Donald A. Hughes | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Donald A. Hughes

Candidate for Durham Board of Education


Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Donald A. Hughes

Mailing address: P.O. Box 51204, Durham, NC 27717

Date of Birth: 10/21/1987

Campaign Web Site:

Occupation & Employer: Advertising Strategist,

Home Phone: (919) 578-7511 Work Phone: 9(919) 636-6551 x802 Cell Phone: (347) 820-5484


Twitter handle, if applicable: @hughes4ed

1. If elected, what are your top priorities?

If elected, my top priorities are for the Durham Public Schools system are:

• Closing the achievement gap that exists for Black and Hispanic students

• Protecting public education funding and advocating against efforts by the state legislature to cut funding, eliminate teacher tenure, and end vital public education programs

• Improving communication and collaboration between Durham Public Schools and community organizations to improve literacy skills and prepare students for college or careers in today’s 21st century global society

• Reducing disparities in school discipline/suspensions and ending “school-to-prison” pipeline

• Providing effective fiscal oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively and efficiently while supporting district goals

2. What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community service background.

Since 2010, I have served as a member of the Durham Workforce Development Board (DWDB). As a DWDB member, I have worked closely with business, education, and civic leaders to create a workforce system that meets the needs of employers and equips youth and adult residents with the skills they will need to compete for jobs in today’s increasingly competitive 21st century global society.

Prior to serving on the Workforce Development Board, I served as a youth representative on the Durham Juvenile Crime Prevention Council (JCPC) where I worked with community leaders to create strategies aimed at helping young people at risk of juvenile delinquency.

In addition to my service on the Workforce Development Board and Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, I recently earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration (MPA) from North Carolina Central University (NCCU). In completing my master’s degree, I acquired many important skills that have helped me grow into an effective leader capable of making thoughtful and informed decisions, specifically related to the administration of public organizations. These skills—public budgeting, human resources/personnel management, organizational and behavior theory, nonprofit management and more—combined with a record of community advocacy, engagement, and service, uniquely prepare me to serve on the Durham School Board.

Other activities include:

• NC Democratic Party State Executive Committee Member

• Durham Democratic Party Executive Committee/Precinct Chair

• 2012 and 2010 Delegate to Democratic National Convention

• NAACP, Member

• Congressional Intern

3. 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 liberal, rational, and progressive person that believes every citizen has the right to a world-class education, safe communities, affordable and decent housing and the chance to earn a decent living that allows them to provide for themselves and their families.

My political philosophy has shown itself in my past achievements and present campaign platform through my advocacy for public education. I have spoken out against cuts to public education funding (that reduce the number of teachers in our classrooms and resources available to those schools and students most in need). As a member of the Durham Workforce Development Board, I am a vocal advocate for programs that serve our most at-risk youth and seek to create pathways to jobs and not jails for Durham’s youth. Much of my platform focuses on addressing and ending disparities that exist in our public schools and community (suspensions, achievement gap, dropouts, unemployment) through specific measures such as the enactment of restorative justice programs in schools that work to improve student behaviors rather than further the “school-to-prison” pipeline and funding for increased support personnel (e.g. teacher assistants, guidance and career counselors) to help students and relieve some of the pressure placed on teachers.

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

If elected to the Durham School Board, I would be a fierce advocate for public education. I strongly disagree with many recent decisions by the North Carolina General Assembly, which I think undermine and threaten the foundation of public education in our state, and will publicly speak out against those decisions and work to repeal any legislation that does not align with the values of our community. Specially, I oppose school vouchers, the unregulated proliferation of charter schools and attempts to eliminate teacher tenure and enact four-year contracts for 25% of our state’s teachers.

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

I have a record of working to create a just community here in Durham through my service on various boards and advocacy at the local and state level around important social and economic justice issues. As a member of the Durham School Board, I will continue that advocacy and work to create policies that benefit our entire community, especially those often marginalized groups.

6. Minority children and children with disabilities are suspended from DPS at higher rates than their white counterparts. To what do you attribute this disparity? How should this disparity be resolved?

Durham Public Schools has a serious problem with the suspension of minority students and student with disabilities. Research shows that students that are suspended from school are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and eventually come into contact with the criminal justice system. The cost of students dropping out of school and entering the criminal justice system is much greater than the cost of exploring restorative alternatives to suspensions that seek to keep students in schools and classrooms rather than on the streets unsupervised or in jails.

There are many reasons this disparity exists, including large classroom sizes, a lack of support personnel to help students work through challenges and alleviate pressures placed on teachers, internalized racial/ethnic biases that could be addressed through effective cultural competency training and many external social factors (e.g. hunger, mental health, domestic violence) that will require support from our entire community to address.

As a member of the Board of Education, I would work to implement a restorative discipline program that focuses on prevention of conflict and misbehaviors that often lead to suspensions. Restorative practices that actively engage students in the process have proven extremely effective in reducing suspensions in other school districts and are worth exploring in Durham Public Schools. In addition to implementing a restorative discipline program, I would work with other board members to pass a resolution calling for an end to suspensions except when the offense threatens school safety and is a matter of state law.

In a broader sense, I understand the impact that cuts to public education funding have had on our schools. With decreasing resources and support personnel in our schools, our teachers are faced with the great task of teaching while also acting as nurses, counselors and more. We must protect pubic education funding and keep important support personnel in our schools to address the many challenges students face outside of the classroom and help relieve some of the pressure placed on our teachers.

7. The Durham Board of Education recently joined a lawsuit with dozens of other public school districts challenge the law that ends teacher tenure. Tell the voters about your views on this law and the board’s legal challenge to it.

I fully support the Durham School Board’s decision to join a lawsuit with dozens of other public school districts challenging the law that ends teacher tenure. This law, as I stated publicly (as reported by The Herald Sun), is “divisive and threatens the foundation of public education in our state.” The plan to award four-year contracts and monetary awards to only 25% of the state’s teachers is not sound public policy, pits teachers against one another, reduces teacher morale and forces school districts to make arbitrary determinations as to which teachers would receive these contracts. If elected to the Durham School Board, I will support any efforts to challenge and ultimately repeal this law.

8. The General Assembly passed sweeping legislation on education budgets, teacher pay, vouchers and charter schools in the last session. Assess the impact of that legislation, either as a whole or individual laws. Which laws do you agree/disagree with? Why?

I completely disagree with the North Carolina General Assembly’s (NCGA) legislation on education budgets, teacher pay, vouchers and charter schools. Based on their actions, it seems as though their goal is to destroy public education in our state.

A bill approving school vouchers quickly made its way through the legislature last year and we know that vouchers take important funding away from schools districts. This funding could be used to support teachers and other staff and increase student achievement instead of supporting already well-off private schools. While the implementation of school vouchers has recently been halted by court order, there must be a long-term strategy and efforts to repeal this program as it is not a sustainable solution for serving our most disadvantaged students.

Charter schools have a place in our community, but they must be regulated and grow at a measured rate. The recent removal of the cap on charter schools has led to the proliferation of charter schools that place profits over students and we must advocated for the controlled growth of charter schools in our community. Understanding that charter schools have been an important part of our community and in some cases have done a great job in preparing young people for college or careers in today’s 21st century global society, I hope to expand dialogue between local charter school leaders and the Durham School Board in order to share best practices and ensure that our goals (traditional public schools and charters) align with our community’s values.

The NCGA also conceived an illogical plan to award four-year contracts to 25 percent of the state’s teachers in an effort to eliminate tenure. This plan does nothing to inspire our teachers and improve morale. Instead, this plan is uninspiring and pits teachers against one another. I applaud the current school board for opposing these 25 percent contracts and joining with school districts from across the state in challenging this law.

Finally, in passing the 2013 state budget, the NCGA cut over $500 million from public education. This direct assault on public education meant that teachers, teacher assistants and other support personnel would be eliminated from our schools and ultimately led to larger class sizes when we should have been reducing class sizes and working to improve student achievement. The NCGA sent a message to North Carolinians that they did not value public education and would replicate efforts by conservatives across the nation to destroy public education in our state.

All of these actions have done nothing to improve student achievement, reduce the dropout rate, end the school-to-prison pipeline, support teachers, create pathways to jobs or prepare our young people with the tools they will need to compete in an increasingly competitive global society.

9. Several candidates in this year’s school board election have strong ties to charter schools. For candidates with those ties: Why are you seeking election to a public school board? What are the pros and cons of vouchers? How would you respond to perceptions that charter school employees could have an agenda in pursuing election to the public school board? And if you were to share the board with members who are unaffiliated with charters, how would you address your policy differences?

For those candidates unaffiliated with charter schools: Should the state provide vouchers to parents who choose private (K-12) schools for their children? If so, for what amount? What are the pros and cons of vouchers? What is the impact of the voucher program on public schools? And if you were to share the board with members who are affiliated with charters, how would you address your policy differences?

The state should not provide vouchers to parents who choose private (K-12) schools for their children. While I am sympathetic to the concerns of parents who feel as though public schools are not meeting the needs of their children, school vouchers can be problematic for our community in that they take important dollars away from our public schools—funding that could be used to support teachers and students and improve student achievement.

If I were to share the board with members who are affiliated with charters, I would work with them to ensure that our top priority is student achievement. If there are successful models in charter schools, I hope that we are able to constructively discuss those and determine if and how they might be applied to traditional public schools and vice versa.

10. Durham’s school system is facing perhaps one of the most challenging budget years in recent history. What direction will you give to school administration to balance the budget? In what areas would you recommend cutbacks and which services should remain untouched?

With the revelation/discovery of an additional $15 million in the school system’s unassigned fund balance, this year’s budget should not be as challenging as it has been in past years. Even with this unexpected fund balance, we must be sure that we are spending only on those programs that contribute to the achievement of the school district’s goals and that we are doing so as efficiently as possible.

I would ask the school administration to evaluate central office spending for efficiencies such as use of fleet vehicles, limiting technology expenses only to those tools that are absolutely critical to the job functions of central office staff and evaluating bus routes to ensure that buses are not making unnecessary trips on routes where there is no to little ridership.

In regards to services that should remained untouched or expanded, I strongly believe that we must keep teachers, assistants, and support personnel in our schools and classrooms. Under no circumstances should be reducing the number of teachers, assistants, guidance counselors and other support personnel from our schools and classrooms and, as a member of the Durham School Board, I will make this point extremely clear to the administration.

11. The previous superintendent, Eric Becoats, resigned amid allegations of financial irregularities in his office. What oversight was lacking that led to Becoats’ financial questions? How should this oversight policy be rectified? What is the board seeking in a new superintendent? Are there aspects of the search process that could be improved?

The current board could and should have done a better job in providing financial oversight. My formal training in public budgeting would have allowed me to potentially prevent some of these irregularities by recommending specific measure to ensure that taxpayer dollars were handled appropriately. The Durham School Board should require the Superintendent to provide regular (quarterly) updates on the budget and fund balance so that we can actively and in a timely manner evaluate how spending aligns with the goals of the school district and determine if resources need to be adjusted in order to better serve our students and staff.

The new superintendent should have a strong record of success in terms of student achievement, community engagement and financial management. Durham Public Schools needs a leader that the community can have faith in and will serve as a vocal supporter and advocate for public education. Four years ago, as a candidate for school board, I called for an open process that allowed the community to see and question finalists. I have renewed that call and it seems as though the current school board is moving in that direction with their recent search firm selection.

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