Keith Cook | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Keith Cook

Orange County Board of Education


Full Legal Name: Keith Donnell Cook

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Keith Cook

Office Sought/District: Orange County Board of Education

Date of Birth: April 26, 1943

Home Address: 419 Calvary Court, Hillsborough, NC 27278

Mailing Address Campaign: The Committee to Elect Keith D. Cook for School Board, PO Box 370, Hillsborough NC 27278

Campaign Web Site:

Occupation & Employer: Retired Financial Consultant, Certified Estate Planner, and Senior Advisor

Years lived in Orange County: 22

Home Phone: 919.644.1884

Work Phone: Not applicable (retired)


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

I believe the three most important issues facing Orange County Schools are the limited alternative education options available for our high school students who aren't successful academically in the traditional high school setting, the existing but narrowing achievement gap among minority students in some areas, and the public notion that there is a lack of fiscal accountability and transparency and no collaborative input from others regarding school finances.

My top three priorities will focus on ways: to expand existing alternative education options for high school students through Partnership Academy School and Another Choice in Education (ACE) and explore new alternative education options for the district; to ensure that the continued focus on closing the achievement gap among African American and Latino students is deliberate and holds everyone accountable for fostering academic excellence for ALL students; and to review what's working and not working in school finance operations to determine what future steps are necessary for improving accountability and fiscal responsibility.

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.

My past record as a former school board member of 10 years for Orange County Schools that included board oversight of school system finances, curriculum and instruction, and operations; my personal background of 22 years in the financial field; my active membership in the organization "North Carolina Caucus of Black School Board Members" (also a Founding member and Past President); my eight years as chair of the Orange County Middle Schools Afterschool Program for Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools; and my three years as the Co-Chair of a non-profit educational organization called the Northern Orange Education Task Force (NOETF) all demonstrate my strong background and experience in school board operations and my continued dedication and commitment to educational excellence for ALL children. These experiences are why I feel I have the ability to be effective as a future school board member for the Orange County Board of Education.

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

As a Democrat, my past and present campaign platform as a candidate for the Orange County Board of Education has always been about progressive change to improve educational excellence for ALL children. As a former school board member, these progressive changes included advocating for an alternative educational program and pushing for disaggregated data regarding test scores, dropout rates, and suspensions reference our minority students. Finally through the NOETF, three church-based Community Learning Centers for elementary students who were non-proficient in math and reading were implemented. I also served on three district Closing Achievement Gap (CAG) task forces and now serve as a member of the district's CAG Oversight Committee and its Dropout Prevention Committee, which again show my commitment to academic success for ALL children.

4. Academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) and exceptional children present particular educational challenges to the district. How well is the district 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?

I believe Orange County Schools has taken a proactive stance in attempting to better meet the needs of academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) students and exceptional children based on various reports given to the CAG Oversight Committee in the past few years. Based on what I've heard in the Oversight Committee, the district has strategies in place to increase participation of minority students in advanced level classes, to decrease the number of minority students in the Exceptional Children's Program, and to increase parent involvement to ensure that the needs of their children are better identified and met. The district should continue to implement what's working and to change any efforts that aren't for these students. To avoid obstacles to these goals and related ones, leadership at the district and school level has to be willing to engage others in any effort to address the needs and concerns of parents and guardians who have students in AIG and EC programs, to comply with program and legal guidelines, and to take an active role in addressing educational challenges that AIG students and exceptional children might face. Program obstacles are less likely regarding any program area when there is strong, supportive leadership, effective teachers, and constant engagement from students, their families, and others. My goal will be to learn more about these efforts as a future school board member and to ensure that we are doing our very best and what's right to address any educational challenges facing AIG students and students in the Exceptional Children's program.

5. NC School Report Cards In 2008-09 show 79.1 percent of white students and 79.4 percent of Asians passing both reading and math EOG tests compared to just 44 percent of black students and 48.4 percent of Hispanics (lower than the state average). How will you work not only to close the achievement gap but to raise standards and produce results for all students? What specific plans and strategies would you implement to reach at-risk students and how quickly would you do it?

For the past three years, the Northern Orange Education Task Force has collaborated with the previous and current Orange County Schools' superintendents and others to address the achievement gap, raise standards, and produce results for all students. Continuing to support the Community Learning Centers at the New Hope Church of Nazarene, McCoy's Temple, and Central Elementary and the Grape Arbor 21st Community Learning Centers at Gravelly Hill and C.W. Stanford for students who are non-proficient in tested content areas will be a priority for me. Assessing the need for an alternative site for short-term suspended students to complete suspensions of less than 10 days without falling behind in their classes is also important. But it is not my style to change anything immediately or to begin my tenure as a new school board member with a set agenda. Closing the achievement gap is an important issue to me. But equally important in closing the achievement gap as a potential school board member is making sure I don't come to the table with an agenda, that I assess the current situation, that I spend time learning what exists, and that I talk to teachers, students, and parents about what they think the district should be doing to close the achievement gap, raise standards and produce results for ALL students. Only then would I be comfortable coming up with a plan and strategies to reach ALL children, including our at-risk students.

6. What can the Orange County Board of Education learn from the Wake County School board's recent move for neighborhood schools and ending busing to create racial diversity? What's your position on this issue?

The Orange County School Board should learn from the Wake County School Board that not having the required school board training and orientation that all new board members go through to understand their role in developing policies and the implications of playing politics and having personal agendas sets a precedent that undermines the most important priority that all school boards should focus on and that is ensuring Educational Excellence for ALL Children in partnership and collaboration with others in an atmosphere of trust and transparency. I believe having diverse, well funded schools are the best way to guarantee students with a sound basic education.

7. What method would you use to determine how resources should be allocated within the school system? Do you believe that resources are well now? If not, what would you change? Building off of that, how will you balance upcoming budgets during these economic times? What's one thing that is currently overfunded that could be cut?

Allocation of resources within the school system should involve input from schools and their parents and district leaders. Because Orange County schools fares better than most school districts in resources, I think we are much better off now even in these tough economic times. Balancing upcoming budgets will be tough and right now I don't know that I can answer that without assessing where the district is now and looking at our allocations from the County and other funding sources. One thing I was surprised to see in my review of the current local expense budget for the 2010-2011 school year prior to a March board budget work session is the amount of money allocated for legal funds. I would want to review how to cut expenditures in that area. In my past tenure as a board member, about $30,000 or less was set aside for legal fees compared to the astronomical amount now allocated and proposed for the next school year.

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

I have and continue to live by St. Luke 12:48..."To whom much is given, much is expected." Personally, this has meant advocating for those who need help getting their voices heard and needs met. For many years I have worked in the trenches and I know first hand the impact of an 'unjust' society. So I fully support the mission of The Independent Weekly to help build a just community. Fundamentally, providing a quality education for all is important if having a just society is the ultimate goal of any community. If elected, I will continue to be the voice of the ignored even when they speak out and for those who feel intimidated by the system and are silent. I will promote equity and equality in our educational policies. Celebrating our successes as a district and advocating for a strategic plan that includes reviewing and improving the salaries for all our workers, especially those at the lower end, are also priorities I will address.

As an elected official, I would continue to be an advocate for the environment, affordable housing, seniors, recreation and parks, battered women, appropriate economic development, and improving the quality of life for all Orange County citizens, especially those in our unincorporated areas.

9. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect it might cost you popularity with voters.

In the past I have taken on many principled stands and will continue to do so when I feel it is necessary. Some of my stands have included supporting a district impact fee for schools; serving as a member on three county bond committees and supporting those outcomes; advocating for an alternative school; supporting a district tax for Orange County Schools that failed badly as a referendum; initiating the development and board approval of the district's first anti-bullying policy; and finally advocating against the merger of the two school districts in this county.

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