Durham Public Schools Foundation

On the first official day of their existence, I met with three representatives of the Durham Public Schools Foundation.

The Durham Public Schools (DPS) Foundation in their own words is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that unites our Durham Public School communities, public- and private- sector resources and community leaders around strategies to strengthen our Durham Public Schools.

When I say first official day of existence, don’t be fooled by the technicality. While Jim Key, Magan Gonzales-Smith, and Larry Herst, had been part of the very first Durham Public Schools Foundation Board Meeting only the night before, they, along with Zack Hawkins had put in an estimated 500 plus hours bringing that board meeting to fruition.

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Innovators, educators, policy makers, and campaigners for change, the four had originally been brought together by Durham Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Pascal Mubenga.

Durham Public Schools Foundation fundraiser

Jim Key credits Dr. Mubenga (center above) with a having a vision and plan.

The Durham Public School Foundation has goals rather than an agenda. As Key, Gonzales-Smith, and Herst told me over coffee, they want the DPS Foundation to be embedded. They want the foundation to serve as a convenor, a connector, and a collaborator.

Key noted that Durham, the city, is enjoying a renaissance. Durham is considered fascinating and cool, it has a national reputation that lands us on list after list for our great food, our rich culture, our relative affordability, our outstanding health care.

Unfortunately, as Key put it, our public school system does not share that reputation.

The DPS Foundation has three goals.

One, champion Durham Public Schools and public education success stories and achievements, shift the narrative, encourage more families to enroll in Durham Public Schools.

Two, foster innovation and equity by successfully identifying and incubating ideas with community partners, accelerating the transformation already underway during Dr. Mubenga’s tenure.

Three, invest in people, the students and families, and the educators and administrators who serve them.

Dr. Mubenga literally brought the four together: Hawkins, Key, Gonzales-Smith, and Herst, and told them they were on the same track, thinking about the same things, seeking similar outcomes. They could and should work together. The four agreed and were able to meld diverse skill sets and backgrounds into what birthed the Durham Public Schools (DPS) Foundation.

The DPS Foundation Board is impressive, with numerous Durham Public School parents, former Durham Public School students, including more recent graduates like Justin Laidlaw and Joshua Gunn, members of Durham city government, like former PTA President and City Council person, Javiera Caballero, members of the school system, like Kevin Bullock, the Executive Director for Equity Affairs for Durham Public Schools. There are Durham influencers like Adam Klein of Capital Broadcasting and Ann Rebeck, the Development Director of The Scrap Exchange, and the Chief of Staff of Durham County government, Drew Cummings.

These leaders (and the rest of the board) represent a broad cross-section of Durham society. They were intentionally recruited for their skills, interests, and abilities.

Durham Public Schools Foundation

The Durham Public Schools Foundation intends to put boots on the ground to support the Durham Public School System. They want to foster direct communication with teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

They have examined numerous other public school foundations, from Chattanooga to New Orleans to Guilford County, for successes and lessons learned. The Durham Public Schools Foundation wants to create something robust, something designed to last decades, not years. They believe we have civic responsibility to communicate to kids our support for public schools as a community.

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This is a collective endeavor. They want you to be involved. There is a supporters’ page on the website where you can donate, reach out, connect on social media, and find other ways to be involved.

Because as Magan Gonzales-Smith notes, “As the daughter of a first generation college student, I know the importance of great public schools and that not everyone has access to them. I believe that Durham can and must be a place that fulfills the promise of public education for every student.”


Interested in reading even more about the Durham Public Schools Foundation? Pop on over to the The 9th Street Journal here.

Aaron Mandel

Aaron Mandel is a writer and an accomplished public speaker. He is the publisher of the Clarion Content. For more than a decade, the Clarion Content has covered Durham’s arts, politics, music, and cultural milieu. From breaking news stories to the hottest local acts, the Clarion Content is on the scene. The Clarion Content published more than twenty distinguished guest columnists and garnered nearly a million views. Mandel is a volunteer for the Durham Mighty Pen Literacy Project and serves as the President of the Board of Sustain-A-Bull Durham, a local small business collective with more than 200 members. He writes regularly on the Clarion Content and has been quietly writing fiction since the 4th grade. Mandel has been published in the Raleigh News and Observer. He has also produced numerous art shows, including, “Durham under Development”. He was a featured speaker at “The State of Publishing” conference. He has presented to Durham Chamber of Commerce, “Chamber U” on the “New Media”. He has also served as the play-by-play announcer for the D.B.L., a Durham youth basketball league. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Religious Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington. An avid policy debater at Indiana and a Nation Debate Tournament qualifier, Mandel was also a member of the New Jersey State Champion two-person Policy Debate Team. He has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, and Baja California, Mexico.

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