Program Report: Michael Fuga of Neal Middle School

DPS LEADER TO ROTARY: JOIN GAME-CHANGING PROGRESS AT NEAL MIDDLE SCHOOL

Michael Fuga sports a buzz cut, or something close to it. He also sports a doctorate in education from UNC, a master’s degree, and this year’s honor as DPS  “Principal of the Year.”

As principal at Neal Middle School serving East Durham, Fuga creates no buzz that we know of about the tight hair. Fuga’s moment in the DPS spotlight stems from a game-changing turnaround in progress at Neal that has taken the school off of the state’s list of low-performing schools.

Fuga, a hard-charging Pittsburgh native, told Rotarians at lunch on Monday that students at Neal have outperformed three other DPS middle schools and are hard on the heels of yet another three. Once-cumbersome staff turnover is dramatically down. An active PTA is at work, Fuga said, a new development. About 300 families showed up for a school multicultural event. A game night drew more than 220 people. An FFA club is looking into environmentally friendly green architecture. Kids are raising 10 chickens on campus, Fuga said (and the birds do get around.) Each day, Fuga encourages staff members to reach out to at least one student directly for support and engagement.

Fuga, a veteran of 14 years in education as teacher, principal and academic, called for more help to increase student-adult interaction. “Let me know how you want to make a difference,” he said. “I’m an e-mail, a phone call or a visit away. Let me know how you want to make a difference.”

Fuga credits increasingly community involvement that exposes students to adults, to potential mentors, to occupations and professions, and to ideas. Speakers, he said, have ranged from professional athletes to the owners of Dames Chicken & Waffles.

As an academic, he depends on data and research. To push back on a trend showing that eight-grade students were not meeting growth expectations, Fuga implemented single-gender teams in eighth grade. During the 2016-17 school year, the all-boys, all-girls and mixed-gender teams showed substantial improvements in academics. Students showed a 10-percent increase in math proficiency, a 2-percent increase in English Language Arts proficiency and a 12-percent increase in science proficiency. Troubling disciplinary trends specific to the eighth-graders dropped dramatically.

Fuga has said it is his role to promote both student feelings of safety and security plus staff performance. He keeps an open line of communication with his staff, maintains an open door and shares his cell phone number so staff can reach him anywhere, anytime.

In two years, 90 percent of staff surveyed rated Neal as a good place to work. That marked an increase of nearly 25 percent compared to a 2015 survey, according to the DPS website.

Fuga was introduced by Rotarian David Reese of EDCI which is one of the community organizations that work with the same population as Neal Middle School.

Submitted by Mark Lazenby

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