Mess With The Bull, You Get The Horns – Defending Durham Schools

“Local leaders know what we need.” – Mark Johnson, Sept. 29th, 2016 in debate with Dr. June Atkinson.

Mess with the bull, you get the horns.” – Skipper from The Penguins of Madagascar

Hit Bull, Win Steak.”  – Sign in the greatest minor league park in the country, the DBAP.

When Mark Johnson said his words, he was trying to get elected to an office that he has proven very ill-fitted for. Despite attempts to qualify himself, Johnson has chosen to be rather more “private” than public in his short, court-dominated tenure as the leader of DPI.

Apparently, claiming to trust local leaders to know best was only a political maneuver because right down the road in Durham are two schools which are on the final list to be taken over by the ISD (Achievement School District). Those schools are slated to be placed in the hands of a charter school chain that is privately held and more than likely an out-of-state entity.

That does not sound like allowing “local leaders” being allowed to do what they need.

Kelly Hinchcliffe reported for WRAL in an article entitled “Durham school board prepared to ‘fight,’ won’t let state ‘take away our schools’,”

Durham Public Schools’ leaders said Thursday they are prepared to “fight” if the state tries to take control of any of their schools and hand them over to charter school operators. But state leaders say they don’t want a fight, they want to partner with the schools and communities.

Two of Durham’s schools – Glenn Elementary and Lakewood Elementary – are on the state’s shortlist of low-performing schools being considered for North Carolina’s new Innovative School District. They are being considered because their performance scores are among the lowest 5 percent in the state (

Reading reports from Durham about their fierce determination to defend keeping their schools in their local control seems to be what exactly Johnson would have praised on the campaign trail. But that was then.

In May (according to another Hinchcliffe article in collaboration with EdNC’s Alex Granados), Johnson actually communicated that one of his priorities was “Achievement School District startup funds” (

Durham can change those schools around. And it does need some time. But even Mark Johnson has seemed to change the definition of urgency. Just look at the interview attached to the aforementioned article.

Chairman of the State Board of Education, Bill Cobey, said ,

“There is reason to believe that they’ve had plenty of time to deal with these failing schools. I would hope that, as we go through the process, they would be willing to accept the fact that maybe we need to try to something different (

What time frame does he mean? Is he referring to the time frame of the last five years with the seismic change in how our General Assembly has treated our public schools, especially the ones affected by high rates of poverty? If Cobey was writing an argumentative paper, he would need to clarify himself more with evidence and analysis.

If you have lived in North Carolina for any amount of time and visited the Triangle region, you might be aware of the absolutely beautiful revitalization of downtown Durham. Go to a Bull’s game. Go to a performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center, or stroll through the American Tobacco Historic District or even Duke Gardens and you will see how a community rejuvenated itself without redefining its roots and core values.

They can do the same for their schools if the powers that be get out of their way and do what they are supposed to do like fully fund schools and help communities.

In Sept. of 2016, Mark Johnson actually said the same thing, but with different words.

And a totally different intent.

There is a group called Defend Durham Schools that is gaining traction and support. They need more. You can read about them here – The website says,

The “Innovation” (formerly “Achievement”) School District leadership is claiming that “we had our chance to fix these schools.”  But we know better.

The General Assembly has repeatedly underfunded and sabotaged public schools and based the majority of their agenda on heavily flawed standardized test scores. We need to focus our efforts and money on strengthening public schools, not forcing our neighborhood schools into private hands with no local accountability.


There are also links to many resources that are worth the read, the study, and the digesting. Please consider visiting the sight and helping in any way. And visit Durham.

If Johnson stands by his comments, he would actually support what Defend Durham Schools is trying to accomplish.

A leader stands by his/her words.


One thought on “Mess With The Bull, You Get The Horns – Defending Durham Schools

  1. If Johnson stands by his comments?? Oh, if only a frog had wings… Johnson is certainly no leader; he will only stand by the jackals who put him in office. Great analysis — and thank you for sharing the Defend Durham Schools site. Every educator and every parent need to read it and SHARE it!! These charlatans like to say the ISD is not a “takeover”, but the law states the local boards may either consent to the “charter” replacement — or they must shut down. THAT is what they REALLY mean by school choice, I suppose. But we can’t sell NC short quite yet… Durham is fighting back, and Rocky Mount is even threatening to shut down its targeted elementary school rather than relinquish local control to the profit-mongering of charter management! And it IS about the $$$, folks! Incidentally, Eric Hall, the new ISD Superintendent, earns $150,000/year (plus a variety of benefits, I’m sure…)!! That’s more than the GOVERNOR of NC makes!! This has truly become a David and a Goliath scenario — Durham and other areas resisting this takeover need all the support they can get. If our fellow educators and NC parents don’t stand up for them, who will?


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