This past Saturday, founders of Union Independent School, a private-becoming-charter school on Dowd Street in Northeast Central Durham, launched a unique college prep program for 54 handpicked black students at Hillside and Southern high schools. This is the second of 3 parts of a story in progress for Sunday's Durham News. Read part one here.
The Saturday academy comes as the Durham Public Schools faces growing pressure to improve the achievement of black males, who make up 27 percent of the school district’s 32,500 students.
In 2004, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning threatened to close Hillside, Northern and Southern high schools, along with others in the state, if the district didn't raise the number of students performing at grade level to at least 60 percent. Hillside is 4.6 percentage points away from that goal. Northern is almost there, at 59.6 percent, and Southern continues to lag at 43 percent.
In addition to having low test scores, black males overall comprise the largest group of students who get suspended and drop out, Superintendent Eric Becoats told last weekend’s panel.
Many factors contribute: poverty, single-parent households and lower parent education levels, said panelist Loren Harris, founder of Thinking Man Consulting.
But something else is going on, said Donna-Marie Wynn, an investigator with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center in Chapel Hill.
“I think where we struggle is in having all schools be ready to teach African-American boys,” she said.
The teacher at Oake Grove that day, who was white, told Marcus black teachers may be better at teaching black children. Panelists said there can be a disconnect when young black men, often raised by single mothers and feeling pressure to be “the man” of the house, face a white female authority figure in the classroom.
But they said, white or black, teachers do children no good when they accept sub-par work.
“The bar has been lowered as to what success means,” said Harris. “We have to stop the hypocrisy of lower expectations. There’s a lower expectation of African-American performance and African-American male performance in particular.”
Becoats unveiled a strategic plan for the Durham Public Schools Wednesday night that included a focus on raising black male achievement. Last weekend he listened as Harris described “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” He listened when Marcus told her story about the elementary school teacher.
He said that has to change.
“At some point we need to say [to teachers], ‘This is not the bus you need to be on, and maybe it’s time to get on another bus.’”