Wednesday Jul 22, 2020

Matthew Palmer

Executive Director of School Planning, Design and Construction Durham Public Schools

Matthew Palmer, DPS Planning – *VIRTUAL* Regular Club Meeting Online

Sally introduced Mathew, whom she has known for several years since he joined her company, Berkshire Hathaway, in 2015. He is currently a doctorate student in City and Regional Planning at UNC Chapel Hill, working on his dissertation: Planning for Cities and Schools in the American South. He is married to Meghan, who recently started a tech startup that assists small- and medium- sized businesses in Durham.

His presentation was entitled Growing Together, Enhancing Growth, Equity, and Access. He summarized his recent challenges this way: “How to operationalize social distancing in a school,” building three schools and 14 school renovations in the next five years, and changing zoning boundaries.

The school planning department works closely with the school board, board of commissioners, and DPS administration, looking at “collective adaptive capacity” and opportunity to build trust.

The school planning department’s goal is a seat for every child. The strategies to reach those goals include school choice, boundaries, and student assignments.

He outlined this path to boundary changes, which will begin with elementary schools, then affect middle schools, and finally, high schools:

1.      Research phase

2.      Community engagement

3.      Scenarios

4.      Adoption

He aims to use data and stories, quantitative and qualitative information. The numbers include 10,000 homes that will be built in eastern Durham County. The quality of life aspects include considering that “schools are not just where we learn, they are also social infrastructure.” He added, “We really need to heal before and after COVID-19.”

Mathew addressed our questions, including some related to COVID-19. Yes, most of his time is dedicated to COVID-19 preparation. That includes upgrading HVAC systems, swapping out old filters for high capacity ones. Fifty-two schools have outdated systems that will cost millions of dollars to replace. “Air quality has to be a dominant priority.”

When asked about the DPS plan to open schools for the fall, Mathew brought us up to speed. Last Thursday, the school board decided that schools will deliver lessons online for the first nine weeks, then re-evaluate whether or not to hold in-person classes.

He thanked us for our inquisitiveness: “The questions you’re asking are the question I ask every single day,” he said.

[Notes by Rachel Hardy]

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