Stephen Martin | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Stephen Martin

Durham Board of Education District 4


NAME: Stephen Martin

OFFICE FOR WHICH YOU ARE RUNNING: Board of Education District 4, Incumbent

HOME PHONE: 919.79.7003 Cell 919.819.0346

OCCUPATION & EMPLOYER: Internet Sales Management, Michael Jordan Nissan,

WORK PHONE: 919.819.0346

HOME ADDRESS: 310 Smith Drive, Durham, NC 27712



E-MAIL ADDRESS: or steve2martin

1) If elected, what are your top priorities?

A. A smooth transition to a new Superintendent's leadership

B. Continued focus on rapid student achievement gains

C. Continued reduction in Suspensions and Dropouts

D. Developing adequate funding for programs

2) What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community service background.

I am completing my second four-year term on the DPS board this June. When I was first elected to the board eight years ago, the board was divided 4-3 along racial lines and the focus of the school board was everywhere except on teaching and learning. Over the first two years the board worked slowly on process issues to become more functional. With the mid-term election and the arrival of Heidi Carter, Steve Schewel and Minnie Forte Brown a larmajority was formed across racial lines with 5-2 votes common. Two years later with the watershed election that brought Fredrick Davis and Omega Parker to the board, we started the journey of Reform Governance training that focused the Board on oversight through policy development. Board relations finally formed and normed around the reform policy work resulting in the Theory of Action, Managed Instruction, Empowering Teachers and Principals, Energizing the Community, and Accountability policies. These policies and their implementation with the Vision Statement of the school system are the building blocks for transforming our school district.

My work on the Long Range Facilities Plan, as Vice Chair of the Board of Education, and As Chair of the Administrative Services Committee of the Board that oversees the development of the budget and provides oversight for the business systems of DPS are all leadership roles during my service on the Board.

I created, owned, operated and sold a restaurant business during my time on the board.

Following a15 year career in performing arts management and presentation, I came to Durham in 1995 to run the Carolina Theatre. During my seven year tenure, I built the staff, established all of the film festivals currently running, built the rental program, the presenting program, negotiated the management agreement with the City of Durham and put the theater on a firm financial foundation.

As a result of the training and connections made during Reform Governance training, I have been selected to train as a consultant for the Center for the Reform of School Systems, a national board training organization based in Houston, Texas.

I am an elder at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Durham and have served a chair of its finance committee. I have also served on the Board of Downtown Durham, Inc.

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

The Board of Education races are non-partisan. I have been a life-long Democrat firmly planted in the middle of the liberal conservative spectrum. Was active in merging white and black high schools as a student leader in desegregation in the late 60's in Florida, have been fiscally conservative in budgeting and liberal in managing performing arts programs in New York, Massachusetts and North Carolina. I have brought a strong oversight component to the Board in my two terms.

4) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters


The night I took office in 2002, the other newly elected board member had been charged with a felony that had been pleaded to a misdemeanor. Because the state law is vague and there is no mechanism for removing an elected official from office, the first discussion and vote I had to make was whether to send a request for clarification to the State Board. I voted to send it forward in order to gather more information and to better understand the options. After the board received no direction from the State Board, I was faced with the decision to either vote with the traditional majority along racial lines to take the new board member to court to have her removed, or to vote to drop the matter and focus on educating our children. After discussing the legal issues and the possible expense, both in dollars and focus to the school system, I was the swing vote that led to dropping the matter. I did so, because it was the right thing to do to focus our work on educating our children, not to focus on politics. It was the most difficult vote I have had to make- a principled stand in the face of great pressure to do otherwise.

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


There is no better way to address the social, income and health issues in our community than by ensuring that each and every child receives an excellent education that prepares them for the workforce or continued education. By preparing them with the tools necessary to earn a living and participate intelligently in our community life, we transform the system and our society.

6) What is your stance on sex education in Durham Public Schools? Should it be taught, and at what grade level?

I support the current board policy that requires a comprehensive sex education curriculum be made available and an opt out for those parents who do not wish their child to participate. This policy is in accordance with state law.

7) Teacher quality continues to be an issue in many school districts, including Durham Public Schools. How would you work to reduce teacher turnover, increase job satisfaction and attract more qualified teachers to Durham? What additional professional development or support should teachers receive that they are not already getting, and how would the district pay for this?

There is a great deal of work already put in place to address these issues. The teacher mentoring program was put in place to accomplish two goals: provide assistance to teachers learning to teach in their first through third years, and provide fourth through eighth year teachers a way to utilize their expertise while recharging themselves. Through this program, DPS has reduced the number of Initially Licensed Teachers who leave and retained more of the experienced teachers at time when they were leaving the system. As part of the third year training, almost 30% of the ILT's are participating in the First Look program that helps them focus their reviews on reflective teaching to prepare them for the National Teacher Certification process. I am pleased that over the last eight years, the board has supported the efforts of the teachers and administration to provide this training to every teacher who wishes to undertake the rigorous effort.

As part of my service on the board, the board participated in Reform Governance Training. One of the outcomes of that training was the establishment of the policy that empowers principals and teachers in the school level decision making.

8) Test scores continue to show an achievement gap between students in an ethnic or racial minority in Durham and their white counterparts. How can Durham's school board shape new policy or initiatives to improve the performance of minority students?

You may or may not have heard that DPS and the DAE recently received a 1.5 million dollar grant to help close the achievement gap with black males. Studies have shown that the achievement gap exists when the child enters school, with some children 2 full years behind at kindergarten. DPS has developed a pre-school curriculum for parents and is working with child care providers and pre-kindergartens to help pre-schoolers get the experiences they need to be prepared for kindergarten. K-3 is just as critical in closing the gap, so we must provide our teachers with professional development opportunities to help them teach diverse student populations. The board has taken steps with the professional development modules already in place, as well as the establishment of the Professional Learning Communities model that allows teams of teachers time to develop differentiated strategies for children on their teams. Finally, across the country it is being shown that extended school days with tutoring have a significant impact on student achievement and closing the gap. The after school programs at Lowe's Grove and Neal Middle need to be supported so that all children can benefit. The community needs to rally around the East Durham Children's Initiative so that we can have a continuum of extended day and social service support for our neediest elementary and middle school children.

9) Despite population growth, enrollment in Durham's schools dropped 9 percent this year. How will you work to make DPS more attractive to parents and families?

According to the DPI data for twentieth day enrollment, DPS grew by 52 students over 2008-09 numbers in spite of the fact that some families left. In the last eight years, the community has supported bond issues of over $250 million dollars to renovate, repair and build school facilities to ensure that all students and families have excellent facilities. There is more choice in DPS today than ever, with small specialty high schools, two elementary schools and a soon to open Montessori middle school, along with our comprehensive high schools. A great resource for parents who have questions is the DPS website. To learn more here is a link:

In the last eight years, many efforts have been undertaken to get the word out on the excellent education parents can expect for their children in DPS. Channel 4 has around the clock programming of the learning, teaching, activities and parent experience. I have had four children matriculate through DPS and will continue to share my experience with community members.

10) Should the state provide vouchers to parents who choose private (K-12) schools for their children? If so, for what amount?

No. When you are elected to a public board of education it is your duty as a sitting board member to advocate for and sustain funding for public education in the school system on whose board you sit. While I am supportive of parental choice, including the choice of parents to home school, I do not support taking limited public funds and dispersing them to private schools.

11) Durham's school system is facing perhaps one of the most challenging budget years in recent history. What direction will you give to school administration to balance the budget? In what areas would you recommend cutbacks and which services should remain untouched?

There is no doubt that this budget will be extremely difficult. Student achievement and learning are the primary goals of the system, so resource allocation will be directed to the classrooms first and foremost. The Board has asked the administration to involve the teachers and principals in the budget process to identify areas to save money and provide insight to more efficiencies. Those suggestions are forming the basis of the Administration's budget recommendation. As Chair of the Administrative Services Committee I have already had discussions with other board members and the Board has asked the administration to provide budget scenarios that address the anticipated 3% cut from the county and an as yet undecided 3, 5, or 7% cut from the state so that we might better identify what these cuts will mean. No matter what any one might think about whether or not there is waste in the system, or whether the central administration is top heavy (which data shows it is not), there is not $23 million dollars to be found in the budget without drastic changes to the system. I will work with my colleagues, the administration and the staff to help fashion a budget that can best maintain progress toward our goals in the face of serious underfunding. All potential options must be on the table as we move through the budget season. I am cautiously optimistic that the state cuts will not be as drastic as once anticipated and that the board of education will come to the table with the county commissioners in a cooperative manner to minimize the county funding cuts as the economy improves.

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