Michelle (Shell) Brownstein | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Michelle (Shell) Brownstein

Candidate for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools


Name as it appears on the ballot: Michelle (Shell) Brownstein

Occupation & employer: Surgeon, UNC Faculty Physicians

Campaign website: michellebrownstein.com

Email: michelle.brownstein@yahoo.com

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools?

• Effective implementation of Dr. Forcella's Long Range Plan which encompasses fundamental needs of all students and staff that were identified through community dialogue;

• Addressing the needs identified in our older facilities assessment;

• Facing the certain 2014 budget reduction yet still realizing our district's priorities;

• NC General Assembly Majority's assault on the public education of our children and our state's teaching profession.

If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

• Balancing supporting what works but continuing my critical examination of implementation of initiatives and demand for results.

• Maximizing collaborative efforts with Orange County Schools Board of Education, Board of Orange County Commissioners and Chapel Hill and Carrboro Town Governing bodies and working to communicate the issues to the public.

• Making budget decisions utilizing my experience and background knowledge of what cuts have already occurred and areas where students and staff needs are greatest with a focus on funding what is effective.

• Clarifying responsibility and encouraging the urgent need for state elected officials to hear from everyone about specific impact their decisions are having on the classroom.

2. If you are an incumbent, what perspective have you brought that the town still needs?

For nearly four years I have served on the CHCCS Board of Education (BOE). I consistently take the time to really understand the issues and decisions at hand and work collaboratively with my colleagues on the Board as well as the County Commissioners, members of the Orange County Schools BOE and our Chapel Hill/Carrboro city governing bodies. My votes are guided by my firm belief that all students can and should succeed in our district. Of the candidates, I have the most BOE experience not only as a member but also serving in the role of Vice Chair and now Chair. I also am the board member who intentionally focused one of our priorities on the critical need for more effective literacy instruction for every student in our district so that every child can read well. Only then can they access the curriculum and realize their potential. I also am a teacher in my professional employment and as such have great empathy for the issues our teachers face on a daily basis. I will continue to do all I can to support their professional development and success in the classroom. Finally, I am the mother of children who have faced learning difficulties and experience the challenges many parents face when their child is not getting what they need. If reelected, I will continue to bring my knowledge, experience and perspective to the board discussions and decisions.

3. In the last four years, what do you feel are the three best accomplishments of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and why?

Hiring Superintendent Forcella as our district's leader. I strongly support his focused initiatives to improving instruction and achievement for all students as outlined in his new long range plan. CHCCS Long Range Plan

Converting all of dual language to magnet programs because moving forward all children in our district will have access to this method of instruction which helps close the achievement gap and results in children who are bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. All of these goals are critical in today's economy where the world is flat and knows no boundaries.

Focusing on student growth as a measure of our district's success. Every child must make a year's worth of growth and those who are behind need accelerated growth or they will never catch up. A growth focused model leaves no child behind because it moves us away from using proficiency as the measure (which limits expectations for some children) and allows us to work to realize each child's potential.

Conversely, what are three things you would have done differently?

As a current member of the CHCCS Board of Education, this question is quite personal. I feel the weight of the decisions we as a collective Board make. So I will share with you my personal reflections. Given the length I'm sharing two things I would have done differently.

When you start this role, you are attempting to drink water out of a fire hydrant because of the sheer mass of information involved from learning the boundaries of your position as an individual Board member to the specifics about the district. I'm going to share with you a personal example to help underscore how experience impacts this responsibility. Despite my extensive volunteer involvement at the school, district and state level, despite my federal/state/local advocacy for students with disabilities and despite my attendance of every single board meeting from filing to being sworn in I found the transition as a new board member challenging. That is one of the reasons I advocated for our board to create a "Newbie FAQ" to help smooth out the transition for future board members. A "newbie" vote I cast that I would have done differently (if I knew then what I know now) is my vote to support the administration's 2010 recommendation to remove the option of a year long world language course for sixth graders. I had only been on the board a few months. I tried to convince the majority not to support this recommendation and even presented an amendment to the vote, but it failed. Out of my sense of being supportive of a board decision, I supported the majority opinion after my amendment failed. That vote I regretted but I learned a great deal and matured as a board member. That experience fueled my commitment to a world language priority for our district. I knew we could do better. I am also happy to report that starting next year, our current administration plans to resume offering a full year of world language instruction for sixth graders.

I wish I could have anticipated better the optimal timing and role of public hearings during the redistricting process. As Chair, I have insisted that we have our redistricting debriefing with the current Board before the November election so that all members who participated will have the opportunity to provide input. Our legacy is a commitment to doing the best we can in the moment but learning from the experience and providing a road map for future Boards.

4. Indy Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

I love our community but I also realize that there are too many silos. I knew that when I campaigned before from the vantage point of a mother of children struggling, a school and district volunteer/tutor and a citizen who met so many engaged, concerned people on the campaign trail in neighborhoods all over our district. But now, I really appreciate it from the vantage point of a parent who has been able to serve you all on the board of education. An added level is my position at UNC where I am committed to building bridges with our community and the hard working individuals at our university committed to pipeline projects and increasing opportunities for all children, but most especially those who are from what most would consider disadvantaged backgrounds. My commitment for all children to succeed has grown with each year that I call Chapel Hill/Carrboro my home.

You can also look up my responses to the questions asked of me as a 2009 CHCCS BOE candidate as they are still "me": INDY 2009

5. How do you define yourself politically (i.e. conservative, moderate, liberal, third party, hybrid, etc.) and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am liberal but keep in mind, as a member of our Board of Education I represent the interests of all children regardless of anyone's political philosophy. That nonpartisan reality is one of the many things I enjoy about this particular public office. I have an open mind and passion for inclusiveness. I love the diversity of our community and the children I serve as a member of the CHCCS BOE. If you have listened to my comments during board meetings, you will have heard me often mention the need to be mindful of the voices we have not heard.

6. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools are thought of as some of the best in the state, but state budget cuts have reduced local school funding by millions. How do you, as a local school board member, work within these confines and retain the quality of local schools?

We have worked hard to maximize the length of time our 2010 Edu Jobs funding could buttress our budget; we intentionally divided it over three years. This year is the last year we will have that cushion. Which means we face a $2.2 Million deficit going into the 2014-2015 school year. As I've mentioned, this reality is one of the reasons why I have decided to run again. I feel I owe it to the welfare of the children and our staff to be an experienced board member at the table when we face our next operational budget. Another budget issue that could overwhelm any other financial discussion is the money that will be required to address the capital needs of older schools for all of the children in Orange County CHCCS and OCS. While that dialogue has just begun, it will be ongoing and as I have said before, there is an urgency now that we have uncovered the specific needs.

7. With state lawmakers increasingly viewing public schools as a means for cutting costs, how would you advocate for school funding at the state level?

I continue to look for every opportunity to increase the number of people who are advocating at a state level, especially those who live in counties that do not share our tremendous support of public education with our local representatives in our state General Assembly. As a CHCCS Board of Education member, I have continued to personally express my support of the need for adequate public school funding with our state organization (North Carolina School Board Association NCSBA) and worked with my fellow board members to draft letters to send the NC General Assembly in support of public education and in opposition to decisions they are considering that erode away public education.

8. With the local population continuing to grow, how would you plan out future school construction in a manner within local schools' budget means?

The older facilities assessment we have just done is the key. If we get the financial support of the taxpayers in our county to fund the necessary changes we must make at our older facilities we will simultaneously increase our capacity while we address the inequalities across our facilities. These changes will postpone our county's need for new schools due to the current Orange County School Construction Standards. So the bottom line is, we will need bonds to fund these necessary school facility needs. I am committed to doing all I can to make sure the public has all the information so citizens can make informed decisions.

9. How do you increase parental involvement in local schools?

I appreciate the critical importance of my role in this regard regardless of parent involvement, I represent the voice of parents with regards to the education of their children. As a board member, my ability to increase parental involvement comes from supporting district initiatives like PreK Council, Parent University, SIT training, PTA Council and Public School Foundation. As we discuss policy and regulations, I also keep at the forefront of my mind the parent perspective regarding how parents can access this information. A new opportunity in our district is coming out of our newest elementary school Northside Elementary. I know the alumni in the community are very interested in being an integral part of the success of the students there and I fully support all efforts to foster that relationship.

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