Durham's image and reputation have been on the upswing in recent years, and the bad old days when co-workers and relatives would look at you askance if you mentioned a Bull City move have largely abated.
For most categories of new residents, that is. If you're a parent of school-age children and you run in certain crowds, you still can get the occasional questioning.
We've explored the reasons for this here plenty, and most of it boils down to the fact that Durham is a diverse community supporting everything from magnet and IB programs for the most academically-inclined to alternative and intensive school programs for those who haven't been advantaged by birth or family income.
And as a community that's in many ways more diverse than its neighbors, those deceptive bottom-line numbers on sites like GreatSchools.net in our insta-feedback society give an impression that's too often wrong -- or at least different than what you'd get if you asked Actual Real Live DPS Parents what they think.
It's a problem that bothered Durham parent Elizabeth Tolman. And she's decided to do something about it.
Tolman and the Durham Allies for Responsive Education (the group springing out of this fall's "Concerned Parents" movement) are launching Strong Durham Schools, a project to get the word out about the positive experiences and outcomes within DPS.
As Tolman explained it when announcing the initiative:
I will recount a conversation I had with a friend just last week. My friend, who sends her child to a private school, told me, "I got a call from Maureen the other day. She and her husband are living in an apartment in Durham and are planning on buying a house. They'd love to stay in Durham but will probably move to Cary or Morrisville because she hears that the schools here are terrible." Such conversations both raise my blood pressure and fill me with sadness. Unfortunately they occur all too often.
If you're like me, you have a child attending a school in Durham and despite the recent flap over Reading Street, you've been happy with the education your child is receiving. You're tired of hearing all the negative comments and wish there were a way of broadcasting the true nature of your child's school without sounding like some kind of modern-day hippie. Now there is!
One of [DARE's first projects] is to create a Website for the parents of prospective DPS students filled with comments from parents and teachers from every school in DPS. What better way to find out about a school than to discover what parents' and teachers' actual experiences are? I would have loved to have had access to such a resource when I was first looking at the schools. It would have reassured me greatly to know that the schools I was considering for my child were filled with wonderful, caring teachers (as are your children's schools) and happy, successful students.
To gather the stories, Strong Durham Schools has launched an online survey (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Y6WDFNN) and is encouraging parents, teachers, and former and present students to fill out the form to share the positive stories they have of their children's educational experiences.
Those stories will be shared on the web site as it launches.
Tolman promises a blitz to the public once the site goes up -- including both traditional and social media, but also outlets like preschools, day cares, real estate agents, and neighborhood associations.
Those 'on the ground' outlets are the places where prospective residents and new parents first get socialized about schools, and where all too often the water cooler buzz about schools becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. ("Well, I don't know about the Durham schools, but my co-worker's wife told me that her friend had heard....")
So, if you've got a story to share -- visit the web site and submit your thoughts.
Here's one sample submission, from a Durham parent:
When we started at Parkwood four years ago, it was in a period of leadership transition. Since Dr. Rita Bongarten came to Parkwood about two years ago, the school's performance has improved dramatically, both in terms of scores and overall academic environment. Our family has been extremely pleased with our experience there. We have one child who receives EC services and another who receives AIG services, and we've been pleased with the teachers' abilities to individualize their instruction based on the varying needs of the children. I have always felt that the teachers truly wanted to meet my children's needs and were willing to try new techniques to help them succeed, particularly my child who has an IEP. I like Parkwood's emphasis on rewarding good behavior, and I'm pleased when a teacher reports to me that my child has done something well, even if it's a small thing.