open door to the principal’s office, and says he has built an on-demand culture where people want to be based on safety, love, and engagement.

    While this philosophy is student-driven, “it fills our bucket too,” says AP Flores. “When we make decisions in the best interest of children, we can challenge each other, question, and support.”

    The student population is indisputably diverse, and Rotosky describes it as a “culture that is a beautiful balance. It looks like the real world.”

    Add to the school’s environment its strong, ongoing parent and community support.  Those strengths are demonstrated through the Southwest Seagull Sustainer Society that grants teachers financial support for their lessons; a traditional PTA that spotlights teachers regularly, a Parents of African-American Children (PAC) organization that also sends representatives to the general PTA meetings; ALAS, which stands for -Alianza Latina de Acción en Southwest (Southwest Latinx Action Alliance).  “Alas” means “wings” in Spanish, and our hope is that these alas will help our Seahawks to fly towards even higher goals, says Rotosky.

    Rotosky proudly shares that the welcoming atmosphere has inspired parents to enroll in teacher education programs and become teachers themselves.

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  • Blog Post #3 | Hope Valley Elementary

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/12/2022

    Hope Valley Elementary School

    Jed Miller, Principal

    There must be something special about a school that gets visited by the High Commissioner of the United Nations. Home to a diverse learning community of 600 students with global origins, Hope Valley Elementary School serves students who speak a plethora of languages, a number of students whose families are refugees settling in Durham, and where parents and more than 30 community partners support the school’s vision. The school has been rated as among the top 100 most diverse elementary schools in the state of North Carolina, and thanks to the hard work of its teachers and staff, Hope Valley sits among the top 5% of elementary schools that have experienced growth in the state.

    Jed Miller, the school’s principal, is working to eradicate tracking and disproportionality with what he describes as a “go-get attitude about serving all kids and not some of them.” That same philosophy is practiced for staff: Instructional Assistants teach lessons under the tutelage of their teachers, giving them an opportunity to decide whether full-time professional teaching is their calling. In class, rather than requiring raised hands to speak, students use popsicle sticks to demonstrate their desire to participate in classroom discussion.

    “We always want all the students to have a voice. So everyone is included and involved,” said Miller.

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  • Blog Post #2 | Middle College High

    Posted by Crystal Kimpson Roberts on 12/12/2022

    Middle College

    Crystal Taylor-Simon, Principal

    Principal Crystal Taylor-Simon leads the Durham Public Schools Middle College with the belief that a rising tide lifts all boats. Middle College is an application school that serves students from across the district. When those students apply and are chosen for Middle College, Taylor-Simon considers it a win for Durham Public Schools.  Having and electing the option to dual-enroll in DPS and Durham Technical Community College gives students an opportunity to begin earning college credit before high school graduation.

    The school’s six teachers and Principal Taylor-Simon are dispersed throughout the Durham Technical Community College campus. The largest class has less than 20 students, and diversity is evident. “Teachers maximize on the diversity of the classroom,” says Taylor-Simon, who can be seen walking throughout the campus observing and lending expertise.

    Although the term “college” is in the name of the school, Taylor-Simon knows that her students still need TLC.   “Students are the same everywhere.” To let them know that their success is important, Middle College employs a College Liaison Magnet Coordinator that creates programming that onboards students and parents for success, and every student has an advisor.  “We talk about the fact that individual motivation is what it will take to be successful,” she says. There are random, personal calls to students from the Principal just to check in, and Wellness Wednesdays during the shutdown featured workshops and resources for mindfulness and physical self-care.

    The school hosts a MavCon (Maverick Conference) day-long event that brings in parents and the students before school opens.  MavCon is a full day of classes with an introduction to the technology students will need to use, the campus, and the school’s core values.  It also features interactive hands-on events and meet-and-greets. 

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