Success Story

By Margaret Henderson

Director of Magnet Programs, Durham Public Schools

The School for Creative Studies is a secondary magnet school located in eastern rural Durham, NC just north of I-85 on a campus that housed the former Chewning Middle School. Chewning was plagued with a history of low performance, high poverty, and white flight. Three years ago the district school board voted to close the school at the end of the 2012-13 school year. But on the heels of that decision came a new magnet proposal that was approved by the board and included opening a new magnet school in 2013-14 on the former campus. The magnet school would become a year-round, small 6-12 school with a program of Creative Studies. 

The magnet program was selected based on input from hundreds of Durham residents through a series of community sessions intended to gauge parental interest in further magnet programs within Durham Public Schools. This set in motion intensive program planning and recruitment processes, the hiring of a new principal, and the hiring of a twenty-seven-member staff, many of whom had to have expertise in creative specialty areas. Next came the professional development......the design and media arts program is grounded in the creative processes and Habits of Mind instructional ideology, and all staff were trained during the very short summer between closing traditional calendar schools in June and opening this new year-round school in mid-July. 

The School for Creative Studies offers a highly enriched program that allows students to customize their studies based on their academic and creative interests. Classes students may select include media and broadcasting, filmmaking, architectural design, graphic design, and audio/musical production. Classroom instruction encourages creativity and collaborative problem solving and all students are expected to create a portfolio of work that can be showcased upon graduation.

During the transformation process, the School for Creative Studies converted several of its classrooms into film editing suites and a television studio featuring a large green screen. It also now works with local creative and design experts who augment the program by offering internships, making presentations during classes, or participating in the school's artists in resident program. For example, the school works with the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies to provide learning opportunities for students in documentary filmmaking.

Another way the school now stands out is through its unique extracurricular activities. Because of its smaller size it doesn't have a traditional athletics program. Instead, it hosts several clubs such as fencing, ultimate frisbee, and cycling. The cycling team just started and is the first and only USA Cycling registered team in the state of North Carolina. It features both road and mountain biking and competes year round in national tournaments. Approximately 15 students are on the team who were each assigned their own new bike donated by United Therapeutics.

In year one, the three grades that opened initially at the school were 95% full from the magnet applications received during the winter. This year it will phase in two more grade levels and apparently the good word is out. There are more magnet applicants than available seats at all five grade levels, and the applicant pool is much more reflective of the Durham community – rich in ethnic and racial diversity. Students from all over the district can attend the school, which operates on a 100% lottery system. 

The School for Creative Studies is rapidly proving to be a true magnet success story for Durham Public Schools, and is serving the district’s magnet objectives of filling all schools to capacity, improving student diversity, and offering more innovative program options for students. 

The School for Creative Studies

5001 Red Mill Rd., Durham, NC  27704

Principal, Renee Price –

Phone:  919-560-3535 

Posted February 2014