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Eviction of Durham School of the Arts principal causes supporters and critics to cry

Tensions were high at the Durham school board meeting on Thursday night, with students, parents and educators speaking out against the board not renewing a principal’s contract.

Earlier this week, Durham School of the Arts principal David Hawks informed PTSA that his 14 years at Magnet School of Visual and Performing Arts will end on June 30.

The school, which occupies about three blocks on North Duke Street near the downtown area, has approximately 1,750 students in grades 6 to 12.

More than 30 people registered to speak during Thursday’s public comment period, which lasted nearly an hour.

DSA teacher Matthew Thompson said staff members had been sobbing “for days” and thanked Hawks for his leadership.

He noted in particular how Hawks ensured that DSA students and staff had access to the technology during the pandemic.

He also pointed to Hawks’ advice during the deadly 2019 gas explosion on the school street.

“I’m afraid you made a big mistake,” Anthony Amos, another DSA teacher, told the school board.

Rising junior Elizabeth Kramling said the school flourished thanks to the Hawks’ advocacy for the arts.

“He’s been there for us, and I’m disappointed that you take him away,” she said.

Others expressed similar sentiments and encouraged the council to reconsider its decision.

Others tell a different story

Ronda Taylor Bullock, former DPS teacher and current education chair of the Durham Committee on Black Affairs, said she has no doubts about the successes shared by families and educators.

But the experiences of black and brown students and students with disabilities are different, she said.

“If you don’t know it’s because you don’t want to know and you’ve been under a rock,” Taylor Bullock said.

Reverend Fatimah Salleh, who transferred her two sons out of DSA, said it was possible to hold several truths about both the success of the school and the traumatic experiences of some students.

“Mr. Hawks’ success must not come at the expense of brown and black bodies,” she said tearfully at the meeting. “It is not, and it is.”

Jay Rahim, who graduated from DSA last week, said it was heartbreaking to hear white students, teachers and parents praise Hawks’ success based on quantitative metrics.

“It’s almost like our stories, our experiences don’t matter,” Rahim said in an interview after the meeting.

Hawks said the board’s decision not to offer him another contract came despite Superintendent Pascal Mubenga recommending that he continue to school.

DSA mother Cathi Sanders said the school board needs to be transparent about its decision in order to get to the root of the racial equity issues at the DSA.

There is a mismatch between leadership at the district level and what is happening at the school level, Sanders said.

“What’s the process? Because we as PTSA, we in the school improvement team, we at these levels of people involved in the school don’t hear about these things, ”she said.

For now, DPS spokesperson Chip Sudderth has said the board will not comment on the staffing issue further.

This story will be updated with more information today. Please come back for a more complete report.

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