Del Turner | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Del Turner

Chatham County School Board, District 3


Full Legal Name: Delcenia Sorrell Turner

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Del Turner

Office Sought/District: School Board Member District 3

Date of Birth: February 28, 1949

Home Address: 557 Clarence McKeithan Road, Gulf, NC 27256

Mailing Address (if different from home): PO Box 71, Gulf NC 27256

Campaign Web Site: (under construction)

Occupation & Employer Retired

Years lived in Chatham County: 19

Home Phone: 919-776-0563

Work Phone: N/A


What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school system. If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

I believe the mandate of school boards, along with superintendents is to set the vision for the schools and in doing so, shape the social and economic future of any given society. As public schools by definition, imply community involvement, every citizen in any given community has a stake in producing literate, creatively intelligent, moral citizens to replace them. Parents have the obligation to instill a readiness to learn in their children before they hand them over to teachers for the first 25 years or more of their lives. However, like many other public schools across the country, Chatham County suffers from an excessive lack of parental involvement. The situation unfairly forces teachers, our most essential public servants to assume the role of being surrogate parents, disciplinarians and social workers in addition to their teaching duties. This devalues their position in society, resulting in tensions flowing between the two worlds children are subject to. Not only does it inhibit the children's desire to learn; it also often goads them into hurting each other through words or deeds. If I am elected, my main priority will be to help the board aggressively pursue a reconciliation of that necessary, esteemed relationship between parents and teachers. I would like to see those efforts culminate in a consensual written pact of cooperation between both parties that enhances the well-being and academic success of every child.

The second issue facing public schools is closing the Achievement Gap. I view the reality of the gap as a direct consequence or effect of my first issue. However, because the recipients of public education commonly form the dominant working class group and persons of color the largest sub-group, the economic sustainability of the country is at tremendous risk if the issue is not resolved. To date, remedies purportedly designed to address the problem, specifically ABC's and No Child Left Behind, do not address the problem in a definitive way, or based on the methodology, not at all. Instead, the achievement gap is used as a sort of baseline for measuring the quantity of learning, not the quality of the process.

The failure of these programs to address the much insulated achievement gap is that while test scores for marginal students are indeed rising albeit very slowly, scores for smart children are progressing hardly at all; that is a recipe for disaster. I certainly think it is prudent to assess where our students stand academically once or twice a year. However, limiting what is taught to what is tested, or as it more commonly known, "teaching to the test" seems a little unethical to me. In addition, concentrating only on reading and Math clearly diminishes the value of other disciplines such as, history, art and music, agricultural sciences, etc. It deprives children of their fundamental right to a well-rounded education of their choosing. If I am elected, I will support the Board's efforts to do everything in the purview of their authority to meet testing standards mandated by the state, without compromising the integrity of a broad, diverse well-rounded educational curriculum all children can appreciate.

The third issue facing public schools is the lack of financial resources to create innovative challenging 21st century classrooms that allow children "personal space." Budget shortfalls are yet another progressive effect of the lack of community involvement. Local governments should not have to shoulder the sole responsibility for building and maintaining schools alone. Business and industry, as well our acclaimed post-secondary institutions have a vested stake in the outcome of public school education as well. If I am elected, I would encourage the Board to present the legitimate case for expanded gratuitous community involvement to RTP, small corporations and businesses, UNC, Duke and other entities with the resources to make every public school building a safe, state-of-the-art facility that nurtures children's' sense of security and increases their inclination to learn all they can.

What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

As a parent volunteer in NYC and North Carolina schools for over 30 years, I contributed to the development and administration of educational programs for children as well as adults, generated community involvement and fostered trends towards cultural interaction, enrichment and understanding. In one such project during the early 70's, I developed a Basic Journalism Skills after school program for third and fourth AGI students at the behest of the principal of P.S.80 in Queens NY that evolved into a school newsletter and radio broadcast funded by merchants in the area. Another project in NC was funded with a $24,000 grant from the Chatham County Partnership for Children, to develop a parenting program aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect in families with children zero to 5 years. The project also offered GED instruction, parent-child computer literacy classes, bi-lingual studies and cultural interaction. As a member of JS Water's site-based management team, with a view towards increasing civility and respect among the students for each other and their teachers, I was instrumental in the development of the Character Education program in our K-8 school.

How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am first a humanist. Therefore, I respect all points of view if they are based on truth I can see and understand. However, I believe other people would define me as a moderate with a political philosophy rooted in Democratic Party values. I advocate for and support human rights and full equality for all men, women and children irrespective of race, creed, ethnicity or religion. I am a team player who encourages others to practice inclusiveness also.

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

In building a just community, one has to take into account the traits being modeled for the children that will assume ownership of that community one day. My election will model the benefits of employing diversity in decision making and planning. It will also enable them to develop both a self-identity and community identity rooted in confidence.

Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I revere teachers; they unarguably have the most important, most fragile responsibility in the world and I feel society should place them on a pedestal and keep them there always. That said however, I feel some teachers have outlived their usefulness in a classroom and are selfishly using "career status" (formerly referred to as "tenure"), to hang on to jobs they are no longer suited for. Also in the long cycle of devaluing education, some bad apples have been allowed to creep into the barrel to exploit children and use "career status" to leverage grievous wrong-doing. I would like the board to revisit the criteria for "career status" and make adjustments that will allow teachers beyond a certain age and capacity to retire in dignity and weed out those teachers with insidious intent.

In paying for new schools and other county needs, what role would you like to see assigned to:

Property taxes? I do not want to see taxpayers overburdened with property taxes when business and industry can help pay for and maintain new schools.

Impact fees? Rather than increase impact fees to pay for schools, I would prefer seeing a tax that would be proportional in respect to the value of the house.

Year-round schools? I am not in favor of year-round schools. As it is, children spent eight to ten hours traveling to school and in the classroom, then spend another two to four hours on homework and studying. They are only allowed 25 minutes for lunch during the day, which is unhealthy. I do not know any adult working on a 40-hour a week job who would accept having only a 25 minute break. Learning is a job in itself and the brain needs more than 25 minutes of relief. I do not know any adult working on a 40-hour a week job who would accept having only a 25 minute break. Learning is a job in itself and the brain needs more than 25 minutes of relief. If elected, I would advocate for more lunchtime as well as an additional half hour free exercise time outside after lunch to prevent obesity. Instructional time could be adjusted to accommodate this change. It may even prove to be conducive to a child's receptiveness. Children should not be held accountable because adults made and/or accepted flawed decisions concerning education.

More charter schools? I would like to reserve my opinion until I have visited all of the charter schools in Chatham.

Sales tax? Sales taxes are collected under a system that utilizes zip codes to proportion the monies back to the area. Chatham has at least five mailing addresses with different zip codes. Therefore, unless the zip code is specifically for Pittsboro, Siler City or Goldston, the funding may not come into Chatham. Therefore, utilizing a sales tax to pay for schools would not be reliable.

Other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods? This is an area where more community involvement could be useful. Otherwise, I would favor cutting some non-essential staff positions rather than limit instructional services for the children.

Do you believe Chatham County schools are understaffed?

DPI assigns teachers and school personnel based on the population of the schools and they would most likely say schools are not understaffed. However, if you ask a nurse or counselor who works in a school, the answer would be "Yes." Many school nurses are overwhelmed by taking care of children with chronic diseases such as Diabetes, sports injuries or giving out permissible medications. Counselors on the other hand are responsible for testing, recruiting and training proctors, etc., leaving very little time for counseling.

What steps, if any, would you take to reduce the dropout rates, and improve college admission rates?

According to statistics, dropouts usually leave school in or about the ninth grade. This does not prepare them for their individual role in society or to be a vital agent in collective society. They need to be inspired with interesting and motivational challenges earlier in school. For example, I would recommend to the Board that we introduce age appropriate civics in the K-12 curriculum. This will introduce children to their inevitable destiny of being a citizen of the United States, as well as the privileges and laws they will one day oversee, amend and change. I hope that the curriculum would be structured to provide an avenue of discussion between children and parents and more interaction between parents and teachers. Children may get an opportunity to turn their classrooms into states of their choosing and in the sixth and seventh grades countries of their choosing. I would also recommend introducing basic philosophy in the 7th grade. Encouraging students to begin to think about themselves, their relationship to others and perhaps what they want out of life may have a positive impact on a student's decision to remain in school and attend college.

Spanish speaking students present unique educational challenges to the district. Evaluate how the district is meeting the needs of these children. How could the district better meet their needs? What are the obstacles to these goals and how can they be surpassed?

According to a District spokesperson, Spanish students are meeting End of Course (EOC) and End of grade (EOG) standards as outlined by the state. However, the "Newcomer Program," which was designed for immigrants who speak no English is dismantled due to a lack of participants, some of whom have moved away. The economic recession over the past few years has also deterred immigrants from enrolling in the program. Those that do are generally in schools with smaller populations of Spanish speakers and are now mainstreamed into classrooms where regular content is being taught. However, Chatham County Together, a community organization fills in the gaps by offering family advocacy and support services. The only way to overcome obstacles for Spanish speakers trying to learn English is to develop a true bi-lingual program.

The School Board has recently updated and revised their Drugs and Alcohol policy with stronger consequences for students who violate the rules. Do you believe drugs and alcohol pose a threat to Chatham County students, and if so, what steps will you take to see that the policy's rules are backed and enforced?

I definitely believe drugs and alcohol pose a threat to Chatham County students and I would hope that by increasing parent involvement, incidences of abuse would cease.

However, in the real world, young people can obtain access to these substances very easily, so it is good that schools have a policy that discourages substance abuse.

Chatham County schools policy pertaining to Alcohol and Drug Abuse is the most common sense yet compassionate policy I have heard of. There are reasonable penalties for the abuser. The first offense is eight days suspension, which can be reduced to five days if the abuser seeks counseling from a substance abuse professional. Offenses are cumulative over time with the third one resulting in expulsion for a year. However, the prime directive here is to provide opportunities for the abuser and his/her family to get help for the problem. I can surely support an initiative that puts people first. If elected, I would do my best in situations like this to make sure the student and family know the school is there to support a successful recovery.

There have been discussions about Chatham schools moving towards a "digital learning environment;" does Chatham County need to invest in technology for the classroom (including iPads for students) when the budget indicates staff positions will be cut in the 2011-2012 school year?

I definitely want children to have access to state of the art technology. Digital learning can certainly empower students by allowing them to use technology to think critically and develop problem-solving skills. However, I would not be in favor of throwing new technology at them until they learned to master thinking critically and problem solving the old-fashioned way, on their own. Technology would then be a useful tool for enhancing and advancing their thinking processes instead of substituting for them.

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