Elections » Candidate Questionnaires

Mia Day Burroughs

Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Mia Day Burroughs

Full legal name, if different: Marianna Day Burroughs

Date of birth: 12/15/1961

Home address: 110 Cedar Hills Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Campaign website: www.miaburroughs.com

Occupation & employer: Grant Writing Consultant, Self Employed

Email: mia@4burroughs.com


If elected, what are your top priorities for the school board and how will you achieve them?

While we don't want a single student to drop out, the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School District has one of the lowest dropout rates in the state. We need to continue to work steadily at reducing that rate but I am equally concerned about students who graduate but aren't adequately prepared for college or career. The new Superintendent, Dr. Thomas Forcella, is very focused on working with principals and teachers to continue to improve classroom instruction. I am pleased with this direction because there is no such thing as good enough in this area until all students are reaching their potential.

We also need to continue to refine our systems of support for students to address the challenges that they bring with them to school. Our district has the great fortune of having full-time counselors, social workers and nurses in every school but students still occasionally slip through the cracks. A board priority I will promote for next year is to look at systemic reasons for that and implement solutions.

What is there in your record as a public official or other experience—e.g., career, community service—that demonstrates your ability to be effective as a board member? If you are an incumbent, what are your most notable achievements and how will you build on them? If you aren't, what do you bring to the board that it now lacks? Please be as specific as possible about the relevance of your accomplishments to your goals for the board.

In addition to bringing the lens of "every student matters" to all board discussions, I have also focused on the following:

During my tenure, the Board has had to cut the budget by millions of dollars but has been able to protect students' experience in the classroom. That said teachers and staff are all under tremendous pressure because they are striving to provide an excellent education with thin resources.

I initiated and continued efforts to ensure that the School Board examines its own practices, at least annually, to ensure it is working at utmost efficiency to serve children.

As promised during my first campaign, I have built relationships with other local elected officials to ensure that CHCCS advocates are welcomed to the table when those officials are making decisions that have an impact on our children.

I worked with another Board colleague to ensure that in the event of a "reduction in force" that performance is considered not just seniority. Nearly all of Chapel Hill Carrboro teachers are dedicated, effective educators. In those rare cases when a teacher is not effective, the needs of the students must be our first priority.

I also bring the following life experiences to the Board. I:

was elected to the Chapel Hill Carrboro School Board in 2007.

currently serve as the School Board Vice Chair.

have worked for or contracted with youth-serving non-profits for 24 years.

volunteered weekly in classrooms for ten years.

served on the North Carolina General Assembly Study Commission on Children and Youth.

received a BA in Political Science and Spanish from Duke University in 1983.

The district, employing over 2000 people and serving nearly 12,000 students, is a complex organization that takes time to understand. If the voters return me to office, I will be effective because of my combination of accumulated knowledge and my still-burning passion to ensure that not one of our students gets lost in the system.

The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to the board help further that goal?

I have spent my career working for non-profit organizations that are dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty. My primary focus has been teen pregnancy prevention. In addition, several clients I have worked with over the years are dedicated to preventing youth from becoming involved in crime. Nothing can derail a youth's chances of breaking out of poverty more than an unplanned pregnancy and/or a brush with the law. I will continue to bring my experience and my passion for this work to the deliberations of the School Board. It is my core belief that the schools can't turn around every misdirected kid BUT the schools should never be the institution in their life that dropped the ball.

For the first time in two decades, CHCCS has a new superintendent in Thomas Forcella. What do you hope he achieves in his first year in charge and what will you do to support his efforts?

CHCCS is a very good district that won't be excellent until it serves all its students well. Dr. Forcella has experience at all levels of public education and in several school districts. He will be able to use all those perspectives to objectively evaluate what is working well in our district that we need to continue and what needs to tweaked or abandoned. His first order of business is to get to know the district and community and he is doing that now with great diligence.

Turning toward the future, the district is coming to the end of its current strategic plan. Dr. Forcella will work with the Board this year to guide the district and community in conversation to come to a consensus as to what the next plan will look like. The previous strategic plan was heavily influenced by the goals of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As NCLB becomes increasingly irrelevant, this is a perfect time for the district to find more meaningful measures of success without abandoning the one positive that NCLB had on our district. It, along with passionate advocates, forced us to focus on all students not just the successful majority.

How can the district close the achievement gap? What strides have been made in the past four years, what worked, what didn't, and what should be done now?

I appreciate that the question did not ask for an explanation of why we have an achievement gap. A lot of time and energy have been spent on folks fighting over answers to the question "is it racism or is it poverty?" Other folks have pondered the question of fault: are the schools or the parents causing the problem? I have spent a fair amount of my own time considering these questions and have come to believe that, while we can't ignore our student's needs when coming from a poor household and we can't tolerate racism for a minute, we must focus the schools' resources on meeting the needs of the students where they are.

Over the last 3 years we have seen more growth in reading End of Grade scores among our Black, Latino, Free and Reduced Lunch and Students with Disabilities populations than any other subgroups. While raw scores remain much too low, by growth measures, the reading gap appears to be closing. Math growth measured over 5 years is less clear. See pages 158 to 161 at http://bit.ly/op4MNw for detail. Soon the Board will receive a public briefing as part of a regular board meeting on growth for last school year. Of course, I hope we continue to see the gap closing.

I give particular credit to our teachers who have been working increasingly in Professional Learning Communities to figure out how to help each student. In addition, I believe that the students who are served by the Blue Ribbon Mentor Program, the Youth Leadership Institute and other smaller school-level initiatives have increased odds of staying on track to a positive future. These students receive additional attention and advocacy from positive adult role models. In addition, Boomerang (in partnership with the Chapel Hill Carrboro YMCA), Triumph (a partnership with OPC Mental Health) and Phoenix Academy High School (the district's alternative school) have given fragile students the undivided attention that they need to graduate.

Regardless of the growth and successful programs, the raw scores for these students are still too low for each student to graduate from our schools prepared for college or a career. There is no silver bullet but there are interventions starting at birth that can make a difference. Access to health care and quality birth-to-three programs are out of the purview of the schools but we applaud our partners in the community who keep working to make access to these services a reality for our students. Starting with Pre-K, the district continues to increase its commitment to providing children from fragile households with an excellent preschool experience. Just this school year, the Board's budget increased funding for Pre-K to make up the hole left by state budget cuts to the More at Four Program. Staff members are continually working to align the Pre-K programs to ensure that the students who leave them to enter Kindergarten have the academic and social skills they need to be successful in the academic big leagues.

The heart of what the schools can do for students who are lagging behind is to identify them early, never let them fall through the cracks and provide them with excellent curriculum and instruction. The federal Response to Intervention model has been systematically rolling out over the last three years in our elementary schools. It is designed to change elementary teaching practices to ensure that any deficits that students have are identified and addressed immediately. The Board needs to get an update from staff to get their assessment as how this intervention is working. Until I've heard otherwise, I like the concept but the jury is out on its effectiveness.

Regarding excellent curriculum and instruction, the district is addressing that need on several fronts. North Carolina is one of several states that has adopted the national Common Core curriculum for math and English. Educational professionals from our district have been very complementary about how much better the curriculum appears to be than what is currently mandated by the state. Apparently, it will be much more detailed in a way that makes it much easier for teachers to use. Our district is spending this school year and next summer preparing our staff to implement this curriculum by next fall. In addition, the current CHCCS Board has been very focused on improving literacy instruction particularly for children who don't respond well to the standard curriculum that all students receive. Students are increasingly handicapped as they move up through the grades if they can't read well. By the time they reach high school so much of the work requires the ability to read and understand text that it's no wonder we lose a disproportionate number of students when they reach 9th grade. I believe it is a moral imperative that we do everything possible to prevent students from reading below grade level at any point in their school career.

We also need to understand that there will be some students who will need support throughout their schooling. Federal law gives students with disabilities, including learning disabilities, additional protections and rights at school. I've learned while on the Board that some families do not want their child to receive a label because in the past a label was often a passport to dumping-ground classes. At the same time, we have families with resources who are fighting hard to get their child labeled so that they can exercise their rights. The Special Needs Advisory Council has been considering ways to help all parents see past the stigma so their students can get access to what they need. That work should continue.

Finally, as I stated above, we also need to continue to refine our systems of support for students that address the challenges that they bring with them to school. Our district has the great fortune of having full-time counselors, social workers and nurses in every school but students still occasionally slip through the cracks. For example, a few years ago the Board was hearing an appeal from a high school student who had been suspended. The Board receives a transcript in these situations and it was clear that this student had been having severe academic trouble for several semesters. I asked what interventions had been tried for this student and there was no answer. Apparently, she had moved here at the beginning of sophomore year and no one had noted that she was failing several classes. The high schools have been working since that time to develop more comprehensive flagging systems. That work needs to continue until not one single student falls through the cracks.

How do you make sure that despite budget difficulty, the district will push past the status quo and achieve more? What more needs to be done to help support teachers?

I am proud of the excellent fiscal stewardship of the Chapel Hill Carrboro School Board and its staff. Over the years of the Great Recession, we have cut millions from the budget without harming student experience significantly. I don't believe there are any more areas that can be modified without hurting students. We cannot endure more funding cuts and will no doubt have increasing expenses that we can't control in the area of health care and other benefits. Fortunately, Dr. Forcella came from a district that also had a tight budget so he is able to look at our staffing patterns and programs with fresh eyes. I look forward to his suggestions about what we might do differently with existing resources to serve students better. In addition, I can never express enough gratitude to our teachers who keep working hard for students even though they haven't had a raise in three years. Finally, I am grateful to our County Commissioners and the voters who put them into office for their loyal support of education.

How will the policies you push, if elected, help develop students for the new economy? What kind of nontraditional education is now needed and how would you help provide it?

I will answer this question with one of my own. What will the new economy look like? Economists are debating whether we are in a temporary situation in which we temporarily don't have enough jobs for everyone or whether we are in a long-term structural shift. In the short run, we do know that as the population ages there will be an increased demand in the health care sector. We also know that there are fewer and fewer jobs which pay a living wage and which workers can get without some education beyond high school. Our first priority needs to be focused on getting our students ready to access additional education whether it's at Durham Tech, UNC-CH or University of Pennsylvania. I had an opportunity to speak to top leaders at Durham Tech recently and asked a question that I have been wondering about since I realized that some of our graduates leave us with a 1.5 grade point average. I asked whether CHCCS students who attend Durham Tech, through our joint Middle College program or after graduation, are prepared for Durham Tech coursework. I was pleased that the anecdotal response was yes but we need to also look at their data to make sure that is and continues to be proven by the numbers.

How should student discipline be handled? What are your views on the district's current policies for long-term suspension? Do you think they are fairly applied? How would you ensure those children who are long-term suspended are given an opportunity to be educated?

At the middle and high school levels, the District is collaborating with the YMCA to implement the Boomerang program for short-term suspended youth. Boomerang, which started in January 2006, is a critical intervention because it puts these kids in the hands of caring adults who assess the students' strengths and challenges in and out of the classroom. It also works hard to include the family in the program. I believe students who are suspended usually need more intensive programming than is provided in a typical school day so the launching of this program has been a great step in the right direction.

Long-term suspended students are automatically admitted to Phoenix Academy High School although they can refuse that placement. I have been told that students who have qualified to go back to their home schools after the suspension period was over often chose to stay at Phoenix because they like the faculty and the individualized attention. Phoenix has been critical over the years in providing students with a non-traditional setting that assists them in getting back on track.

What would you do to increase parental involvement in the schools? What should be the nature of that involvement? Where should the line be drawn?

Parents need to reinforce the importance of learning by asking their children questions about what they are doing in school and how they can help them. When parents have flexibility in their schedule, it is valuable for the children to see parents working on projects that benefit the classroom or the school as a whole because it reinforces to children that parents value education. Fortunately, in the Chapel Hill Carrboro schools we have large number of parent volunteers and, as far as I know, those parents have behaved appropriately when on school grounds. The only line I would draw is that parents should have the same expectations we have for the children: they should be respectful and they should behave in a safe manner.

Another avenue for improving parent involvement is building teacher/parent relations. While a 2010 survey showed that the vast majority of parents are happy with their child's school we still have parents who remain uncomfortable in our schools. It is very helpful if teachers contact parents with something positive to say about their child well before the first report card comes out. Teachers and parents won't be able to build trust if it they have to start on a negative note.

As Chapel Hill's population continues to grow, what should guide future school planning? Can the district afford and obtain the land necessary to build these schools? How should the district manage its growth? How does redistricting fit in?

In North Carolina, the County Commissioners are responsible for providing funds for land purchases and school construction and maintenance. Towns and counties are responsible for managing growth if they choose to do so proactively. The schools are tasked only with serving the students who arrive at our schools each year. I believe this is why it is critical to build excellent communications with and between town and county leaders so that each body understands the impact of their development and financial decisions on each other and, of course, the students in our schools. In our County, we do have a multi-government agreement called SAPFO (Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) that that gives the schools the option of essentially stalling development if schools are projected to be over capacity at the time of the development in question. The schools have never exercised that option because our County Commissioners have remained true to their commitment to build new schools when the SAPFO projections indicate there is a need.

Regarding redistricting, the School Board can choose to do a "spot redistricting" to alleviate crowding in one or more schools by moving students to other schools with more capacity. This method doesn't work, however, when nearly all schools are at or over capacity. Then there must be a new school built and the district must redistrict a larger percentage of students to fill the building.

Incidentally, the Board with my absolute support remains committed to balancing schools by socioeconomic status and more recently by achievement levels. These efforts have been thwarted a bit recently by the quick turnover of graduate student apartments to family housing but I will advocate and feel confident our board will support trying address this issue when we do the next full redistricting for Elementary #11 which will be located in the Northside neighborhood. County Commissioners have given their commitment to providing funding to allow Elementary 11 to open in 2014-15.

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