Durham School of Arts parents, students sound off about principal David Hawks at board meeting

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Friday, June 11, 2021
Mixed reaction at board meeting about ousting of Durham principal
The Durham Public Schools Board of Education got an earful Thursday night.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Durham Public Schools Board of Education got an earful Thursday night on its recent decision not to renew the contract of a longtime principal at Durham School of the Arts.

Many parents and former students packed the board meeting. Some explained why they want him to stay while others said his removal was the only option.

"Hey hey, ho ho, David Hawks has got to go," one speaker chanted.

"You have made a grave, grave mistake and you are going to lose some of the best teachers in DPS," another said.

"Mr. Hawks is passionate about education and seeing our students use their creativity to flourish," said teacher Anthony Amos.

"It's nothing new that Hawks had preference in school and Black and brown were at the bottom," student Sandro Mendoza said.

Parents, students and teachers weighed in on the news that the contract of David Hawks, Principal at Durham School of the Arts, would not be renewed.

Some were appalled at the decision because of the success DSA has seen with Hawks in charge: U.S. News and World Report ranks the magnet school as one of the best in the nation.

"We are just shocked! Mr. Hawks is an excellent principal," DSA parent Karen Bledsoe told ABC11 earlier this week. Her 16-year-old daughter, Olivia, is a rising junior at the school.

But others say that success came at the expense of students of color.

Durham mom Fatimah Salleh went viral on Facebook in 2019 when she posted about her experience sitting with her son, Michah, in DSA's in-school suspension room: Two days, 14 hours in all, at a desk, facing a wall in silence with little school work. Eight of the 11 students were Black and Brown boys.

DSA student weighs in on Hawks' removal

Her post generated a community conversation on claims of problematic discipline practices at the magnet school, the disproportionate impact on students of color and the role Hawks' leadership played in all of it -- despite DSA's glowing reviews as one of the state's highest achieving schools.

"What is the cost and the price of that success at DSA that looks so disproportionately different on Black and brown bodies," Salleh said.

Following the Facebook post, the mother of four took her concerns to the school board. And so began the drumbeat of parents of color pushing for change at DSA.

"Mr. Hawks is one singular individual that allowed a cultural climate to happen at DSA that was rooted in racism," Salleh said.

Over the phone on Wednesday night, Hawks pushed back against the claims.

"We are following, we were following the Durham Public School discipline code of conduct. We only hold children accountable irregardless (sic) of race, gender, everything," he said. "It's not the percentage but our Black and Brown children are all 30 points higher so I would say we're providing educational equity. Is there still a gap? Yeah, there's still a gap. But there's less of one than there is at all Durham Public Schools."

During Thursday night's meeting, the board named Jim Key interim principal of Durham School of Arts, effective July 1.

He is a former principal and founder of the DPS Foundation.

"Mr. Key's extensive history and knowledge of DPS and respect from across the Durham community make him the perfect supportive leader to students and staff at DSA as we begin the hiring process for a new principal," said Dr. Pascal Mubenga, Superintendent of Durham Public Schools. "We are all glad that he is coming back during this important time."

He will serve as interim principal through December 2021, the district said.