Mike Lee—DPS Board of Education, District 1 | Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County | Indy Week

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Mike Lee—DPS Board of Education, District 1

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Mike Lee
Campaign website: http://www.votemikelee.com
Phone number: 919-241-8009
Email: mike@votemikelee.com or micheaux@gmail.com
Years lived in Durham County: 21

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the Board of Education? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?

• Addressing the inequity of resources and cultural appropriate educational experiences has been ignored a long time in public education. It is the responsibility of the board to provide learning environments for all children to not only grow academically, but within their culture as well. Every child deserves to have access to the resources they need, and resources should be distributed equitably throughout the district. Creating an equity calculator based on certain factors, must be used to provide balance in need.
• In today’s political climate, the board of education must step forward into many issues in its fight to protect public education. One of the largest issues we are facing is the continuous restricting of school financing. The current lawmakers in North Carolina continue to find ways to cut funding and introduce unfunded mandates for schools. This creates a squeeze in many areas and schools continue to suffer.
• Traditional public schools also face the growth of unlimited charter schools and vouchers. Unfortunately, the state general assembly has made a choice to expand the school choice program, further causing harm to traditional public schools by reducing money to the districts and funding private companies offering charter experiments.
• Mental health needs are an ever-growing need facing the board of education. We must figure out way to increase the number of school counselors and other mental health professionals within our schools. Many of our students face toxic stress in a way that many adults have never experienced. We must bring this to a very high priority within our budgeting program and actions.


2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective Board of Education member? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

• Over the last 21 years (since I’ve lived in Durham), I have been very active in the schools with youth, churches, and other organizations looking to improve the lives and opportunities for youth. For example,
o 15 years of tutoring and mentoring in various capacities
o Coaching Soccer, Basketball, and Baseball for 8 years at Hillandale Sports Association. I now serve on the board of HSA.
o Board of advisors for the Durham YMCA
o Former board member for the Durham workforce and development board.
o Member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated.
• My career progression has also prepared me for the work of the board. Not all decisions the board of education are an educational decisions, most of the decisions require business and finance knowledge and understanding. I believe I am a great fit for this based on my background and career experience.
o 21 years in Business, Technology, and Finance
o MBA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Focus on Information Technology Management and Strategic Planning
o B.S. of Computer Science from Alabama A&M University
o Application Developer for 8 years
o Certifications: ITIL Expert, PMP, CSM, PSM, Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt

3. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your record and experience do you believe entitles you to another term?

• As an incumbent, think the efforts that would be considered most significant would be (in no particular order):
o Fighting the state with the addition of due process for our staff when the state removed career status
o Participating, approving and pushing for the new student code of conduct
o Leading the process for the selection of a new school board member
o Helping to iron out the details of the universal free breakfast program as well as push for a universal free lunch program (13 schools so far in the free lunch program)
o Pushing for increased transparency in our budgeting process by requesting the maturation of the Budget Advisory Committee
o Leading our fight to keep two of our schools from being taken over by the state.
o Leading other school districts when we approved resolutions on migrant families and LGBTQ concerns.
o Leading the process for a new superintendent
• I believe I should be rewarded with another term because of my proven commitment to the improvement of the lives of our students, teachers, and staff. From the moment I started my campaign in 2014, I have expressed my belief that traditional public schools are the foundation of our society in general, but especially in Durham. I believe that every adult (with children in the system or not) have a vested interest in the success of the public-school system. I have visited 45 of the 53 schools, I have met with hundreds of teachers and administrators, I continue to talk directly with students about how to improve, and I advocate for the successes of DPS in interviews, conferences as well as person to person.

We still have a long way to go, to be where we all know DPS can be, and with the new administration and the momentum we are seeing, I want to continue to help lead the way to our victories.


4. Research, including a new report from the NC Justice Center, suggests that North Carolina’s schools are becoming more segregated by race and economic status. What do you think is driving this trend, and do you think this is an issue DPS needs to address? Please explain your answer.

• There are many reasons for the segregation of socioeconomic statuses within DPS. As a correction to white flight out of Durham Public Schools, the school system introduced a plan involving increasing magnet programs. This was supposed to help attract white and middle-class families back to DPS. Although it had very limited effects, it exacerbated the problem of segregation in our system. What we were left with was neighborhood schools with an increasing number of students who were not able to participate in the lottery system for various reasons. This division has continued even today. Now we have a district that is over magnetized and over chartered. We as a district will need to review our magnets and take on the redistricting conversion to start fixing this overcorrection.
• I believe charter schools, in the same way magnet schools, have grown the divide. Currently charter schools operate under a different level of regulation allowing options to not provide services which may prevent some families from applying such as, no transportation requirements, no cafeteria requirement, lack of exceptional children services, etc. This limits the charter lottery to certain families and could reduce access to a lower socioeconomic population.

5. What effects do you believe the popularity of charter schools is having on the school system? Is it exacerbating segregation or draining resources from neighborhood schools, as some critics contend?

• I believe that biggest effect that charters are having on traditional public school systems is the overall reduction of prepupal funding. Currently the money (local and state) goes wherever the child goes, however when a child or multiple children leave a traditional public school, the system still must provide the same level of service to the remaining students, but without the level of funding previously held. As an example, if a school as four 1st grade classes and each class were to lose 3 children, that reduction is not enough to eliminate an entire class, so we will still need 4 teachers, four classrooms, four of everything, however the funding for those classrooms will be down by 3 students each. This draining of resources in the classrooms, I believe, is the biggest effect that charter schools have for our traditional schools.

6. In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, what do you think should be done to make schools safer? Do you see preventing such shootings as a “school safety” issue?

• I will start by saying, teachers should not have the added responsibility to protect students by using firearms. They should not be considered human shields. We as a district must secure the schools to prevent threats from entering the building. As a father, I think about the safety of my three small children constantly, as a board member, I think about the safety of the 34,000 DPS students every day. I think we as a district must prioritize in securing our schools to prevent access to the buildings without making the children feel as though they are locked in or in a prison. In the election bond of 2016, the Durham community voted to allow Durham Public Schools to put in foyers in the entrance of each building to allow visitors to access only the office and not be able to walk into the school without registering first. This will prevent and/or delay unauthorized visitors from accessing the building. If we can do these sorts of re-enforcements without making the school feel unwelcoming, I am supportive of these changes.
• Although I am not a fan of lock down drills, I think they are important to make sure everyone knows exactly what to do in the case of a real situation. I personally believe a drill in the beginning of the school year, and another at the beginning of spring as a refresher is sufficient.

7. In a similar vein, do you support the placement of school resource officers in Durham schools? If so, what do you think their role should be? If not, what do you propose as an alternative?

• Yes, I support SROs in schools. I constantly speak to administrators, teachers, and students. The overwhelming majority state they feel safer in schools with SROs there, however, we must acknowledge there have been problems with SROs within schools locally and on a national level. I think the role of an SRO in DPS can be reviewed and adjusted based on community input and feedback. We, as a district, will develop an advisory group to review and decide how DPS can better use SROs. I do not feel taking SROs out of schools is a viable solution, however I think we can adopt some best practices to help keep balance between students and SROs.

8. On the most recent Durham City and County Resident Survey, respondents rated DPS poorly in terms of community engagement, quality of education, budget management, transparency, and quality of leadership. Do you think this is a fair assessment? Why or why not? What do you think should be done to improve the system's image?

• No, I do not think this was a fair assessment, however, I do believe we have a lot of work to do to grow trust in our district. The reasons I don’t believe this was a fair assessment is as follows:
o Budget management transparency: There has been a history of budget mismanagement in the past, however, over the last 4 years, DPS has gone to great strides to open up the budget, line by line, to the community for review an input. The CFO of the district has held “budget reading” classes, we have developed a community Budget Advisory Committee, we instituted a Zero Based Budgeting committee, and we hold public input sessions for our proposed budget each year. Also, our budget is posted on our website in full (not only summary formatted).
o Community engagement: There have been various townhalls, input sessions, and events throughout our district looking to involve the community in different decisions. Last year, we even moved our school board meetings to various schools to invite the community to participate in the meetings. I do think there has been a need for more outreach to the community within the school buildings. The new administration started from day one involving the community, so this statistic will change greatly.
o Quality of Education: Although we have challenges in our district, we provide a very high quality of education and this can be shown by the number of graduates we produce, the schools and careers they have after graduation, and the over $40 million in scholarships accepted by our students last year.
o The unfairness of the sample size: This survey was sent out to 700 of the over 280,000 people living in Durham. Just under half of those responded. That leaves a high margin of error (around 6%). I believe if a larger survey with a high response rate could be achieve, I do not believe the numbers would be so low.
o How to improve the districts image: Continue to grow our schools and students, but we also must take control of the narrative about our system. We have recently started publishing the list of colleges and universities our students are attending each year and posting it in each school and building. We have also recently hired a director of marketing who will work with businesses to highlight the successes we are having within our school buildings. We must tell our story, we must show why we are the best option for Durham’s children.

9. According to the most recent data, DPS’s four-year graduation rate is 81.4 percent, which is significantly lower than other Triangle counties’ graduation rates, as well as the state average. To what do you attribute this? And what steps can DPS take to increase its four-year graduation rate?

• A major component in the graduation rate is the number of students that drop out. I believe if we work to support those students who are at risk for dropping out. Our teachers, counselors, and administrators are aware of those who are having challenges. With a strengthening of our PLC program, as well as bringing other such programs online, this could result in fewer dropouts and a higher graduation rate.
• Another avenue to explore is increasing trade programs in our schools. Trades provide an alternate path for students who need nontraditional paths to educational success. Before funding for these types of programs stopped, it was a very popular alternative. This allows the school system to teach and certify students in certain trades and can transfer credits to community colleges or have graduates go directly into apprenticeships. Successful completion of these programs will count towards graduation rates.

10. Three-quarters of DPS students are black or Hispanic, yet students of color are trailing their white peers in grade-level proficiency. Why isn’t DPS doing a better job of reaching students of color? What should be done to close this achievement gap?

• The persistence of the performance gap has been consistent for many years now. There have been efforts for decades to change this. For us to change something we haven’t been able to change, we need to do something we’ve never done before. Therefore the idea of community schools is so attractive to me. We’ve never fully implemented a wraparound program like community school in DPS previously. There are many reason for a child or even a demographic to underperform. The sheer number of reasons is daunting and insurmountable; however, we can change this by providing services and support at the school level that may make up for some of the toxic stress some of our students are experiencing. If we can eliminate one area of concern for a student, we are that much closer to helping to solve a distraction.

As a district, we must focus on equitable distribution of our resources to support schools and students that need more help. Our district is well funded, however not every school needs the same level of funding. Some schools are at a baseline level of need, while other schools are at a much higher level of need. This need to be balanced to provide more resources to some of our school.

Another concern is a culturally appropriate curriculum. We need to provide information and curriculum surrounding those of black history. It is very important for students to learn about their histories as well as learning about other cultures. When history is relegated to a small segment of our population, leaving out the important contributions of African American’s this can cause disinterest and disconnection from the subject matter. We must connect on a different level with our students. We have to teach them they are achievers and successful. We must give them exposure to the successes they can and will have. Along with culturally appropriate curriculums, we need to make sure we are challenging our African American students at the same levels of their peers. Letting our opinions of who can do the advanced curriculums are holding our students back. We can no longer allow our staff to do this.

11. What do you think the system could do to keep down suspension rates in Durham County schools?

• Unfortunately, the problem with suspensions and the disproportionate nature of the suspensions toward black and brown male students continues to persist even after decades of working on this problem. With the onset of the district’s new student code of conduct (done two years ago), we are in the process of attacking this problem in different ways. To get different results, we must do some things different than we’ve ever done. We’ve started doing ongoing professional development for all of our staff to understand cultural and implicit biases ingrained in our district. If we continue to grow this training I believe referrals for suspensions will drop, and possible result in other types of discipline consequences outside of suspensions. We also have to hold teachers and principals accountable for justifications of suspension discrepancies. We as a district must make sure level and equal punishments are given to students from different backgrounds to eliminate the disproportionate levels of consequences.

• I also think we need to change the way we handle alternatives-to-suspension programs. At our largest program Lakeview, many times students show up for the length of their suspension and go back to their school when completed. I think we, as a district, should be doing more to find the root of the problems by working one on one with the students in these programs. We should compel flexibility from the district, counselors, and schools to find something that works for an individual student, and work to connect the students with programs and opportunities tailored for the student. This would be the beginning of a fully restorative justice program for long term suspended students. It is important to connect with students and find their motivations to help mitigate future suspensions. We’ve never done anything like that before, and again, I believe in order to get different results, we need to do something different.

12. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.

• I think the issue I will stand up for is the inclusion of SROs in the schools. If there has been one thing that has been consistent in the student surveys, my conversations with stakeholders, and teacher working surveys, the SROs being present in schools is a positive response. I am fully aware that there are serious incidents relating to interactions with SROs and students. I think there is space in our community to have open and honest dialogue regarding best practices with SROs in our schools, and I am advocating for this sort of community meeting, however I am a firm believer in the need to have highly trained and focused SROs in our schools. There are many voters who do not believe that SROs belong in schools and I can understand their beliefs, however I disagree with their position on this sensitive subject.

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