Program Report: DPS Superintendent Eric Becoats on New Core Standards

becoats and barkerwebGiving away free stuff is cool so I had one of the easier volunteer opportunities at the Battle of the Bands on Sunday evening handing out tee-shirts to VIP ticket holders and later to anyone who wanted one. This year the Battle raised money for the East Durham Children’s Initiative which is, of course, led by Rotarian David Reese and includes our Reading Rangers program. David and a number of the Y.E. Smith teachers were there. My best moment was when Ms. Johnson, whose classroom several of us tutored in, came behind the table and gave me a quick hug, which was something of a surprise because she’s so formal in the classroom. I don’t even know her first name and she knows me only as “Mr. Jay.”

I mention this because watching these folks from Y.E. Smith interact with each other in an informal setting is something we don’t see when inside their classrooms. Their youthful enthusiasm and respect for each other and the commitment we do see in the classrooms added special poignancy to the presentation their boss and our Superintendent and fellow Rotarian, Dr. Eric Becoats gave us at Monday’s meeting.Becoats1web

Dr. Becoats was introduced by Barker French who set up the presentation with a quiz that pointed out several recent achievements of the district including graduation rates of 80% and no under-performing schools in the most recent assessment. That was the good news. The bad news is that we are now implementing new “Core Standards” which are national standards that have been adopted by many states including North Carolina. That itself is not bad news because these emphasize analytical skills and are meant to be more rigorous, integrated and individualized.  Dr. Becoats used one of those text abbreviations, WIIFM or “what’s in it for me” to illustrate the point. Providing context for how knowledge and skills are used in the real world answers this kind of question for students.

What is troubling is that the adoption of these standards comes at a time when resources have been slashed by the General Assembly. Our Senator Mike Woodard squirmed visibly during the presentation even though he was not part of the majority that was responsible. Once again teacher pay was frozen and financial incentives for getting advanced degrees was taken away, hurting the teachers, the school system and the university schools of education.

Dr. Becoats is giving this presentation in a number of venues to alert the community to expect less glowing achievement reports as everybody adjusts to the new standards. More information including Dr. Becoats’ full presentation are on the DPS website at this link: . Dr. Becoats also thanked the club for our leadership in the Reading Rangers program and the Crayons2Calculators school supplies collection efforts.

There are several other take-aways from this and our program last week with speaker Steve Schewel. First, we cannot take for granted the teachers and their leaders in the school system. As Dr. Becoats pointed out, two thirds of the 32,000 +/- kids in our system qualify for free lunches, meaning their households often lack the resources or skills to help with their education.  This forces many teachers to buy supplies out of their own pockets. As the squeeze continues there will be a point when almost every teacher in will be ask the WIIFM question themselves. In fact, I note this morning on Facebook that a statewide teacher walkout is being organized for November 4 to protest the cuts and lack of financial incentives. We can’t expect to keep good personnel on board and motivated without recognition and reward.

Second, all the Reading Rangers we can recruit, all the supplies we can collect and all the businesses that participate in the Battle of the Bands will never be enough without the total support of the community through adequate funding for regular activities. Those struggling kids are not “them,” Dr. Becoats reminded, they are our future citizens, they are our kids.

Finally, as Rotarians in particular, we have to remember that the point of this is Service above Self. It is not just about the warm and fuzzy feeling we get from a hug we might get from a kid occasionally…or a pretty teacher. Those are just an extra bonus and not the main goal.

Rotary Minute: Deana Labriola

DeanaminutewebI was on my way to the Doctor’s office while at last week’s Rotary meeting and not feeling well at all and, frankly, not looking forward to taking notes on Deana’s “minute.” But what happened was that I got engrossed in her story (not the first time I’ve had this problem) and noted only four things. 1. Her family ran a bar in a Chicago suburb that was open almost around the clock. 2. Her mother is an over-achiever to this day and during Deana’s teen years in the 80’s came out of the closet as a gay woman. 3. Deana put herself through undergraduate school with a combination of athletic and academic scholarships.4. She was practicing law in New York and was a block away from the WTC on 9/11.

With nothing to fill in the blanks, I asked Deana for her notes. Turns out that are as well done as everything Deana does for the club and I suppose for her clients, family and other volunteer venue at the Y.

So, I urge anyone who wasn’t there…or was there and was as foggy as I was… to read the whole presentation below.              -JZ


–          To really give a picture of me, it’s probably best to talk about those people and experiences that influenced me most

–          I was born and raised in the southern suburbs of Chicago.  My dad owned a small town bar (set in Chicago).  The bar had been in my family 50 years.

–          My mom was an overly ambitious college student at the time she met my dad.  They were 19 and 22 respectively.  Married at 19, pregnant at 20. 

[Read more…]

Rotary Minute: Ernie Mills and Ernie Mills, Jr.

ErnieMillsErnieJrWe departed from our usual Rotary Minute format to let Ernie Mills Jr. introduce his dad, the Reverend Ernie Mills, who then provided the program in their brand new facility at the corner of Alston and Main in East Durham.

Both “Preacher” Ernie and his wife Gail were were exposed to addiction early. The Reverend Mills was born in very humble circumstances in rural Pitt County. His father was described a hard working family man who nonetheless was a victim of his addiction and died at the age or 40. Gail’s step-father fell in a different place along the spectrum of addiction and was both alcoholic and abusive. They found each other and their mission in “hatred for the addiction but love of the addict” in the church where they met.

They started their mission in Winston-Salem but Ernie decided to move to Durham…not because he was invited but because he saw the need. The facilities of the rescue mission including three thrift stores speak to their success. So does the Honorary Paul Harris Fellowship conferred on Ernie Sr. as well as two honorary doctorates and the recognition of Governor McClory. But the real testament to their success were the numerous graduates of the Rescue Mission’s Victory program for the addicted and the homeless  that helped the Mills family host the club at this successful offsite meeting.

A history of the Durham Rescue Mission was distributed at the meeting. Titled A Step of Faith it also chronicles the origins of this incredible family and its meaning to Durham.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

Rotary Minute: Bob Yowell

BobYowellIf you want to really appreciate how big a number a thousand is, stuff and lick a thousand envelopes. Dr. Robert K. Yowell, gave us a lot of numbers in his Rotary Minute, but there was one that I kept thinking about. He’s delivered over 5,000 babies. For someone who has never witnessed the birth of even a kitten, that was impressive.

But even a number that large doesn’t totally capture the breadth of the accomplishment. I may not have ever witnessed a birth but I’ve been exposed enough to what precedes them and what follows to have an appreciation for the task. Take any 5,000 births and you’ll get a percentage that require an heroic effort on everyone’s part; some end up tragically, some are early, some are late, some have experienced parents, some parents are children themselves. My bet is that Bob had the mechanics of delivery down before the first hundred births, but I can’t imagine how much that broader experience of dealing with all those raging hormones over the years benefited each successive generation of mothers that came to him.

Bob shared some other numbers too that prove that point. But not all his accomplishments are purely medical. He met a beautiful nurse named Barbara in medical school at Duke that he is still married to. He served in the Navy on a ship that was part of the blockade of Cuba (how old is this guy?)  He ran in both the Marine Corps and Boston Marathons, played 18 holes of golf with Perry Como (old). Bob fathered 4 children, one who tragically died at three and a half years old. The other three are successful in their own rights.

Although he did his under-graduate work at UNC Bob’s blood is now true Duke Blue and his name is on walls all over the Duke Campus and Medical Center. Among them, the Yowell family holds seven Duke Degrees.

One number that he didn’t mention was what he has contributed to the Rotary Foundation. I don’t know what it is but I know that it’s beyond the level that you merely get a pin.

So, with all these accomplishments, what does Bob bring for “Show and Tell?”  A Captain Marvel comic book published during World War II. Our Captain Marvel fan created an award winning slogan for a Captain Marvel bond sales campaign, beating out 25,000 other contestants, all of whom, we presume, are also still trailing him in number of deliveries. Marvel

Rotary Minute: Patrice Nelson

Patrice Nelson webI was more fortunate that many to hear Patrice Nelson’s story before Monday’s meeting in another classic Durham Rotary way when I spent an hour with her ringing the bells for the Salvation Army last December in front of the new WalMart. We had the first shift of the day which was slow enough that we had a really nice conversation. Two things struck me about her in that hour. One was that Patrice, who we all know is the Executive Director of Urban Ministries of Durham, was even there. One of her responsibilities for Urban Ministries is raising money and, in fact, she had an UM fundraiser later that day. But here she was raising money for a competitor, the Salvation Army. However that’s my corporate think, and not the way those truly committed to helping others think about their comrades in helping the less fortunate.  My second impression was of her warmth and a determination sweetened with a touch of vulnerability.

In recounting her journey growing up in a middle class black family in D.C. she used the metaphor of a rope bridge strung over a chasm where winds or others making the crossing can make it a white knuckle experience. Those of us old enough to remember, know these were difficult but important times in the slow march to a more inclusive society. One of her first steps in that journey was the National Cathedral School for Girls where she discovered her calling “to make cities better.” That journey took her to MIT (“the math was so advanced it didn’t have numbers”) where she studied urban and community development, to Kansas City for many years and then to Philadelphia where she entered the seminary and was eventually ordained a minister with a mission at the prestigious Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church to reach out to smaller congregations in community development.

When a fire in her townhome destroyed much of what she had, it was natural for her to come here and live with her daughter. Philadelphia’s loss was our gain.

Rotary Minutes: Bob Gutman

BobGutmanRotaryMinuteWI have no doubt that Bob was a passionate physician. But anyone that expected to hear about how he left Duke and founded Durham Nephrology Associates or served on the Board of the Renal Physicians Association, or as President of the Medical Staff and Chief Medical Officer of Durham Regional Hospital, had to be disappointed in his presentation. Forget about the time he served in Vietnam as a Navy Medical Officer.

But anybody could learn that, which I did by googling Bob’s name. What has been so fascinating about these Rotary Minutes is learning things about our members that you seldom learn with a google search; their deep interests, their passions and how they really want to be remembered themselves.

Bob made no bones about it. He is not only passionate about Durham and the Judea Reform Community here, but also about Israel which he had recently returned from. Bob noted that he and his family were supporters of the fabulous Levin Jewish Community Center that we were listening to him in. But most of his time was spent describing Jerusalem and other vibrant and diverse areas of Israel.

Travelogues without pictures can be pretty boring but this was a case where the enthusiasm of the narrator can paint an even more vivid picture than the camera. For me, it certainly shed some light on a fuzzy impression I’ve had of a prosperous but barricaded country in one of the most tortured corners of the world.

As President Don remarked afterwards, anyone visiting Israel would do well to take Bob along as a tour guide.

Submitted by Jay Zenner