John Tedesco | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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John Tedesco

Candidate for Wake County Board of Education District 2


Name as it appears on the ballot: John Tedesco
Full legal name, if different: John Thomas Tedesco
Date of birth: 1/20/75
Home address: 104 Rock Fish Ln, Garner NC 27529
Mailing address, if different from home: Campaign Address is P.O Box 293, Garner, NC 27529
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Vice President, Big Brothers Big Sisters
Home phone:
Work phone: 919-850-9772

1) What are the specific needs of your school district that you will fight for if election to the board?

Equity in education

Stability for children and families

Closing the achievement gap

Prepare for growth as the southern half of the county enters its age of expansion

2) What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the council? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.

The nature of the Wake County School Board is complex, so broad arrays of experiences are needed and relevant. Board members will need to work with county commissioners, state legislators, and each other. They will need to work with parents, and community leaders. They will need to work with a billion dollar system that employs over 17,000 employees and serves 140,000 children. We need broad visionary leadership, not a career with experiences in one silo. Because of all of that I will share quite a bit here that reflects relevant skills as a leader and an individual committed to community building. This should also aid in answering the following question.

For over a decade I have led complex public organizations, managed multi-million dollar budgets, and positively impacted thousands, while applying conservative values to create social change - real change.

I have been a fierce advocate for children in America, built numerous public/private partnerships, created programs and resources, influenced policy, and moved legislation on their behalf. I have built consensus on complex issues and led during crisis.

Highlights of a Life of Service


  • To help deal with a growing demand in North Carolina, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) brought together several county programs to form Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle. The organization then turned to me to serve as their first Chief Development Officer. In a few short years, this organization grew from serving a few hundred local children to over a thousand by building broad community collaborations. I also serve on the National Development Committee for BBBSA, creating similar solutions for 400 affiliates serving over 250,000 at-risk youths annually.

  • In 2008, I led in the development and implementation of the Healthy Child Initiative where he built numerous public/private partnerships to provide hundreds of at-risk children of Wake County with free access to health care, wellness education, and obesity prevention. We also helped build similar public/private partnerships to establish the Mentoring in Technology (MIT) Learning Center in Downtown Durham.

  • In 2009, after 2 years of direct leadership and driven efforts, I brought together youth crime prevention programs across NC and various state departments (including Corrections, Crime Prevention, and Public Safety) to create the NC Mentoring Children of Prisoners Initiative for 3,000 NC youth.


  • After working for an educational foundation where he traveled the country teaching leadership & scholarship to thousands of students at over 100 colleges and universities, I was selected by Pace University in NYC as a Senior Director in a $55 million dollar campaign for scholarships and institutional enhancements. My success in that campaign earned him a spot teaching public sector development at New York University.

  • I followed that success by being appointed the youngest City Manager in NJ where I led our community to growth and while maintaining a budget surplus. While managing every municipal department, my passion was clear toward helping ensure the growth and success of local youth. We built new parks, playgrounds, community centers, and worked with school officials to enhance their facilities; I did this without increasing the public tax burden. I also spoke annually in each school about being citizens and taking pride in our community.

  • During my administration as Town Manager, our community led the NJ side of the relief and recovery efforts during 9/11. Utilizing our ferry boat system, we evacuated tens of thousands of victims from lower New York City on September 11th, and managed a supply chain of volunteer and material resources for the months to follow.

  • Spend several years leading the development efforts of the famed Harbor House. Here I worked with various State/Federal departments, child services, county and local leaders, corporate partners and community groups, to raise millions of dollars to build homeless youth shelters and create programs that served over 8,000 abused and abandoned children annually.


Received numerous community accolades and serves on various boards. This past year was named a Goodmon Fellow as a graduate of Leadership Triangle reserved for our region's best and brightest.

Currently, I serve on our HOA Board as Treasurer and on the Executive Council for the Wake County Transformation Network (a collaboration of Public/Private agencies helping lower crime by coordinating county efforts to reduce the recidivism rate of ex-offenders).

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

I am a progressive conservative dedicated to community building, committed to a life of service on behalf of others. I believe we can apply the principles of limited government and fiscal accountability while serving our citizens and building collaboration to raise our most vulnerable.

I tell my republican friends and colleagues that we can not simply be the party of "NO" we need progressive solutions to domestic agenda issues. I tell my democrat friends and colleagues that we can not simply throw money at every problem and expect government to solve all of our ills. I tell all my friends that we need to stop looking for the lines that divide us and start looking for the ties that bind us.

My track record above reflects my commitment to these principles. I believe together we can dare mighty things. My platform is rooted in these very standards and it's shared in more detail on our website at

One of the cornerstones of my campaign is a commitment to our new US Sec. of Education Arne Duncan's Community Schools model. It is a model for education that breaks down silos in education and builds broad collaboration to share in the development of our children and reduce costs. I encourage others to learn more about this new thinking in education. On our website there are several links to national models that are implementing it with broad success, or you can visit the Coalition for Community Schools.

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

My commitment is to Community Schools -- some see this as an endorsement of the Obama administration, so fellow Republicans will challenge me. Some see it as a radical step away from tight government controls on education, so staunch Democrats may challenge me. I see it as what is right for our most vulnerable children and our tax-payers. It is a strong commitment to children of poverty.

As a child of poverty myself I understand the challenges these children face. I was a free lunch child. I was shuffled around from housing project to low rent apartments and shelters. As someone who works with thousands of families in these situations today, I can identify with their plight and will never waiver on my principled commitment to our most vulnerable.

We must bring brand new thinking to the tables; we must put the old battles behind us and focus on our real needs. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, as such is a community with its children. So we must design a system that understands that, and addresses it.

5. What's your position on the issue of "neighborhood" schools and abandoning, or changing, current assignment policies that seek to balance student populations in every school ("diversity")?

Again I support a Community Schools model. The reality is that neither the current policy (call it what you will) or the simplified neighborhood model will work independently. We are fighting over old lines and missing the point for today.

I value diversity. In fact, I chose to live in Garner because of our rich diversity and it was more reflective of how I grew up. Diversity is a rewarding goal for our community to strive for in the enhancement of all of us; and our schools have a great opportunity to help us cross cultural and racial divides. However, the socio-economic redistribution of children is not the proper tool to achieve those goals. It inadvertently limits parental engagement, disrupts a child's continuity and self identity in some cases, deteriorates neighborhoods, and increases school conflicts, as marked by our increased violence and drop-out rates.

Those who felt these solutions were appropriate a decade ago, are not bad people. I believe had noble intent. However those intentions were rooted in research limited to the previous understanding of social battles from a generation before. These policies were crafted solely within education silos in the minds of lifelong educational bureaucrats. Today we live in exponential times -- the world around us is evolving fast.

Those who wish to have their children closer to home are not bad people. However we need to realize that we can not turn a blind eye to the fact there are staggering amounts of our children in Wake county living in poverty, as we have grown that number has grown disproportionately and will continue unless we address it head on.

Our schools were designed to serve an agrarian society where children were needed home to help harvest. Today, children do not go home to mom at 2:30 for pb&j sandwiches. Most homes have 2 parent working households, or a single parent working two jobs, or no parent for kids to return home to. So while society has changed our schools have not. The entrenched educational bureaucrats have maintained a single minded focus on mere ways to adjust academics. And now we are left teaching to tests, thus hindering the development of our most vulnerable children. In fact, today the peak hours for violent juvenile crime and victimization are between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM, coinciding with the hours when parents are at work and children are out of school.

We may be able to shift children of poverty around a broad network to dilute the problem, but that does not solve the problem. This is evident. We can tout our gains claiming more schools met AYP (but even by that marker little more than 60% even met adequate proficiency). We need to look at the numbers behind the numbers to the students and not the schools. WE have an achievement gap. One that is significant. Too many of our children are falling behind.

We must look at students and address the great achievement gap we have. When we fail to educate our children we perpetuate poverty, and this will be the civil rights issue of our generation.

6. To limit reassignments and busing distances, some local officials have advocated either splitting the Wake school district or else creating sub-districts with fixed boundaries within it. What's your reaction to these ideas?

We should maintain our advantages of a county wide system such as purchasing power and cost share. We should use this power to better advocate with legislators and DPI on behalf of Wake County families. We should use this power to fight for equity in our various schools and not allow them to be skewed based on which communities are well off.

However, we should legitimize existing boundaries to better empower our regional system with the regional superintendants already in place. We should use these regions to keep our kids from being disbursed out reach of their communities. We should ensure each region has the offerings of all others as choice for parents, including optional year round, magnets, academies and community schools. We can use these regions to ensure equal share of resources and accountability to measured goals of the bigger system.

7. Wake County's graduation rate hovers around 80 percent, meaning that of the students entering high school, about one in five doesn't finish within five years. That's better than the state average, but it isn't great. Should the district be doing more for at-risk students in the earlier grades and if so, what?

We are actually less than that now sliding downward for the 5th year in a row to a graduation rate of 78%. As a whole Wake Co. graduation rates have slipped nearly 10% in 10 years. But again, we have an achievement gap. One that is significant. 50% of our African American boys are dropping out. This drives up crime and societal costs. This is a skewed system that fails to adjust for the needs of children of poverty and in doing so we fail to challenge our most gifted or raise our most vulnerable. Too many of our children are falling behind.

  • Wake County has higher academic achievement gaps between white and minority students and economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students than any school district in North Carolina.

  • Halifax County public schools were excoriated by Superior Court Judge Howard Manning as committing "academic genocide" for doing such a poor job of educating economically disadvantaged students as they had a 67.1% four-year graduation rate for those students in 2007-08. We actually did worse than that compared to only 56.0% for Wake County.

  • In 2008-09, Wake County had a lower percentage of schools achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) than other large school districts in North Carolina. Wake's percentage was 62.8% compared to 68.7% for Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 70.6% for Guilford County, and 64.2% for Forsyth County.

  • End-of-Grade and End-of-Course test results show that since Wake County adopted its forced busing for socioeconomic diversity policy in the 2001-02 school year, academic performance relative to state average has declined.

In 2006-2008 we had 2,296 acts of crime and violence in the WCPSS. The idea that it will all get better if we simply bus poor children to sit next to affluent kids and hope they learn through osmosis is failing us and them. Go inside our schools and they are just as segregated - just look in the lunch rooms at the tables. Busing children to and from home each day into schools where they have no neighborhood bonds of friendship only helps to alienate them more while disrupting the continuity they need. It doesn't have to be this way.

The Community Schools model looks to innovation and collaboration to target poverty like a cancer. It also brings in a more comprehensive approach to education that identifies opportunities for our public schools to aid with early childhood development and parental support and services using the school as a center of community. It does this in a manner that actually reduces costs and produces significant results for all children not just those in poverty.

8. Are new programs needed to help dropouts return and finish high school?

We need to stop them from dropping out. Community schools are integrated with targeted direct needs of that community. I would encourage you to learn more and see real live video tours as examples at the Coalition for Community Schools -

Many of these schools are open 13-14 hours a day. Some of them are built with YMCA facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Health and Human Services offices right on sight integrated with the facilities. When after-school programs are offered many of the kids see school as a positive place to be. Some offer additional family support and family resource offices on site. Some offer early childhood education. Some offer adult parenting or GED classes right on sight in the evenings. Some are built with/or on corporate campuses like and IBM or SAS. Some are themed with programs in Aerospace and Bio-Tech. Some of these community schools are built with health care clinics (some people say that might be far reaching for a school - I say if children cannot see the black board they cannot learn). Some of these schools teach basic life skills and financial literacy. Imagine youth leaving high school with the understanding to balance a check book, navigate credit, or learn the home buying process.

We also need enhanced special education programming. We need greater parental engagement. We need stronger vocational programs, because while we do need to prepare kids for the global economy, we also need to offer some opportunities to serve the local economy - they will not be out sourcing plumbers and mechanics.

  • This is innovation not transportation.

  • This is a call for rigorous and relevant education for all.

  • This is a fight for equity in education for all, and not just mere redistribution of children.

  • This is opening the doors to the community at large and saying welcome with your resources and help.

  • This is an open honest understanding of who we are and what we need to do to get all of us caught up to par in our community.

  • This is a model that will build a better educated citizenry, a more reliable and productive workforce, and healthier families with a greater sense of communities.

When schools become the center of community great things happen.

9. Does Wake County have enough schools and enough classrooms? If not, would you advocate speeding up the pace of new buildings and additions, even if tax hikes were required?

I continue to be amazed and offended that our Department of Corrections can invest millions a decade in advance to build prison beds based upon 3rd graders. And they do it with chilling accuracy. However we can not seem to manage for effective growth in schools.

We need to be more effective and efficient at how we plan for growth. A key piece to the Community Schools model is partnering for growth. Working with the entire community to plan and grow together. In cities all over America this is happening. If a county is building a new human services facility, library, or park those resources can be built with schools to share in the cost and the access.

In some Community Schools in America, YMCAs were built with the schools to share the gym and pools. After-school and summer programs were built in conjunction with the school, saving additional costs. While movie theaters where built connected to some of the schools to save the cost of building an additional auditorium, and to share parking while preserve open space from separate developments. This also serves to foster a different mindset for students regarding schools as a more positive place and reducing drop-outs.

This is fundamentally a different type of thinking that needs strong visionary leadership skilled at building collaborative to benefit all of us.

10. Year-round schools are one way the county's kept school taxes low. Should more schools be made (or built to be) year-round? Should students be assigned to attend them?

I am not sure that I agree that they have kept county taxes low. This year nearly 72 % of all county tax dollars go to the WCPSS. I believe there is value in year-round schools, but I believe the value is in academic achievement. WCPSS should have educated parents on those values and thus drove in attendance based upon desired gains for youth and the family's ability to make that schedule work for them in this ever changing society.

Instead they mandated assignments, and proclaimed it was because they could not deal effectively with growth. When there were gaps in the schedule, or dark classrooms per grade level while some tracks were active in put them in a bad light with parents.

We should make it optional and then the responsibility is on the school system to educate parents on the benefits and offer to assist in transition if they wish. We should do this while offering those struggling to make it work for their families more viable choices and flexibility. I am confident that in the Research Triangle we are smart enough to figure out how to make that work.

11. Magnet schools are a key element of current diversity policies, but they're expensive—and outlying areas of the county wonder why they can't have them too. What changes, if any, do you support in the way magnets are used?

Much of the thinking around magnet schools is 20th century thinking. We were pushing magnet schools when we were talking about Y2K. Here we are 10 years later and the results are mixed. In some cases it has helped a bit while in other cases it failed to meet its objectives. A great example is in my home town. Garner Magnet High School is where I have guided 3 kids. Garner continues to be one of the most challenged schools in NC. More and more parents of Garner have opted out of public education for home schooling or private schools. Further more and more trailers are added to the back lot as the school is stretched beyond limits. The achievement gap remains significant as well, while in recent year's school violence has rose.

Further they are unfairly assigned and disproportionately utilized. By design they have a skimming effect in households of poverty. Where those households have parents more engaged in a child's education, those parents will apply. But for our most vulnerable children and some of them who our most gifted, they do not have active adults in their lives or parents who know how to advocate for their children, thus these children are not participating in a program designed to serve them. It was this very understanding that led to the national shifts in education in the last few years to Community Schools.

All of our schools should be capable of challenging our most gifted and raising up our most vulnerable.

12. Does every new high school need a football stadium? A theater? Are shared facilities an approach you'd support to save taxpayers money?

My answer to number 9 gives a clear direct stance to this question with examples.

13. The Wake Education Partnership's recent report, "Suspending Disbelief," describes a 21st century school system—quite unlike anything that exists in the U.S. today—that would equip students to succeed in a global economy. The report calls for a longer school year and far-reaching improvements in curriculum and assessment, none of which would be free. What, if anything, would you take from this report if elected?

The report is right, and yet still limited in where it needs to be and where it can be to take us there. While we need to prepare children for the global economy, we also need to prepare them for them for the local economy, and basic life; we also need to bridge our community interests and stakeholders to meet the challenges of our day. The Community Schools Model that I have now noted at length understands this report as one of its legs -- but there is more. It is in the more that we find the way to make it possible without fear of the potential costs.

This is not a fluff pipe dream - it is happening all over America. But it takes strong visionary leaders to bring this to the board room table. In places like Chicago, New York, and St. Louis, to places like St. Paul and Lincoln Nebraska, when poverty took over, challenges expanded, and funds dried up. These cities looked to this kind of innovation. In the last 5 years the push has been enormous with hundreds and hundreds of schools converting. In Chicago alone 115 of their 600 schools are already converted. After incredible success the rest of those schools have been scheduled for conversion by 2014.

Currently, U.S. Sec. of Education, Arne Duncan is promoting this model as a broader understanding of a 21st century school system not merely a so-called 21-century school. The idea of a healthy school based upon income distribution is ridiculous if we continue to fail a portion of the children inside that school.

Many of my Republican friends say well that must be extremely costly. Actually, as a fiscal conservative this model makes sense. It has saved many of these cities millions of dollars. It's a model that leverages public private partnerships and provides great opportunity for cost share and new funders to come to the table. It is a model that lets us work with private partners to plan, budget, and spend more effectively on growth of new schools and programs. It produces safer neighborhoods, and by truly educating and investing in our most at-risk children we will spend less on prisons and social services.

Many of my Democratic friends say Wake Schools are great and that we do not have the kind of poverty here that those other cities faced. 10 years ago we had 6 schools that met Title I poverty guidelines and now we have over 50 (a third of all of our schools). How many will we have ten years from now at this rate? And why not get ahead of the curve, now instead of trying to revamp old ideas for magnet programs and transportation.

Again, this is about thinking fundamentally different about education. What if we had a system -- not one school, not a handful of magnets, but a system that could do all this and more? In a capital city like Raleigh, where we have the seat of government, a rich business community, great universities and research centers our possibilities could be endless. What if we had a system that challenged our most gifted while raising our most vulnerable, engaged our parents and rebuilt our communities? We can do all of this while being accountable to tax-payers, reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and hiring more teachers.

14. What question(s) haven't we asked—and what's your answers?

What differentiates you from your opponents?

As Einstein noted, "we can not solve the problems of today with the same level of thinking that created them." Unlike the others who are all rather nice people, I bring with me "Brand New Thinking". I bring a skill set that is broad and uniquely positioned to leverage partnerships and working relationships, while building the necessary consensus to turn this thinking into reality.

Our current incumbent, Mr. Tart is a nice enough man and a land developer who begun crafted his views over a half a century ago. His stance publicly has been that what we have is good enough and that some things are just the way they are.

My friend Ms. Truitt is a sweet woman who spent 36 years as an educator with a charming little elementary school back in Four Oaks, NC. However, we already have that voice on our board with people who maintain 3 decades of their experiences siloed in education and academics. We do not look to the NASCAR drivers to find the leader who can fix GM. Our community desperately needs a different voice advocating on the Board of Directors of such a massive system.

Robert Kennedy once said, "Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream of things that never were and say why not?" We have heavy lifting to do in our community to build upon our successes while repairing our fault lines. I do believe together we can dare mighty things. I believe this vision I have shared is the kind of vision Wake County Children and Families are seeking. And I am proud to be a voice for them and say "why not?"

If you would like to join in this vision, please visit my web site at Volunteer and VOTE OCT. 6th.

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