Local News

Durham Teacher Speaks at GOP Convention

Posted July 30, 2000 7:00 a.m. EDT

— A Durham teacher traded the comfort of her classroom for the glare of the national spotlight Monday night. Claudia Kirkley took center stage at the GOP convention to tell the world about the Healthy Start program she teaches in Durham.

"It's exciting to let people know about Healthy Start and what we're doing in our little corner of the world," Kirkley said.

Nominee George W. Bush tapped Kirkley to speak at the GOP convention after her fourth-grade class wrote him a letter.

"I just screamed. Just screamed," she recalled. "I was out of control for a while!"

Kirkley was in control Monday night, despite her jitters about sharing a stage with Colin Powell and Laura Bush.

She even planned a secret signal to her students who were watching back home.

"I told my children when I tug on my ear, a la Carol Burnett, that will be hello because I can't call out their names," she said.

The Republican convention is a long way from Kirkley's classroom in Durham.

She is savoring every minute of her once-in-a-lifetime experience, and planning to bring home plenty of pictures to show her students.

"I want to pose with Dick Cheney. I want to pose with Gov. Bush, Colin Powell. I want it all!" she said, outlining her off-stage plans for the convention.

Kirkley's "15 minutes of fame" may be over, but she plans to keep talking about Healthy Start and charter schools.

"Maybe Mr. Bush will give me a job in Washington, and I can teach more people about things."

Gov. Bush contacted Kirkley after she and her students thanked him for praising Healthy Start on the campaign trail.

Kirkley's headmaster suggested she speak at the convention.

Hundreds of North Carolinians are in Philadelphia for the Republican National Convention but Kirkley may be returning home with the best memories.

"Just to know I'll be on the podium with Colin Powell and people of that caliber," she says. "I mean. when does that happen to you?"

The 55-year-old teacher drew rousing applause from the crowd at First Union Center as she spoke of high expectations and school choice.

She said high expectations of students have made a difference at her school.

``We tell them we understand that life is hard, but we still expect high achievement,'' she said.

Students at the Durham charter school have scored in the 90th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. On state tests, however, only 41.9 percent were judged proficient.

School officials have criticized the state test, calling it poorly written and insufficient.

Kirkley said the success of the school can be judged by reading level of students.

``Our students can read by the end of kindergarten,'' she said.

Giving parents more choices about where their children attend school will allow more schools and children to share in that success, she said.