Student News

Ed.D. interns’ concept paper a linchpin for collaboration with Durham Public Schools

Durham Public Schools and the Durham Association of Educators were awarded a $1.25 million grant from the National Education Association Foundation on Feb. 9, 2010.

Last August, School of Education Professor Catherine Marshall was looking for a group project for her six Educational Leadership interns. Concurrently, the Durham Public School (DPS) system and the Durham Association of Educators (DAE) were working on a planning grant, preparing a proposal for a five-year, $1.25 million “Closing the Achievement Gap” grant to be submitted to the National Education Association (NEA) Foundation.

Dr. Carl Harris, superintendent of DPS, wanted assistance with the massive task of completing the planning grant. Marshall offered herself and her students as resources. Thus began an intense, semester-long collaboration that yielded benefits for all involved.

The interns began their work by meeting with DPS officials to gain an understanding of the school system’s desire to focus on the needs of African American boys, as a bold approach for closing the achievement gap in Durham schools. Working under Marshall’s guidance and supervision, the interns started analyzing data and developing a concept paper. They examined data on student achievement in Durham schools and evidence on the challenges in North Carolina and across the United States.

”DPS’s focus on African American boys was bound to be controversial,” said Marshall. “Still, the interns’ task was to substantiate the bold step made by Superintendent Harris and Kristy Moore, president of the Durham Association of Educators, to focus on African American boys.”

The concept paper, presented by the interns to DPS officials on Nov. 7, offers research-based insights for generating policies and programs and recommends multiple strategies for working toward closing the achievement gap. With a particular focus on culturally responsive teaching practices, the concept paper provides specific direction for helping African American males to achieve academic success in Durham schools.

The expectation is that the practices implemented to assist African American males will have a positive effect on other students as well.

The grant proposal will be submitted to NEA in December. DPS will be notified of the outcome next spring.

At a celebratory gathering on Dec. 9, Harris told the interns that the concept paper provided a clarity and focus that were previously missing in highlighting a widespread problem. “If you look around America, [the academic failure of so many African American males] is a devastating problem,” he said. “When you look at urban centers ─ in New York, California ─ you’re talking about a lot of kids.”

“Your research in putting this all together has given us a permanent document that is a guide for our work,” he said. “It provides a foundation for others to understand why we’re doing this work and the data that backs it up.”

And, he noted, DPS has decided to move in this direction regardless of the outcome of the grant proposal.

“Over the next three to five years, we will show the country that, given the right structures and support, African American males can excel, just like any other group of students,” Harris predicted.

“This work will touch children’s futures in ways we can’t imagine,” he continued. “And the work will happen, with or without the NEA grant, because of the commitment of Durham Public Schools. The effects will last well beyond … any of us.”   

Harris praised Marshall’s leadership of the interns and her commitment to social justice, noting, “Early on, we felt Catherine’s passion and sincerity for this kind of work. We knew we had something to work with.”

DEA President Kristy Moore agreed. “As we read the concept paper, we read the passion you had for this project,” she told Marshall and the interns.

Associate Superintendent Terri Mozingo noted that the concept paper lays the groundwork for action. “It takes a lot of people to move a school district forward,” she said. “The concept paper is a call to action. This is the beginning of a long journey.”

Other School of Education faculty who have become involved with the DPS initiative include Professor George Noblit, who gathered focus group data, and Associate Professor Rita O’Sullivan, who helped design the evaluation component of the grant proposal. “This project became a linchpin for deep collaboration between UNC and DPS,” said Noblit.

Marshall highlighted the interns’ remarkable commitment to the work with DPS as well as the many benefits they gained from it. “In spite of their long, demanding days running their schools, when we met for class, they brought enormous energy and investment to the task,” she said of the interns, who are all practicing education administrators and part-time doctoral students.

“They worked collaboratively on the concept paper throughout the semester and took great pride in making it happen. One night they were still going strong at 10:30 p.m. ─ an hour past the end of class,” she related. “I knew that many of them had to open schools the next morning. For the first time in my 30 years of teaching, that night I had to make my students finally stop their work and go home.”   

In addition to learning about the content of the work, the interns learned about Central Office issues, Marshall said. “They learned that we had to accept DPS’s definition of the problem, take the issues they had defined and address the needs they had identified, taking them as far as we could, and declare it done when it had to be done to meet the deadline,” she said.

The experience also provided an opportunity for the interns to observe several professionals from the school district and learn about their various positions and responsibilities. “We had some important conversations translating the activity into the interns’ calculations about future possibilities for their own careers,” said Marshall. “There were many lessons to be had from what was happening.”

The six interns and their current positions are:

  • Burt Batten, assistant principal, Laurel Park Elementary School, Wake County School System
  • Betty Davidson, director of the Comprehensive Science Licensure Program, Meredith College, Raleigh
  • Arris Golden, director of bands, Gravelly Hill Middle School, Orange County Schools
  • Dionne McLaughlin, assistant principal, Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
  • Larry Savage, coordinator, Center for International Enrollment, Wake County School System
  • Kebbler Williams, principal, Franklinville Elementary School, Randolph County Schools

In addition to Superintendent Harris, Associate Superintendent Mozingo and DEA President Kristy Moore, other DPS and NCAE officials present at the Dec. 9 gathering were:

  • Heidi Coleman, coordinator of grants and program evaluation, DPS
  • Alvera Lesane, senior director of professional growth and development, DPS
  • Tyrone Melton, UniServ director, Durham area, N.C. Association of Educators

Harris will leave DPS at the end of January to become the deputy assistant secretary of education for policy and strategic initiatives with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. “I will take this kind of thinking with me [as I assume this new position],” he said. “Hopefully we can scale up this kind of work around the country.”