Name as it appears on the ballot: Andrew Davidson
Date of birth: 9/10/1973
Occupation & employer: I work for Verizon's Cloud Computing division, Verizon-Terremark, I'm a Data Architect on the Global Problem Management team.
Campaign website: andrewdavidsonforschoolboard.com/
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?
I am not the first or last candidate running for school board to point out that the most significant issue we face when it comes to the public schooling of our community of children is the so-called "achievement gap" - which is how we refer to the difference in academic performance between our wealthiest and our most disadvantaged students. We have consensus even among candidates that this is the top priority our district faces, and we all have different ways of addressing it.
My point of view is that the district has made a good first stride in helping our underperforming Latino students--and they did that with the Dual Language Magnet School newly located at Frank Porter Graham Elementary.
What needs to happen next is a distinct focus on the other stakeholders in our community whose achievement gaps have not been handled, and that's the African American community, and our Karen and Burmese students. They also need access to new methods for helping raise academic achievement. I advocate expanding district-wide summer programs; many studies have shown that economically disadvantaged students are adversely affected by a lack of educational opportunities during the long summer break, and that year-round educational opportunities gives these students a chance to catch up.
2. If you are not currently serving on the school board, what will you bring to the body that it now lacks? If you are an incumbent, what perspective have you brought that the town still needs?
I am technology professional, and so my focus is helping the district incorporate more technology into our classrooms, so that every student in our district has access. I serve on the district's Technology Advisory Council already, a task force that's working on addressing these issues. One of the best ways to address the Achievement Gap is to accelerate the district's One Device per Student Initiative, which ensures that every student in the district has access to relevant supporting technology.
3. In the last four years, what do you feel are the three best accomplishments of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and why? Conversely, what are three things you would have done differently?
It has been a herculean task to maintain our budgets and our impressively high standard of academic achievement in the face of a weak economy and a hostile state government. And the Board has worked mightily to do that. I also think the focus on early literacy has been absolutely essential to this effort and to our district's excellence. Finally, I applaud the district for taking on new disciplinary procedures in light of allegations of racism. It's high time to take a look at those policies for our middle and high school students, and the Board is doing that right now.
What I would have done differently:
I disagree with many of the ways the district handled the creation and development of the Spanish dual language magnet school, and although I'm glad that the dual language students have the resources they've needed for so long, I'm not happy with the way it was decided, either the criteria or the methodology. I speak for the students and families at Frank Porter Elementary both Dual Language as well as traditional education when I say that we were the victims of staff shortages and unfilled positions. And doing better for all of our stakeholders has been a major motivating factor for me: I would have handled the process of creating a dual language magnet school with more foresight, more open communication between the board and the general public, and much less disruption for the teachers, staff, and especially for the students who faced displacement. Going forward, I am going to support the dual language magnet school, and make sure that the district applies the same criteria to helping all of its fragile populations improve their achievement gaps.
4. Indy Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
Well I think insofar as a school district can deliver outcomes that are "just" for the community, it means they are delivering outcomes that are equitable that they're focusing on every child, every community. And as I've said before, I applaud the district's focus on disadvantaged students in the Latino community with the Dual Language Magnet School. And we need more creative, culturally specific programs for our other fragile communities.
5. How do you define yourself politically (i.e. conservative, moderate, liberal, third party, hybrid, etc.) and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am a free market Democrat. I think that social justice and equity are just as important as maintaining fiscal discipline, and I don't think that reckless tax cuts are the same thing as fiscal discipline.
I also think that anger and hyperbole poison the political process at every level. After what was a pretty rough period for my community the process by which FPG was made the DL Magnet School I was faced with the task of serving as the Chair of the FPG School Improvement Team for the subsequent year. I had to bring together people who just six months before had been on opposite sides of a pretty bitter battle. And I helped bring everyone together to a common cause.
6. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools are thought of as some of the best in the state, but state budget cuts have reduced local school funding by millions. How do you, as a local school board member, work within these confines and retain the quality of local schools?
You use every method you can you lobby the County Commissioners to raise property taxes to make up the difference. You put pressure on the State government. In fact just yesterday I was in a respectful but detailed discussion about the education budget with Charles Jeter, a Republican serving in the House of Representatives. And it turns out he is one of the good ones, and he was gracious in conceding that the budget process was lacking. We're certainly not going to make any progress in Raleigh if all we can do is use red-faced hyperbole. You can hold your ground, and forcefully make your point, without descending into a lack of civility.
7. With state lawmakers increasingly viewing public schools as a means for cutting costs, how would you advocate for school funding at the state level?
I think it's important for members of the school board to primarily focus on matters in the district. But I do think that advocating at the state level, as a secondary type of effort, is appropriate. I'm firmly in favor of the board's participation in the School Boards Association and working in concert with other school boards to pressure the state legislature and the governor for more school funds.
8. With the local population continuing to grow, how would you plan out future school construction in a manner within local schools' budget means?
I think that coupled with the recent Facility Study by Moseley Architects something I was involved with when I was the SIT Chair at Frank Porter Graham, a target of the study - there are a lot of construction and maintenance issues that we have to think creatively about.
The big challenge with our older schools is do we fix them and extend their useful lives, or do we raze and rebuild them? I'm reluctant to rebuild, because I've seldom seen a new construction project that stays on budget, but, here's a scenario that I think could be cost effective:
Decide which of the two aging Middle Schools is the best candidate for being rebuilt, by virtue of being too expensive to update. Instead of building a fifth middle school at the site of the rebuilt school, build two separate middle schools on the same site: one to replace the existing middle school, and one to house the Spanish and Chinese Dual Language magnet programs.
Now, I'm not saying the solution is going to look exactly like this. But I think with a bunch of challenges at once aging schools, enrollment growth, shrinking state funding I think we're going to need some really creative solutions.
9. How do you increase parental involvement in local schools?
Well it's a bigger question in Chapel Hill, plenty of parents are plenty involved. Some parents are too involved. (Kidding!) I think the issue is that it's not uniform, and that not all parental involvement is created equal. If we identify which populations we're having difficulty with, we can come up with appropriate methods. Is one population having difficulty because of a language issue? That has a different solution than one where parents work extra hours. But I think it is incumbent of the district to identify those populations.
And the thing is, we have a lot of hard working people in this district who are doing that every day. It's a tough challenge, and like some of the other issues that are still unresolved in this district, it's going to require some creative thinking.