October 6, 2011

Answers to all questions sent to NAACP/PTA Council/PAGE forum

By James Barrett

James Barrett’s Answers
to All Questions Submitted for the NAACP/PTA Council/PAGE School Board Candidates’ Forum

Below are all the questions submitted before the forum; I have answered them all here (there was time for only six of the questions at the forum). Over the summer and at the beginning of the school year, I posted on my campaign website my beliefs and stands on many of the issues facing the district, including a page of answers to questions I’d been receiving as the campaign got underway; I’m glad to have the chance to answer more questions here. As adequate communication remains an issue in this district, I appreciate any and all opportunities to continue to hear concerns and answer questions–so thanks for reading this and feel free to contact me at jcb@barrettforschools.com or 593-0592!


  1. What do you read on a regular basis?  N&O, Chapel Hill News, Chapel Hill Herald, Carrboro Citizen, Reesenews, NY Times (online), Education Week (online), Business Week, InformationWeek, Chapel Hill Magazine, Our State magazine, local blogs OrangePolitics, CitizenWill  and Chapel Hill Watch, Chapelboro.com, Facebook, Twitter, other monthly magazines for work and play.
  2. Do you support the 1/4 cent sales tax referendum on the ballot this fall?   Absolutely. This is needed to return some support to our capital plans for older schools as well as economic development to diversify our tax base for the future.
  3. The FPG PTA is fundraising by collecting commissions from Amazon.com (http://www.fundyourpta.org/fpg.php).   Do you support this?  I’m a strong believer in buying local as much as possible because we get more benefit to our economy that way, but for people who are going to buy online regardless, we should take advantage of this and similar programs that will send some money back to support our PTAs.
  4. Question: Significant changes are occurring in curriculum and assessment over the next few years.  How will you gather relevant research and diverse constituent positions to: 1) develop your understanding of these issues in order to make informed decisions and 2) design policies that support our schools through these transitions?  I have good relationships with many teachers and parents already that I will continue to call upon to receive informal feedback and education, and I will encourage the board to find new ways to receive broader input from all stakeholders. I’ve been paying fairly close attention to the news and commentary surrounding the implementation of the common core curriculum (for example, see this post that I read recently).
  5. Our superintendent has said we have a great school system for the state of North Carolina, and he would like to make it a great school system nationally. Given the current and expected budget constraints, what changes or initiatives would you support to improve our district?  Focusing everyone in the district on growing every child will allow us to move forward over time to be an even greater district.  We should view the budget constraints as an opportunity to look closely at everything we do and make sure we align our budget with our stated priorities. We must look closely at the data on what is most effective, instead of just what we have always done.
  6. Given the current condition of U.S. economy, budget cuts will likely be a recurring issue for our school district.  Do you have any creative solutions to improve quality of education with less money?  We can use the opportunities technology affords us, if we do so carefully, to extend the reach of our top teachers to more students. We need to pursue this; I spoke with Dr. Trice (director of technology and curriculum in our district) just the other day about this, and I know he is eager to pursue it, and I’m happy to help in this area from the board.
  7. This is a two-part question. First, please provide specific steps you take to seek out perspectives that are different from your own. Then, please explain how you incorporate opposing perspectives when making decisions. Thank you.  I’ve spent many years seeking out perspectives different from my own, through my work with Justice United (see here for more info about that). Justice United has given me connections and training in obtaining a broad perspective within our community, which we do through our listening sessions and follow-up work.  Additionally, I meet regularly with people from many perspectives to listen to what concerns them about our community and schools.  Those perspectives are very important to me as a potential elected official because my opinion (and experience) is only one in this community.
  8. I was born and raised in Chapel Hill.  I am a Native American (Cherokee and Mattamuskeet) and a parent.  I am deeply concerned about the continuing gap between minority students and white students.  Though economic times are tough, Chapel Hill continues to have a wealthy school district.  Excellence is the standard in these parts and has been for as long as I can remember.  How is it then, in a school system with so many resources and such a concern with excellence, that minority students are so far behind their white counterparts?  Whatever the answer, if Chapel Hill is the liberal and caring “southern side of heaven” that it claims to be, this situation should be a priority.  What do you plan to do to address this problem which has been going on for decades?  I view this as a serious deficiency in our schools as we are not living up to our values in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  There are factors involved outside of our schools, but those are not an excuse for the schools failing to achieve what we can while we have the students in our buildings.  Having high expectations for every student, which we can now measure through better growth metrics, is key to making sure every teacher is focused on delivering an excellent education to every student.  My record of leadership along with a new opportunity with a new superintendent gives me hope that we can do things differently to achieve better results.  See more specifics I’ve posted here.
  9. What is your knowledge of the district’s grading system?  Grades 1-4 are graded on a 4 to 1 scale, middle schools and 5th grade have an A-F scale including plus and minus, high school A-F without plus and minus.  If colleges look at GPAs on a 4-point scale, does it seem appropriate to continue the 4-point scale grading which is used in the elementary schools?  On a 100-point scale, with a zero to 69 being a failing grade, how does a student recover from even one “0”?  70% of the grading scale is failing!!  I trust our teachers to properly reflect grades based on what students learn.  The details of how this is accomplished is a lower level than the board should be getting involved in.
  10. What will you do to ensure a fair allocation of resources towards gifted education during these lean budget years?  There is a huge disparity between the resource allocation towards gifted education services and the percentage of students identified as gifted within the district.  Changing our budget process to build from the ground up based on our priorities (including, in my opinion, better growth for every student), will ensure that our spending aligns with what has the most impact across our district and meets our community priorities.  Given 1/3 of our students are identified as gifted, we should be clear about what support does exist in the budget, and be able to understand the impact of that support.   Our current process hides so much that there is great mistrust and misunderstanding all around.
  11. In elementary school when the foundations of reading, writing and arithmetic are built, there is a trend to move a child along, even if there are some red flags. Sometimes there are student academic concerns that are not identified in the classroom, or are identified but not acknowledged and need the parent to intervene before it gets addressed. This causes delay in interventions. Do you believe that students need to be taught to reach their maximum potential or to the common middle ground? Are we in the CHCCS district challenging children that have the potential, but not the family involvement or support, to get excited about learning? How does the school propose to start a meaningful dialogue with these families? How can the school and the district measure their success in this area?  I do not believe proficiency (as required by No Child Left Behind) is a sufficient measure of our schools.  We absolutely should be pushing every student to at least a year’s growth every year (and more than a year for students who are behind).  There is no excuse for not challenging children, and we as a district need to be clear with all teachers that that is what we expect every day, and we will hold them accountable.  We should use community resources as well to get better engagement of families.  One thing we are doing in elementary schools that will help going forward is moving to a common database (Exceed RtI) for student assessments (both pre- and post-tests for every unit).  This will allow us to see struggling students at a district and school level much sooner than we do today.  We may need to expand this as we get more common core standard assessments in other grade levels as well, to really stay on top of what is happening broadly and individually.
  12. Would you consider a four-day school week to reduce cost and raise teacher and teacher assistant salaries and/or supplements?  No.  If anything, we need more instructional time, not less.  And because people get tired after too many hours of doing any one thing, four-day weeks would result in less instructional time.
  13. Do you feel that AP courses should dictate high school scheduling?  specifically in regards to block scheduling.  High school students on block scheduling take eight classes a year as opposed to our district of seven classes a year (possibly only six with study hall).  Wouldn’t more classes allow for more AP courses, which would give a student more credits entering college?  And four classes for struggling students would be easier to manage.  I haven’t seen good data yet on whether this is better for student learning or not—that to me is the most critical factor in any decision the board makes.
  14. Would you support ‘grandparenting in’ children to their current school districting and thus make any redistricting forward facing to avoid uprooting, disrupting and punishing the children and instead put the onus on the adults to plan ahead?  I understand the desire for this, but children are more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for, and having had my son moved between schools, I don’t think it is always as disruptive as you indicate.  There has to be a way to fill new schools, and thus adjustments are required, and it just isn’t feasible to start the new school with just kindergarten and new students.  Obviously individual cases are heard on appeal and I am open to considering as much as possible, but there needs to be balance in our actions.
  15. Options for highly-motivated, late-blooming students to get ahead in math are virtually nonexistent.  Once a student is assigned a math class in 6th grade, the student cannot advance to a more challenging class by taking a summer school class at a school or an online class (either concurrently or during the summer).  Wake County schools do have opportunities for students to take summer school. What changes to the current system do you envision for motivated students to achieve their math goals in the best school district in North Carolina?  I support use of online courses—as long as we know they are at least as good as our in-class instruction—to accelerate learning, especially as we say that math and science are priorities for 21st-century learning.  We need to address students as individuals with individual needs and adjust our processes to allow this, more than making students fit in a given box.
  16. Why does district have a policy against gifted and able middle school students taking more advanced accelerated Science and English courses?  Why is the acceleration option opened to math course only?   I am willing to revisit this if there is a way to achieve it with equity and within our budget.
  17. Does district plan to reform its gifted education program and make it available to everyone who is able and ready to take accelerated or more rigorous education instead of just to leap students?  The gifted plan is revisited every 3 years.  It will be a priority of mine that it actually means something when we develop it for the 2013–2016 cycle, and we should look at what it takes to actually meet the needs of every student, not just those in LEAP.  This includes more acceleration, fixing the under-identification of minority and economically-disadvantaged students, and delivering more individual education, perhaps through use of technology.
  18. With the job market looking worst as this recession continues, will you support expanding the Career & Technical Education offerings at CHCCS middle and high schools, so graduates can actually find job in our local community?  We should absolutely be meeting the needs of all students, including those who prefer CTE offerings.  We need to be smart about how we do this within budget constraints.  This may mean more transfers to schools that can then have deeper options or more work with Durham Tech, but it is critical to provide the education that every student needs, and not all are a good fit for our non-CTE offerings.
  19. Currently, taking a CTE Career Exploration or Career Management Course is optional – with the number of local out of work citizens – especially recently graduated seniors from CHCCS high schools – will you support making these course mandatory for all middle schools and high school students, both are only 1 semester in length.  No, but I would emphasize training counselors to identify students who can benefit from these courses and make sure they are getting enrolled.  Too often the board thinks one thing is happening (we have great offerings), but where decisions are made to enroll, there is not good communication between students, families, and the school to ensure we are meeting their needs (I’ve heard from more than a few people how this happens with the Middle College program).  I’d rather fix the identification process than try to create a “one size fits all” approach of making more mandatory classes.
  20. CHHS has an auto repair and woodworking class, Orange offers classes in “the trades” but nothing is offered at Carrboro High. The Federal government wants to spend more stimulus money for repairing infrastructure and creating more jobs that require construction skills. Not every student will be going on to a four year college. Do you support having “shop” class or an introductory class about work in the biotech industry? Perhaps less students would drop out of high school if they can learn some practical skills that will keep them interested in learning.  I have a friend who teaches a class like this at Central Carolina Community College—it is a great introduction to the different ways that you need to think about precision in measuring, safety, etc., that you don’t get in other classes in high school.  Yes, I’d support finding a way to offer this—whether through partnership with other high schools or Durham Tech or in one of our high schools that we would make sure is open to transfers for all students to be able to take advantage of.
  21. What do you think of the district’s implementation of differentiation?  I don’t think it has been done well.  It is not consistently handled through all the schools, and there is not enough support for teachers to address the extremely broad range of students they are expected to address through differentiation today.   I support more clustering to make the teacher’s job easier, but it needs to be extremely flexible to avoid “labeling” of students—not all students should be in the same cluster for an entire day, and probably not for an entire year either.  When I was at Seawell in the late ’70s, this was easy because the “pods” were open, and we moved back and forth between teachers depending on the level needed for various subjects, and there was a lot of independent work we could do based on interest and ability.  We’re unlikely to have that model across the district, but there are aspects we can use to provide better instruction to every student.
  22. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of differentiation, as it is implemented in our district? Is it meeting the educational needs of all students?  See above.
  23. Do you think differentiation is being implemented in our schools?  How?  Where? by Whom?  Should this be a priority?  How do you define differentiation? See above.
  24. On a scale of A to F, how would you rate the effectiveness of our district’s implementation of differentiation? Is it working for ALL students? Please begin your answer with a letter grade, explain why you chose that letter grade, and tell us of at least one change or initiative you would support, OTHER THAN teacher training, to improve the effectiveness of differentiation in our schools. See above
  25.  School bullying can take many forms: physical, psychological, verbal or non-verbal, overt or subtle, if left un-stopped, could cause long-lasting effects on the victims.  Our schools are good at stopping the overt and physical bullying, but bullying in the form of emotional and subtle abuse, especially by students with good grades seem to have received much less attention from the schools.  If you become a board member, will you make any changes to the existing anti-bullying policy? what are your plans to effectively stop and prevent school bullying so that our children can focus on learning instead of worrying about being bullied?  I don’t think we have a policy issue here; rather, I think we need great leadership in the schools, especially in the principal’s office, to ensure consistent implementation of the policy.  I doubt any school is capable of completely eliminating bullying, but with great follow-through and good communication about our expectations of every student and teacher, I think we can do a better job across the district than we do today.  From what we have seen so far, I believe Dr. Forcella can be the right leader to ensure this happens.
  26. Why is it not possible to pull kids from the district which are behavioral(bullying) problems and teach them at a separate location. There is way too much tolerance, especially at the middle school level for kids who are ruining the experiences of others who are respectful. Take the offenders and put them in a smaller environment where the chances of “rehabilitating” them and teaching them respect for each other is much higher! We need to not only react when there are incidents (putting out fires) but take it to a new level of expecting a positive experience for every child every day. Chances are then we will achieve an environment in the schools which is at least a little better than it is today. Raise the bar for all!  I heard at the Culbreth SIT meeting last month a request for follow-up on whether we need an alternative middle school setting for these problems.  I agree we need to look into how to accomplish this (within budget).  We have an alternative high school, and our middle school population has grown to the point where we may be able to support the need for a separate setting for these few cases at each school as well.
  27. Most of the new jobs in our economy will be in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and math) fields. How do you rate our district’s performance in STEM education, and what would you change?  Our high schools do a great job at STEM offerings, but as you look at lower grades, I’d say we get progressively worse.  I believe STEM education is a priority of our community and would like to see, for starters, funding for science education at the elementary level restored.  Many elementary teachers do not come to our schools with the skills needed to teach STEM, so they need support to allow us to have effective educational opportunities for all students.
  28. Our schools are good, but could be better.  For our students to be competitive both nationally and internationally, there is an imminent need to strengthen the math and science program.  Do you consider this one of the priorities of our school district?  If so, what are your plans to achieve this?  See above.
  29. Investment capital, and over the past decade, jobs have increasingly flowed to where the best and most cost effective skills reside, wherever in the world the knowledge workers may be.  What will you do to enable CHCCS students to effectively compete in the global marketplace?  What changes will you make to increase STEM skills, creativity and innovation?  How will you overcome the inherent and systemic challenges that may prevent these necessary changes from being implemented right away to make an impact on our future workforce and economic prosperity? See above
  30. Does this district strive to be not only a leader in the nation to get more students to pass state standard tests, but also a nation’s leader to give gifted students rigorous accelerated curricula to middle school gifted students too?  The middle school gifted students should go to school to get intellectual stimulation to develop their full potential, NOT to go to school fulfill their seat time or be held back for 3 yeas until they reach high school then they have choice to select challenging courses. Our school district can be another Thomas Jefferson high school in the nation.  I believe changing the focus from measuring not only proficiency but also growth of every student will change how we approach gifted students at all levels.  I will continue to push for high expectations of growth for each and every student.  Anecdotes and the data in our district show we have issues in our middle schools educationally.  Too many minority students are supported well in elementary school only to be given the message in middle school that they will be in the “dumb group” the rest of their lives.  Too many gifted students (outside of LEAP) feel like it is a breeze, and they don’t develop the skills needed for our pressure-filled high schools.  Too many middle-of-the-road students are not guided into good work habits and are not prepared for honors courses we expect as normal in CHCCS.  The coming common core curriculum standards will help in some ways here as it will better align curriculum across the grades and schools.  And measuring growth for every student will put the focus on each and every student.  But we also need to be more deliberate about middle school being a preparation for high school.  Not the same thing as high school (heaven knows middle schoolers have enough to worry about), but the space where we can create great learners who have exercised the skills they will need to navigate, survive, and thrive in our high schools.
  31. North Carolina’s 8th grade EOG math tests are ranked 40th in the nation in terms of rigor. Do you think a goal of 100% proficiency on these tests is sufficient? If not, what other goals and measurements of success would you support putting in place?  See above.
  32. Does the district realize its narrow focus on academically struggling students to pass state tests make a large group of gifted and able students being left behind of going to school has no much to learn?  See above.
  33. Does district know NCLB is not just to give academically challenged students abundant intellectual stimulation to reach their full potential, but also to give gifted students rigorous intellectual stimulation to develop their full potential in the school too?  See above
  34. Do you think our districting is accurately measuring growth for our most advanced students? If not, what changes would you put in place?  See above. We should expect at least a year’s growth for each and every student. Period.  Nothing less is acceptable to me.
  35. How will you ensure that academically gifted students achieve a year’s worth of growth during each school year?  Current metrics and district priorities focus on ensuring closing the achievement gap and ensuring proficiency at grade level. But, these metrics are inadequate for measuring whether gifted students achieve a year’s worth of growth.  We’re beginning to have these metrics, but they are not widely circulated—teachers need to better understand how they are doing on these metrics to ensure they are focused on each child’s growth every day.  One thing I would do is get more real-time measures (from the new Exceed system) and then have schools post how they are doing (just as they do for the NC Schools Report  Card annually today) on these metrics as well.
  36. One of the district priorities is to establish clear direction for second language instruction for all students, including world language, ESL and dual language.  What is your view on the expansion of the dual language program, not only in the elementary schools, but also in the middle and high schools?  Is expansion necessary?  What are the major barriers to expansion and how can they be addressed?  There are clear benefits from this program in many directions and I support expansion of it.  Barriers such as limited access to gifted specialists because they are typically not bilingual need to be addressed.
  37. As a parent of one DL elementary aged child and hopefully next year 2 elementary DL children (my son will be attending kindergarten next year), I am concerned about how this wonderful program will transfer into middle school. When we signed our daughter up for this program we were under the impression that it would continue with the same support and enthusiasm throughout her middle school experience. I’m wondering if the resources and support are similar at this level and if not what can we do to support the school and students?  I think we’re still figuring out how to have a successful Dual Language program in the middle schools and beyond, but I support the program and believe we can and need to solve these for the best possible education for our students.
  38. What is your perspective on the role of the dual language program in our school system?  Do you think it should be a priority or be less of an emphasis in terms of focus and resources?  What will you do to support your perspective if elected in terms of the Dual Language program?  I think there is benefit to our students from this program (both English and native speakers), and we need to ensure it is successful.
  39. The recent controversy over hybrid classes at the high schools has received a lot of attention. Without commenting on the board policy concerning hybrids, what do you think this incident revealed about decision-making and implementation in the school system? What do you think needs to be done to improve decision-making and implementation?  There clearly is a communication failure between the board and teachers that took place in 2010.  I expect our leaders in the district to address this to ensure it doesn’t happen going forward.  I also want the board to improve how it receives input on major proposals such as this change to ensure we have better buy-in when we make a decision in the future.  One way to accomplish this would be ad hoc board committees that could have more two-way communication about issues that need community involvement instead of the way the board receives public comment today during full board meetings.  That is, people come speak during public comment time, and get no response whatsoever from the board. It’s not the right time for the board to get into a conversation/debate with the speaker, but there needs to be some sort of recognition/action taken to let the people know they’ve been heard and there will be follow-up when needed.  Committees are another option to allow more two-way conversation about contentious issues before the board acts.
  40. In a small school district, with three vastly different high schools, what value do you see in allowing room for deviation from set curriculum and/or teaching models in order to best serve the student population at each school?  We are limited in curriculum deviation by the state (even more so going forward with common core standards adoption), but different teachers have different strengths, and we need to ensure that our students have access to those strengths instead of trying to fit everyone into one model.  This may mean assigning students to classes based on more than just random scheduling, but it will improve our educational environment.  We need to balance ensuring that our students and parents know what to expect and have access to consistent quality with allowing our teachers to try great new ideas.  As a public institution, we need to have open communication about what we’re doing, but I am always open to trying better things to serve students.  However, once we as a community openly decide on the right path, we need to make sure we’re all working in the same direction, not actively undermining policies by doing the exact opposite.
  41. How do you as a board member see your role in the school system?  Recently, it seems that the school board is involved in site-level decisions.  How does a school board member distinguish the difference between the superintendent’s and site-level administrations decision-making and the school board’s?  The board has a broad community perspective of our priorities and the standards we expect from each school and sets policy.  It also must hold the administration accountable for great results—specifically, the superintendent, who is the board’s sole employee.  Specific implementation of policy is up to the administration at multiple levels, as long as we’re open about ensuring student and parent expectations are met in each school.
  42. In light of the recent controversy with regard to 9th grade classes at Carrboro High School, how do you feel about the statement that not allowing hybrid classes, i.e., core classes made up of both standard and honors students, where appropriate, promotes racism, classism and academic tracking?  I believe we should meet the needs of every student, and having separate honors and standard courses does that better than having a combined course.  I think we promote racism when we expect that students of color will not be in the honors courses, and when our “expectation gap” in the earlier years of their schooling leaves those students unprepared. We should focus our energy on ensuring proper identification of needs and preparation for rigorous coursework for all students, instead of having low expectations based on skin color.  Those expectations are a clear sign of institutional racism we can and must address immediately.
  43. Comment: The recent decision to abandon the hybrid model in our high schools against the judgment of principals AND faculty (recently reported in the Carrboro Citizen) is very disturbing.  It is exactly this kind of school board decision-making that needs to be investigated further.  It does not reflect the considerable research and evidence that supports heterogeneous grouping of students, and seems to disregard the professional judgments of our educators.
  44. Why did the board insist that Carrboro High separate their hybrid honors/regular classes?  All the research shows that performance and achievement goes up for all students involved in these course. I thought the board’s job was to educate all children not just the white ones.  This question applies to the current members.  They should be held accountable for the decisions they made and explain them.  The board set a policy in 2010 based on data, and the hybrid courses were not in compliance with the existing policy.  I am open to discussion of whether we should change the policy, but calling board members racist is not a productive way to engage in decision making.
  45. What changes (if any) would you make to the way the school board received public input on its decision-making?  Teachers, in particular, have felt ignored in the recent kerfuffle over honors courses.  Is there a better way to receive that feedback?  See answer on #39.
  46. I am concerned for the low numbers of enrollment for the arts, esp. at East Chapel Hill High. Looking to see why, I know that chorus classes were cut from Smith and Phillips 2 years ago, which decreased the enrollment in HS, and having no limit on the number of  AP classes, as students can now take as many as they want and then parents and counselors feel they should take a study hall instead of an arts elective class. There are plenty of studies on how the arts empowers the HS student to succeed in college and afterwards.  I have 4 boys that have grown into wonderful young men because of the arts. I do not know what would have become of them if they didn’t have the chance to sing and dance!  I see the arts dying a slow death.  I see empty theatres, I see the Chapel Hill community turning into a purely academic one. Is that what we are becoming, a “no arts” school district?  Please explain your understanding of this and please correct me if I am wrong. Thanks!  We need to support offerings to create well-balanced students, but the priorities for what courses are enrolled in is not really up to the board if the community does not fully value these courses. My children are involved in a variety of activities—choir at church, athletics through parks and rec, Chapel Hill Social, band in middle school.  I believe this makes them better people, but because of pressure to succeed academically, I can’t guarantee they will enroll in arts classes in high school.  That pressure from our society is much larger than the board can solve, but I do support continuing to offer a range of arts classes to ensure we have opportunities for all to be involved.
  47. What can be done to break down the silos of science math social studies art and culture to make what we are teaching them relevant and important and interesting?  The common core standards will bring some attempt to accomplish this integration of subjects.  I’m not sure it goes far enough, but we need teachers who understand how to incorporate multiple subjects into combined lessons that address learning from many angles at once.  One way common core standards will help is that there will be a national marketplace for lessons that fit the curriculum and can do this in innovative ways.  Some of these may be lessons we pay for (think instead of textbooks), some may be free (think videos on the web for great lectures), some may be a lesson plan that a great teacher in Oregon just posts to his blog and we share with all our 4th grade teachers because it is useful.  Better yet, some may be lesson plans/videos/ideas that the excellent teachers within our own district share with their peers. This ability to use the great resources available across the nation is very exciting to imagine!
  48. Since the state mandates that arts classes cannot be ‘honors’ until the 3rd year of instruction, how do you propose to make choosing enrichment courses like fine arts or language classes a viable option without jeopardizing the student’s GPA.  I believe we need to consider eliminating the use of class rank on transcripts.  GPA should be a reflection of how students did, and the courses they chose are clear in their transcript already.  The pressure to be in honors courses just to keep up with peers is based on the perceived importance of class rank, and eliminating this will help allow students to focus on better aligning course selection with their interests and skills.
  49. Are you aware of the studies showing that participation in arts education in high school improves success in college and beyond, and how would you re-structure the current curricular guidelines in North Carolina and CHCCS to maximize this advantage for our children?  The board is planning a good conversation about language education across our district this year (as one of the board priorities), and I would suggest we have a similar depth of conversation about arts education, as society’s attitudes toward it have changed in the past several years (with a switch to focus on STEM).  I’d like to hear a broad community discussion about arts education before I make a firm commitment on a direction.
  50. How will you make budget decisions given the projected continued declining budgets in the years ahead?  See my answer to question #10 – I believe the budget process should be from the ground up and focused on aligning with our priorities in the most effective manner.
  51. The school board school make decisions after thoughtful deliberation and with consideration of input from all relevant stakeholders.  What approach should be used if district employees subsequently act in opposition to the board’s judicious decision?  This is up to the superintendent, not the board, as he or she is charged with implementation of policy. The board’s job is to hold the superintendent accountable for follow-through on board policies.
  52. Did you support offering all students the option to enroll in honors science and social studies courses in 2010?  Do you support continuing to offer all students the option to enroll in honors or standard courses?  Why or why not?  Yes.  The data from surrounding districts that offer these courses shows better achievement by all students with the separate classes.  Our data from one year (admittedly a small sample) seems to support the decision as well.  I always support making decisions based on what is best for our students’ education.  That said, it isn’t always easy to determine from published studies what that answer is – too often studies are done in environments that don’t look like CHCCS (a very successful district in an upper-middle-class Southern small town, but with significant diversity and still students that aren’t doing as well as others).  So we need to make sure we are choosing our data well – not just to support our philosophy, but to actually improve results for our students, which we all believe in. I know many parents and teachers believe in the hybrid classes for some subject areas, and I believe with excellent teachers and the right curriculum they can work—so I am open to hearing more on this and continuing the conversation around what model best serves all of our students.
  53. The student enrollment in CHCCS schools continues to increase.  How will you manage enrollment growth?  Will you support SAPFO?  When would you use redistricting?  I believe the most important criteria is a high-quality education for our students.  If we are not able to provide that due to overcrowding, then we should ensure SAPFO is being enforced.  Spot redistricting is a tool the board should use—with great care and judiciousness—to ensure all students are getting high quality education in adequate facilities as well.
  54. How do you plan to incorporate student input into administrative decisions? I support the use of surveys and am open to communication from all stakeholders, including students.  We should encourage their participation in committees as much as possible; this serves the board well, and adds to our students’ civics education.
  55. What do you believe is the best role technology plays in the classroom and how would you allot funds to these projects? I believe technology is best used when it is a “game changer.”  Projects like Khan Academy, while they have their own limitations, turn the lecture part of education into customizable modules that allow students to proceed at their own pace while freeing up teacher time for one-on-one assistance.  Technology is least helpful when it is simply continuing methods of limited value (“educational” games that are no better than flashcards, for example).
  56. How do you plan on getting student input that is not forced upon you? How will you utilize it? Surveys can be helpful, as well as identifying student leaders who can thoughtfully represent many.  I think it is important to understand how what we do as district leaders affects students, but we also need to ensure that the policies we set work across a broad spectrum of students, some of whom may not be as vocal, and that our decisions are based on more than anecdotal evidence.
  57. How does your campaign model the level of transparency and/or involvement you’d like to see in the school board?  I’ve provided transparent budget information beyond the state requirements, to show in real time who my supporters are and what I am spending money on (available from the “About” page of my website).  I’ve met with leaders and knocked on doors across the community to understand concerns about our district and ensure I am representing a broad cross-section of our community as a board member.  I’ve been engaged in conversations online via Facebook and local blogs to gather input and share my thoughts as well.
  58. What should be done for students who are suspended?  I believe Phoenix Academy is doing a great job of providing support for high school students who need it.  I believe we need to find an option for middle school students as well.  Trying to separate just a couple of students in their home schools is not feasible, and we have limited options beyond that today.
  59. Do you support Dual Language programming?  Why or why not?  How would you make this available to more students?  See answer #37.
  60. Related question re FLES.  Some board members think FLES is ineffective and elementary world language instruction needs to be reworked.  What do you think?  I’ve seen it work (at Seawell) and I’ve seen it not work elsewhere.  We need to do something different—for the money we are spending to provide FLES across the district, I do not think we are getting the educational benefits we could.
  61. Would you consider a magnet format at the new Elem #11?  What about year-round? I think this will be the most important question facing the new board—what sort of school are we going to open in the Northside community?  My first priority is to have a full, in-depth conversation with residents of Northside on what they would like to see in Elementary #11.  This new school should be primarily a resource to that neighborhood, which is critical to the African-American community in Chapel Hill.  Consideration of a magnet school does not at first glance appear to be a great benefit to that community, and my conversations so far with some of Northside’s leaders back that up. Unless I hear differently from them and better understand how we are using a magnet program to actually improve success of students who have been traditionally underserved, I am not in favor of a magnet school there.  A modified year-round schedule is something I’m interested in considering, given the studies which show significant “summer slide” issues among students of color.  We have an opportunity with Elementary #11 to try new things to solve our achievement gaps, and we should focus on that—we must not let this opportunity slip away.
  62. Parents get very upset about redistricting.  Do you think having a balance re academic achievement among the schools is important?  Would you move residential neighborhoods to a school further away to achieve that balance?  (students already on buses vs walkers).  What should we do about FPG and MES imbalances in both academic achievement/ Free and reduced lunch/ and underenrollment?   I believe every student is capable of achieving, and I think trying to balance schools based on predicted success is counter to expecting every student to succeed.  FPG and McDougle are not without challenges, but having unique challenges can also help focus needed resources and strategies.
  63. Looking a test data, do you think the 2 literacy coaches and/or the curriculum at the elem level work?  What would you do? We’ve not made the progress we’d like from these actions, and I think we need to find better solutions.  I expect the administration to present us with well-researched possibilities that have already shown success either with individual teachers within the district or elsewhere; the board must have that to make decisions based on effectiveness and alignment with community priorities and values.
  64. When we have to cut from the budget, it’s at the point of positions now.  What would you cut next?  Order?  Priority?  I believe we need to budget from the ground up based on effectiveness and alignment to priorities.  This is harder on our employees as they have less certainty from year to year of a position’s continuation, but it is critical that we budget to ensure we are best managing the money the taxpayers have entrusted to us.
  65. Should the district implement pay-to-participate for extracurricular athletics?  I think the benefits of the programs outweigh the costs, but we need to evaluate these like any programs within the overall budget process.
  66. Should the district charge $45 for drivers ed next year?  No.  The benefit to our community’s safety of having well-educated drivers is too important to mess with for the slight cost of not charging.
  67. What do you know about exceptional education?  How would you improve services?  Last year the board debated and passed a policy to have lower class sizes for system level classes than the state max.  Do you support this?  Only last year was it systemized that all high school teachers would have copies of student 504 plans prior to the opening of school.  Are those being implemented?  How would you improve this?  Are students being denied 504 eligibility?  Do parents know about this?  Are IEPs being implemented?  What improvements are needed?  I have no personal exposure to exceptional education, but I have good friends I rely on for input here, and the board has the benefit of Ms. Bedford continuing to serve.  I’m in favor of CHCCS’s tradition of meeting the needs of students regardless of what the state might allow us to “get away with.”  I also support a level of codifying that tradition to ensure future administrators are aware of our support for a high-quality education for exceptional children.  I understand the struggle the board and EC community had with how to codify our support for meeting the specific needs of students when it is impossible to predict what those needs will be across the district.  Consistency of implementation is an issue across our district, not just for EC students but in many areas.  We need to ensure that there is a culture of openness in our schools that encourages teachers to share with parents details of what is affecting students on a regular and timely basis, including special plans such as IEPs and DEPs.  This culture change will only come through great leaders in our principals.  I believe Dr. Forcella understands this and will make sure it happens.
  68. Should some students be long-term suspended?  If they shoot a gun should they be expelled?  Or some such discipline question.  The state has created standards here with which CHCCS is in alignment or has better policies.  This is evidenced by the need for only small changes this year when the state legislature passed changes to the requirements.  I think we’ve had some inconsistencies in how we implement those policies, but Dr. Forcella has brought a new focus to ensuring consistent implementation, and we have a relatively small issue with discipline across our district.
  69. Do you support merger of OCS and CHCSS?  Why or why not? No.  I believe we have strong evidence that there are two nexuses of level of support for education through local taxes in Orange County.  Without a willingness from the northern part of the county to pay the same level of taxes to support education as shown by the CHCCS district, I do not consider merger a good thing.  The commissioners have the ability to move us there over time by reducing the special district tax and taxing the entire county at higher levels without a merger (to show there is similar support), but they have not made any move in that direction.  Beyond that, I also prefer the compactness of our district.  If an administration had to support the entire county, we would lose some access to our district administrators that we enjoy as a community today.  I do, however, support greater efforts to eliminate duplicity and share resources between the districts.  We each have strengths, and where we can leverage those for the entire county, we should do so.
  70. Do you support district funding for pre-K classes? Yes.  I believe high-quality educational opportunities are a basic right (supported in North Carolina by our state constitution).  We can and should support that in our community by funding pre-K classes for all who need them. Copious research and data show us the extreme importance of early childhood education for success in school and later in life.  Thus, it is an important part of our educational mission in CHCCS to support funding these classes where necessary and feasible.
  71. Would you support a property tax increase to fund education? Not at this time.  Our district is among the top 10 in the state for funding.  We have lots of resources, both in the community and in our finances, and need to ensure we are better prioritizing those resources before we add burden to our high property tax rate in the district.
  72. Do you support the quarter cent sales tax proposal? Yes.  See question #2
  73. Should we opt out of Middle College given the cost and the low number of students served?  No; on the contrary, we should be doing a far better job of increasing the participation.  We should solve the transportation challenges and encourage more participation (my understanding is there are counselors who are not consistently telling students about it as a good choice).  Students who are and have participated have found it to be an invaluable resource, preventing drop-outs and giving them a leg up on college-level work.
  74. This year and last year, the school board has made some interesting funding decisions. I would like your comments on funding priorities, given the tightness of the current fiscal situation. At Carrboro High School right now, the board has allocated funds to hire two new people, solely for the purpose of separating standard and honors level students in English I and world history. These positions will not address the large class sizes that concern many students, parents and teachers at our school, or the continuing challenge of providing adequate instructional materials. For example, we have a combined class of Journalism I and II, with 42 students total. We were told that the district could not afford to fund an additional section of this class. Yet, two new people are being hired to separate honors and standard students. As a new or incumbent board member, what would be your priorities regarding funding for staffing and instructional materials?  My focus would be on providing an excellent education for all.  The Carrboro High situation was an emergency because of a mistake in the school in implementing district policy and was required to ensure minimal disruption to the students.
  75. In the fall of 2010, CHCCS adopted the new state criteria for teacher evaluation.  Teacher Leadership is now the first standard on which teachers are evaluated.  Specifically, this standard describes excellent teachers as “actively participat[ing] in and advocat[ing] for decision-making structures in education and government that take advantage of the expertise of teachers” and “advocat[ing] for positive change in policies and practices affecting student learning.”  Given these criteria for teacher evaluation, what is your understanding of how teachers can and should be included in the decision-making processes of our school district?  To what extent is this kind of input currently solicited and valued, and what are your thoughts about seeking and honoring teachers’ expertise?  If teachers are being evaluated on their role as educational leaders, how do you envision the Board supporting the attainment of this standard? I would encourage teacher participation in decision-making processes by actively participating in district and board committees that make proposals for policy changes.  I believe this process needs to be more public and visible to all stakeholders to understand how to have input before board decisions are made, but it is and should continue to be open to all teachers.
  76. Our school board states that they are very interested in closing the acheivement gap, but they are not putting their money where their mouths are.  What different will they do to make closing the acheivement gap a reality.  I am tired of hearing that we should differentiate for low and middle acheiving students but that gifted students need to be pulled out for special attention.  I think we are getting it backwards.  The gifted students will be successful without special attention. The low performing students need the most help and most resources or they will not reach their potential and will instead be a financial drain in the future. I don’t agree with many of the premises of this question—gifted students are not routinely pulled out in our district today, but low-achieving students are (for literacy, for example); I do not define “success” as achieving the low proficiency bar the state sets today, and thus do not believe gifted students will be “successful” without attention.  Gifted students are not the cause of minority student achievement gaps—we are not meeting the needs of gifted minority students as well as low-achieving minority students.  Therefore, we have minority and economically disadvantaged student gaps, not solely for low-achieving students. Trying to pit groups of students and parents and advocates against each other is not helpful for solving the real issues, and this has been allowed to occur and sometimes encouraged for far too long by this district.  To me, the largest source of these gaps is the low expectations that we all have for minority students—society, families, teachers.  Dr. Forcella has spoken about how every child can grow their intelligence.  But do we really act that way?  As a board member, I will push to ensure that all in our district—administrators, principals, teachers, students, even parents and communities—believe that every student can be successful and have high expectations for each and every student.  There will be gaps in some end results, and we will allocate special resources to ensure students are addressed as needed.  Changing (and closing) our expectation gap: that may be the biggest lever we as a community have (as witnessed by efforts such as successful charter schools) to improve the unacceptable gaps we have today, and doesn’t even require money, “just” a culture change.

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