Durham Public Schools Introduces Initiative to Bridge Educational Gaps

By Dezarae Churchill, Amina Accram, Emily Peek

DURHAM, NC — Durham Public Schools is introducing a new initiative that it hopes will improve academic excellence, student wellbeing and parent engagement. Called the Growing Together Initiative, the school district hopes the program will help its schools be more efficient and financially accountable. “With the explosion of Durham, it is not the Durham of 30 years ago,” said Deborah Pitman, assistant superintendent of DPS.

Expanding suburbs have caused the population to shift from Durham’s downtown, creating overcrowding in some schools, she explained.

School leaders also hope that the Growing Together Initiative will address growing classroom inequities caused by the population shift and provide new and expanded programs to better prepare students for the workforce or college.

The Growing Together Initiative, which focuses initially on elementary and middle school students, is expected to provide new or expanded programs to better prepare students for college or the workforce.

The Growing Together Initiative will provide programs to:

● Teach new languages to English-speaking students.

● Introduce students to an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum that will prepare them for college courses and provide them with college credits.

● Increase arts programs throughout elementary schools to promote creativity.

● Expand the Montessori-style of education, which focuses on character development and empowerment.

● Add more year-round schools to reduce teacher and student burnout and accommodate more students within the schools.

Phase one of the initiative will launch in 2024-2025 for elementary schools. After receiving teacher and community feedback, phase two will extend to high schools. Each region of the school system held informational meetings in October.

Graphic courtesy of dpsnc.net

Improving Academic Achievement

As part of the Growing Together Initiative, district leaders want to expand several programs such as the dual language immersion program. Only three schools currently offer that program, with expansion to begin in kindergarten in the 2024-25 school year. This program will extend to middle schools as those kindergarteners enter sixth grade.

The county also plans to expand the International Baccalaureate program, which provides accelerated courses for students to earn college credits.

Today, 546 students can attend those programs. The initiative will try to double the number by 2030.

University of North Carolina graduate Mady Ignacio completed two years in the International Baccalaureate program at Millbrook High School in Raleigh.

“In high school, I was constantly looking for ways to challenge myself…,” Ignacio said.

When she started her freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill, she already had 23 credits toward her bachelor’s degree.

The initiative will also focus on expanding the system’s use of the Montessori style of education, which promotes character development and hands-on learning. The district currently has three schools using this teaching style and plans to build two more schools to focus on it.

In addition, the district also plans to create more art classrooms to promote creativity, Pittman said. “We want an intentional focus around integrating arts and sciences into our core curriculum,” she said. Data, Diversity and Engagement

The district is using data and feedback from school principals to craft strategies for the Growing Together Initiative, according to Stacey Stewart, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction of the Exceptional Children’s Department, which works with students who require additional support.

Based on the data and feedback, the district also plans to:

● Diversify their teachers by increasing its international recruitment efforts in Spanish-speaking countries to attract more bilingual faculty.

● Provide teachers and staff with more training opportunities to help them improve student performance.

● Encourage greater family and community engagement by hosting meetings and feedback opportunities.

After attending a meeting in September about the new initiative, Danielle Sutton, a parent with a 7th grade daughter at Durham School of the Arts, believes the initiative will have a positive impact on Durham County Schools.

“It looks like a very solid plan to me,” she said.