Del Turner | Candidate Questionnaires - Chatham County | Indy Week

Name as it appears on the ballot: Del Turner
Full legal name, if different Delcenia Sorrell Turner
Date of birth: 02/28/1949
Home address: 557 Clarence McKeithan Road, Sanford NC 27330
Mailing address, if different from home: PO Box 147 Gulf, NC 27256
Campaign website: (under construction)
Occupation & employer: Retired/ Board member, Chatham County Schools
Home phone: 919-776-0563
Work phone: N/Av Cell phone: 919-200-8569
Twitter handle, if applicable: dsturner1

Chatham County Schools Board of Education Questionnaire

1. 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?

a. Funding- Public schools do not generate revenue. Funding for the operation of public schools including teachers, instructional materials and equipment, transportation and the building and maintenance of school facilities is by law the responsibility of state and local government. Since the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Chatham County Schools has experienced losses in excess of $9,058,219 as well as a loss of positions in the school system that are critical to the successful implementation of our strategic plan for improving student achievement and maintaining a high standard of professional development. Fortunately, under the deft leadership of both our former and current Superintendent, student achievement has not been impacted as evidenced by all seventeen of our schools meeting and exceeding growth this year. Also, the losses in positions were mitigated through attrition rather than termination. Nonetheless, the long term impact on student achievement if funding continues to decrease amid rising operational costs and swelling student enrollment is ominous. An insightful article published in the Indy Week earlier this year highlighted the paradox between the current Republican dominated legislature’s stated intentions of cutting crime rates and increasing work productivity and their policies on education which ostensibly produces the opposite effect. It begs the question, why would legislators elected to serve the people’s interests and who must surely know that an educated work force has been and is the key to the state’s prosperity, gamble with our children’s potential to be productive citizens and workers by, allowing our state to slip from 45th to 48th out of 50 states in per pupil support and teacher pay, allow for-profit companies to operate charter schools with public funds yet be unaccountable to the taxpayers, support unconstitutional vouchers, increase class sizes and in effect minimize the one on one teacher student relationship that is critical to student success? All I can do as a board member is to keep uplifting our children’s accomplishments and support our teachers’ efforts to persevere through this shortsighted and disgraceful assault on their integrity. Beyond that, as an individual citizen, I would be proud to join with the hundreds of thousands of citizens these unscrupulous decisions affect to demand that they cease and desist from this dangerous trend.

b. Restoring a sense of trust in the free public educational system- I strongly believe traditional public education is the right educational system for our country and our state. As an attendee and graduate of both private and public institutions in urban and rural locations, I have witnessed firsthand that public education is the only institution in our society with a legal obligation to accept and educate every child, irrespective of race, creed, religion, disability, social class or family income and because of that has been successful in producing the creativity, innovation and industriousness America is known for. That is why I am an active participant in the North Carolina School Boards Association’s (NCSBA) initiative, “Stand Up 4 Public Education.” NCSBA is a 77 year old organization that provides advocacy, policy analysis and legal counsel on behalf of public education and children. Their initiative is designed to make citizens aware of the historical legacy of traditional public education in the country, particularly North Carolina. However, it is also to “enlist the support of all citizens from across this great state to ensure that the future of public education remains in the hands of the community which it serves,” because attempts have been and are being made including here in Chatham County, to eliminate the election of local school boards by citizens and change to an appointive process instead.

c. Retaining teachers in Chatham County Schools- From 2011 to 2014, 126 teachers have left our school system, some for competitive salaries in other systems, others have left the teaching profession altogether. Fewer teachers have resulted in larger class sizes, combination classes and an undue burden on teachers to produce expected and in my personal opinion, unreasonable outcomes. However, despite the challenges of not having teacher assistants, up to date textbooks or more advanced technology, the loyal and dedicated teachers in Chatham County Schools have exceeded expectations. For the first time in 2014, all of our 17 schools met or exceeded growth; two of our high schools, representing the stratum of socio-economic levels in the county were ranked among the best in the country. As a board member, I interact with the Superintendent and administration to ensure that we are paying a competitive supplement to our teachers and endeavor to find ways of identifying creative retention strategies acknowledge their hard work and let them know they have the full support of the Board and the Superintendent on every personal and professional level.

2. Chatham Park is on the way. Considering the implications this development has for the county’s population and, thus, its schools, how would you work as a school board member to prepare for the changes in store?

Chatham Park presents us with compelling opportunities as well as unique challenges. The Board has begun conversations with the school district administration, representatives from the Chatham Park development, the Operations Research/Education Lab (O.R.E.D), and county commissioners about Chatham Park’s projection of 10,000 additional students in our schools. Once the appropriate studies have been completed we will have a clearer picture of the age cohort range and be in a position to plan appropriately for expansion and/or building of new schools. Our board has the opportunity, if it chooses, to discuss land banking with the county commissioners with a view toward securing land in key locations around the county to meet the growing demand for public schools and to consider such as options as magnet schools or early college as a way of responding to the growing demand for specific skills as a result of the business growth in Chatham Park. We are excited about the possibilities for our children, teachers and staff and the greater community.

3. North Carolina lawmakers approved teacher pay raises in 2014 that offered relatively little to veteran educators in the state. As a local school system leader, how do you work to recruit and retain some of the most experienced teachers for Chatham County Schools?

One of the most persistent problems in recruiting experienced teachers is that we are adjacent to several counties that are able to offer more competitive salaries and greater access to urban centers. As noted previously, we hope the incentive plan we are offering will help us retain the teachers we have and attract more, if more will exist in the future. According to a UNC spokesperson, “the numbers for those enrolled in undergraduate teacher education programs decreased from 15,000 in 2010 to just under 12,400 in 2013, which is a 17 percent decline.” Enrollment in master's programs was also down. These numbers include education majors plus "those pursuing courses needed for alternative licensure." Figures for 2014 are not yet available but it is likely that those numbers will show an even greater decline. That is why I hope to persuade and join with other public education supporters to advocate for a higher standard of pay across the board for teachers. It is not possible to pay them for the invaluable service they offer every day, often at great financial sacrifice, however, making a real time living wage attainable for our teachers is long overdue.

4. In 2014, Chatham County became the only county in the state to offer a district-wide, locally funded incentive program for teachers. If you support the program, explain how you maintain the local funds needed to offer the incentives. If you oppose the program, tell us what you believe is a better alternative.

In order to maintain the funding for the teacher incentive program put into effect during the 2013-2014 school year, it is essential that we have County Commissioners who advocate for and believe in a fully funded public education system as the BOE is reliant on local funding for this initiative. Without the full support of our County Commissioners we will be challenged yearly to find the funding to continue to pay the incentive. I support the incentive program because it is currently the only recourse available for our teachers to earn enhanced compensation and I care deeply about their continued wellbeing. I am concerned, however, that the incentives are tied to the results of high stakes testing and would prefer incentives based on a less arbitrary indicator.

5. 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.

In June of this year, the Chatham County Partnership for Children honored me by presenting a “Delcenia Turner Champion for Children” award to Cindy King, an outstanding young teacher in Chatham County Schools, for her passion for and dedication to the wellbeing of children. I have been an advocate for children and families in Chatham County for over 25 years; I pioneered the first parent focused program here and introduced the concept of on-site child care, which is now a salient feature in most parent programs across the state. I was an active participant for many years in the PTA at J. S. Waters Elementary School and served on the site based management team there where I helped to develop the district’s first Character Education program. I’ve interacted with teachers and parents on a variety of levels in every area of the county and understand the expectations of parents regarding the quality of education they want for their children, as well as the expectations of teachers with regard to parents and children and what children would welcome from both. I think my dual educational experience and life experiences enable me to bring a unique, well-rounded, child-centered perspective to the board. I respect children and attempt to keep up with their trends to interact with them positively.

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

I define myself as a humanist, nothing more, nothing less; I believe in performing courses of action that benefit the greater good. The parent focused program I administered through Smart Smart years ago was an attempt to provide more safety for children by helping their parents and grandparent caretakers gain a deeper understanding of child development. I developed on-site child care to allow parents to participate in programs without worrying about time constraints or added costs for transportation to pick their children up from child care providers. I also employed skilled child care providers and teachers to keep the children in on-site engaged in activities and practicing skills that may not have been available to them at home. Prior to returning to Chatham in 1991, I trained over 450 adult volunteers to develop one on one relationships with incarcerated juveniles and their families to assist them with counseling, court appointments, after school care and post incarceration employment. My present campaign platform is grounded in compassion for children regarding high stakes testing and teacher pay as well as social justice for taxpayers and retention of community control of schools.

7. 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?

We offer dual language programs in three of our schools at present and are extremely proud that our program is internationally recognized. The program not only teaches English to Spanish speaking students but benefits native English speaking students as well. It gives English students one of the two years of a language required for college graduation and/or allows them to enter the job market with a value-added skill. A major obstacle we have yet to overcome is the inclusion of Spanish speaking only parents as stakeholders with the same presence and voice on behalf of their children’s quality of education as English speaking families enjoy. We have hired more Latino/Hispanic instructional personnel and hope to encourage more Spanish speakers’ parents to attend a broader range of school activities as well as board meetings.

8. Chatham County Schools has piloted a laptop program aimed at offering computers for high school students and teachers. Do you support or oppose the program and why? If you support the program, how do you open up the program to offer the technology to more students in the school system?

Our one-to-one student laptop program has been in existence since 2009 and I strongly support providing state of the art technology to all of our students. We live in a digital age where computers are at the core of most everything we do in our daily lives and how we conduct business globally. Our students have a right to access all of the technology that governs our present and their future existence. We offered it to our high school students and teachers first because whether high school students go on to college or enter the labor force, they will need to know how to navigate various applications on a computer to do research, turn in legible assignments or worksheets and communicate with their instructors or employers. Many educators and school officials feel that laptops improve grades, boost critical-thinking skills, increase collaboration among students, help students operate independently and responsibly and provide a high level of interactivity between students, teachers and the subject matter. In addition to our one-to-one laptop program for high school students, we also make laptops accessible to our middle school students on a one-to-one basis during the academic day and we continue to work towards greater access to technology across the full educational environment being mindful that that will depend significantly on funding.

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