Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Campaign website: saussyforschools.com
Occupation & employer: Corporate Development & Strategy, GlaxoSmithKline
Years lived in Chapel Hill/Carrboro: 10
1) Given the current direction of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?
The Board of Education, along with district administration is in the process of instituting new policies and programs, which, once fully implemented, will address many of the challenges facing the district today. I believe that we are generally on the right course to provide a high quality education to all students in the district. These efforts include Project ADVANCE to provide a better system for recognizing and rewarding our teachers to help with recruiting and retention, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to help at-risk students and reduce racial disparity in school discipline, and work on improving the rigor and delivery of the curriculum to benefit all students.
2) Please identify the three most pressing issues the school system faces and how you will address them.
Recruiting and retaining the best teachers – I will continue to work with the rest of the BoE and district administration to implement the Project ADVANCE career and professional growth model.
Closing the achievement gap – I will continue work with the rest of the BoE and with the district administration to eliminate racial disparities in discipline, identify and assist at-risk students earlier, and implement an improved curriculum.
Aging and crowded infrastructure – I will work with the rest of the BoE and the district administration to communicate the district’s needs and garner the community’s support for capital funding. I will also work to ensure that funds are utilized in the most efficient manner, and address the most critical safety, capacity, compliance and access needs first.
In my nine months of service to the Board, I have worked hard to understand the full range of issues facing the district and to address them in a collegial and transparent manner that best serves the entire district, not just a single constituency. Prior to serving on the Board, I served as a member of a successful advocacy group for a district-wide program, and later as the Parent Chair of the Glenwood School Improvement Team where I advocated for changes to a redistricting plan that would best serve the needs of the school community and the district as a whole.
4) Please give one specific example of something you think the Board of Education has done wrong or that you would have rather done differently in the last year. Also, please tell us the single best thing the town has done during that span.
The district needs to do a better job addressing weather-related closings, and timely communications of what is happening and why. We are hamstrung by the law governing opening and closing days, but we need to work more closely with the city and county to provide alternative and safe bus routes during snow/ice events, and ensure that school grounds are prepared to receive students. The work done on the 2015-16 calendar should reduce the likelihood of having to attend school on Saturdays or holidays, but the final answer will only come from return to local control of school calendars and an alternative to the fixed routes we currently have for moving students.
The best thing we’ve done this year is support the administration’s work on implementation of Project ADVANCE. As requested, the details of the program have been supplied to the state. Hopefully it becomes a template for teacher’s growth and career progression along with reward and recognition for achievement by other districts and the state as a whole.
5) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?
I embrace the progressive political philosophy.
6) The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?
If returned to the School Board, I will continue to work to provide a sound education to all students, especially in the area of closing the achievement gap, so that racial and socioeconomic differences are not the impediment to success that they currently are.
Please address, in detail, the following major issues in Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools:
7) While North Carolina lawmakers have approved some modest raises for teachers in recent years, teacher pay continues to lag behind most states in the country. What would you do as a local school board member to offer incentives for high-quality teachers to remain in the school system? Please offer specifics.
Project ADVANCE, which offers a clear path growth and career progression, is an excellent solution to the problems of recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. Realizing the full potential of this program is going to require more financial support from the state. While we have gotten tremendous financial support from Orange County, we are going to have to advocate for the state to roll back the recent cuts to education, and return funding to the relative levels we had prior to the recession.
8) Where do you stand on the ongoing debate over the Common Core curriculum in North Carolina? If you would support doing away with Common Core, please explain what you would substitute.
Contrary to the hyperbole surrounding Common Core, it is not a curriculum, but a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help all of our students succeed. I support the goals of the Common Core Standards, and the work that we are doing to implement an improved curriculum to achieve those goals.
9) Orange County is expected to consider a $125 million bond referendum next year with the stated goal of paying for infrastructure improvements for local schools. Many school officials say that spending amounts to less than half the total needed for aging school facilities. Considering budget constraints, what kind of innovations can you offer as a school board member to help manage these costs?
First of all, it’s worth noting that this money would not be committed all at once, but over a ten year span in the proposal from CHCCS, so we hope that future borrowing capacity will allow us to get the full request over time. The CHCCS plan is already a creative one, in that by adding capacity during the renovations, it pushes out the need for new schools past the ten year budgeting window, making the net cost during that span only $103 million. Even so, the proposed bond will not be sufficient to meet all of CHCCS’ needs, so we will have to focus on the renovations that will have the greatest impact on safety, capacity, compliance and access.
10) Racial academic disparities are a perennial problem in every school system. Please provide fresh ideas you have for addressing this long-running problem.
The first problem to solve is the disparity in discipline. Students that are not in school cannot learn. Positive steps are being made through the PBIS program, but we need to do more here. We also need to better serve the community through identifying and supporting at-risk students earlier and address learning gaps in K and 1st grade rather than waiting until 3rd grade as prescribed by the Read to Achieve regulations. Budget constraints are unlikely to allow this, but extending the school year to reduce learning lost during the summers would be a useful tool. Finally, we should expand the work that is being done through Phoenix High School and the Bridge Program.
11) Schools in the 21st century face the task of educating an increasingly diverse student population. What about your background has prepared you to lead a 21st-century school system, knowing the unique challenges students from different backgrounds face in the schools?
I am employed by a multinational company and interact every day with people from a wide range of cultures, both within GSK and in other companies that I work with. This gives me a clear understanding not only of how to work across cultures, but also of the type of education we must deliver for our students to be successful in a global economy. I’ve also seen firsthand from volunteering at my children’s elementary school how children arriving in school from around the world cope with differences in backgrounds, languages, and preparation for school.
12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
I think the BoE needs to do a better job of addressing the impact that district-wide programs (e.g., dual languages, LEAP) have on individual schools. Such programs need a long range plan for accommodating their growth such that overcrowding and the need or call for moving the program or redistricting other students occurs with less frequency.