New School Ties

Writer: 
August 25, 2014

 

Camera talk: Duke's David Stein, right, and students at Forest View Elementary work on a marketing project during a summer enrichment program. Les Todd.

While the outreach of the new St. James Missionary Baptist Church center and the excitement surrounding the rebirth of the Lyon Park School point to successes for the Neighborhood Partnership Initiative and Durham’s communities, it isn’t just old school buildings receiving attention. With more than fifty collaborative programs going on, the seven public schools that serve the twelve neighborhoods—E. K. Powe Elementary, Forest View Elementary, George Watts Elementary, Morehead Montessori Magnet, Lakewood Elementary, Rogers-Herr Middle School, and the Durham School of the Arts—have their own place in the plan.

As education partnership coordinator for the Office of Community Affairs, David Stein has been charged with keeping Duke involved in Durham’s primary and secondary education. To even the most casual of meetings with a school employee, Stein brings an attentive ear, a sense of humor, a willingness to consider creative possibilities, and his ubiquitous Palm Pilot Vx. The handheld organizer comes out of his pocket at least once during every conversation as Stein jots down a request, a reminder, or a note that could lead to some innovative solution to a seemingly insoluble problem.

“This is a job that you feel really good about,” he says. “School by school, I went in and met with the principals and other people, and I said, ‘What do you need?’ ” Those needs have varied, from computers for classrooms at E.K. Powe to a science-teaching nature trail at Rogers-Herr, from transportation for field trips and special programs at Lakewood Elementary to a major traffic problem at the Durham School of the Arts —where the solution came from the joint efforts of students at Duke’s Sanford Institute of Public Policy, the Durham Police Department, city transportation officials, and DSA parents and teachers.

Stein sees his role as a “marriage broker,” bringing individuals, offices, programs, and departments at Duke into contact with the schools to address challenges. As with the Neighborhood Partnership Initiative, Stein says there has to be sensitivity to the schools, allowing them to dictate what’s needed. “The thing you have to be careful of is that you’re not imposing what you want to do on them,” he says. “I’ve seen in a couple of other universities, unfortunately, where the faculty wants to do something, and they say, ‘Here, take twenty of our students and do this project,’ and the teachers don’t have the time or the resources to figure out how to use those students. For us, it’s just ‘what do you need?’”

Enthusiasm is evident as Stein recounts the myriad school projects in which Duke people have gotten involved. Story after story tumbles out. “Here’s another one,” he says, after a string of stories involving education professor David Malone and his students’ tutoring efforts, engineering professor Gary Ybarra’s science outreach at E.K.Powe, and a special appearance by basketball standout Shane Battier ’01 at Watts. “At Rogers-Herr, they start eating lunch at eleven. They don’t finish until one. They’re just in and out, the kids have very little time for eating. So we brought down Joe Piet”—that is, Joe Pietrantoni, associate vice president for auxiliary services, whose department covers everything from dining services to Duke Stores to housekeeping—“and he just took one look and said, Oh.” 

Hungry for learning: the edible classroom at Lakewood Elementary School provides science lessons, and lunch ingredients. Duke University Photography.


Pietrantoni went on to suggest that the middle school implement a swipe-card system like the Duke Card, which would allow better and speedier access to the cafeteria line and vending machines and would improve inventory management, among other things. That option is being explored, with the idea that if it works at Rogers-Herr, it could be implemented at other schools as well. And the swipe-card epiphany is just one of several that Pietrantoni has used to help the schools, including centralizing copier contracts, an apparently small thing that could save the schools essential budget funds, and working with the local Elks Club to set up a charity basketball tournament.

Facilities Management head Jerry Black is another department director who seems to find ways to get involved with the schools and the NPI at every turn. Just as Duke is emphasizing the Neighborhood Partnership Initiative in “Building on Excellence,” the facilities department has also put community service into its long-range plan. “It’s all part of our mission statement, our department’s direction,” says Black. “Folks do a lot of little things.”

His department works on established, annual programs like Grounds Up, which goes to one school each year to work on landscaping and groundskeeping; Earth Week, which involves another school each year in an environmental project (and also sees the distribution of Facilities Management-tended compost, a program to which Black says the Primate Center’s lemurs contribute a great deal); and the Move-Out Special, where the furniture and construction materials left behind by students at the end of every school year are turned over to Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill Industries. There are one-time efforts developed as needs are identified, like the construction of an outdoor theater stage at the Durham School of the Arts, an elaborate outdoor environment at E.K. Powe to teach students about various terrains and ecosystems, or expertise given to the Walltown Neighborhood Ministries building renovation. And there are continuing projects, not necessarily related to schools, that involve employees in recycling and food-drive efforts whose proceeds go to the Duke Children’s Hospital and the Durham Food Pantry.

“Any piece of the university can help out in some way, “ Stein says. “And people want to help out—just give them the opportunity. Look at the library.” University Librarian and Vice Provost David Ferriero, Lilly head librarian Laura Cousineau, and the entire staff of librarians have gotten involved in bringing technology to the partner schools —particularly to teachers and parents.

“It’s all based on my conviction that librarians have a lot to offer, having worked with students and faculty, in terms of understanding their needs,” Ferriero says. “And more importantly, and more recently on campuses everywhere, libraries have been out front in terms of adoption of technology. We have the skills and competencies that we’ve developed on the campus.”

“It’s not just the resources,” he says. “It’s teaching people how to use the technology.” Putting technology in the schools has been a part of the university’s community service for some time, he says, but recent grants from AT&T, IBM, and Pepsico have allowed the libraries to develop programs that first taught formal classes to teachers, helping them determine how best to use technology in their individual classrooms; follow up with long-term mentoring for those teachers, ensuring their ongoing comfort with technology; and then help bring parents and students into the equation by using Web pages to communicate from the classroom to home. Now, according to Durham Public School Superintendent Ann Denlinger, more than 90 percent of middle-school teachers in the Durham system have their own websites.

Ferriero is also mindful that the Durham communities come to Duke every day, with administrators as well as workers in clerical, maintenance, and housekeeping positions living in both worlds. “Very early one morning, I wandered through the first floor where the public [computer] cluster is. One of the housekeepers was at a keyboard, and when she saw me, she hurried away. And I thought, this person thinks that this technology isn’t for her. Here was a person trying to teach herself. So I followed her, and I said, ‘You shouldn’t feel that this isn’t for you—you’re more than welcome. Let me show you a little bit about how this works.’ We have a whole community right here on this campus—how can we start getting our hands around that?” Now the librarians are working with Jerry Black and Joe Pietrantoni to develop a needs assessment and then a curriculum to provide basic computer skills training for campus employees.

Duke’s partnership with Durham schools has not gone unnoticed. “The frustration that all schools feel relates to limited resources. It’s like a wall,” Forest View Principal Toni Hill M.Ed. ’72 told the Durham School Board this spring. “Duke has really knocked that wall down.” Watts Principal Carol Harrison Marshall credits Duke’s tutoring program with helping her school overcome low-performing status, improving in student test scores and achievement. And Rogers-Herr Middle School Principal Eunice Sanders, a lifelong resident of Durham, points to the Office of Information Technology as an essential partner, with Duke’s libraries, in helping to improve and implement her school’s technology plan.

“How fortunate Durham Public Schools is to have such a productive and effective partnership with Duke University,” Superintendent Denlinger told Duke’s board of trustees in May. “And when I say ‘partnership,’ I truly mean it. The wonderful representatives from the initiative always speak of working ‘with’ the schools, not ‘at’ or ‘in’ the schools. This makes all the difference in the health and longevity of our collaborative efforts.”