Local News

Superintendent: Hands-On Approach Needed To Change Durham Schools

Posted July 3, 2006 6:58 a.m. EDT

— Carl Harris knows settling into his new role as superintendent of Durham Public Schools won't be easy.

The school system has its share of challenges. In recent years, board of education meetings have been like a battleground between board members and the public; there has also been infighting among members.

Two low-performing high schools, Hillside High and Southern High, are also in danger of closing.

Within the next two years, Harris hopes to see a marked improvement at the schools. He believes that if there is a better effort from the community -- more parents and students involved -- then the school system's problems would be easier to solve.

More than likely though, he won't face the same battles as his predecessor, Ann Denlinger. Hired by a split school board, Denlinger's nine years as superintendent were marked with racial politics and board bickering.

Harris was the unanimous choice for the top spot and will start his tenure with a drastically different school board -- newly elected members start later this month.

"My sense is we have a school board really committed," Harris said.

Harris said he would not talk about the discord and distractions of past board meetings, but would rather focus on what lies ahead -- including projecting a positive image.

Denlinger was often criticized for not reaching out to the community, but Harris insists he will take a hands-on approach as superintendent.

"I will spend a great deal of my time in the schools daily. That's where I hope to spend my time," he said. "I feel like I need to be in the schools, working with high school principals, working with high school teachers and engaging with parents and the community."

Reginald Smith with the non-profit Durham Public Education Network has already met with Harris about ways to get the community involved.

"I think it's wonderful he sees the need to bring together the entire community," Smith said, adding that he hopes this new beginning will end the old boardroom banter.

"It concerned a lot of citizens," he said.