Past President, Seth Jernigan, introduced Dr. Pascal Mubenga, Superintendent of the Durham Public Schools (DPS) as our speaker. Dr. Mubenga, a member of the Rotary Club of Durham, introduced Chip Sudderth, Chief Communications Officer – DPS and Mary Griffith, Director of Marketing and Community Engagement – DPS as his guests.  His presentation occurred almost a year to the day since his first talk to us.

Dr. Mubenga started his tenure with DPS about 14 months ago with a 90 day listening tour. He then worked with a team of 52 people that included Educators, Stakeholders and Students over a period of 6 months to develop a Strategic Plan. The plan sets priorities, goals, detailed strategies for reaching those goals and measurements to track progress along the way. The plan can be found on the DPS website under the tab “About DPS.” The plan deserves a look, not only for the impressive detail of each facet but also for the skill sets of the many people who contributed to the plan.

Already, there have been noticeable improvements. Dr. Mubenga pointed out that when he arrived DPS had 18 schools out of the 53 in the system that were defined as “low performing.” In the past year the number of “low performing” schools has been cut to 13 and he expects that they will cut that number in half next year.

He pointed out that 82% of DPS students are of minorities. Looking at achievement growth through ethnic/racial divisions, he has seen that all groups grew last year except students of Asian background, whose achievement levels stayed the same. He found that White Students achieved above State norms while African – American and Latino students achieved below State norms. He noted that the overall graduation rate for DPS is 81% but for White students it is 91%. He concludes that there is a need to focus on minorities while improving education for all. Dr. Mubenga stated, “We have high expectations. Minority students can learn. We have to believe in them. I’ve seen it!”

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New Member: Hilary French

Rotary often runs in families, so we are proud the have inducted Hilary French, the daughter of Rotarian Barker French who sponsored her. Hilary was inducted by Past President and member of the Membership Committee, Kay Gresham. Please introduce yourself and welcome her to the club.

Here is a little bit of information about Hilary:

“I currently work at KONTEK Systems as the Managing Director.  I have spent most of my career in HR, both as a consultant and in-house HR.  Jim and I moved to Durham from Philadelphia in 2016 after raising our two daughters there.  When not at work, I enjoy the many restaurants in Durham, working in my garden, and traveling to new places.”

Program Report: Sheriff Clarence Birkhead

Recently elected Sheriff Clarence Birkhead spoke on Monday about his vision for his department’s role in creating “One Community, One Durham.”  He is Durham’s first African American sheriff and only the thirteenth sheriff in Durham’s nearly 150 year history.  He was introduced by club member Ernie Mills, Jr of the Durham Rescue Mission that itself works closely with the sheriff’s office. Ernie is also a part-time Deputy Sheriff.

Birkhead assumed the Durham County position with a wealth of experience.  Launching his career in law enforcement in Randolph County, he became Duke University’s police chief in 1998, a position he held for seven years.  Subsequently, he served as police chief in Hillsborough.

In his campaign literature, Sheriff Birkhead stated that his number one goal is “A Durham County where all people are safe and live free from harm or fear.”  To that end, he has set in motion his plan for his “First Hundred Days.”  These are the steps that can be implemented locally.

Birkhead’s philosophy of law enforcement traces back to Sir Robert Peel, a prominent British politician who, as Home Secretary in the 1820s, created the modern police force (whose officers were called “peelers” or “bobbies.”) Of Peel’s nine principles of policing, Birkhead recalled two that he regards as absolutely essential to public support and respect.  One, “the ability of police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval.”  Two, “the police are the public and the public are the police.”  The observance of these principles ensures that “everyone, including detainees, is treated with respect.”

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Program Report: Nick Malinowski – Kidznotes

I’m always impressed by the hidden talents of my fellow Rotarians, and listening to Nick Malinowski’s a capella rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gonna Come” as he introduced Monday’s program was no exception – it left me with goosebumps. Particularly after he explained that the song was a favorite of one of his former music students, Vanessa Williams (not THAT Vanessa Williams, but a rock star in her own right).

Nick was introduced by Rotarian Lucia Powe, a co-founder and Board Member Emeritus of Kidznotes and one of it’s most passionate supporters.

Nick had recently left a position as Music Director at KIPP Delta Public Schools in Helena, AR, where he grew a K-12 music program from a single eight-voice choir to a three-choir program serving over 120 students including dance and music theater programs, a marching band, and an elementary school string ensemble. Nick had moved into the non-profit sector, serving as Community Programs Manager of the Seattle Opera, when his former students called to tell him Vanessa had died. Through the magical technology of Facetime and Skype, Nick helped arrange Vanessa’s favorite song so it could be included in her memorial service.

“Music is the greatest tool we have for creation of beauty and changing lives – not just music, but making music together,” Nick declares. He and his wife, Julia, returned to Durham from Seattle in January of 2016 so Nick could take the position of Program Director for Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit providing hands-on apprenticeship opportunities for students in Durham Public Schools. He took over the reins as Executive Director of Kidznotes in 2017 and has since worked tirelessly to “change lives through ever-expanding participation in youth orchestras, bands, and choirs.”

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New Member: Katina Rogers

Please welcome and introduce yourselves to new member Katina Rogers who was sponsored by Elisabeth Wiener and inducted by Membership Chair Shannon Leskin.  Here is some background provided by Ms. Rogers.

I had gotten my first taste of Rotary Club in Omaha Nebraska, where I grew up. My father was a master tailor and when a group of high ranking officers from the Strategic Air Command military base brought in a tattered flag one day, he quickly repaired it for free and gave it back to them beaming with pride. I learned from him and my mother that service towards others is a ‘must’. This pride for his new country was great and repairing the flag was considered an honor. He was taken to Rotary Club and honored for his patriotism and love of country.

Because language skills were lacking as a Greek immigrant, I went along with him to help translate and explain.  I was 14.  What impressed me even at this young age about Rotary Club was that this seemed like a very civic-minded group of Omaha’s leaders who were doing good things in the community.

Fast forward to today. My husband (Joseph Gordon Rogers) and I have moved to the Triangle. My husband is a cardiologist and currently CMO of Duke Health Systems. We moved in  2014 with high school-aged children and moved initially to Chapel Hill.  After our youngest graduated from high school, we moved to Durham to be closer to my husband’s work.

It was the best thing we could have done.

Durham has been a fantastic fit – our last 7 years have been full of tremendous friendships that we can now share in establishments and businesses in this city,  We have enjoyed watching the transformative changes come about in the Bull City and are so glad to be part of it.

I was hospital administrator in St Louis for Washington University Medical Center prior to coming here. Since moving to NC, I have started a home renovation company (AXIOS Holdings) and also a handcrafted purse and accessory line.

I  am most excited to get involved in Rotary, roll up my sleeves and, with guidance, be on the road to doing good deeds and giving back to a community that has so completely embraced us. I look forward to my time ahead in Rotary.

Christmas Program 2018


Our Christmas tradition for many years has been to have performances from musical groups from the Durham Public School System and this year was no exception. In recent years we have also had the pleasure of being serenaded by a chorus of Rotarians led by Vince Simonetti.

The school programs over the years usually have two separate groups. Sometimes, as happened last year, the performers in both groups are older students whose performances are more polished. This year the string group was The Orchestra Ensembles from Lucas Middle School and Northern High School directed by Ms. Maria Valencia. This was the more polished of the groups but we were also entertained by a chorus of younger students singing Christmas Carols called the Musical Manatees which is the 3rd-5th grade Elementary Chorus from Club Blvd Humanities Elementary School under the direction of Ms.Laura Siegel..  In these younger groups their enthusiasm makes up for any lack of polish. Your photographer was not close enough to get a picture of the one child that is REALLY into it and brings wide smiles.

Both groups deserved the standing ovations they got at the end of their performances.

This year, like several others, had the DPS Superintendent has been in attendance and we were honored to have Rotarian and Superintendent Pascal Mubenga address the group at the end of the performance. Dr. Mubenga, made a plea to visit the schools of the district and see the good work that is going on.  His point is well taken. The scoring systems that rank schools can totally miss that good work of education that is going on. Anyone that is or has been a Reading Ranger can vouch for this.

Also, becoming a tradition is Program Chair Steed Rollins introducing Mary Casey, who is the Director of  K-12 Arts Education in the system and works closely with Steed and Sharon to put on the program. Thank you Dr. Mubenga, Ms. Casey and the Durham Public School students for another great program.