New Durham schools superintendent L’Homme wants to break school-to-prison pipeline

jalexander@newsobserver.comJuly 14, 2014 

Bert L’Homme, new superintendent of Durham Public Schools, chats with Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan before he takes the oath of office.

JONATHAN M. ALEXANDER — jalexander@newsobserver.com

— Bert L’Homme took the oath of office as Durham Public Schools superintendent Monday, vowing to lower suspensions and dropout rates, and improve student achievement, while raising standards.

In a ceremony in front of DPS’ Clement Early College High School on N.C. Central University’s campus – a school he helped start as an assistant superintendent with DPS – L’Homme took the oath as his daughter held the Bible.

Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan, who presided, called L’Homme a friend and said, while she recognizes the separation of church and state, she respected his strong faith.

L’Homme, 64, succeeds Eric Becoats Jr., who resigned last year after the school board voted not to extend his contract when it expired in 2016.

L’Homme’s contract, worth $225,000 a year, runs through June 30, 2018.

His last job was superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, as well as interim chief operating officer, director of education policy and coordinator of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign for Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund.

Breaking the school-to-prison pipeline is one of L’Homme’s goals. The phrase coined by education-reform activists describes what they view as a widespread pattern in the United States of pushing students, especially already at a disadvantage, out of school and into the criminal justice system.

“That is probably the goal that is closest to my heart,” L’Homme said. “There is no need for that many men – talented, smart men – to end up in prison.

“We have to make sure we have schools and curriculum that engages in their learning so that they can have the hope of doing something better than they are doing today,” he continued. “Only that will prevent them from choosing other paths.”

The Durham Public Schools district has 33,400 students in 56 schools and faces increasing challenges from private and charter schools.

“The goal is for every student who walks across the stage at graduation (to be) prepared to follow their dream,” L’Homme said. “No student should ever have to settle for less.”

L’Homme said achieving goal will not be easy but that the district has the necessary tools.

“We have a community that will make it happen,” he said. “Our students no matter what community or neighborhood they come from are bright, motivated and determined to succeed in high school college and career.”

He joked that someone had told him that if he didn’t get the superintendent job in Durham, there were vacant superintendent positions elsewhere.

“I said, ‘No,’” he said. “Not for me. Durham Public Schools is where I want to be. This is my community and my home.”

The ceremony also included remarks from school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter, who said the new superintendent will have to hit the ground running during a busy time of the year.

“And I know Dr. L’Homme is ready to do just that,” she said. “Dr. L’Homme is particularly well-suited to tackle some of the toughest issues facing our district.”

Vice chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown echoed her sentiments.

“I expect that he will deliver on all the things that he has promised to do,” Forte-Brown said. “He has accepted the challenge, and I have high expectations for him to meet that challenge.”

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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