- George Watts
Every student group’s test scores increased in Durham Public Schools
DURHAM, North Carolina– Durham Public Schools saw gains in every sub-group of students tested, and in every tested subject except for eighth grade science and high school English II in school year 2022-2023, according to school performance data released today.
Of 51 participating schools, 45– or 88.2%-- met or exceeded their growth goals during school year 2022-2023. (Durham Public Schools has 56 schools but a certain amount of data is required to assign a growth status. Holton Career and Resource Center, the DPS Hospital School, and Middle College at Durham Tech didn’t have enough data for a growth status. The Durham Performance Learning Center and Lakeview School are on an alternative school model and their growth is not reported at the state level.)
Additionally, 14 DPS schools earned an A or B status in performance, according to the data release. The district also saw three schools move out of low-performing status. Those schools are Hillandale Elementary, W.G. Pearson Elementary, and the School for Creative Studies.
“I’m proud to know that our school leaders, teachers, and staff subscribe to the belief that all students have unlimited potential. Here in Durham Public Schools, we want our students to become accustomed to and familiar with achievement, because it is an expectation for each and every one,” said Dr. Pascal Mubenga, Superintendent.
Recipe for Success
Principals say a major ingredient in the recipe for student success is believing in every student’s potential for growth and achievement.
“Advancing our students is a team effort,” said Dr. Stacy D. Stewart, Chief of Schools for Durham Public Schools. “Achievement requires labor, patience, and inspiration from parents, teachers, and administrators. Additionally, we have high expectations for our students. No one rises to low expectations.”
Mshinda Brown, principal at R. N. Harris Elementary School, where overall school performance grades increased from 51.8 to 68.6 points said she and her staff understand that these are formative years. And just as her colleague Matthew Hunt stated, Brown said another major contributing factor is that staff are invested.
“They are individuals who take pride in making sure they are masters of their craft. I don’t have to pull them along or sell it to them,” she said. “They’re excited. They want our students to succeed.”
It’s hard work that must be taken seriously, said Brown, who notes that this foundational work can serve as a catapult toward long-term success. “We want high test scores, but why? There’s a why behind it,” she said. “We want them to be adept and have conversations with anybody around the world. We want them to compete.”
Brown says her daily tasks are more than just a punch list of things to do. She meets with her assistant principal, reviews curriculum, makes logistical decisions, and holds PLC (Professional Learning Community) meetings.
“The plan for the day gives direction and we communicate with each other clearly,” said Brown. They even discuss what they might learn or hear at the bus circle, cafeteria, or carpool when students arrive at school. They gauge the temperature and talk among themselves to ensure that students are ready to learn, she said.
“We keep students occupied to prevent behavior issues,” said Brown. “We offer more. I truly believe in giving students options. School is not an experience that happens to them but with them.”
Brown adds that R.N. Harris teachers are all in.
“What’s non-negotiable is knowing that our students can succeed. If you are not on that bus, then you need to find another bus. You have to know and know that you know that our students can do awesome things. You have to come every day giving your best. You have to build them up from the ground floor.”
‘We see the student’
Merrick-Moore Elementary School’s overall performance increased 13 points from 36.4 to 49.9. Professional development and a cohesive, family-like culture drive the work there, says Dr. Vanessa Alford, who serves as principal.
“We see the student and not a test score,” said Dr. Alford. “If you see the student, the tests will take care of themselves.”
While she makes it sound easy, much work goes into running a successful school. Last year, the school’s performance increased 6.67 points.
She still contends that said quality lesson planning and good teaching are expected at Merrick-Moore.
“This work is a collaborative effort. Every person in this building and the community has contributed to our success. And we put our students first!”
Uncommon Sense of Excellence
At Glenn Elementary School, overall performance increased from 37.2 to 45.5 points. Principal Matthew Hunt says he and teachers are laser-focused on three actions: instructional excellence, school culture, and family engagement.
“Every year, measurable goals are set and tied to those three areas,” said Principal Matthew Hunt.
In order to reach those goals, Hunt says he is intentional in hiring.
“Hiring, supporting, and retaining the very best teachers and teams that are smart, committed, and collaborative and have the capacity to make the best instructional decisions for their students is the single most important thing we do as principals. Why do you want to be a teacher?” he says he asks of every candidate.
Hunt adds that he searches for professionals who see teaching as a vehicle for social change. He also notes whether the teacher is aware of the school’s characteristics.
“Those are people who we want in our building,” said Hunt.
At Glenn, eight languages are spoken and 24 countries are represented.
“That’s a source of strength for us,” said Hunt.