April 6, 2017
Dear Dr. L’Homme and Members of the DPS Board of Education:
Greetings to all of you; we hope that this finds you doing well. We are writing today in response to this week’s announcement of Dr. L’Homme’s impending retirement to both offer appreciation and look forward to the coming Superintendent search process.
First, we wish to congratulate Dr. L’Homme on both his tenure at the helm of the district and his retirement. As an organization, we feel clear that educators make the best leaders of an educational setting. The previous Board’s choice to put a lifelong educator at the center of our district for the last several years was an affirmation of that belief, and we are grateful. You have led the district with the insights of a highly accomplished professional and we can feel the difference in our buildings.
Past that general principle, however, we have been grateful for the ways that you, Dr. L’Homme, have worked to better the district for our students and for our staff. From the commitment you made to interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline in your first press conference, to your willingness to hold principals accountable for creating positive working and learning environments, DAE has felt clear that we have had a progressive ally committed to what is best for all of us. You have listened. You have taken principled stands on challenging issues. You have taken on the responsibility of leading, which we know can be ceaselessly exhausting. You have navigated countless storms and cleaned up messes left by previous administrations. Thank you. We hope that you have also experienced the joy that we know working in schools every day can be.
Further, we want to express gratitude for the ways that you have related to us organizationally. Many Superintendents view the union as a barrier, as an “outside” entity or a “special interest group”. Many Superintendents block our union from buildings and create antagonisms where they don’t need to exist. We are grateful that you have, from your own experience as a “union man,” related to us as an organization of stakeholders and an integral part of building the school district that our students deserve. You have opened doors for us. When we talk with union members from around the state, we always brag about our Superintendent (and Board) as the best in the state. Thank you for your leadership Dr. L’Homme. We wish you ease, relaxation, and time with your family and your life outside of the school house doors. You have earned it.
Because of your leadership, DPS is heading in the right direction.
We are also writing this letter to offer our perspective on how the district can continue moving forward. We have been part of school leadership transitions that don’t consider the staff or the school community. And we have been a part of processes where staff or stakeholders are gathered and simply polled about the “ideal characteristics” of a leader. The exercise often produces a common-sense list of qualities that don’t offer much guidance or space to differentiate between candidates in a meaningful way. We think that either of these approaches would be a mistake.
Instead, we are encouraging the district to engage in a sustained and organized listening campaign among community stakeholders. Gather us together. Ask us about our values. Ask us about our vision for a school system that meets the needs of all of our students and treats all parents with respect. Ask us about a district that educators never want to leave because they feel so well cared for. Consider the politics of Durham and North Carolina and the myriad challenges we face. Use these conversations to generate a vision, and then put that vision at the center of the leadership search.
Instead of asking a new leader to implement or impose a plan that they develop in isolation, bring them in with a vision to implement and provide them with the support that they need to get there.
DAE is committed to developing the leadership of students, parents, and educators in our buildings and our communities. We have a great deal of experience in organizing our schools and neighborhoods, and we are offering our expertise and energy to this process. We look forward to working with the district to engage stakeholders in crafting a vision for the future of the district. Leadership, for us, means taking responsibility, and we are committed to working with you all to create a vision and plan for the future of our district that will make Dr. L’Homme proud.
Thanks to all of you for the work that you put in for our students and staff every single day.
Durham Association of Educators Executive Board