There are 54 schools in Durham County. Glenn Elementary is the 28th that I’ve visited, which means that I’ve crossed the 50 yard line on this tour and it’s time to start putting the big picture together.
As I mention at the bottom of every post, I’m very aware of the limitations and challenges of our current public school system, and I’ve seen lots of things that I would call problems along the way. I didn’t need this tour to tell me that our schools can do better, and DAE is not ignoring those problems. In fact, we’re already working on plans to share what we’ve learned and bring some recommendations so that each and every one of Durham’s students have the schools that they deserve. Our schools need to be defended AND transformed.
And yet, I still haven’t been in a school that feels disorderly or unloving or ill-equipped to help young people learn. To the contrary, I’m seeing solid structure, obvious learning, and lots of love and nurturing everywhere I go. Glenn Elementary is no exception, and I’m excited to share all of the awesome things that I saw on my visit.
The day began with ESL Teacher Martha Romo, who’s been in education for over 30 years. In her 4 years at Glenn, she’s been happy to work with a strong team that is all committed to helping students in need of extra support.
Counselor Jed Miller has been at the school for 8 years and quickly named “everything” as his answer to the “what’s good” question. The students, according to Miller, are motivated to learn and do a good job of supporting and taking care of each other. He followed his praise of the students with praise for his co-workers. The Glenn staff, he stated, is extremely dedicated and spends $1000s out of their own pockets, stays late, comes to work early, and works hard to organize community support for the school. Throughout the day, Miller thanked Mr. Cason and I for visiting the school and telling the Glenn story, and it was clear just how invested he is in the success of his school family.
Joylene MacFarland has also invested a great deal at Glenn. She’s been there for 13 of her 31 years in education, and raved about the school’s efforts to improve student reading. The Professional Learning Communities are collaborating frequently to monitor student growth and provide as much individualized support as they can.
All across the state, the Read to Achieve mandate has made the life of 3rd grade Teachers more challenging. But Jenny Coldren says that her kids make her job so much easier because they are so motivated to learn. The parents, kids, and teachers at Glenn all work hard to support each other, Coldren said, and it makes going to work fun.
4th grade Teacher Curt Brooks also has a lot of fun, and it was obvious from the smile we saw on his face all day. He loves watching students from different backgrounds working together to achieve goals, and he loves the support he gets from the school’s administration. He shared that they are, “receptive to new ideas and support us with anything we need.”
Jordyn Thie said simply, “I love Glenn.” She’s in her 2nd year teaching 4th grade at the school, and knew that she wanted to be there when the Principal asked her, “what makes you want to be here?” in her interview. The Glenn community, she offered, makes her feel “needed, loved, and wanted.” You can’t measure that with a test score.
There also isn’t a test to measure the chills that Carolyn Belden got when she told us that “no paycheck can replace what it feels like to teach kids how to read.” She’s also loving her 2nd year at the school, and relishes the connections and relationships that she builds with the students as they grow in size and intellect.
For Assistant Principal Adriese Williams, that growth happens best in an atmosphere that is both loving and structured. Young people need to feel safe, and a well-structured environment allows for that. Students and staff at Glenn always know what’s happening and where they are supposed to be, and it helps maximize their ability to connect with one another and learn.
Williams made sure that we didn’t leave without connecting with Carlton Beaver. Beaver, who is the Program Director for the Why Wait mentoring program, was starting to work with Glenn students for the first time that day. Between Durham and Boston, Beaver has been mentoring young people for the last 25 years in hopes that they can have more support than he often had as a young person. He’s currently working with students at Bethesda, Jordan, and Glenn, in addition to hosting an after school program at his church on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. There, students can get support with their school work and enjoy safe recreation. They are offering an all-day program on the upcoming teacher work day, and he’s excited to be sending students home with turkeys and other goodies for a Thanksgiving dinner this year. As Beaver told us his story, it was impossible not to be moved by his love for young people and his desire to support them through whatever challenges they may be facing.
According to Blondie Fuller, the building is filled with this “love and compassion” every day. She’s an Instructional Assistant in her 16th year at Glenn, and said that the school is, simply, “a great place to be.”
Principal Cornelius Redfern is, no doubt, a big reason why Glenn feels so good. At Glenn, he said, there “is no bad news, only good news and other news.” He came to education in a roundabout way, but has gladly stuck with it long enough to land at Glenn. He lauded the staff for their commitment, saying that they “prepare so hard every day.” His job, as he sees it, is to make sure that that hardworking staff has the support that they need. We laughed when he told us about his interview style, asking applicants to “skip the dating” to have a conversation about “getting married.” In fact, he didn’t even call it an interview, saying that he needs to know if a person a) has a good work ethic, b) is flexible, and c) loves all kids, even when they don’t do what you want them to do. If they’ve got those attributes, according to Redfern, they can succeed at Glenn. In a conversation laced with an inspiring amount of humility, Redfern was open about the ways that he has grown at Glenn, and it was inspiring to interact with a leader who knows that he needs to continue getting better all of the time. One way he’s improving is in the field of parent engagement. The school is working hard to make the environment more inviting, creating a “cup of joe to go” day where parents can come in, get a free cup of coffee, and walk their kids to class. Parents need to be comfortable in the building he said, noting that they, “need to trust you.” None of this happens on accident, according to Redfern, and the Glenn staff is always working to engage parents as volunteers and partners in a team committed to student success.
Kayla Humphrey and Dayra Gonzalez are clearly a team. Humphrey, a Social Worker who spends half of her time at Glenn, loves being able to solve problems collaboratively with her co-workers. Gonzalez, who is the school’s Secretary and Interpreter, called the school a family and agreed with Humphrey’s assessments.
Monique Booker’s whole day is about teamwork and problem solving. She’s the school’s Science Specialist and works with every student at the school in her lab at some point during the week. She loves that she gets kids focused on real-world problems, like the wall that her students are building to help prevent sand erosion on beaches. Beyond the project-based outcomes, her work also just sounds like lots of fun, and it’s clear that she agrees. She’s currently teaching Kindergarteners about the 5 senses, and Mr. Cason and I really wished we could have stuck around to watch.
Custodian Donald Lee has certainly watched a lot of fun things happen at Glenn. He’s been there for the last 11 years and said that he’ll be there “until they run me out of here.” He noted the structure, the quality of the teachers, and solid administration as his favorite parts about the school.
Further down the hall, Instructional Assistant Craig Williams gave us more insight into the school’s strengths. He went into great detail about the new and creative strategies the school is using for literacy and math, making sure that students get basic skills and acquire a love for learning in the process. In addition to the designated class times for reading instruction, the whole school spends between 9 and 9:30 every morning reading, in an exercise I wish the whole world would practice. He also named the extracurricular programming, like the school’s Math Night and Literacy Night, as parts of the whole integrated system aimed at student success. Williams clearly loves his job, and it was great to get his story.
Tonya Enoch also loves her job, and named the school’s dedicated teachers and administration as the source of her satisfaction. The new teachers at Glenn, she said, are gelling together and “really motivating students to learn.”
Media Specialist Melissa Chiti also gave us the “everything” response, but followed by naming the “amazing leadership,” talented teachers, and a team of people committed to the unique challenges that their students bring as her highlights. She “can’t imagine going anywhere else,” and, after 10 years at the school, seems to be backing up that assertion.
Deanna Manning is new to the school, but she’s been in education for 15 years and likes what she sees at Glenn. She is the school’s AIG Director and said that the cohesive staff and solid administration are “all about the kids.”
So there you have it, one more Durham school defying the story that “public schools are failing.” We’ve got great things going on here y’all, and if you don’t believe me, head out to Glenn Elementary for a day and check it out yourself. I promise you’ll walk away feeling good.
Thanks for letting me learn from you Glenn, I’m looking forward to the next time.
Please note that the intent of these “What’s Good?” posts is to highlight the positive elements of each of Durham’s public schools. They are intended to focus on the best efforts that our well-meaning and supremely dedicated educators make every day to love and nurture the young people in our schools. These posts are snapshots, not comprehensive reports on each school. The important contributions of so many will, unfortunately, be left out.
We fully acknowledge that each of our public schools is imperfect when it comes to meeting the needs of students of color, poor students, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities and mental or physical health problems, and lots of other students for a variety of individual reasons. However, this blog is not intended to shed light on those problems, which are much more complicated than can be explored in a disclaimer.
So, we ask that if you choose to write a comment, you keep with the celebratory intent of this blog. We’re happy to post comments that focus on the good. Meanwhile, DAE is also out in DPS every day, fighting to win the schools we ALL deserve. We hope you’ll join us. Thanks for reading.