Strings attached to federal money could oust three Durham principals

Posted November 19, 2010

— Three Durham Public Schools principals could lose their jobs in a push for federal money, including one who was held up six months ago as an example of success.

The school district wants $4.5 million in "Race to the Top" money to help three schools that are considered low-performing. Students at W. G. Pearson Elementary School and Lowe's Grove Middle School would get iPads to help them learn, and teams of specialists would work with teachers to help them help students. Meanwhile, Neal Middle School plans to convert to a magnet school and adopt a science- and math-based curriculum.

One of the requirements to get the money, however, is replacing the principal at each school.

District officials have spoken with the three principals about the requirements of the federal program's "school transformation model," spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte said. She declined to say whether the three would be offered other jobs in the district.

"I understand the finances behind the decision," said Kathy Kirkpatrick, principal at Lowe's Grove Middle.

Last spring, Kirkpatrick became the face of the district's efforts to boost student achievement. She testified before Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who oversees a lawsuit to ensure that students across North Carolina receive a quality education, and the judge said later that he was impressed with the work Kirkpatrick had done.

Mindi Schedel, who teaches sixth-grade math at Lowe's Grove Middle, said Kirkpatrick has dramatically improved the school during her three years there.

"She's made a huge difference not only in our grades, but also the culture of the school," Schedel said. "Lowe's Grove is on the verge of doing really wonderful things."

Kathy Kirkpatrick, principal of Lowe's Grove Middle School in Durham Teachers vow to fight to keep principal

Eighth-grade language arts teacher Andrea Fortwendl said she feels "like we're trading in leadership for iPads."

"She's being asked to step down because of a model, not because she's ineffective as a leader," Fortwendl said of Kirkpatrick.

The district chose the transformation model, Stalberte said, because administrators thought it would cause the least disruption among teachers, students and their families.

"Other models require either closing or restarting a school," she said.

Durham's plan still needs state approval, but the three principals would be out by next fall if the district moves ahead with the Race to the Top effort.

Lowe's Grove Middle teachers say losing their principal would erode much of the progress they've made in recent years, and they plan to fight to keep her.

"You are asking someone to come in who doesn’t know the faculty, who doesn’t know the growth we’ve made,” Fortwendl said.

"I’m afraid that any kind of change at this point, especially with leadership that has been so instrumental, will derail us and get us off track,” Schedel said.


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  • mshood7 Nov 22, 2010

    Our public schools have been hijacked by 'social engineers." Their main focus has not been emphsis learning, but to be dumbed down, brainwashed into programs that their parents don't approve of or simply object too. These are the parents who pay the taxes and suppor the schools. Many think the Fed'l govt should get out of the Ed. system. A proper role for them would be fed. research, demonstration projects and disiniate info. Choice is still the way to go. Everybody wins and we don't have to put up with mediccrity in our educational system. It's past time to get back to EDUCATION OUR CHILDREN.

  • mshood7 Nov 22, 2010

    Many Educators including leading civil rights educators and many organizations have said that Mr. Obama's program should be based upon need and not competition.Obama has been unfazed by the harsh reality which many civil rights oranization have insisted that access to federal funds should 'ALWAYS" be based upon need not competion.

  • mshood7 Nov 22, 2010

    Another liberal plan from the Obama stiffle the good work of those who dont think throwing money at problems is the answer! "Race to the top" is nothing but a feel good knee grab program that thinks money is the solution to education. It is not. It is competent and dedicated teachers and people in the ed. system of education our children and not social engineering that lifts up our children and presents opportunity, not "dumbing down" with nothing but 'fluff." Sick and tired of the federal govt trying to run our business (State and local) from a far distant place who only sees POLITICS that enhance their careers and social and political status which is never effective. American should continure to DEMAND good school for everyone with accountablity from teachers, students and parents. No teacher or leader in a public school should be allowed to teach their own personal agenda so why allow them. We know Unions raise costs in everything and lower accountability. The Federal Govt

  • jcassius Nov 19, 2010

    Durham County is really doing this for the money that they can't get from the county commissioners due to the fact that the county's budget is in disarray. It's seems like the system would ask for the help of their congressperson, Senator Burr, and Hagan to see if they could be granted an exception or get an "earmark' inserted in to a bill that's being considered or will be considered in the immediate future. Either way we hope that all politicians will find ways to be better stewards of our tax dollars.

  • shepherdss Nov 19, 2010

    To replace successfull, experienced and respected educators with unknowns just to get technical toys and $'s is obscene. The government wants to "buy" the schools and the students that are in them.

    Take the high road and just say no. This would be a teachable moment in principals and integrity.

  • whatelseisnew Nov 19, 2010

    Just more proof that the Federal Government has no place in education. Also proof that Government is mindless. Imagine when these same types of people get to decide whether or not you will receive that surgery that you need to remain alive.

  • gw48014 Nov 19, 2010

    The problem with these schools starts at home with the parents. The teachers and principals can only do so much.

  • didisaythat Nov 19, 2010

    You are kidding me...4.5 million tax dollars for IPads and tutors for the teachers to go to schools that have not made the grade. Sounds like most gov't things. Reward the underachievers by giving them money from the workers and producers. IPADS....I don't have one and I graduated. They will sacrifice a few for all that free money. The American Way.

  • Qwerty27807 Nov 19, 2010

    Students DO NOT need iPads to learn. Concentrating on the classic "basics" of reading, writing and arithmetic is what they need, and less on the latest "feel-good" egghead fad.