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Meet Durham Public Schools’ new superintendent Anthony Lewis

The Durham Public Schools' board of education has named Dr. Anthony Lewis as the district's next superintendent.
Jeff Burkhead
Courtesy of Jeff Burkhead
The Durham Public Schools' board of education has named Dr. Anthony Lewis as the district's next superintendent.

After a volatile year at Durham Public Schools — with sick outs, high level resignations, staff unrest, and a historic budget increase — the district now has a new superintendent.

The school board chose Anthony Lewis out of more than 100 applicants. He joined WUNC’s Education Reporter Liz Schlemmer for a conversation as he prepares to lead the district beginning in August.

NOTE: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Dr. Lewis, you've been superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools in Kansas since 2018. You began as a special education teacher and then became a principal in Montgomery, Alabama. What makes you a good fit for Durham?

I think coming from a college town — we have the University of Kansas here in Lawrence — and also a basketball town as well. I realize I'm coming to the Duke Blue Devils now. But I think what makes me a good fit is some of the current challenges that Durham is facing now as it relates to focusing on staff wages, in particular classified staff.

Our board (in Lawrence Public Schools) two years ago approved a bargaining unit with our classified staff. So we now have two unions, one for our certified (staff) and one for our classified.

I do recognize and understand that public worker unions are forbidden and are not allowed in North Carolina. However, the connections and the opportunities that I've had to work with classified staff, as well as certified staff, I think will enable me to — enable us as a school system — to address those concerns head on, so that we can ultimately create awesome working conditions for all of our staff, because staff working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

Durham Public Schools had a tough year, especially in employee relations. When school officials discovered staff raises were millions of dollars over budget, it triggered sick-outs and concerns that many staff would leave permanently. How will you restore trust with school employees?

One of the things that you'll find in my superintendent’s entry plan* is spending a significant amount of time listening to all stakeholders internally. And externally, you will often hear me say that success moves at the speed of trust.

So that investment for me on the front end, getting in front of large numbers of people, particularly our classified staff, and other workers there as well, to just allow them to have some face time with me, and for me to listen to them. But not only that, after I listen, then what actions will be put in place? And so these will be some tough conversations, some difficult conversations, but I'm ready to meet this challenge head on.

What do you want Durham families and the school community to know about you and your values?

That's one of the things that I really paid close attention to as I was looking at the opportunity in Durham, because the school's values had to align with mine. I have two children of my own that I will be bringing that will be students in Durham Public Schools.

What you're getting out of a superintendent is a superintendent that really believes he can add value to the work and success that has taken place in Durham (with recent gains in state test scores) and add value there.

I am very competitive. I believe in being the best. And I do believe once adults come together in a way like never before to really radically center our students, our students will soar. And so right now we're not outperforming the state yet, but we will, and we will be the premier school district in the country.

*Lewis said he plans to publicly release his entry plan after the school board has reviewed it.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org