Education

Durham schools win grant to boost minority achievement

Posted February 9, 2010 11:01 a.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2010 5:30 p.m. EST

— The NEA Foundation on Tuesday awarded Durham Public Schools $1.25 million to boost the classroom achievement of minority students.

The money will target black males in the early grades to help them graduate on time. Research shows the group is struggling the most within the district, said Kristy Moore, president of the Durham Association of Educators.

"We want to make sure that we have mentoring programs. We want to make sure that teachers have accessibility to go out to the homes and to visit parents and see what the students really need," Moore said.

Fifty-seven percent of black high school students in Durham graduate in four years, compared with 85 percent of white students, according to state statistics. Statewide, the gap is narrower – 78 percent of white students and 63 percent of black students graduate within four years.

"It's a huge problem," Andrew Lakis, an academic coach at Lowe's Grove Middle School, said of the achievement gap.

Lakis said he sees many black students fall behind their peers in class. No one has been able to determine the reason for the disparity, but he said his job as a teacher is to address the situation.

"We are really trying to solve the problem, more so than diagnose it," he said.

Durham was one of three school districts nationwide to win the competitive, five-year grant under the NEA Foundation's Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative. The 6-year-old project supports partnerships that develop and implement comprehensive, sustainable approaches to advancing academic achievement.

“Good schools – schools that provide real educational opportunity – have a clear focus on teaching and learning,” said Harriet Sanford, president and chief executive of the NEA Foundation. “Real opportunities for students grow when the whole educational system keeps its eye on the prize.”

The foundation is a 40-year-old charity funded by contributions from teachers, corporate sponsors and others.

Moore said Durham schools will apply for mini-grants to pay for programs tailored to their individual needs.

"We are allowing the schools to look and see what they have that is already working in their schools," she said. "Maybe it's mentoring, or it may be some after-school programs that are already working but they need to extend it out to make it a larger program."

"A teacher needs to wear the hat of a social worker and a care provider and a community organizer and get that involvement from the student, the parent, the grandparent (and) anybody who is involved in that child's life," Lakis said.

Moses Richards, a junior at Hillside High School, called himself "a perfect example" of what schools can do for local blacks.

Richards moved from Liberia with his family when he was 4. At the time, he spoke other languages but not English. The grant will help students like him get the academic attention they need, he said.

"We believe that all children can learn at a high level," he said.

Durham’s proposal for the five-year grant was created by the Durham Association of Educators and district administrators and is backed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central University and local business leaders, officials said.

Sanford said the district will have access to NEA research and practices found to be successful elsewhere, as well as a national network of educators to provide advice. An independent evaluation will continually measure the progress of the project.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said she was thrilled that Durham was chosen from among 14,000 school districts nationwide for the grant.

"No matter what your ZIP code is, no matter what the color of your skin is, no matter what kind of creed or beliefs you have in your heart, you deserve a shot in North Carolina," Perdue said.