'Growing Together:' Durham Public Schools embarks on first reassignment plan in 30 years

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, May 27, 2023
Durham Public Schools embarks on first reassignment plan in 30 years
If approved, it would take effect in July 2025.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- There are big changes afoot at Durham Public Schools. For the first time in three decades, the district is overhauling the way families choose the schools their kids attend. DPS says it's much more than just a reassignment plan but a move to make the district more accessible and equitable.

Some parents are on board. Others are not. But it's full-speed ahead.

Bull City born and raised, April Speed is giving her six and nine-year-old daughters the same Durham Public School education she had. Nevaeh's in 3rd grade and Nariah is a kindergartner at Burton Magnet Elementary.

"They love Burton. We love Burton," said Speed who raves over the international baccalaureate curriculum; the high academic standards; Spanish immersion; and family engagement.

But DPS is planning major changes for the 2024-25 school year.

"I was slightly nervous (the new plan would change my kids' school)," said Speed. "But, I was also excited for the other students that don't have the same opportunities as my children."

DPS calls the plan "Growing Together." For the first time since the 1993 merger of Durham city and county into one school district, it is redrawing the school boundaries and application program that places students in schools.

"Your neighborhood school might also be a year-round school because every elementary has a boundary," explained Dr. Nakia Hardy, the DPS Deputy Superintendent of Academic Services.

Hardy showed ABC11 the school district's Growing Together dashboard where families can plug in their address for the system to spit out where they fall within the district's five newly-designated regions.

Every family gets a neighborhood school, but Hardy says DPS leaned into giving families a choice. Instead of three Montessori schools, there will now be seven. It more than doubles the number of dual-language immersion schools. It also adds more year-round options.

And if the school you want is not in your region -- you can apply to go there.

"So really it was about access. How do I get into those schools that may be perceived to be prestigious? How do I get into a Montessori school or a year-round school," Hardy said. "So it was grounded in making sure there was equity for all the families that we serve. But also increased access."

DPS spent months holding public town halls to get the word out. But not everyone's convinced.

One DPS mom criticized the plan in an INDY WEEK op-ed - writing, "Many families who will be affected don't even know that these changes are happening... The implementation of these plans could be a disaster."

Emily Kochetkova, a DPS mother of two, of a kindergartener, and a 2nd grader at Eastway Elementary has heard the pushback and empathizes with opponents. But she says she supports the plan.

"I think it is the next necessary step in our community. I think it's long overdue," said Kochetkova. "We've had a lot of inequities in our district for many years. So this is an important step in the right direction to correct some of those."

"I think people understand the why," said Hardy. "I think when you're talking about their 5-year-old, there's nothing more precious than a parent's little one."

The Durham School Board has already signed off on the elementary school changes -- which take effect in the 2024-25 school year. Next month, the board votes on the secondary school's plan. If approved, it would take effect in July 2025.