Full Legal Name: Laura Jo Cifaldi Nicholson
Name as it Appears on the Ballot:Laura Nicholson
Office Sought/District: School Board Member/Orange County Schools
Date of Birth: 09/04/1979
Home Address: 1818 Adams Place; Hillsborough, NC 27278
Mailing Address (if different from home): Post Office Box 278; Hillsborough, NC 27278
Campaign Web Site: www.lauranforschoolboard.com
Occupation & Employer: Vice President of Operations, Signature Brands
Years lived in Orange County: 8 Years
Home Phone:(919) 732-3138
Work Phone:(919) 260-3307
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 that the most important issues facing Orange County Schools are Tightening Budgets, Lack of Communication, and Closing the Achievement Gap. My three priorities in addressing these issues are as follows:
1. Go over every aspect of the School Board budget with a "fine toothed comb" to ensure that every dollar spent is being well-utilized
2. Devise plans using "out of the box" thinking that will creatively solve student needs without additional resources (For example, I started a Volunteer-Run Afterschool Science Club attended by 66 students in Hillsborough. We have studied curricular-based Science concepts and all funding needs have been met through the PTSA and parent donations. The impact of this club is long-lasting but at no cost to the district).
3. Ensure budgetary spending is well-aligned with District goals for success
Lack of Communication
1. Utilize school-wide communications such as Connect-Ed and Email Groups to announce District Events and School Board Meetings (parents will not come to meetings and voice their opinions unless we adequately inform them)
2. Utilize District Technology to provide webcasting for School Board meetings
3. Improve School Board website to be more user-friendly and Employ free Social Networking via Facebook and other outlets to get our message out to parents
Close the Achievement Gap
1. Take steps to improve Teacher Retention and recruit more minority teachers
2. Provide Parent Training to help parents become more involved in their child's education. Statistics show that Parent involvement is one of the most important predictors in a child's educational success (see my website for details and links)
3. Develop strategic After-school programs that will meet the needs of struggling students and provide transportation if needed
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.
Working as a VP for Signature Brands has given me many opportunities to balance multi-million dollar budgets, organize and present complex data to the public, and learn to work effectively while managing simultaneous large projects. I can apply the ability to multitask as a School Board member when I serve on multiple committees and juggle simultaneous projects. My budgetary experience and detail-oriented nature will also allow me to ensure fiscal responsibility is constantly achieved by the School Board.
As a volunteer, I started several school programs that have successfully leveraged the community and improved parent involvement. This year, I began the K-2 Science Club which helped many parent volunteers to get involved in their child's school. This program has had a profoundly positive effect on our students. Through PTSA, I have attended extensive training and conferences that have improved my understanding of issues affecting NC Students. I have also formed the OCS Parent Council, which unites parents/Parent Groups from across the district and allows us to share information and work together to solve common district problems. My volunteer experiences can help on the School Board to encourage the community to become involved in proposed budgetary and policy decisions. I can also draw from my OCS Parent Council experience to help unite parents and schools throughout the district toward a common goal. By working together, schools and parents will achieve higher levels of success.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I think it is important to realize that the School Board race is non-partisan. I plan to look at both sides of every issue and align myself with the best interest of OCS Students rather than voting based on party lines or politics. Being fair is far more important to me than being partisan.
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 feel that the district has done an excellent job of meeting the needs of the "average" student. However, we have students on both sides of average whose needs are not being well-served. For AIG Students, there are schools in the district which do an excellent job of Early Identification and extra attention to keep students challenged at every level. Other schools do not have adequate programs to challenge AIG Students. We need to find the school models that are best helping the AIG students and apply them across the district.
Our EC students are also largely being left behind. The district struggles to be flexible enough to meet the complex and far-reaching needs of EC students. The School Board needs to encourage more leadership and collaboration among parents in the EC community to advocate for children across the district.
The main obstacle cited for lack of AIG and EC attention is funding. While it does take considerable money to run these programs, we can accomplish many things if we are able to leverage the efforts of parent and community members. Their collaboration could address these needs creatively without large funding concerns.
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?
Closing the Achievement Gap should be a District Priority. If you look at the OCS RACG (Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap) Committee Reports (posted online at http://www.orange.k12.nc.us/RACG_Report.pdf) you will find a list of suggestions that are insightful and easily implemented within Orange County Schools. As a School Board member, I will work to raise student achievement by employing Common Core Standards (view final draft for these standards at www.corestandards.org) and further decreasing the drop-out rate. For at-risk students, I will fight for Afterschool tutoring programs that provide transportation, increased parent involvement, and improving Teacher retention in order to close the Achievement Gap in Orange County Schools. This must be immediately addressed before more student fall through the cracks in our system!
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 Board of Education can learn volumes from the struggles within the Wake County School Board. Since redistricting discussions have already begun in our district, we must look at many factors to determine the local school each child attends. We must realize that the "Busing for Diversity" Policy and the "Neighborhood Schools" Initiative are on opposite sides of the spectrum. However, we cannot adopt one idea and completely abandon the other. I think the Wake County School Board should brainstorm solutions that can achieve both goals. The push for neighborhood schools is a good idea in theory, but cannot achieve diversity as a stand alone solution. Our students live in a Diverse society and we cannot raise them in schools that do not adequately contain a diverse population. Conversely, Wake County cannot continue to bus their children across the county without recognizing that this affects student performance. They must strike a balance between the two opposing forces to best represent the needs of Wake County children. In Orange County Schools, I will fight for similar solutions when we examine possible redistricting questions.
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?
There are plenty of OCS resources that are allocated in "good" areas. My method for allocating Federal, State, and Local resources would implore the Administration to find "better" uses for all funds. There are always ways to utilize money to achieve the "best" results possible. I believe that most resources are well-allocated in Orange County Schools, but there are always small changes that can ensure every penny works to educate our children better. To balance upcoming budgets, I think we need to remain focused on Staff Retention and make every effort to ensure no jobs are cut. We must pursue creative techniques to stretch every dollar and put it to its best-possible use. The district does not have any areas that are grossly "overfunded" but does have opportunities to better allocate funds and stretch our dollars further!
9. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
The School Board membership should be a diverse and homogenous mix that reflects our community as a whole. I am running for a position because I feel that many parent concerns are not being heard or addressed by the current School Board. We must work harder as a District to hear the voices in our community and reach out to parents from every background in order to best represent Orange County Schools. I will work to build a "just community" through Parent Involvement and Better Communication to ensure that every voice has an opportunity to be heard in our District.
10. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.
I think that "re-districting" is often a dirty little word that no one wants to hear. In Orange County we have 2 Elementary Schools that are over-capacity and one that is only half-full. Inevitably, we must consider re-districting to better distribute the students throughout our District. While as a Parent, I want to make sure my child stays at their current school, I must look at the needs of all 7,100 students and fairly evaluate them in order to form a solution. I would propose a creative solution like phased re-districting so that parents could opt to leave their students in their current school but new students would follow the new re-districted plan. There are many ways to ensure that the needs of parents and students are balanced with the needs of the District and I will work hard to find a solution that meets the needs of the majority. There will always be parents who vehemently oppose the idea that their children will change schools. As a School Board member, I must focus on the best solution even if that makes me unpopular with certain voters.