Lawrence Sanders | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Lawrence Sanders

Candidate for Orange County Board of Education


Full Legal Name: Lawrence E. Sanders, Sr.

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Lawrence Sanders

Date of Birth: 6/16/1965

Campaign Website:

Occupation & Employer: Project Manager, State of North Carolina

Years lived in Orange County: 10


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?

Some of your questions actually touch on what I believe are the three most important issues. So I will try to avoid redundancy wherever possible.

Transparency is important issue facing the school system. By the time an item, issue or initiative garners the public's attention, a recommendation has already been brought to the board and voted on. This is much too late to offer an opinion. As a result, parents, business owners, tax-payers, and the public in general are not engaged. This has to change. Engaging the public will indeed draw more criticism, but it will also drum up more public support.

If elected, I will advocate that the board, the Public Information Officer and others, take a look at the current plan and look for ways to improve communications (Perhaps develop an annual communication plan to enhance and/or change strategies in which communication is supported best). I will also serve as a two-way conduit between Orange County Schools (OCS) and the public. I am committed to informing the public of the upcoming business and encouraging their attendance at board meetings. I am also committed to reaching out to educators and administrators to understand their challenges and concerns and to gain their insight. I look forward to the day when the board meetings are at full capacity, require a larger venue and are televised and/or streamed online. Social media should play a large role in how we communicate our message to the students, parents and community.

Raising the achievement of all students, while closing the achievement gap is important as well. There is a misconception that this initiative is somehow negatively impacting the education of the majority of students in the school system. As a Parent Representative on the Orange County Schools Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap Committee, I can confirm that this is not the case. There is no "dumbing down" of the curriculum. In fact, recent data released shows that over a five year period, there was an increase in the achievement of all students. And in the majority of cases, the achievement gap has narrowed. But our work is not done. We must continue the work to increase overall student achievement and in narrowing the achievement gap. In order to successfully compete in the global market of the 21st Century, we need as many students as possible reaching their full academic potential. And with the core curriculum becoming even more challenging, the achievement gap could begin to widen if we are not careful. Please see Question 7 for more on this topic.

The third but equally important area is the budget. The budget is cut pretty much down the bone at this point. It is important that we are fiscally responsible and ensure that the budget priorities are focused on the needs of the children first and foremost. I would also be committed to engaging the community throughout the process of developing and adopting the budget. This is a key area where I believe that it is important to show some transparency. I offer further comments regarding the budget in my answers to Question 5.

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.

I have over 17 years of project/program management experience which is a good fit for the board. As a project manager, upon assignment of a project, I develop the scope, schedule and a budget. I also lead diverse project teams where each member brings a different expertise, and personalities, to the table. In spite of that, I am tasked with leading the effort and keeping everyone focused on the goal the entire time. It takes a combination of leadership, technical and soft skills to be a successful project manager, and I have developed all three of those over the years.

I have volunteered as a parent, business representative, and community member for several years. Those activities have afforded me the opportunity to work with elected officials, school administrators, educators, students, parents, and the community on different initiatives to benefit the children of Orange County. As a result, I have developed the ability to look at a situation and see it from every perspective. I feel that this knowledge that I have attained, combined with my passion for helping children, makes me an ideal candidate. For me, this is the next step in what has already been a rewarding experience.

Current Board and Committee Affiliations:

Parent Representative, Orange County Schools Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap Oversight Committee; Member, Hillsborough Elementary PTA; Member, Board of Directors, Boys and Girls Club of Eastern Piedmont-Orange County; Academics Chair, Northern Orange Education Task Force; Member/Co-Facilitator, Hillsborough Elementary Equity Meeting Team.

From 2009 to 2011, I served as the Chief Volunteer Officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Eastern Piedmont, and played a key role in establishing the first Boys & Girls Club in Orange County. The Chapel Hill Boys and Girls Club of Eastern Piedmont is slated to open later this year.

Other Prior Community Service:

Orange County Schools Business Representative, Triangle Leadership Academy Board of Advisors (2008); Nortel LearnIT Ambassador to Orange County Schools (2008-2009), which resulted in equipment donations and the assistance of Nortel associates with classroom projects; Member, Orange County Schools Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap Subcommittee on Policy; Membership Co-Chair, Hillsborough Elementary PTA, Mentor for Communities in Schools of Durham; Volunteer, Amoco ACES Tutoring Program, Chicago, IL; President of ABLE, an employee business partner of Lucent Technologies; Coach or Assistant Coach, Chapel Hill YMCA Basketball, T-Ball, Soccer; and Flag Football Coach, I-9 Sports Flag Football.

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

I believe that we should always take care of the less fortunate. That is one of the things that made this country great and why many consider this the land of opportunity. It is troubling to see how that notion is becoming less prevalent. It is even more troubling when it impacts our children. Education is a "Civil Right." And while the classroom plays the primary role in providing a quality education, it is not the only factor. There are social programs that must be in place to ensure that every aspect of a child's needs is addressed. That is why, even though I have two children of my own, I have volunteered countless hours towards supporting programs that aid families and schools in meeting the needs of every child. For example, the Boys and Girls Clubs that I have helped establish provide character and leadership programs, health and life skills, arts programs, and sports, fitness and recreation programs to the less fortunate for a nominal fee.

One of my platform positions is that OCS should increase their efforts to promote partnerships between educators, students, parents and the community. My wife and I have always maintained constant communication with our children's teachers. As a result we have been able to partner with those teachers to resolve any issues or challenges that may arise. Unfortunately, parental involvement does not always happen for numerous reasons. Those parents that can step up should step up, and I will advocate for that. But when that cannot or does not happen, it is important for the district to partner with the community or community organizations to help fill that void. Also, the business community can play a role in bringing additional resources to the classroom. I am willing to assist in fostering those partnerships and in helping the district to initiate varied and creative approaches to increase communications between schools, parents, and the community. Again, education is a "Civil Right" and we must all do our part.

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?

Both AIG children and exceptional children (EC) are underperforming. With AIG children, it is not an issue of proficiency. AIG children consistently score high on EOGs, but they are not a showing year-over-year growth. Exceptional children show growth from year-to-year, but they are consistently outperformed by their non-EC peers.

For exceptional children, OCS has an inclusion model where some classrooms are designated as inclusion classes. In this model, the children receive EC support in the classroom. This allows them to be mainstreamed into the curriculum for the maximum amount of time possible. This also benefits them from a social perspective. Where the inclusion method is prevalent for exceptional children, it is just surfacing for AIG children.

The district could better meet the needs of both AIG and exceptional children by ensuring that lessons are challenging for all kids. Training should be provided to help teachers "differentiate." Children should receive differentiated instruction for the entire school day, not only when they are with their specialists. At least a couple of teachers from each school should be trained to take the differentiation model back to their schools. OCS should also make the inclusion model more consistent across the schools. There are also issues in some schools where EC teachers are pulled for others tasks within the school. This should not be the case.

Minority students are over-represented in EC and under-represented in AIG. Tests to qualify for AIG are culturally biased. And minority children are quickly identified exceptional children. OCS should closely re-examine the criteria for both. SOCRATES helps by exposing some minority children to AIG curriculum, but it is not addressing the underlying problem. One of the criteria to qualify for AIG is a teacher survey. Some teachers are not culturally proficient and should be taught to look for giftedness in students of color.

Lastly, there should be strategies for nurturing giftedness at the K-2 levels. Where deficits are easily identified, assets are not. Schools should take an asset based approach when looking at children of such a young age. Grades K-2 provide the best window of opportunity make a positive impact academically and otherwise.

5. Given the expected dip in federal funding this year that could mean cuts of as many as 32 teachers and recent cuts to subs, guidance counselors, literacy coaches, etc., what will you do to make sure that the impact of the budget is felt as least as possible in the classroom? Despite the financial difficulty, how will you make sure that the quality of education stays, at bare minimum, at its current level, and, ideally, improves?

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?

I believe that to lessen the impact of budget cuts in the classroom, OCS should increase their efforts to promote partnerships between educators, students, parents and the community. Dr. Pedro Noguera says that, "When communities embrace schools, it is not left up to the teachers to figure it all out." It is critical that OCS maintains current partnerships and cultivate new partnerships.

If elected, I will meet with state legislatures and local leaders to advocate for increased funding. I will encourage the support and voices of others to help persuade government officials to better support our children's education. I will also review monthly financial reports thoroughly, and measure budgeted costs against actual costs, to proactively address any concerns related to budget deficits or surpluses.

As far as I can tell, and I have done a lot of research, there are no programs that are currently overfunded. Any further cuts will definitely jeopardize the classroom. Federal funds only make up around 8% of the overall budget and are designated for specific programs (i.e., Title 1, nutrition, etc.). OCS has a healthy fund balance of approximately $4M. The Superintendent's proposed 2012-2013 budget would dip into the fund balance for $725K. Could more funds be taken from the fund balance? Possibly, but it is difficult to determine the future impact of doing so. For example, the cost of benefits, which are locally funded, continues to increase every year. Also number of students on free and reduced lunch has skyrocketed from 28% just a few years ago to 40.37% as of February 29th of this year.

6. What is the district doing now to receive and value parent input? What more should be done? How will you be responsive to those concerns?

For the most part, ways in which parental input is received is left up to the discretion of the school principals. At a district level, the school board meetings provide an opportunity for parents to provide public comment. But outside of the budget cycle and when other controversial topics arise, there are not enough opportunities for parental input in my opinion.

The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) suggests that all districts develop a strategic communication plan that includes a face-to-face communication plan. The article goes on to say that, "...once we have created the attention of our audience, we want to move from levels of relationship building from interaction and engagement to participation and conversation." NSPRA goes on to recommend that face-to-face communication are absolutely crucial to the success when implementing culture change, introducing a new program/initiative, dealing with bad news or a crisis and when building, or rebuilding, relationships or trust. Lastly, the article states that a communication strategy should include plans to videotape events and speeches and to post to the website, post a blog about each face-to-face event and create a social media plan to extend beyond the districts' reach.

If elected, I will take advocate that the district takes the steps recommended by NSPRA. Please refer to my answers to question 1 to learn more about the steps that I will take personally.

7. Please assess, citing statistics, programs such as SOCRATES, and other examples, the district's progress in closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. Are you satisfied with the direction? What else should be done?

Over a five year period (2007-2011), the achievement gap for grades 3-8 has decreased in most areas. The exceptions were biology for Black students where the gap widened by 3%. Also for grades 6-8, the reading gap widened for both Black (+4%) and Hispanic students (+ 2%). While these increases may seem nominal, we must keep in mind that reading comprehension is the foundation for every other course. And middle school is a critical time for children. That is a point where some children can start to decline academically if we are not careful. The most significant gap decreases for Hispanic students were in Algebra 1 (-27%), Biology (-22%) and English 1 (-19%). The most significant decrease for Black students was in English (-23%). Statistics also show that the achievement of all students rose over the 5 year period. While this is good, we should be mindful of the fact that common core standards are being implemented. While they must be implemented in order for our children to compete in a global market, this could lead to an overall widening of the gap if we are not careful.

Programs such as SOCRATES (Students of Color Reaching Achievement Through Enhanced Support) are great for ensuring that minority students are exposed to advanced coursework. And programs to reach children even soon (Jr. SOCRATES, STARS, etc.) were implemented at a couple of the elementary schools. Programs like there should be implemented in all elementary schools. Besides the exposure to advances coursework, these programs expose the students to guest speakers that could have a positive impact on them. I met a civil engineer when I was in elementary school that inspired me to go into engineering. I excelled in math, reading and writing simply because he told me those were essential skills for an engineer to have. There are other programs such as the after school community learning centers for elementary students, the Communities in Schools and Middle School After School for middle school students and the 21st Century Crossroad Program for Orange High School Students. The district reported that the elementary school students in the community learning centers did show growth after participating in this program. That shows that programs like these make a difference and should remain in place.

The progress that OCS has made in closing the gap is to be commended. But I know that we can do more without even impacting the budget. I will start by asking the board to revisit the 2007 Report and Recommendations developed by the OCS Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap (RACG) Committee. While some of those recommendations have been acted upon, others have not. For example, there should be an active subcommittee for each goal. But currently there is only one active sub-committee working on increasing the number of minority students taking advanced level courses. I will advocate for the reformation of the other subcommittees, as well as initiate transforming current committees/and or models needed to meet the desired goals. It is important that we support the RACG goals and ensure that the proper focus and attention is maintained on this important initiative.

Another recommendation I will push for is that the Board and the Superintendent develop a plan that aligns OCS policies, procedures and practices with RACG benchmarks, achievement goals and timetables. Although policies were developed by a RACG subcommittee, they have yet to be acted upon. Also, if research tells us that parental involvement in their children's education is a key factor in closing the achievement gap, then the district should have a specific goal related to parental involvement in its RACG plan.

8. What challenges do Orange schools face attracting and retaining top teachers? How will you overcome those, if elected?

There have not been any salary increases for teachers in the last 4 to 5 years. Local supplements pay for experience teachers. But there are no funds to supplement new teachers. OCS cannot compete with other districts that offer signing bonuses.

If elected, I will recommend that the Board and Superintendant review the current recruitment plan and look for areas of improvement. For example, OCS may want to promote the intrinsic benefits of living in this area (i.e., great place to raise a family, close to good hospitals, universities, etc.).

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?

A just community is one where everyone is treated equally. And I am a proponent of equity in education. I believe that every child deserves a quality education. As I have stated numerous times in this questionnaire, a quality public education is a civil right. But that is not always the case due to factors outside of the classroom. I have already been an advocate for all children and spent countless volunteer hours working on initiatives to give them a greater chance of living the American dream. My work with the Boys & Girls Club has made an impact. My work with the Northern Orange Education Task Force has made an impact. I could name other things that I have done, but I believe that point has been made. I believe that my record speaks for itself and shows that I am a supporter of building a just community. If elected, I will not be switching gears. I will continue on that same track.

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 am of the opinion that charter schools should remain small in number, share the successful approaches to education with the public school systems, provide transportation, and mirror the demographics of the public school district in which they are located.

Charter Schools are parent-driven schools and are perhaps best known for their ability to focus on specific areas like music and art, or science and technology. Mark Hyatt, Executive Director of the Colorado Charter School Institute, said "charter schools are simply public schools with a little more flexibility to try new approaches to education." That is why charter schools receive public funding that would otherwise go to the public school systems. Unlike public schools with set curricula mandated by the state, charter schools are, in essence, able to create their own ideal school within certain guidelines. And unlike public schools, charter schools are allowed to hire teachers that are not certified, which some critics believe can hurt students academically.

A recent report suggests that the expansion of charter schools has resulted in a return back to segregated classrooms. "Some of the nation's most segregated schools are charter schools, where students are often isolated by race, income, language and special education status", according to a report entitled "Chartering Equity: Using Charter School Legislation and Policy to Advance Equal Educational Opportunity" (released February 2012, authored by J. F. Mead, and P. C. Green III). There is a movement in some of the larger U.S. school systems to replace failing public schools with charter schools. But charter schools, if they choose, can turn away both exceptional children and those with behavior problems. And charter schools are not required to provide transportation.

I have no issues with charter schools that are run by educators and parents. I know some parents who have chosen charter schools for low teacher student ratios, more parent involvement, less distractions that might create discipline problems, etc. I am fine as long as they meet the above mentioned criteria (provide transportation, and mirror the demographics, etc.). But I take serious issue with those that are run by for-profit organizations. During a recent lecture at UNC Chapel Hill, Dr. Pedro Noguera stated that, "there is an agenda to privatize and dismantle public education, and that many of these for-profit organizations are behind it." I personally know both teachers and parents from Orange Charter School, and I do not believe they fit into that category at all. On the other hand, the charter schools run by the National Heritage Academies do fit into that "for-profit" category.

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