Christine Kushner | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Christine Kushner

Wake County - Board of Education (District 6)


Name as it appears on the ballot: Christine Kushner

Party affiliation, if any: Democrat

Campaign website:

Occupation & Employer: Self-employed writer and policy analyst

Years lived in NC: 44 years

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?

Academic progress for our schools has been stalled, and we need to get our school system back on track. Our public schools build our economy and strengthen our neighborhoods. We must ensure that all schools remain high-demand schools, giving all of our students a strong curriculum with effective teachers. With growing enrollments, Wake County needs to make sure every seat is filled. Under-enrolled schools drain public resources while over-enrolled schools drain students, teachers and administrative staff.

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

Top priorities: (1) transparent and reasoned leadership on the Board of Education; (2) balanced student enrollments to avoid "have and have not" schools; (3) an effective, professional Board that focuses on academic success for all students.

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?

Wake County has been my home for more than 21 years. A native of Fayetteville, where I attended public schools, I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Morehead Scholar and have a Master's degree in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. After graduate school, my husband and I returned to North Carolina, where I have worked as a professional policy analyst and freelance writer.

As an active supporter our schools for the past 11 years, I have rolled up my sleeves and worked as a classroom tutor as well as PTA President and served on School Improvement Teams, on two Board Advisory Councils (as Chair of District 4 and current Member of District 6), and on the Superintendent's Parent Advisory Council. In several of these capacities I have worked on school policy—with teachers, principals, and under three superintendents. I value public education and I understand policy making. My work experiences, combined with my extensive and recent involvement in our schools, demonstrate that I will be both a leader and an advocate on the School Board who will work hard to solve the challenges we face.

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?

My political philosophy is driven by a belief that we are all connected to each other, in a community. I attempt to let the values that underlie this belief guide all of my decisions both personally and professionally.

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 in public service and have more than 20 years of involvement in our community. I also believe in public education and the purposes it serves. Effective Board of Education members serve all Wake County students and residents. An efficiently run school system is good for Wake County, increases our property values, reduces taxes, and creates a strong workforce for the future. Most importantly, high quality public education creates an engaged, informed, and vibrant community.

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?

Wake County can and must balance student stability, achievement and proximity in any assignment plan. However, academic success for all students must be the top goal of any student assignment plan. I feel we need to expand parent choice to allow more parents opportunities to enroll their children in schools with special programs, such as magnet enrichment, global learning, STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics), or a small schools model. These types of programs will keep many of our schools from being under enrolled and thus will maximize the use of our tax dollars for public education.

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?

Under the current proposed plan, I support assigning seats in magnet and achievement schools in order to have balanced enrollment in our school system. Contrary to the seeming promises of some members of the current board that every child should be able to walk to school, downhill both ways, the simple fact is that we currently do not have the capacity to allow all students to attend their most proximate school. Schools have not been built in that manner. If that is a priority, then the construction of new schools should focus on that problem. Policy solutions should fit specific problems, not political agendas.

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?

I will place a high priority on reducing the achievement gap. One key to student achievement is an effective teacher. I want to support our teachers and create productive learning environments for teachers and students. With effective teachers and relevant curriculum, our schools can engage students and set high expectations for all students, spurring achievement.

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.

Staff members at WCPSS estimate that we will need an additional 30 schools by 2020. While continued economic growth in Wake County is good news, we have to maintain our quality school system if we want companies to expand job creation or relocate here and bring their families. I support developing a clear and transparent public process to help us develop a plan to prepare for growth. I will work to make sure we use every available seat and I also support innovative ways of reusing existing buildings for schools.

Whether we expand four-track year round schools in Wake County depends on the next construction bond. Wake County has a high number of four-track year round schools for two principal reasons: First, our area's high growth rate, due in part to the quality and attractiveness of our community, but, second, our lack of financial resources to meet the needs of this high growth, due in large part to a failed school bond in 1999, which delayed the County in building needed capacity. I value parents having a choice to enroll their child in four-track year round schools. But I also value parents having the choice of a traditional calendar. I do not want us forced to have too many year-round schools if a school bond fails in 2013 or 2014.

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?

I favor seeking more resources for our school system. We have added more than 3,300 students since last year with no additional money. Our teachers have seen their salaries stagnate. I will seek out public/private partnerships with local business, corporations, and nonprofits to augment the programs at our schools. Board members also should advocate for greater educational investment at the state level, as well as the local level. Our children and teachers are worth it.

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?

Members of the WCPSS Board of Education must focus on strengthening WCPSS public schools—period. I believe charter schools should continue to serve their original intent as incubators for innovation for public education and continue to try out new ideas. I oppose tax credits for private schools.

As you look forward, what major changes (e.g., longer school days, year-round schools, 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?

Board members can use their positions to advocate for improving public education on all levels. I would like to focus on injecting greater critical thinking skills into the way students learn and are taught. Future jobs will not require bubble tests, and students need to learn how to collaborate and navigate the information age. Increased standardized testing pushes out more creative learning.

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

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