Eddie Davis | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Eddie Davis

Candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction


Name as it appears on the ballot: Eddie Davis
Date of Birth: May 8, 1949
Campaign Web Site: www.SuperEddieDavis.com
Occupation: Public School Teacher & Association Leader
Employer: North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE)
Years Lived in North Carolina: 58 Years

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

Beyond the strategic goals that have been developed by the State Board of Education www.ncpublicschools.org/state_board/AboutSBE.html), I believe that reducing the massive dropout rate … increasing productive parental involvement … and insuring safe, caring, and disruptive learning environments at our schools … are some of the most pressing issues facing the State Board of Education and the Public Schools of North Carolina.

I would work to reduce the dropout rate by preventing social promotion if students are not reading by the end of the third grade. In addition, I would encourage more career and technical learning choices for middle and high school students and their parents, without resorting to negative tracking. Also, I would develop plans for cross-district alternative settings to “recapture” many of the dropouts who recognize and are motivated by the mistakes of leaving school too early.

I would institute a new group called P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. (Parents Operating With Educational Responsibility for Understanding and Learning). These cadres of a dozen parents would serve as support systems for themselves and for their students. A coach would be assigned to each cadre to navigate interactions with school officials and to organize a yearlong series of activities that would create positive parental support for the children of cadre members.

In my travels across the state, I would publicize the school staffs that have been trained and listed as being prepared for any incidence of violence by the NC Center for the Prevention of School Violence. In addition, I would promote schools as disruption-free environments and “sanctuaries for teaching, caring, and learning.”

2. 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.

From 1993-2001, I served an eight-year tenure on the State Board of Education. I was the first practicing classroom teacher to serve as a full-voting member of the SBE. During this time I chaired several committees and helped the Department of Public Instruction to launch the annual Closing the Achievement Gap Conference. This conference, which started with 50 attendees, now brings over 3000 conferees to Greensboro each year. After my eight years on the SBE, I was chosen by former State Superintendent Mike Ward to serve as the Chairperson of the Achievement Gaps Commission.

Throughout my 30-year career as a teacher, I have been a leader in the movement to empower teachers and other building-based school employees. I currently am serving my fourth year as the statewide president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). My election to the position of the State Superintendent will be unique because, although it has happened in several other states, it will mark the first time that a career teacher will have reached the top leadership position in the public school sector in North Carolina. Normally the State Superintendent comes from the ranks of school administrators and DPI bureaucrats.

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

I would define myself as a “progressive who works for diversity, inclusion, and empowerment of citizens, especially the traditionally underserved.”

The world that I experienced as an African-American coming of age in the 1950’s and 1960’s gave me the motivation to stand tall for all people … those whose share my experiences and those who do not. As a public school teacher in rural and urban settings, I have worked to expand the experiences and the exposures of young people and their communities. I have stood up for women by helping to bring a women’s history month concert to Durham in the mid-1980’s. This concert featured Carrboro native Elizabeth Cotton and the DC-based group, Sweet Honey in the Rock. I have stood up for members of the gay community by working against the movement to oust former Durham mayor Wib Gulley because he signed a gay-rights resolution. I have been a voice for equity and advocacy for teachers within the NCAE and other groups. I have worked with the Durham Committee and the People’s Alliance on electoral politics. Recently, I helped a group of citizens to persuade a state committee to erect a historic marker in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1957 Royal Ice Cream Parlor Sit-In. In all of these movements, I always tried to include folks from a diverse background.

As State Superintendent, I will continue this advocacy of inclusion. There are numerous programs that I want to initiate as we raise the level of student achievement, increase parental involvement, and advocate life-long learning for students and adults.

As background, please review a late-1985 edition of The Independent Weekly for a cover story on me and other “Citizens of the Year.”

4. 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 addition to the information listed above, I believe that my election will allow students who find themselves on the deficit side of the achievement gaps and the digital divide to see that a person who has a first-hand understanding of their challenges and their plight can work hard and achieve a goal. I am dedicated to the mission of fairness and equity for all, without sacrificing the high standards that will help the collective accomplishments of the entire community. Reducing the dropout rate is a good example of the investment from which the whole state would benefit. Giving students a firm educational foundation and keeping them in school until graduation will reduce crime, joblessness, health disparities, and early deaths.

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

Although school districts have mission statements that celebrate a respect for all groups and individuals, we still tolerate the utilization of school mascots that belittle American Indians.During my first term as State Superintendent, I will ask school boards and communities to develop long-range plans that would eliminate mascot names like Redskins. Yes, some public schools still use these disrespectful and hurtful mascot names. In addition, I would ask communities to develop alternative names for schools that have male mascot names that female teams have to endure. We should never ask a female basketball team to represent a school that refers to them as the Lady Bulls or the Lady Rams.

6. In paying for new schools and other educational needs, what role would like to see assigned to property taxes, impact fees, year-round schools, sales taxes, and other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods?

I would applaud any county or school district that advocated a greater level of financial support for public education. All of these examples are acceptable if the voters approve.

7. The No Child Left Behind Act has set a goal that all students would be proficient in reading and math by 2013-14. Specifically, what can the Superintendent of Public Instruction do to help the schools that didn’t make their AYP? Secondly, what is you opinion on NCLB’s emphasis on standardized testing? Is NCLB a fair and effective program? What can be done to help low-performing schools?

The next State Superintendent should be the state’s biggest critic of NCLB. If every child can be proficient, then why do we have special education classes? This question does not imply that we should not be working as hard as possible to increase student achievement for all students. I am a strong advocate for individual education plans for all students. These plans should include career exploration, home-school planning for college and other options, smaller alternative programs, and dropout prevention.

The next State Superintendent should be the state’s biggest proponent for accountability, but with less teaching to the test and more teaching of critical thinking skills.

The next State Superintendent should influence the Council of State members and the North Carolina Congressional delegation of make changes that would reduce the unfunded mandates that plague the current NCLB.

If I become the next State Superintendent, I will use the model of Governor Terry Sanford’s North Carolina Fund to develop a series of summer programs run by college students to work with the students from low-performing school communities to enhance reading and math skills. Support from the business, industry, and foundation communities will be tapped to fund the summer academies that would emerge from these Freedom Summers.

8. What is your opinion of the 2007 personal leave bill, which, had it passed, would have allowed teachers to take personal leave days without being docked $50 in pay? What guidance would you give state legislators on crafting a bill?

Thank you for including this item. As you may know, I am the president of NCAE and this proposal comes from our legislative agenda. I will continue to advocate and lobby for passage during the short session of the General Assembly. As State Superintendent, I will work with legislators to gradually remove the fee from the backs of teachers.

9. Special-needs and gifted children 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?

The state should increase the amount of funding for exceptional children on both ends of the spectrum. Districts cannot serve all of the students who should be identified and served with the funding that currently exists. I will personally lobby for more funds for this program. Also, very early in my term as State Superintendent, I will call for a statewide assessment of this program to see if the proper numbers of students are being served. I will charge the assessors with the goal of removing students from special education who are improperly placed and to increase the number of students who should be classified as gifted.

10. What steps, if any would you advocate to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students and to reduce dropout rates?

The North Carolina Fund-type proposal that I mentioned at the end of Question # 7 is an example of the innovative programming that I would advocate for at-risk students.

I would suggest that the state invest in more hands-on technical, vocational, and career training centers for upper middle school and high school students. Many of the Tech-Prep programs that current exist require a community college component for completion. The dropouts never get to the community college level. Care should be taken so that these programs do not run the risk of being dead-end tracks. Advance planning should be taken to estimate the careers that are emerging.

As State Superintendent, I will institute a Sons and Daughters of the Phoenix. This program will “recapture” students who have dropped out and have matured to the point that they are looking for a “second chance” for a real high school diploma instead of a GED. Alternative settings would be needed for these programs, so that we would not have 17-21 year old students in the same classrooms as 14-16 year old students.

11. More North Carolina students speak English as a Second Language. How can schools improve bilingual skills in all students – native English speakers included? What funding and teaching resources would the state need to make these improvements?

I believe that larger numbers of North Carolina citizens should have the ability to speak an additional language. Schools need more funding to ensure that students who have other languages as their home language can learn English. Schools also should provide a greater appreciation for the cultures of other languages and other nations. Finally, teachers should have basic Spanish skills so that there can be better interactions with students and with their parents.

12. Some school districts, such as Wake County, have requested waivers for class sizes. What is your opinion of these waivers and under what conditions should exceptions be made? What alternatives could be used to keep class sizes at optimal levels? What teacher-student ratio would you suggest?

As a career teacher, I do not believe that class size waivers should be used except in dire circumstances. 18 students to one teacher is the optimum.

13. Several charter schools are failing or need significant improvement. What is your view of charter schools? Should the current cap on their number remain or be increased/decreased? What additional accountability should be required of these schools?

Charter schools are public schools and, thus, have a right to exist. However, I do not favor the removal of the 100 school cap until and unless more innovation can be realized from the typical charter school. Like traditional public schools, there are outstanding charter schools. However, there seems to be a higher percentage of charters that are low- performing. The academic and the business components of charter school accountability should continue. Newer charter schools can come from the charters who fail to achieve these standards.

14. The Johnston County School District recently banned one book and further scrutinized its library collection for other books it deemed unacceptable. What is the state’s role in evaluating district’s efforts to ban books? What is your opinion of book banning in public schools?

Instead of banning books, local school districts should have policies that allow for alternative reading assignments for students whose parents have objections. The state has a model policy that can be the blueprint for objections that come from parents or community groups. Overall, I do not favor the banning of books.

15. The NC Education Lottery has failed to generate revenues for schools as originally estimated. What is your opinion of using lottery money for education? if you support it, how can schools claim a larger piece of the revenues that are coming in? If you don’t support it, how do you propose to make up for the revenue?

I think the lottery is here to stay. The Lottery Oversight Committee should be called into action in order to provide confidence that the money is not being supplanted and there is fairness to all school districts and to the public schools. No one would want the money that has come into North Carolina’s coffers to, all of a sudden, flow to other states.

16. As a member of the Council of State, you would have input on the issue of the death penalty, including the execution protocol, which was taken up by the Council last year. Do you feel qualified to vote on such issues? If so, how would you vote on the execution protocol and other death penalty matters that may come before the Council? And is the Council of State a appropriate body to deliberate on these issues?

I believe that such protocols should be the domain of the General Assembly. However, if this agenda item comes before the Council of State, I would vote to prevent doctors from participating in executions. Also, I would consistently vote to limit the State of North Carolina’s participation in any form of a death penalty.

Since the Council of State was mentioned, please allow me to comment on the fact that, in the entire history of our state, there has been only one minority citizen to serve in any of the ten top executive positions in state government. 2008 is a good year to vote for a highly-qualified State Superintendent who would add brown eyes to the blue and green eyes that currently look at Council of State issues.

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