August 21, 2011

Questionnaire from NC Freedom/Triangle Conservatives Unite

By James Barrett

Candidate Name *James Barrett
Candidate E-mail Contact *
Candidate Website
How long have you lived in the school district? 34 years

Why are you running for school board?
I’m running because I want to bring the goals we share in Chapel Hill/Carrboro-a great education for every child-to reality. As a child of the district and father of two current students, I want to build on our strengths and fix the areas in which we miss opportunities to provide a great education for all children.

What do you see as the board’s roles and responsibilities?
The board must provide direction for the administration in terms of priorities, policies, measurements, and ensuring that available funding gets spent in alignment with our priorities.

How would you characterize the condition of the schools in your district?
For many children, our schools are decent-they receive a good education without serious problems, which allows them to get into a good college.  However, too many of our students-at all levels-aren’t getting what they need and deserve because we have not focused enough on great instruction for each child.

What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the school board right now? How do you plan on handling that issue?
The achievement gap has been a persistent problem in Chapel Hill/Carrboro schools for as long as we’ve been measuring.  We have talked about closing the gap as a goal for years without making real progress.  While there are many factors that influence this beyond schools’ control, it is not acceptable to me that we continue to have situations where our schools are failing groups of students.  One way to address this is to focus everyone in the schools-teachers, administrators, the school board-on growth metrics.  We should expect each and every student to grow, regardless of where they start.  This growth will show the impact of their time in school, and as we follow through on our high expectations for each student, we’ll see better results.  This focus on the growth potential of every student is a new framework which will make sure we are delivering excellent education to each child, thus reducing the barriers in school that contribute to achievement gaps today.  Using consistent measurements at every level of the schools, including the school board, will keep us focused on true progress toward this goal.

Discuss one recent school board decision in which you agreed and why?
The hiring of Dr. Forcella as superintendent appears to be a great decision by the current board-he is focused on exactly the right things for our students: Excellent instruction, culture changes, leadership in the schools by the principals, follow-through.  These are the things which will allow us to change our schools to meet our needs.

Discuss one recent school board decision in which you disagreed. How would you have handled it differently?
Through use of reserve funds, the board put off what will continue to be challenging budget discussions into future years.  That made this budget cycle easier, but future budgets will be more of a challenge, so we lost an opportunity to do it better this year. We continue to base our budget on assuming everything we do today is necessary and complaining about any cuts.  The board asked the administration for information to begin to make some sensible decisions about budget priorities, but the quality of the response was not sufficient for the task.  Instead, we continue to get proposals for cuts that pit different constituencies against one another, when we should focus on what is most effective to meet our goals.  Eliminating aspects of what we do that have proved ineffective should be a constant goal, regardless of the overall budget situation.  But it is vital in these times, and the current board has not shown leadership in this regard.

Do you think the per pupil spending is adequate or not? Explain your stance.
Yes.  We are a district with a tremendous amount of resources.  The county funds us at a higher level than 90 percent of the districts in the state.  And we have an involved community willing to volunteer, including the pool of UNC students.  We need to ensure we are spending money in the right places, but we do not have an issue with per-pupil spending overall in CHCCS.

How do you think the school board can affect the dropout rate?
According to the statistics, Chapel Hill/Carrboro schools do not have a huge dropout issue. There are many fairly effective programs in place in our district, such as AVID, and the Phoenix Academy.  And we can be proud of the work the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program does for at-risk students, starting with students in elementary school and providing them with caring mentors through their senior year of high school.  As we look at additional efforts, we should make sure they have a history of success in a district like ours that is better than what we have in place now.  We can continue to improve, especially by looking at individual students and the situations they face.  I would make sure we look at alternatives for how kids learn-for example, some students may be better encouraged by using online courses.  However, our board has limited the access to these courses in the past year.  I’d like to see us look for a way to open that up for at-risk students in particular.

What goals do you hope to achieve if you are elected?
Among my goals:
If we are to make progress on our achievement gaps, we need accountability.  I’d like to see the district hire someone whose job is specifically to work on the gap.  This full-time position can do the research to incorporate some of the latest educational reform ideas-the ones proven to work-into our schools.  This person can work to ensure sharing of great ideas across the district.
I’d also like to see us using technology to extend the reach of great teachers.  Dr. Forcella has spoken somewhat about this, and there are certainly obstacles to work around here, but we have great teachers in our district-we should be using them to achieve our goals as much as possible.
I’d like to see the board ensure that any new programs being added in the schools are designed with success metrics at the start.  We should not be doing things which are not proven to be better than what we have, and should be able to clearly answer effectiveness questions during the life of a program.  This will ensure follow-through and consistent implementation across our schools.

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