Name as it appears on the ballot: Nancy Cox
Date of Birth: 7/25/63
Candidate web site: www.nancycox.webs.com
Occupation & Employer: Not working outside the home at this time
Years lived in Durham County: 16
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school system? What are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Although I have provided two issues below, I also feel that eliminating the drop out rate, providing for the needs of at-risk students, and overcrowding, are equally important issues and I am glad you have created separate questions.
An issue that repeatedly comes up when speaking with parents, teaches and students is school appropriate behavior. My first priority is to insure that we have in place systems, and structures that support positive student behavior. To address this priority at the classroom level, I believe we need to continue our focus on building positive student and teacher relationships with programs such as Capturing Kids Hearts. This concept of building relationships with children where they feel welcomed into school and the classroom, well known by their teachers as individuals, and recognized for their contributions to the success of the school, are very familiar to me. My co-authored book, Advisory Programs in the Middle Grades, an NMSA publication, remains a top seller in assisting schools with developing healthy school and classroom culture.
A second priority is insuring that all students have a way to be included in school activities outside of the core curriculum as this is an effective strategy to insure positive behavior. Students need to be able to express their interests, abilities and talents through classes such as Art, Music, and Band and in after school programs such as debate teams, Science clubs and of course sports teams. When students feel they are connected to a smaller group of their peers and mentored by an effective coach or sponsor, then it is very likely that they will feel good about their school community and will want to support a positive school culture.
A program meant to effect change at the school level is Positive Behavior Support and it must remain a priority strategy to address the issue of student behavior. Teams of teachers and support staff work together to assess practices, processes, and structures to determine what is working to induce positive behavior and what might be in place that actually is a barrier to positive behavior. For example, in a middle school, simply requiring students to take a different route from elective to core classes so as not to disrupt students currently in class is an easy fix. Presenting it to students as a way that they can contribute to insuring an environment conducive to learning is the key. This team approach is central to the effectiveness of PBS as it creates a collective mindset that focuses on what the school can do to elicit positive behavior and create opportunities for students to be contributing members of their school community versus a mindset that focuses on punitive measures. As a member of the PTA Council, we suggested, and are encouraged, that Central office personnel are receptive to including parents on the PBS Team.
Finally, a priority must be to protect the classroom from student behavior that distracts teachers from teaching and students from learning. To this end, In School Suspension, administered effectively, is our best compromise at insuring a classroom environment conducive to learning while continue to address the academic needs of the student gone astray. ISS should be a temporary measure for students who have made poor behavior choices where they can receive assistance on their school work from a qualified teacher, and be coached to make and practice better behavior skills such as self-monitoring, before returning to the classroom.
Children want to come to school and enjoy being in school. It is the responsibility of adults to insure that we structure the school day to facilitate positive student behavior. Especially at the high school level, we certainly should tap into the student perspective on what can be done to support students to be contributing members to a positive school environment.
Addressing the difference in achievement is a second top issue. The reality is, that just as children come in all different shapes and sizes, they also come to school with different sets of experiences, talents and skills that are more or less developed. It really is amazing when we consider that our teachers are asked to differentiate instruction so that each child can be met where he or she at and then taken to the next level, but that is what our teachers do.
A priority is to recognize that the range of developed skills and knowledge is greatest the first day of school as children bring with them resources that either do or dont match what they will be expected to do in school. Because of this reality, I am a proponent of viewing education as a birth to 18 endeavor. Quality, early childcare that has school readiness as a goal is crucial. DPS currently collaborates with Durhams Partnership for Children and other early childcare organizations. By providing school sites and personnel for the state funded, More at 4, program, we are reaching as far down as currently possible. Our strong kindergarten transition program is another way we recognize the importance of working with children early on. A new program, Durham Connects, that enjoys collaboration from various Durham organizations, will provide a home visit by a nurse for every child born in Durham with the goal of connecting parents to needed resources including resources that focus on developing social skills and academic skills.
Another priority and proactive method for reaching children at the earliest stage of social and academic development is to implement universal screening, particularly for the social skills necessary to be an effective member of a learning community. Fortunately, DPS is moving in this direction. I have done significant reading and have had conversations with key personnel and other experts in the area of early childhood development and the prospects that screening yields for diagnostic data with immediate implementation strategies is exciting. (www.predictiveassessment.com and google SSBD or SRSS assessments for additional information).
A final priority to address this issue, and one that resonates with me because of my significant involvement with PTA at the Council level, is to recognize the integral role parents play in supporting academic achievement. We must continue to offer workshops like the Power of Parents for which I was facilitator. The significant number of participants is an indicator that parents are desirous of learning new strategies to support their childrens academic and social development. PTA Council offered a similar program, before the system had a Family Involvement Coordinator in place, and it too was well received. We have several resources in the community to support parent education, for example, PFAST, through Durhams Cooperative Extension, which works with parents to become leaders and advocates in their schools. Communities In Schools is working with staff and parents at one elementary school to provide training in a highly regarded program called the Incredible Years. Additional collaborations like this must be identified to honor parents desire to carry out their role in supporting their childrens academic success.
Although it is a challenge to meet the needs of all learners it is imperative that this be our goal. I believe DPS is making great strides and as a Board member I will continue to move us forward especially by bringing my knowledge of community resources to bear and by working to include parents as equal partners in the solutions.
2. What 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.
Ill answer this with a couple of different approaches. First, in reviewing the Duties and Responsibilities of Board Members per DPS, I find that I have been directly involved in the work of our Board in several ways.
The Board works with the Administration to develop the budget. While at the Durham Public Education Network, I served on the Superintendents Budget Advisory Board, which required members to attend 4 in depth meetings with the goal of developing the budget that goes to the County Commissioners. It was helpful to advocate for the budget to the Commissioners having been a part of its development. I was also able to effectively share key points of the budget, with the PTAs at my daughters schools as the legislative liaison, a position I have held several times.
Board members are charged with creating attendance lines. As Hope Valley Elementary neared completion, district lines had to be developed. I was intricately involved in developing potential attendance zones, attending meetings, meeting with Board members to share a plan, and was deemed a leader in the effort to keep neighborhoods intact while working to create a diverse student population at the new school.
Regarding the role of the Board in insuring student safety, I was appointed by the Durham Council of PTAs, per the Superintendents request, to sit on the Emergency Management Team. The Team included representatives from city and county government, all law enforcement and emergency agencies, as well as other groups whose services would be instrumental in response to a significant emergency crisis at anyone of our schools. The work of this committee was serious and confidential and it was a great honor for me to represent the prospective needs of parents in the event of an emergency.
Finally, a large role of Board members is captured in policy 1100.8 where Board members are instructed to interpret or share the work of the school system with the public. Just one solid example, at DPEN, my main project was to work to inform the public on the necessity of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, a bedrock of insuring a quality school system, and to partner with various community groups to support DPS in meeting this goal. Presentations to business leaders, the teachers association, and others allowed me to rally support for teacher mentoring program. Our annual education summit focused on this issue and through my efforts we secured two nationally recognized experts to present on the issue. In a collaborate spirit, DPS Central office staff and two teachers were also featured in this successful program.
As you can see, I have extensive experience in carrying out duties very similar to those charged to our Board of Education. The other skills and talents I bring come from my work as an educator, community supporter of Education and through other work related experience.
I know my 22 years of building my knowledge in the field of Education will show through and I believe my recent teaching experience with DPS will be provide a fresh perspective on the Board. I also had the good fortune to intern for 8 weeks with the Social Studies Coordinator at Central office in 2004 and believe that the collegial relationships I have established with many Central office staff will make for a smooth transition into my Board role.
My nickname is Nancy Networker, having worked at the Durham Public Education Network. I think that this nickname fits, as my greatest pleasure in serving my community is to connect people to resources, like minded organizations to one and other, and to share empowering information, all with the goals of streamlining delivery of services and enhancing effectiveness of programs to benefit, in most cases, Durhams children. To that end I chose to represent my school-based PTAs on the Durham Council of PTAs, the umbrella organizations for the PTA, and was elected to the role of Vice President of Programming. I have served in this position for the last 3 years. With my colleagues on the Council, we work to provide information to the school-based PTAs and to connect them with resources. An example of how we accomplish these goals is our recent program called, Durham Supporting our Students. I was able to create a panel that included a representative from: government, social services, DPS, a community-based nonprofit, Higher Education and Business. Our goals were met, PTAs were connected with resources, panel members saw immediate opportunities for collaboration and the quality of the information shared opened up many possibilities for mutual support of each stake holders initiatives focused on supporting children.
From its inception in 2004, I have been a member of the joint city/county initiative called Results Based Accountability. I serve with approximately 25 other organizations, including DPS, on the committee, Children Ready for and Succeeding in Schools, and the subcommittee on, After-school and Out of School Time. Our subcommittee recently secured a grant to provide training to child care providers in a myriad of settings in key areas such as effective communication with parents.
I am a member of the Durham Preservation society and have a particular interest in insuring our children grow up appreciating Durham History. I have been a Board member with the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties serving as the liaison to Orange Countys Communities In Schools program. Our daughters are active in Girl Scouts, for which I have been an area organizer and leader.
I am a candidate with broad knowledge regarding the resources of our community garnered through participation in things like: Leadership Durham, through the Chamber of Commerce; Neighborhood College, a joint city/county initiative to educate active citizens on the program of city and county government; and previous work at two other education-based non profits, the Center for Early Adolescence affiliated with UNC and the Center for Peace Education.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am going to combine this question with question 4 regarding the creation of a just society. My brothers and I often joke that there must have been something in the water growing up outside of Washington D.C. because each of us have always made it a point to educate ourselves on the issues, especially those effecting our local communities, and to be active in the community with the simple desire to use our talents and resources to serve. I think it is telling that three of us have careers in public education. The brother not in Education is a small business owner and has always mentored youth by providing work opportunities and companionship.
To me, Education is a social justice issue. Public Education remains our best hope at providing equal opportunity to a quality life. My heroes are people like, Jonathan Kozol, Alfie Kohn, Asa Hilliard, Theresa Perry, Ruby Payne and Ron Edmunds. My view of Education as a social justice issue was most heavily influenced while living in Boston and attending the University of Massachusetts. While at UNC I pursued my understanding of Education as a social justice issue by taking classes on South African history while the dramatic changes were underway; African American History, devouring John Hope Franklins seminal work; Social and Political Movements, my first honest exposure to the Union movement. The career choices I have made have been influenced by my beliefs. My work at the education non-profit, the Center for Early Adolescence, focused on District Reform to meet the needs of underserved Middle Grades Youth. I also worked at the Center for Peace Education, where I worked with youth to create programs to open up conversations around issues of race, equality, and justice and supported them during implementation of their program in setting such as school, neighborhood or place of worship. Both of these organizations were in Chapel Hill where I was also a teacher. While at UNC, I was fortunate to partner with the Chapel Hill/Carrboro School District and African American Community Leaders in writing a paper on the Effects of Desegregation on the African American Community in Chapel Hill/Carrboro Schools. My work was part of a celebration of the accomplishments of students and staff at the segregated, Lincoln High School and the installment of a permanent historical display. Capturing the stories of prominent African American leaders, Lucille McDougle, Hank Anderson, R.D. Smith, and Charles Peace, on tape, was a huge part of my work and I personally learned so much about the political role public school has in either furthering justice or setting it back. It is no coincidence that I gravitated to the Social Studies and as a new teacher, I had a passion for the World Geography curriculum as it is a vehicle to assist students in understanding, from an objective stance, issues of equality, equity, racism, prejudice, forms of government that do and dont allow for individual rights, and the effects of economic systems in creating classes of people. Assisting young adolescents in discovering these issues and how they ultimately incorporate them into their values and beliefs is a privilege.
I believe my election to office would further our communitys goal of providing a quality education to every child because of the experiences I have had and the work that I have done. At a time when many School Boards are dominated by business leaders who, without negative intent, view Education solely as a means to produce workers, I believe my predisposition to have a more balanced approach of viewing Education as a way to assist children in developing into healthy, educated, contributing members of society, which most likely includes having a fulfilling career, matches what the Durham community desires.
4. The Independents mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you know might cost you some popularity points with voters.
First, I believe that the culture of Durham allows for open conversation about any topic and thus I struggle with the way this question is worded because it seems to suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, there is a topic that I would like our community to address and I bring it to you from my role as a teacher, a parent and PTA leader.
As the district continues its examination into our grading policies with the goal of establishing assessments that are aligned to the curriculum and aspire to measure higher order thinking skills versus basic skills such as recall, I would also like us to examine our beliefs about the role of homework. We are incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Harris Cooper, Director of Duke Education, as a partner, because Dr. Cooper has done, to date, the most comprehensive review of research and literature on the positive correlation between homework and student achievement as well as homework and skills such as: time management, organization, and work ethic, and between homework and student attitudes toward school. Because in my role with PTA Council this topic comes up so frequently I have researched it on my own and am led to believe that only the best contrived (usually teacher created) homework assignments deserve a place in our curriculum. Because of this qualifier, we would see a significant reduction in the amount of homework our children are required to do.
My views on Education as a social justice issue push me to ask our community to consider the reality that some families are better equipped than others to provide the assistance and resources that are often required to successfully complete assignments. Deborah Meier, a prominent education advocate and researcher, put it like this, If we sat around and deliberately tried to come up with a way to further enlarge the achievement gap, we might just invent homework. I know that this idea, on first pass, will seem completely counterintuitive and that is because we have all bought into the idea that homework positively correlates with student achievement. Again, using our expert resources, including the views of our students and teachers, and our own experiences, this is a conversation that we need to have.
6. Creekside student reassignment recently has been a controversial topic. Since, given Durhams growth, it is likely the board will continue to reassign students, what are your guiding principles when considering such action? How would those principles be transformed into policy?
The overcrowding issues at several of our schools, including Creekside elementary, must be addressed. A huge part of this situation is to educate and include the community on the plans currently in place and how DPS works collaboratively with the city and county around development that will have an impact on student enrollment. To this end, the 2006 Long Range Facilities plan is available on the DPS website under Reports and Publications and Districtwide Plans. This comprehensive document is a result of site visits, conversations with school personnel and parents, and an assessment of the physical structure and supporting equipment. Detailed plans for renovations, additions and general maintenance are provided along with time frames and cost analysis. Also included under Departments, is the link to the new Construction website. Here you will find detailed plans on how the 2007 Bond is supporting school renovation, addition, construction and maintenance. It is through the generous support of citizens that urgent needs, like the addition of classrooms at Creekside, were moved up ahead of schedule. Both documents include plans for construction of new schools, again with time frames for land purchase and building start time, as well as cost projections. A public hearing on the construction of elementary school B is scheduled for April 17th at 6:30pm.
Because these documents are a challenge for a layperson to wade through, it may be that a joint presentation could be made by DPS and the Planning Department from the City and County via a community-based group like the PTA Council. An efficient means of sharing this meeting would be to broadcast live on Channel 8 like City Council and County Commissioner meetings are done. A download from the DPS website would allow people to view the presentation on their own time. Although DPS did go out to schools, while in the development stages of the Long Range Plan, and parents did attend, there are never too many opportunities to continue to include people in expressing their ideas and concerns.
Redistricting must remain an option to address growth and again the more upfront participation the less stressful the result. I do support the goals of the redistricting done last year where we sought to remedy situations where we had either pockets, islands or peninsulas in terms of the way district lines look on a map. The goal was to create stronger, more direct feeder patterns between traditional elementary, middle and high schools. To some degree, this does create a feeling of neighborhood schools where identifiable neighborhoods were kept intact. I do believe school districts play a significant role on the sense of neighborhood and have experienced the negative consequences of neighborhoods that are split and sent to different elementaries- this is the case in Hope Valley Farms where half go to Hope Valley elementary and half to Southwest. Because so many family interactions in the elementary years are through childrens school friends, it is sad when children in the same physical neighborhood do not become friends. This illustration points to the challenge of creating a feeling of neighborhood schools, smooth transitions and balancing growth.
As growth and overcrowding will continue to be concerns for our community, I do believe it is appropriate that the at-large member of the School Board shares sensitivity for this situation. Our family has been in an overcrowded elementary for the last 8 years so I can empathize with my neighbors at a schools like Creekside and Jordan and those folks up in Northern and Eastern Durham where growth is healthy to say the least.
The reality is, based on projections by student assignment and Facilities management, that all of our current schools will be at or over capacity in the near future. In areas experiencing overcrowding, we need to work collaboratively to understand what is attracting families to schools that are overcrowded with the goal of replicating those incentives at nearby schools that are either just under or at capacity. Inevitably, until we have new construction, we are going to have schools that struggle with overcrowding but I dont believe any one school should shoulder an undue burden.
Carefully assessing our current unused school sites, like the old WG Pearson that was refurbished to become a new middle school, makes a lot of sense given tight construction budgets. Another example of reusing old facilities is the new Holton School. With the county, we should look at other potential existing sites, for example, the remaining building on the old Lowes Grove site, to determine if renovation might be a less costly alternative to building new. This option seems to make more sense in this new era of creating small high schools with a definitive theme. In addition, as a person who cherishes local history, this is an opportunity for the school system to express its valuing of Durhams history as they have done with their commitment to renovate Carr at DSA versus tearing down this community treasure.
Finally, because mobile classroom units will most likely be around for awhile, it is imperative that we insure equality between schools in terms of the age of the unit, and the necessary amenities like paved sidewalks, covered walkways and fencing that insures safety. My PTA at Hope Valley brought this very issue to the attention of DPS.
What financial issues are influencing the decision? How can those financial issues best be addressed? Land-transfer tax? Increased property taxes? I am going to answer this as part of question 7.
7. In paying for new schools and other county needs, what role would you like to see assigned to:
a. Property taxes?
b. Impact fees?
c. Year-round schools?
d. More charter schools?
e. Sales tax?
f. Other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods?
In examining how to deal with overcrowding and fund new schools, it is more of a time issue than financing. We have enjoyed excellent support from the community via the bonds and from the commissioner in meeting our expected needs. Still a subdivision can be built out in a year and a half but an elementary school takes 39 months from start to finish.
a. Taxes will always be too high for anyone who has to pay them! However, compared to other counties in NC we are near the top. The reality in Durham is that we have a high degree of need in the areas that are traditionally assigned to county government in health and social services. This of course is why providing a sound education to every child is crucial so that they become citizens who contribute to the tax base.
b. The issue is a muddy one because counties have not been treated equally. Impact fees do make sense. Raleigh and Charlotte charges them and we cannot. In fact we had to pay back almost 13 million in impact fees collected; that is enough to build an elementary school. The Durham community must continue to work at resolving this issue.
c. I would not favor creating year round tracking and I will provide two reasons. First, it becomes it impossible to honor vacation around American valued holidays to all students. Second, the wear on buildings and resulting maintenance/replacement costs often outweigh savings from not building or fitting other space to meet facility needs.
d. I do not see where Charter schools offer a solution to offset the costs of needed new construction. I do know that Durham has a stellar reputation for building quality schools that meet the demands of 21st century technology, are built to meet environmentally friendly codes, and provide space for playgrounds and playing fields that are in turn heavily utilized by our community.
e. At this time I am not knowledgeable enough to discuss the use of land transfer or sales tax however, I am aware that sales tax drives needed incentives for our healthy tourist industry and I would not want to damage that industry as it provides countless jobs especially for small business owners and significant revenue for Durham.
f. No new ideas about funding sources at this time although we are awaiting results of the lottery and as citizens must remain vigilant that the earnings are spent as promised.Related to your questions about funding sources, is the need to work with the community to understand and have a voice in the development in the planning of our school budget. While Central office staff have always included representatives from the community, I believe there is a need to start planning with information sessions prior to work of a formal Budget Advisory committee. When people have an understanding and a sense of ownership in the budget they become your greatest advocates. While at the Durham Public Education Network, a DPS Budget Analysis was created that proved useful to the community; I would advocate that DPS partner with an organization such as the Chamber of Commerce, to produce such a document. See the following link for a toolkit to create such a document: http://www.publiceducation.org/pdf/Publications/Public_Engagement/schoolfinancekit.pdf
Currently, on the DPS website, in the Reports and Publications/Publications/State of the System Annual Report, there is a detail on where funds are generated and how they are spent. In addition, a public hearing on the 2008-09 budget will be held on April 10th. Copies of the full budget should be available in Central office soon and requests for the presentation made to the community and Board may be requested.
8. The No Child Left Behind Act has set a goal that all students would be proficient in reading and math by 2013-2014. Only seven of 21 Durham Public Schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB. Specifically, what can the school board do to help the schools that didnt make their AYP? Secondly, what is your opinion on NCLBs emphasis on standardized testing? Is NCLB a fair and effective program? What can be done to help low-performing schools?
First, let me say that overall I do not think that NCLB is a fair and effective program. I believe that even with the funding promised by the Federal government the plan relies too heavily on standardized tests that are norm referenced versus criterion or better yet, diagnostic, and thus serve no purpose other than to compare one school or district against another. Measuring students achievement does nothing to actually change student achievement. Finally, as a parent and a teacher, I have seen the stress that the test induces, the negative consequences when a child does not pass, and the amount of valuable class time given over to preparing students for a test that does not measure what is valued most, problem solving, and critical thinking skills, but instead regurgitation of basic facts and the plugging in of formulas. Maybe the reading entries have some merit for interesting content.
All that said, I do think that the one positive aspect of NCLB is the forced desegregation of data because school systems who appeared to be providing a quality education overall were often found lacking in terms of meeting their most challenged students needs. This has not really helped Durham because we have known for a long time, through our own research and our communitys commitment to dialog, that the needs of certain groups of our student population were not being met. What Durham needed was solutions not more testing. The fact that schools and districts actually lose federal money if they dont meet the standards is just a bizarre way of supposedly helping children, which is what the act was supposedly meant to do. In my opinion there is more wrong then right with NCLB. I strongly encourage people to read a collection of research essays in, Many Children Left Behind, to understand the full ramifications of the act and to examine alternative ways to assure schools are meeting the needs of all children.
To understand how we can assist schools that have not met AYP we first have to explain how a school is measured. Briefly, there are several different subgroups of students measured by the End of Grades Tests. The more subgroups that a school has, the more goals it has to meet. If a school fails to meet progress in even one of their subgroups, such as students who are Limited in their English proficiency, then the school does not make AYP. It also should be explained that averages are used to determine if a subgroup earns the necessary mark. Any 5th grader can tell you the consequences of extremely low or high numbers when you average; it is often the case that one childs poor performance can fail the group. Regardless of these absurdities, what the district can do is work with the school to identify and implement strategies that will benefit the specific group of students.
Schools that fail to meet AYP for three years are deemed low performing. The school system must step in to create a comprehensive plan. Two such plans exist for Southern and Hillside and can be obtained from Central office. Two examples of strategies put in place are the formation of the Freshman academy and an increase in the number of students in AVID. I believe the Central office staff and the staff at our schools deemed low performing are working very hard and have been incredibly innovative at addressing the challenges. I also believe that DPS would have done this even if NCLB were not in place.
9. What is your opinion of the 2007 personal leave bill, which, had it passed, would have allowed teachers to take personal days without being docked $50 in pay? What guidance would you give state legislators on crafting a bill?
I faced this very situation last year as a teacher in DPS and I can tell you it is such a blow to your sense of your professionalism when you are not allowed to take a personal day off without having to pay for it financially. I hurt for my fellow teachers because I know how many hours they work outside of their paid workday to insure that they provide their students with everything they need to learn and that they have to suffer this insult to their professionalism is unacceptable on every level. The problem is compounded by the fact that other staff such as counselors and principals, have more flexibility in their schedule to accomplish lifes little tasks such as getting a tire changed, going to a closing on a house, meeting with your elderly parents doctors these are real examples and are allowed to use annual leave if necessary. Teachers annual leave days are wrapped into student holidays such as Winter and Spring Break so these are not available.
This ridiculous policy also puts teachers in a position to have to fib by instead claiming to be sick so that they can use a sick day to avoid having to be docked the $50. Often they are forced to wait to inform administration until the afternoon before that they arent feeling well and will need a sub, which puts stress on the administrator to find a sub on short notice. The NCAE has a brief available to the public on their website, ncae.org, and I encourage everyone to read it to understand what the policy is, the ramifications and the solutions; I support their call to provide teachers 2 personal days of paid leave. As a School Board, we can and should stand behind our teachers and voice our support for the abolishment of the policy and for the state to fund the costs.
10. The Durham school board underwent scrutiny last year for failing to comply with the state open records law. Public documents requested by the League of Women Voters have yet to be disclosed. For incumbents, explain why those documents have not been turned over; for challengers, what concrete steps should be taken to ensure transparency in the board? Be specific.
Last January, a request for all emails sent by board members for a specific time period was requested by someone who, as it turned out, was a member of the League. At the time, there was no central mechanism for easy access to emails to comply. Each board member used their personal email address. As a result of the request, and the inability of the central office to reply, central mailboxes were created for board members i.e. email@example.com.
This specific issue is part of a larger issue and having worked at the Durham Public Education Network, which often was a source for objective information regarding the challenges of the school system and the work of Central office and the Board, I am particularly sensitive to the communitys desire that the work of the Board be accessible. I believe incredible efforts have been made in the last 4 years to open up to the public the work of the Board. A specific example is the formation of the 3 committees, Instructional, Administrative and Support Services, chaired by a Board member, and made up of Central office staff, with the ability of the public to sit in on these meetings, where the foundation for much of what then becomes policy or program takes place. Having attended many of these meetings wearing my DPEN or PTA Council hat, I know that the Board member will often invite members of the audience to share their impressions of the information presented, ask clarifying questions or add information. As a Board member I will work to increase the attendance at these meetings by people who I believe have an interest in the work or should be involved.
One way to accomplish advertising the meetings is for Board members to consider having their own websites where they can share this kind of information and information on upcoming events, comments on events they have attended, solicit input from constituents etc. We do so many wonderful things in DPS and Board members have the privilege of experiencing school events such as: the celebration of the recent NEA sponsored Read Across America; school performances; and student project presentations. Many Board members are active in the community by serving on Boards of non-profits or government tasks forces. There needs to be a forum for sharing this with the public; providing such a forum would lead towards opening up the work of the Board to the public and creating the trust that we need to build and maintain support for the goals of the school system.
11. Special-needs and gifted children present unique educational challenges to the district. Evaluate how the district is 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?
My evaluation of the Districts efforts to meet the needs of academically gifted students is generally positive. I appreciate that a staff position, held by an esteemed DPS teacher, has been created to insure that our Academically Intellectually Gifted program is strong and that it casts a large net in order to include as many qualified children as possible. To this end, DPS does things like screening every child in 3rd grade. From my experience at my childs elementary, I know this is an ambitious goal that taxes staff. I would like Central office staff to look at ways to support the lead teachers in this work, or find ways to compensate them, as the work often requires them to work outside of their paid hours. Screening also assists us in funding AIG positions because state dollars are allotted based on number of children identified. I believe the district is striving to better meet the needs of AIG students by implementing innovative programs. For example, a new program, Scientifica, is geared at the most motivated Science students who will be brought together and a supported as a cohort of scientists enriching their involvement in Science with field trips, guest speakers, and the sharing of the students experiences in Summer programs and other science endeavors. A clearinghouse of available science related summer opportunities and ongoing classes, workshops, clubs etc. will also be created to benefit all children interested in Science.
At the middle school level, a change is occurring in the way we provide AIG services. Basically, the AIG lead teachers are being used as a resource to the core teachers, especially in math and language arts, versus having their own class made up of identified students. I know, from experience, that we need to do a thorough job of explaining and patiently answering questions from our parents who, for the most part, are use to a pull out program in the elementary years. As a Board member, I will be watching this initiative carefully and will want to see data that proves positive results. An AIG task force, which included parents, supported this move, so I am anticipating that it will be successful.
A challenge for the district is to take a more active role in facilitating the sharing of information on resources in the community. For example, our family has been fortunate to be a part of a National program called, Talent Identification Program, TIP but we had to search it out for ourselves.
Having recently met with the new Director of EC I am excited by the positive changes occurring to better meet the needs of our Exceptional Children. I will provide two specific examples of our positive momentum.
First, a parent liaison is being hired. This person will be the direct link between parents of Exceptional Children and school-based and central office personnel as well as between community groups and the Council of PTAs. Like our situation with AIG children, Durham has a good problem; there are many resources and groups working on behalf of Exceptional children. It is a challenge to inform parents; the parent liaison will fill this crucial role. The parent liaison will also oversee the administration of a parent survey and use of the results to inform programming. The liaison will also play an active role in an Advisory Board being formed to be made up of Central office staff, parents and community members.
Second, through my involvement with PTA Council and state PTA, I am aware of the formation of an EC committee at the state level which will act as a source of information on issues related to the Individuals with Disabilities Act, NCLB, state initiatives as well as on available resources. The state committee will foster and support the work of the Councils EC committee and the work of school-based PTAs. In the job description for the new DPS, EC Parent Liaison, I am pleased to see that this person will sit on the Board of the PTA Council. Collaborative efforts like these have a positive impact for providing for students needs.
The greatest challenge remains adequate funding as IDEA, a federal program, remains under funded. School Boards must work collaboratively with State School Boards and elected officials at the state and national level to advocate for full funding. At the local level, it is important that our community is educated about the programs DPS has in place to educate children with exceptional needs in order to create the support necessary to further our goals.
A sad statistic it is estimated that as many as 80% of our national prison population qualify as Learning Disabled. Too often learning disabilities go undiagnosed. It is a tragic situation as the extent of our knowledge has increased significantly such that we can provide for the educational needs of this population thereby providing them with a means to a quality life. I am particularly sensitive to this issue as my sister is mentally retarded. My family moved, under some financial hardship, to Fairfax County Virginia because the services provided at that time, late 60s, were deemed the best in the country. I know firsthand the struggles that families endure. My own learning disability, dyslexia, was fortunately diagnosed early on and I received intensive assistance through my school. One of my three brothers teaches Behaviorally, Emotionally, Challenged students. As a School Board member, I will remain vigilant in following our progress and working to educate our community on the needs of our EC families.
12. What steps, would you advocate to reduce dropout rates?
As a Board member I will work to support the myriad of programs currently in place. Although the number of dropouts has declined steadily in Durham, 508 young people, disproportionately minority, are entering into an adult world ill equipped to enjoy a quality life. I believe the decrease can be attributed to a number of successful approaches but an obvious success is the creation of small, non-traditional high schools. As a teacher of 8th graders, I was involved in helping families make decisions about 9th grade. Working with our Career Counselor, I educated myself on the myriad of options available to our students by attending presentations, and making site visits in order to share information with families so that children could plug into a program that would motivate them toward high school completion. As examples, one student went into Southerns City of Medicine Academy, another into Hillsides New Tech High school, several into the International Bach laureate program at Hillside.
The creation of the new Holton School, where students can focus can becoming college ready and at the same time focus on developing skills in industrial trades such as climate control systems, is meeting the needs of students who value this type of professional work. We are very fortunate to have the Durham Branch of the Triangle Labor Council in place, a group highly interested in the success of this new venture, thus another collaborative opportunity for DPS. When children see relevance in their curriculum in terms of future career opportunities, they are motivated to stay in school.
Another successful program is the Freshman Academy pioneered at Jordan and in place at several of our high schools. Research has proven that transition from middle school is where we lose kids who feel insignificant and overlooked in a large school and ill equipped to handle the rigors of the high school curriculum without the support that they enjoyed in the middle school. (Mizelle, Nancy. Middle School Journal, Vol. 31, No.5, May 2000).
Yet another tactic for insuring that students entering high school are excited, mentored and supported to succeed, is the recent creation of the high school completion plan which works with families in the 8th grade to identify the high school pathway they will choose and insures that students have in place the core requirements as well as specialized program requirements so that they can begin with the end in mind. I recently attended Hillside high schools curriculum night which introduced 8th grade students to the myriad of pathway and program choices available to them via information tables, many staffed by high school students. Not only was this an informative event but also stirred up excitement by the incoming Freshman for their either chosen or assigned school.
Insuring that the school has put into place systems and structures that create the expectation that student will graduate is also essential. To this end, DPS senior staff have created Support Teams that are currently conducting personalized visits to each of our schools and using diagnostic measures to assess effectiveness of programs and curriculum meant to engage students in quality learning and to find relevance in the work they are asked to undertake. Another example of how the district is using data to drive decisions is in the recent grant awarded to Durham to initiate an evening school where students can earn needed credits; the program is already experiencing success.
In terms of what more can be done to eliminate Dropping Out, I believe our next best solution lies in the formation of Durhams most recent small high school, the Professional Learning Center, which is product of the nationally recognized, non-profit, Communities In Schools. ( Milliken, Bill. The Last Drop Out. 2007.) Durham is incredibly fortunate to have a strong CIS program led by a Board and Executive with a long history in this well supported initiative. I worked with CIS in Orange County in the early 90s and am overjoyed at the success it has experienced with support from every President since Jimmy Carter. Housed in the offices of Northgate Mall, CIS is working diligently to create wrap around services from all segments of the community to support the teaching staff at PLC. For example, the students will receive training from the non-profit, Sales and Service Training Center, which will enhance their employability for jobs that are waiting for them at the mall per the support of the owners of Northgate. These kinds of collaborations and partnerships, connecting resources to people, streamlining services, and partnering to strengthen programs, is what we need to keep students plugged in and excited about their education as they experience relevance and develop the connection between current actions and long term payoff.
I am saddened when I meet high school age students who have taken a destructive path. I think about the potential that was there when they were in elementary school and how sadly signs were missed in such a way that these childrens needs were not met. I do believe we currently have in place many safeguards that will prevent children, especially in the elementary level, from falling through the cracks. Although the schools must do a their best job in addressing the areas where they have control and authority, we must, as a community, realize that there are many opportunities to support the school system in insuring our students get what they need to be successful academically and with their life in general.
Again, our ability as educators and community members to do what is necessary to meet students where they are at and to not hold their life circumstances against them or use them as an excuse to not provide for their needs, combined with putting into place preventive measures, is how we will graduate all of Durham students.
13. What would you do to enhance the prospects for at-risk students?
In addition to many of the plans put in place to reduce the number of dropouts, I will revisit the necessity of early screening. We know that children come to school from different backgrounds and that their experiences either lend themselves or possibly detract from being able to do the things necessary to succeed in school the way school currently functions. Given this reality, it becomes imperative that we use objective measures, universally applied, to identify social skills and basic academic related skills that need strengthening. The promise of these diagnostic measures and the accompanying strategies that quickly build skills is demonstrated and supported by solid research with many experts at our nearby universities. The skill set for these strategies often lie with our teachers and leaders in exceptional education. New systems are being put in place to utilize these professionals as leaders. The thinking goes that if we can catch challenges early and resolve them early on and then continue to meet children where they are at, take into account individual differences which might include situations outside of school, and continue to support them to be successful, then we wont have at-risk students. It is also important to note that children do not like being called at-risk. They immediately sense what adults are sometimes too indifferent to realize and that is that the term at-risk implies a deficit. Children do not see themselves as deficient until adults enforce that thinking with these kinds of misguided and even hurtful labels. In fact, perhaps in an act of resilience, children imagine themselves as quite capable, sometimes in areas that adults dont value in the moment, for example being able to memorize lyrics to songs, keen observation of social dynamics including when someone is feeling intimidated or pushed. The idea that all children are in fact talented and gifted, and that it is the educators job to connect with children from that perspective, is played out in our newest elementary and middle schools, WG Pearson Gifted and Talented magnets. There is a lesson to be learned for all of us from this mindset.
Finally, I would like to share information about the AVID program, as I was the Coordinator and Elective teacher last year at Rogers Herr. Advancement via Individualized Determination is a national program geared toward children who are achieving but with additional assistance can be assured of placement in the college preparatory pathway in high school. Again, my students did not want to be called at-risk but by conventional definitions, many students only had one supportive parent, and generally the family had not attended college. Family income may have qualified them assistance with school lunch and being able to speak a foreign language but as yet not proficient with English, were other markers for students who would fit into the AVID model. AVID is in place in most of our high schools and middle schools and in several elementaries. AVID is strongly supported by our Administration. The program at Lowes Grove Middle School is the most developed and is seeking national recognition as a Demonstration school. Let me share just a few of the key features of AVID and examples of how I implemented them at Rogers Herr.
Students need to have a future oriented perspective. We accomplish this by helping students see the connection between present effort and long term payoff by introducing them to different college majors and potential careers through: campus visits, college guest speakers, adult guest speakers who share their highs school and college experiences and how that translated into a career path, and web-based college explorations.
Another key feature is tutoring, usually in Math, as the kids are encouraged to take Algebra in 8th grade. Through my connections, I secured a young professional to come each week and work with small groups; it was wonderful that his love for math and computers translated into a career in those fields making him an inspiration for the students. I also taught students how to work effectively in study groups.
Finally, working with parents to assist them in supporting the goals of AVID is important. Tapping into my knowledge of summer learning opportunities and inviting guest speakers from organization like the Arts Council, I helped parents identify camps, classes, and internships. Honoring the perspective parents have on their child, creating relationships with parents built on mutual respect, opens up dialog and creates a partnership mentality where the child is the focus of our joint effort. This obviously is an effective means to assisting students with challenges.