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Durham School Board Reaches Out To Parents

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DURHAM, N.C. — Members of the Durham school board held their first monthly dinner with parents Thursday night as part of a plan to reach out to the community through the "Be Our Guest" program.

Through the program, members of the

Durham Board of Education

will hold dinners with parents before each board meeting in order to give parents the opportunity to share their concerns in a more intimate setting.

Some members also said they hoped the program will help start the board meetings on a more positive note.

In April, three people were arrested during a meeting while protesting new rules that limits the timeframe for open public comments as well as the number of agenda items the public can comment on. All three were later found not guilty on charges ranging from trespassing to inciting a riot.

In February, two board members, Regina George-Bowden and Jackie Wagstaff, walked out of a meeting when the board was setting rules for the public comment policy.

Some Durham residents said these incidents reflect what has become of the school board meetings over the past year.

Gail Heath, chair of the school board, said it can be a challenge at times to sit through volatile board meetings.

"There have been times of this one little fantasy: What would happen if I just drove to the beach instead?" Heath said.

The rift between Heath and Wagstaff has been well documented and often public.

"She has no respect for me and along with the, I'm pretty sure, the other white members. But the chair, I would respect her if she had a genuine respect for me," Wagstaff said. "When I came on this board and I put my hand on the Bible, nothing said I had to like anybody here."

Minnie Forte, who is in her first year on the school board, said the real issues facing Durham school children are getting lost in the chaos.

"Those issues are truancy. Those issues are dealing with drop outs. Those issues are dealing with black males staying in school, and doing the right thing. Those issues are achievement scores," Forte said. "Those are things we need to work on that we have not been able to do."

Students in

Durham Public Schools

appear to be succeeding despite the school board. The average SAT score was its highest ever at 1,005 last school year, when more students also took advanced placement tests than ever.

Durham schools are also two percentage points away from reaching its 2007 reading goal for third-graders. Ninety-three percent were reading at or above grade level at the end of the 2004-05 school year.

The terms for both Heath and Wagstaff end next June. Neither have said if they plan to run again. Forte's term expires in 2008.


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