Program: David Michelmann – Duke School

At Duke School, the children in kindergarten are invited to conduct a group investigation into subjects of their own interest. In this particular case, the chosen object of their collective curiosity was ice cream.

David Michelmann, head of school, has some really cute photos that he showed Rotarians at lunch on Monday. He said the ice-cream probe rapidly escalated.

The children first began to explore how to make it. Outside guests visited to make their own in front of the class. The inquiry opened up new questions: Where did ice cream begin? How did it get to the U.S.? How can you sell ice cream?

Michelmann, a George Washington University law school graduate who has helmed the Duke School since 2006, says the project typifies the school’s emphasis on using projects to help students develop critical thinking skills at a young age. Michelmann was introduced by Rotarian Kenneth Chandler (Dr. C) who is also the Development officer at the Duke School.

“We need opportunities for these children to think of their question before they answer them,” he said.

Duke School is a private pre-school to 8th grade institution with impressive staff, faculty and students. You can find more about Duke School at its website ( News of the ice-cream probe came toward the end of a fact-filled presentation about Duke School and the status of private schools in Durham.

Under Michelmann’s leadership, Duke School has achieved growth in student population, diversity, endowment and national profile. It completed a capital campaign to consolidate its campus. It is fully enrolled.

Michelmann said parents sometimes prefer private schools to public schools because they are empowered to select a student population size proper for their specific child, as well as programs and curriculums. In Durham County, school sizes in the private space range from 30 to 1,300 students, Michelmann said. Tuition in some cases is not required, and can be as high as $24,000 annually. Assistance is available.

More than 7,600 students are enrolled in private schools in Durham County, or about 12 percent of overall student population, Michelmann said.

We thank Dave Michelmann for his presentation and wish him continued success with future probes.

(Submitted by Mark Lazenby)

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