Name as it appears on the ballot: Donald Hughes
Party affiliation: Democratic
Campaign website: www.donaldahughes.com
Occupation & employer: Director of Community Voice, Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation
Years lived in the area: Born and raised in Durham. Worked for local government for six years in Washington, DC.
1. In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the school board do differently or better over the course of your term?
I am running for Durham School Board because I believe in the power of public education to transform lives and communities. As a native of Durham and a product of Durham Public Schools, I bring a unique understanding of what has been and an innovative perspective of what Durham Public Schools can be. My top priorities are:
1. Putting our students and closing the academic achievement gap between Black and Hispanic students and their white counterparts
2. Supporting our teachers and staff by ensuring that all personnel, especially classified workers such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other support staff, are paid a wage in which they can afford to live in Durham
3. Strengthening the school system’s relationship with parents and community members.
2. Given the direction of the school district, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Durham Public Schools has made progress in several areas and is generally on the right course. Though there have been positive strides, there is still much work to be done. Particularly, we must focus our resources on closing the wide academic achievement gap within Durham Public Schools (DPS). According to DPS, for the 2020-2021 academic year, only 23.3% of Black students were proficient across all subjects compared to nearly 69% of white students across all subjects (https://www.dpsnc.net/Page/1368). According to publicly available information on the DPS website, this gap has been consistent since the 2015-2016 academic year.
If elected, I will advocate for additional instructional time (e.g., weekend Recovery Academies) to help all students recover from the significant academic losses sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic. These recovery academies would rely on the talents of retired teachers, instructors from local community colleges and four-year colleges/universities, and community members so as to not burden teachers and staff that are already overworked and experiencing burnout.
Additionally, I work closely with students, parents, and community members to develop strategies for closing the achievement gap, supporting the whole student and family, and building pathways to education and careers beyond Durham Public Schools.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
The Durham School Board must address the impact that COVID-19 has had on academic achievement, staff pay, and the mental health challenges faced by students and staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and other world/community events (e.g., Murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Daunte Wright)
4. Describe something you think the school board should have prioritized differently in the current budget. Do you think the budget supports students from lower income families as well as from wealthy families? Does the budget meet the district’s infrastructure needs?
Evaluating whether the budget supports students from lower-income families and wealthy families is difficult to do with the publicly available budget on the DPS website. In addition, the budget does not drill down to the school level, which I think is necessary to evaluate from an equity lens. Due to the persistent academic achievement disparities in Durham Public Schools, there has to be a serious and thorough evaluation of the budget to ensure that resources are appropriated equitably throughout the school system. Generally, it is my belief that the school board has not spent the necessary time intentionally evaluating the school system’s budget against its outcomes. If elected, I will spend considerable time working with the administration to understand the budget development methodology. I will also work with my colleagues on the school board to ensure that any budget passed aligns with our community’s values and goals and is developed with a clear equity lens.
5. What is your understanding of what Critical Race Theory is? Is CRT currently taught in K12 public schools? What are your thoughts on House Bill 324, the bill Gov. Cooper vetoed because he said it “pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education?” Would you support such a bill?
Critical Race Theory is a legal framework that acknowledges racism as a part of American society. Critical Race Theory is not taught in Durham Public Schools. Gov. Cooper rightfully vetoed HB 324 and instead of politicizing and attempting to prevent the teaching of the full truth of American history, proponents of HB 324 should focus their efforts on fully funding public schools to ensure that teachers and staff have the resources needed to provide a sound basic education to all students.
6. Does the General Assembly have a constitutional obligation to comply with the state Supreme Court order in the Leandro case to fully fund public schools and give every child in North Carolina a sound basic education?
The General Assembly does have a constitutional obligation to comply with the NC Supreme Court order in the Leandro case to fully fund public schools and provide every child in the state a sound basic education. Our children are our most precious assets, and we are constitutionally as well as morally bound to provide the necessary resources to ensure that they are afforded a quality basic education that prepares them for college or careers. Furthermore, we must support the teachers and staff that protect the well-being of our students while working to provide a sound basic education. The last two and half years should have taught us how important our public schools are to the success of our communities. They serve not only as places for academic instruction, but our schools often provide the only source of food for many students and families, physical and mental health resources for those without health care, and create positive environments that help with the social emotional development of our young people.
7. Orange County’s Board of Education has passed some of the most progressive policies in the state around strengthening racial equity and providing a safe, inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students to learn. Should Durham follow Orange’s lead and implement Gender Support guidelines that create a protocol for students who are transitioning or want to?
As a Black gay man, I fully support providing all students with a safe and inclusive environment to learn. Unfortunately, living at the intersection of being Black and gay in America, I have experienced many unsafe settings that were not inclusive to me and those like me. Recognizing the adverse impact that unsafe and non-inclusive environments can have on the development of a child, Durham Public Schools followed Orange County’s lead and implemented gender support guidelines that will ensure that all students are free from harassment and discrimination in our schools. I support these guidelines and, as a member of the Durham School Board, will ask for regular updates on how these guidelines are actively applied in our learning and work environments.
8. How do you think the current school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic? Please explain your answer.
I think the current school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic very well. They allowed their decisions to be guided by science and not politics. As challenging as it has been, we must acknowledge the leadership of the school board and the administration during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
9. Recently the DPS board voted to change how it assigns students based on community infrastructure in an attempt to address disparities and increase equity. Do you support the new Growing Together assignment model? Please explain your answer.
The Growing Together assignment model is a fairly recent development in Durham Public Schools, and I am still reviewing the model and formulating my thoughts on the ability of this model to address academic disparities and increase equity in our schools. This assignment model is still in the community information and updates stage, and I look forward to attending upcoming town hall meetings and public hearings to learn more from current board members and DPS staff about the model and how it will address disparities and increase equity.
10. Do police officers (School Resource Officers) have a role in schools? Do you agree with the way the current board is trying to address the role of SROs in Durham County Schools?
School Resource Officers (SROs) have an important role in schools. Instead of focusing efforts on eliminating SROs from schools, we should work with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office to ensure that SROs receive DPS-mandated/chosen anti-racist and anti-bias trainings, among other trainings. Additionally, I would work with school system leaders and local law enforcement leaders to reframe the purpose and responsibilities of SROs, focusing on integrating SROs into mentorship roles instead of punitive/disciplinary roles.
11. Research has shown an achievement gap for Durham County Schools students based on race and socioeconomic status. What specific policies would you support or what actions would you take to help close the gap so that race and socioeconomic status don’t persist as predictive factors?
This is the greatest challenge facing Durham Public Schools. The success of our students should not be limited because of their race, zip code, or socioeconomic status. There are several specific policies or actions that I would take to help close the gap.
• Prioritize the hiring and retention of Black and Brown teachers who reflect the diversity of our student population. Research has found evidence that Black students have higher rates of educational attainment and lower rates of discipline when they have a Black teacher. This research has shown the strongest effect among Black males from low-income households. Source: https://ed.unc.edu/2020/09/08/the-power-of-ablack-teacher/
• Strengthening relationships with parents and trusted adults has shown promise in improving the academic achievement of students, especially Black and Brown students. When parents and trusted adults are actively engaged in a student’s learning experience, they tend to achieve greater success. We must invite parents and community into our schools and not see parental and community engagement as an obstacle to student achievement but as the necessary support it is to student achievement.
• Culturally inclusive and relevant curricula help students develop higher academic skills. When students see themselves and their cultures reflected in the curriculum and can apply what they are learning to their lived experiences, they are much more likely to understand and retain what they are being taught.
12. How can the school board better assist students who lack broadband access and access to laptops?
Durham Public Schools has a one-to-one ratio, meaning every student has access to a digital learning device. I applaud Superintendent Pascal Mubenga and DPS Information Technology (IT) for their leadership of the One-to-One Initiative and for committing the financial and human resources needed to purchase and support more than 20,000 Chromebooks for DPS students.
While the first step is purchasing the devices and making them available to students, access to broadband rendered many of the devices insufficient for remote student learning during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a member of the school board, I will work with public and private partners to ensure that all students and their families have access to high-speed broadband in their homes and communities. This may look like partnerships with the Durham Housing Authority to install wi-fi and wi-fi boosters in all public housing communities. Without collaboration with community partners, our students and families will not have access to the tools they need to be successful.
13. Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?
There is always room to improve how we serve our students and families, especially our differently-abled students. I have heard from current parents that they have experienced some challenges in being able to fully support the learning of their student(s)—some have been denied access to schools citing COVID-19. I have also been told by parents of students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that the IEPs have not always been followed. Durham Public Schools must ensure that parents and trusted adults are welcomed partners and not unfairly labeled as confrontational or adversarial when they seek to be engaged in their student’s success and inquire about their academic performance and emotional well-being. 14. If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.