New DPS superintendent tackles tough questions after swearing-in ceremony

Pascal Mubenga answers difficult questions, such as his plan for drawing students and parents back from charter schools, after being sworn in as the new superintendent of Durham Public Schools in by District Court Judge Shamieka L. Rhinehart on Mo
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Pascal Mubenga answers difficult questions, such as his plan for drawing students and parents back from charter schools, after being sworn in as the new superintendent of Durham Public Schools in by District Court Judge Shamieka L. Rhinehart on Mo
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Education

Why Durham Public Schools’ new leader won’t try to win back students right away

By Greg Childress

gchildress@heraldsun.com

November 28, 2017 03:15 PM

DURHAM

When Pascal Mubenga became the superintendent of Franklin County Schools, he sent a letter to all the families who had taken their children out of the school system, presumably for charter and private schools.

Mubenga, who was sworn in Monday as Durham Public Schools superintendent, said that was “a big mistake.”

Several parents responded by asking him why they should return to the Franklin County school district when some of its schools still had performance grades of “D” and “F.”

He expects the same would happen here.

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“I think they [would] have some valid points, and I think my priority [in Durham] is going to be to work with my staff to fix some of our schools,” he said. “ Once we get to that point, I think they’re going to be some students who come back to our schools knowing that we have a lot we can offer that charter schools cannot offer.”

But first, Mubenga said he and DPS leaders and staff must put in the work to improve the schools.

“I think we’ve got to get to work first to come up with a clear plan of what we’re going to offer to our parents and to our students before I can have that conversation with our charter parents,” he said.

Low-performing schools

Charter schools are just one of the challenges Mubenga faces in Durham.

He inherits a school district with 18 schools the state has deemed low-performing. Two of those schools were the targets of a state takeover.

“There are some pressing needs with our low-performing schools,” Mubenga said in an interview. “We have 18, and I want to make sure I get a good grasp of how did we get to that point.”

To get a grasp on what the district needs, Mubenga will embark on a “90-day Entry Plan” to learn more about DPS and its students’ needs.

The plan outlines his goals and priorities for the first 90 days on the job.

The list includes reviewing student achievement data for the past four years, and meeting with staff, teachers, civic groups, faith leaders, elected officials and others to learn more about Durham and the school district he was hired to lead.

“After those 90 days, I will engage all stakeholders in the development of a strategic plan that will give us a clear vision and direction for years to come,” Mubenga told the more than 75 people at the Fuller Administration Building to watch him take the oath of office.

Mubenga said his strategic plan will be developed beginning in March and ending in May.

The lack of a strategic plan had been a sore spot between former superintendent Bert L’Homme and school board members. L’Homme developed a plan that was shared during the last year of his tenure.

Community help needed

Mubenga said he wants to hear from the community as he develops a strategic plan.

“Folks in the community know the school system far better than I do, and I want to hear from them what do they want to see our school system heading to,” he said.

Mubenga’s first 90 days will also include filling leadership vacancies.

On Monday, he was set to meet with several candidates vying to lead the district’s Department of Human Resources.

He has already hired Nakia Hardy to serve as deputy superintendent for academic services.

Hardy, currently the chief academic officer for Guilford County Schools, will replace Stacey Wilson-Norman who went to work as chief academic officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Mubenga will also need to hire a permanent deputy superintendent to replace Hugh Osteen who retired. Chief Finance Officer Aaron Beaulieu is serving as the interim deputy superintendent of operations and had served as interim superintendent.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645