Martha LaVance | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Martha LaVance

Candidate for Wake County Board of Education District 3


Name as it appears on the ballot: Martha LaVance
Full legal name, if different:
Date of Birth: December 25, 1955
Home address: 2409 Heartley Dr., Raleigh, NC 27615
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Former business and finance attorney. Now full-time mom and volunteer
Home Phone: 848-4768
Work phone: N/A
Cell phone: 741-0602

1. If elected, what are your top priorities for the school board?

Halting the erosion of support in our community for public education. Wake County schools are unique and successful because we have been able to keep a broad base of support for public schools among all income levels. I believe our current policies are driving away families who can afford to go elsewhere and that this is unnecessary and a mistake. The Board should direct the administration to expand the magnet program to offer parents more choices in calendar and curriculum. The Board should direct the administration to offer earlier and broader based participation by parents and the community in drafting and development of policy. Finally, the Board needs to promote its vision for high quality public education by spending more time in the community listening to perceptions, right or wrong, and sharing information on public school needs and goals.

Maintaining the focus of the community on improving high quality comprehensive education for all students. We must ensure that the school system and board do not spend so much time concentrating on the issues associated with growth that we neglect our students. The Board needs to focus on teaching and learning issues and not be distracted by political infighting. As demonstrated by the recommendations of the Curriculum Audit, we have work to do in improving the classroom experience for our students. Too much material is presented in lecture style and there is too much seatwork, even when teachers have curriculum materials presenting other options. The monitoring of teaching performance and quality is lacking. Programs are offered inconsistently and without regard to curriculum goals. We cannot continue to improve, and will never reach our at-risk students, if we continue to operate at present levels. The role of the Board is twofold: 1) to provide direction and oversight to ensure that the administration adequately addresses the needs of all our students and 2) to ensure community support and adequate funding for high quality comprehensive education.

2. What is there in your record as a public official or other experience-e.g. career, community service-that demonstrates your ability to be effective as a board member? Please be as specific as possible about the relevance of your accomplishments to your goals for the board.

As the parent of three WCPSS graduates, I know first-hand the educational issues faced by students and families. I have a student classified as AG who graduated with an IB diploma from Enloe High School. I know the needs of these types of students and what is and is not working in current curricula and the teaching of it. I will push for greater challenge for both our gifted students and our highly motivated students. My twins were more interested in performing arts and one was diagnosed ADHD. They struggled in math and required extensive outside tutoring. I know first hand that we need to be teaching to mastery in mathematics. A child who never mastered fractions will never be able to learn algebra. I know first-hand how arts and athletics can motivate and provide creative ways to express learning. These experiences will help me evaluate how the administration is providing comprehensive quality education for all students. My knowledge and concern for the practical educational experiences of students and their parents will also increase support for public education.

As a PTA president and Athletic Booster president, I experienced first hand what information is and is not getting to parents and what influence parents can and do have in educational decision-making. I will use that experience to get more information to parents earlier and to broaden avenues of input in order to involve parents and the community more constructively in the policy-making process. This will improve educational quality and increase public confidence and support for public education.

My education and career as a business and finance lawyer trained me for the complexity of the financial, construction and policy issues facing the Board. I have useful experience in analysis, negotiation and mediation and articulate expression of ideas. My specific legal experience was in negotiating and closing industrial development bond financings and loan agreements, as well as general business and franchise law. This included writing and reviewing operational policy. My experience will be helpful to the board as it reviews and approves the extensive rewriting of policy and procedures called for by the Curriculum Audit final report. I will require little start-up time to be useful to the board in the area of finance and facilities. These will all improve quality education and increase confidence in the public school system.

I have non-profit board experience and understand the role of board in providing direction and oversight to the administration. I was a Board member for Jerusalem House, Inc. in Atlanta Georgia, which is a non-profit whose mission is to provide housing to persons with AIDS who would otherwise be homeless. I was chair of the Program Committee, which oversaw the operations at our facilities as well as the 200 person volunteer program. I was also the chair of the Steering Committee for the Women's and Children's Project. I was also the Chairman of the Board for Moveable Feast, Inc., a Triangle non-profit whose mission involved collecting food for food banks (now merged into the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle). This non-profit Board experience will be useful in ensuring proper oversight of the administration and in communicating system goals and needs to the community.

I have never been employed by or supervised by anyone in the WCPSS administration. I will not be put into the difficult position of providing oversight to persons who used to directly supervise me. I am not conflicted in any way and am financially independent of the WCPSS.

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

A just community is one that provides equal and exceptional educational opportunities to all of its young people. I believe strongly in the transformative power of public education and in the opportunities for change that public education can offer all our students. My election will ensure a healthier school system focused on providing high quality education to all its students with strong support and adequate funding from the community.

4. Wake Schools are known for a commitment to economic diversity, but the goal of having no more than 40 percent of kids eligible for free and reduced meal plans in any school is slipping. Do you think the Board should be more rigorous about adhering to the diversity goal. Less rigorous? Or is it getting things about right?

I think the economic diversity goals for the district are the correct policy and, if properly implemented, can ensure that all schools are high quality places to learn. Because it is impossible to precisely predict who will attend a school in any particular year, schools need frequent evaluation as to whether they are meeting diversity goals. But we also need to evaluate why schools are not meeting diversity goals. In particular, in any school that is losing enrollment, we need to focus on why students are leaving and address those issues, which may include principal leadership, discipline, curriculum inadequacy or teacher quality. Merely assigning more families and students without investigating the causes of enrollment drop is short-sighted and doomed to repetition. In general, I favor adopting magnet programs at schools having diversity issues in order to attract the balance needed.

5. With 7,000 to 8,000 new students a year and money short, the board adopted a policy of making every new elementary school a year-round school. Do you support that policy? Or, if not, what alternatives would you support to meet the enrollment crunch?

Until growth lessens, I favor opening all new-schools as year round schools. I believe year-round schools are preferable to overcrowded traditional calendar schools. I favor offering parents assigned to year round schools choices of magnet schools and traditional calendar schools.

6. How is the board handling the annual reassignment issue, in your opinion?

Reassignment is a difficult issue because one is always shooting at a moving target. It is impossible to precisely predict exactly how many students will attend a particular school, especially since many parents take advantage of private and home schooling choices for their children. However, I think there are specific improvements that can be made. First, I will ask the Board to develop more long-range planning for reassignments. It will be helpful to the community and to families to have more specific information for the future, even if specific promises cannot be made. This should also prevent the reassignment of communities three times in three years as has happened in the past. Second, I will ask the Board to direct Student Assignment to focus on larger, rather than smaller reassignments. A community is more often satisfied with a different school as long the community as a whole is reassigned. The school will benefit from reassignment of a larger number of families who feel a connection with each other and to their children's education. Third, I will ask the Board to make sure the administration is using local knowledge of the community about which streets and areas belong to which community or neighborhood.

Finally, I will ask the Board to amend its transfer policy to allow more transfers. The Board spends a considerable amount of time hearing and approving transfer appeals. This time could be well spent on other issues.

7. Some board members have spoken out in favor of impact fees on new development in Wake County, or alternatively, an Adequate Public Facilities ordinance that would limit residential growth to available school sites. Do you support either idea or both?

I believe that while it brings significant challenges, growth is good for our community because, among other things, it brings a healthy economy, new jobs, increases in property values, and new and interesting places, people and opportunities to the Triangle. It goes without saying that growth also brings us challenges, especially for our schools. We have significant issues ahead of us about what to build, where to build it, what kinds of educational opportunities we should offer and most certainly, how to pay for it. But, the focus should be always on finding solutions to those challenges, not trying to stop growth because we are limited in our thinking about what to do about it. I support proper local zoning, green space ordinances and local input and requirements for planning and construction. I do not favor impact fees or an Adequate Public Facilities ordinance.

8. The Wake Commissioners estimate that $3 billion to $4 billion in additional school bond issues will be needed over the next eight years. But bonds don't happen unless the school board asks. As a board member, can you foresee supporting bond issues of that magnitude? Why or Why not?

I believe it is the role of the Board to provide a vision for the community of high quality comprehensive education for all students and to determine what funding is required to meet that goal. It is also the role of the Board to convince the community of the importance of meeting that goal and funding it appropriately. If the Board decides that funding of that magnitude is necessary, I will support it and work to attract community support.

9. The school board's goal of having 95 percent of all students achieving at grade level seems to be just out of reach, with past gains now halted. What is your view of this goal, and how (or whether) to try and reach it?

I believe that this goal is important to the system. Even though progress is stalled, it is important to our students, especially our at-risk students, that we continue to do everything we can to promote their success. Focusing on this goal keeps the system motivated to improve. The Curriculum Audit has made some specific suggestions aimed at moving us forward toward this goal and I will focus first on making sure those recommendations are promptly evaluated and implemented.

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

I am a Community in Schools mentor and I will advocate for more mentoring for at-risk students in the Communities in Schools program and otherwise.

I will advocate for academic programs for at-risk students that meet their learning styles, teach to mastery and put qualified experienced teachers in their classrooms. Studies show that an experienced teacher is much more likely to be successful in reaching a struggling student. Getting away from the lecture and seat work emphasis, as pointed out in the Curriculum Audit, will also help us reach more at-risk students. Use of individually paced computer-based learning programs has also been shown to be effective.

I will advocate for comprehensive education that meets the needs of our students who are not yet ready to go to college. These students need more in-depth programs that meet their needs and interests in developing meaningful work skills.

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