Elections » Candidate Questionnaires

Susan P. Evans

Wake County - Board of Education (District 8)

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Susan P. Evans

Party affiliation, if any: Democrat

Campaign website: www.evansforwake.com

Occupation & Employer: Swadesh Chatterjee & Associates; Accountant

Years lived in NC: 53


Given the current direction of the Wake County school system, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what are the specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?

It saddens me to say that I do not believe that things are generally on the right course in the Wake County school system. Over the past two years, our community has watched the School Board become divisive and dysfunctional. Today's Board is personally and politically polarized, ideologically driven. Instead of thoughtfully dealing with issues, the Board majority has ignored data and parental input, and brought unwanted ridicule to one of the highest performing school systems in the country. Despite subordinating all educational priorities to the single-minded agenda of reinventing student assignment in Wake County, the Board majority has failed to deliver a coherent and sustainable student assignment policy. To add insult to injury, they also declined to ask the County Commissioners to keep per the pupil funding levels constant in the coming school year. As a result, we're adding approximately 3800 new students in the 2011-2012 year, with no additional money to support them, which decreases our resources for all the students.

If elected, I will advocate for the following major changes:

A return to good governance. Effective school boards collaborate and work towards consensus, and use facts—not conjecture—to make sound decisions for the good health of our schools. Healthy debate is what is called for, not name calling or a partisan agenda.

A reprioritization of student achievement. We need to settle the student assignment question so that it no longer undermines a countywide focus on student achievement.

Better planning for growth. High growth areas, such as the western part of the County, continue to struggle under the weight of rapid growth, and lack adequate seats for students.

Adequate funding for every student. It is simply unacceptable to continue to underfund our schools.

More professional staff development. Teachers are the key to student success; we must ensure that our teachers are prepared to offer the highest instructional quality for every child.

Building stronger relationships between the Board, teachers and staff, and the greater Wake County community.

Protecting and expanding the magnet program to open up additional opportunities for our students

A thorough review of and informed debate on Board policies, rules, and procedures, including Policy 6230 (Assurances of Appropriate Services for Academically Gifted Students).

In your district, please identity the priority needs as you see them.

Challenging courses and programs that allow students to excel. Many people in my area are asking for stronger support for their academically gifted children and I would make it a high priority on my agenda. It is an important issue that requires community input and thoughtful consideration. I look forward to focusing on this and all efforts to strengthen the academic experience of all the children in Wake County.

Accommodating growth – an adequate number of schools with high quality resources are a must. Top priority: a new high school. Mobile units (trailers) are simply not a substitute for permanent facilities for our students, teachers, and staff.

Assignment stability—as a resident of the Western Wake high growth area, I am very sensitive to the frustrations that have been borne by many families in recent years, as our school system has struggled to accommodate the explosive growth of students in our area.

What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the school board? If you've identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to be an effective advocate for them?

My experience as a business owner, accountant, church leader, teacher and parent uniquely qualifies me to be an effective member of the school board, and to specifically address issues including: program/course expansion, teacher enrichment, growth/new facilities, and building stronger community relationships.

As a parent whose children attended our public schools, I recognize the need for families to have a voice and I will always solicit meaningful community input. My experience as magnet parent helps me envision possibilities for expansion of that program.

As an accountant and someone with significant experience in administration, finance and long-range planning, I am analytical and make decisions based on facts. And as the former part owner and officer of a local residential construction and land development company, I am well versed in issues related to real estate planning and building. With this knowledge, I will be a strong advocate for smart planning that maximizes the use of funding and facilities while addressing our challenging growth issues.

Through my leadership roles in business, civic, and church groups, I know that building strong community relationships creates a network of "stakeholders" whose investment in and support for our schools can strengthen our already excellent system. I appreciate the interrelationship between the quality of public schools and the economic prosperity of our region and will work to keep Wake County Public Schools something of which we are all proud.

District 8 is a great community with parents that actively support our schools and it deserves better representation on the Board. I can offer strong leadership, with better planning for the future and a commitment to excellence for all students.

How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you're a conservative, a progressive, a libertarian, or what?

I don't tend to box myself into a particular classification. If being a progressive is defined as someone who looks for new and innovative ways to continuously improve things, than I would proud to be considered progressive. I'd rather be credited with the ability to make common sense, informed decisions, than to have my decisions tied to any particular political agenda. Teachers and parents want a School Board that makes cost-effective, school-focused decisions, not a Board that implements political agendas.

The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?

I believe a just community provides all of its children with access to a high quality public school education. A just community avoids the creation of separate and unequal schools. We've already learned that separate and unequal doesn't work—it creates a sense of difference that invariably leads to "better" and "worse" schools. All schools need excellent teachers and adequate resources to do their job well.

Please address the following major issues that are before the Wake school board:

How should the school board resolve the issue of neighborhood schools and diversity? Is there a need to balance the two, and if so, how should that be done? Does Superintendent Tata's "Blue Plan" do the job?

I once heard a man deliver a speech during the public comment period of a Board of Education meeting in which he recommended the pursuit of diverse neighborhood schools. He made a good point! I don't know why we have been forced—primarily by the media—to see these two things as mutually exclusive. Most students in Wake County already attend a school reasonably close to their home. Most people recognize the value of diversity in the 21st century. I think it is reasonable to avoid the creation of high poverty schools and that this goal can be pursued while also prioritizing stability in student assignments. It's not either/or. I do feel that it is important that any assignment plan protect against having concentrations of low performing students in given schools and am pleased that students targeted for such schools will have choice options to attend schools with higher achieving populations according the current version of the Superintendant's proposed plan.

If the Blue Plan is adopted, is it important to you that diversity be achieved – as Mr. Tata proposes -- by reserving a substantial number of seats in high-achieving schools for kids coming from other, low-achieving neighborhoods? Or should proximity to a school be the overriding factor in student assignment even if results in some schools with high percentages of low-achieving students?

I think stability should be the overriding factor. Allowing a child to finish the school where he/she starts should be a goal of any assignment plan that we use in the future and I am pleased that is a goal in the proposed plan. There were far too many reassignments in the past, and those upheavals had a big impact on children and their families. Stability—I think most of my constituents would agree—is more important that proximity for proximity's sake. I think people still want the freedom to choose a magnet program, if that is their preference. I also think that giving students whose most proximate school would likely be populated with lower-achieving students the option to attend a higher achieving school is a worthy goal.

What additional programs or resources, if any, do you think are needed to address the needs of low-performing students and close the historic achievement gap between students from affluent and low-income families?

Although we have made significant gains over the last decade in overcoming the achievement gap between students, we clearly have more work to do. To further close the gap, I think we need much stronger emphasis on preschool education. Research has shown that the early years of a child's life are absolutely critical for laying a foundation of academic success. In the K-12 years, students need the benefit of high expectations and a challenging curriculum. Students rise to adults' expectations, so we need to be sure those expectations are high and that the classroom resources are in place to make academic achievement attainable.

What's your view of the need for another school construction bond referendum in the next two years? If one is needed, should be about the same, bigger or smaller than the 2006 bond of $970 million.

We have spent the better part of the past 20 years chasing growth instead of planning for growth. We have several schools that are capped (no more students allowed) and we have 1161 temporary modular classrooms on our campuses, taxing the abilities of the core facilities at our schools. It is estimated that we will need 30 additional schools to deal with severe overcrowding by the year 2010. Finding appropriate land, obtaining construction bids, and securing permits/licenses needed to build a school takes almost three years. It is clear that we have a huge challenge in front of us. I am alarmed that we do not have a thoroughly developed plan for adding seating capacity available for public review today. This is critical if we want the public's support. I look forward to working with the school systems facilities staff and the county finance staff to develop estimates of the dollar amount of future bonds needed. It will then be necessary to make sound business decisions on matters such as these in concert with the views of our citizens.

We all understand the role a great school system plays in attracting new businesses and individuals to this area. Wake County public schools have long been both a source of pride and an economic driver for our community. Employers do not want to locate where schools are overcrowded and lack high quality programs. Deferring the discussion on growth will not make the issues go away. We are simply doing a great disservice to our economic development goals and to the children we are responsible for educating.

The current school board declined to seek additional revenues from the Wake County Commissioners even as the number of students in the school system grew. The result is a substantial drop in per-student funding from the county (on top of state funding cuts). Did you favor this approach? If elected, will you continue the policy? Or seek more money from the county?

In North Carolina, school boards do not have the right to collect revenue, set the property tax rate nor do they have the authority to distribute taxpayer's money. The "banker" for our public school system is the board of county commissioners. It is the responsibility of the school board to request funding to operate our schools from the commissioners. The school board must present a thorough and detailed budget that provides a clear, complete view of the financial requirements for running the school district. It is also incumbent upon the school board to describe the impact that a lack of adequate funding has on our classrooms as they justify their request for funds.

It is astonishing to me that, although our student population continues to grow (we added 3,690 students last year, and an additional 3,800 students are projected to attend this year), the Wake School Board majority declined to ask the County Commissioners for funding for new students. This lack of courage and failure to demonstrate a commitment to excellence will not occur under my watch. I can assure you that as a Board member with significant experience in finance and planning, I will not be shy about asking for the funding needed to assure a high quality of education for our students, and adequate resources so teachers and staff can deliver on the promise of excellence.

At the state level and in Wake County, some advocate for more charter schools and for tuition tax credits for private schools as a way of shaking up the public school system and creating more "competition" for students. Others say this approach undermines the public school system. In this debate, where do you stand?

The purpose of charter schools as established by the North Carolina General Assembly is to be incubators of educational innovation, including modeling the use of new teaching methods and offering expanded educational choices for students—beyond what is offered in our public school districts; they are not commissioned to offer "competition" to our public school system. This approach would be at odds with state law and serve to squander much needed fiscal resources for public education. Yet, as purposed, innovative charters that offer new or unique learning or program strategies can be instructional to our educators.

We're fortunate to have some excellent charters here in Wake County, but it is the potential lack of quality control over charter schools and the high number of charter schools that have failed to provide adequate student achievement results that concerns me. It is imperative that the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction closely monitor charter schools that fail to meet "measurable student achievement results," and act quickly to resolve problems.

In addition, it's important to understand that children who move to charter schools take public tax dollars with them. If students leave a charter school in midyear and return to a Wake County public school, the money is not returned to the County. I do support charter schools—such as Raleigh Charter High School—that are working effectively and adhering to the rules established by the General Statute. However, my preference is for the Wake County Board of Education to look for ways to develop its own innovative programs that make its schools as attractive as any charter school.

As you look forward, what major changes (e.g., longer school days, year-round schools, and pedagogy changes) should be made to public education here and elsewhere in the United States to better prepare students for the world they'll live in? As a Wake school board member, how can you help in this regard?

We need more challenging preparation in math and science or we risk losing our best jobs in science and technology to other countries. In the No Child Left Behind years we have focused on testing only reading and math, we have severely neglected the study of history and science.

Research shows that students with strong k-12 math and science backgrounds are more "college ready," positioning them to not only attend college but to graduate college. Further, a recent study showed that as America is coming out of a recession, we will not have enough Americans completing college—a shortfall of over 3 million. This shortfall shows how very critical getting a postsecondary degree is to America's economic standing in the world. At a time when every job is critical, this shortfall will mean lost economic opportunity for millions of American workers. We must make sure that we are graduating our students and making them "ready" for the next phase of their postsecondary education and training if we want them to contribute to our American economy.

As a school board member I will support policies that encourage strong comprehensive educational programs, not only for math and reading, but in science, history, languages, vocational areas and the arts.


To learn about other candidates' stances on the issues, read their 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.

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