Committee for Democratic Education rallies community

By Jasmine Grays
Staff Writer
the Hillside Chronicle
Hillside High School

This story appeared originally in the Hillside Chronicle, the school newspaper of Hillside High School which has partnered with the Durham VOICE.

I always wanted to make a difference in the world.

There was a problem though: I didn’t know how.

Hillside history teacher Alex Christman looks on as a student presents her group’s rendering of an ideal school. (Photo by Sendolo Diaminah, courtesy of the Hillside Chronicle).

One day I stumbled into a Committee for Democratic Education interest meeting and I am glad I did because it brought me a world of good. The purpose of CDE, which is a project of a community organization called People’s Durham, is to create a system where the people who are being affected by decision making are also the ones involved in those decisions.

On Nov. 15, CDE held a forum at Hillside High School where we shared a room with more than 60 people. The forum was open to the community and it was very successful. We explained briefly some history of education (because to understand where we are, we have to understand how we got there) and we also exchanged ideas on where we would like to go next and how to get there.

People in the room seemed very passionate and willing to help make the changes in schools that we all are hoping for. Because of the success of our last forum, CDE decided we would plan forums in different places and hopefully find more leaders and supporters.

The Durham Public Schools School Board recently proposed a reassignment of school districting, where some students would be removed from their base schools and sent to another school. School board members claimed it would promote diversity and increase test scores of students. On Dec. 5, school board members held a forum at Jordan High School where they went into further details about the proposal and also allowed time to hear from the community. A lot of people argued that this proposal wasn’t benefiting the students.

In CDE we noticed much of the proposal was around Durham School of the Arts and how it would no longer be a lottery school. Going into the forum we all had yellow balloons that represented the elevation of our bright future and on the balloons we wrote, “Don’t roll the dice. Make all our schools nice.”

Since a lot of the decisions were being made around a lottery-based system, we made this slogan because we feel that isn’t right — instead of moving around children we should invest money in all schools so that every school and every student has access to reliable resources.

We all spoke at the forum and at the end of each one of our speeches we tied our balloon to the microphone to increase the statement we were making. The following Thursday, school board members voted down the proposal.

With a 4 – 2 vote we had won our fight!

Bryan Proffitt, a Hillside history teacher and People’s Durham organizer said, “CDE is planning to build on this victory with the upcoming forums and a plan to register voters and get more students, school workers and parents to vote in this coming May’s School Board election.”

“This is the first step on a long road to creating the kind of school system we want; one run by the people who learn in them, work in them and send their kids to them,” he said. “Then we’ll have democratic schools.  Then we’ll have a democratic society.”