Tony McKnight | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Tony McKnight

Candidate for Orange County Board of Education


Full Legal Name: Tony Mason McKnight

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Tony McKnight

Date of Birth: 03/27/1966

Campaign Website:

Occupation & Employer: Apprenticeship & Training Consultant-NC Department of Labor

Years lived in Orange County: 16 years


1. What do you believe are the three most important issues facing the Orange Co. school system? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Funding- During this current economic crisis, and continuous reductions in funding at local, state, and federal levels, we as as board will have to continue to collaborate, and make proactive decisions in regards to re-evaluating current programs, funding, and their effectiveness within our student population. We must continue to advocate for our students by continuous dialog with our local officials and state legislators to adequately fund our schools.

Student Achievement-Orange County School's dropout rate has decreased for the fourth consecutive year, and the graduation rate of our students has increased. We must continue to focus on Orange County School's mission-"To provide challenging and engaging educational experiences that will develop responsible, knowledgeable, and resourceful citizens prepared to contribute to our global society", I am committed to ensuring that every student meets this objective by establishing priorities.

Promoting positive student achievement for all students.

Establishing challenging courses that will engage our students, based on the upcoming Common Core curriculum

Preparing our students the 21st Century to become globally competitive

Recruiting and retaining Highly Qualified Teachers for our schools

Parental/Community Engagement- More effective communications to inform, involve parents and community members of initiatives that the school system are putting in place, and giving opportunities for input, feedback, as well as serving on various committees in the decision-making process.

2. What in your record as a public official or other 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.

It has been a pleasure to serve the residents of Orange County for the past four years as board member (2008-2012).Chair (2011), and Vice-Chair (2008-2010). Despite facing funding issues in the midst of economic crisis, we maintained our focus on our most valuable assets-our children. Throughout my term, I have collaborated with other school board members, as well as, Orange County Schools staff to ensure that classroom instruction was not affected, thereby allowing us to uphold Orange County Schools mission: "To provide challenging and engaging educational experiences that will develop responsible, knowledgeable, and resourceful citizens prepared to contribute to our global society". My children attend Orange County Schools, and I continue to volunteer, and serve on various community organizations. I will continue to maintain focus on addressing the concerns of the community, and serve as an advocate for Orange County students, and my commitment to promoting positive achievement for all students.

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

My reason in seeking re-election is that the present Orange County School Board members are committed to the children of our schools, and to preparing them for successful futures, by continuously collaborating, and making wise decisions on the behalf the students, and residents of this county. I have been an educator, and parent, resident within this community for the past sixteen years. I will continue to focus on our most valuable assets-"the children" of Orange County Schools.

4. Academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) and exceptional children present particular educational challenges to the district. How well is the district 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?

The district is committed in addressing the needs of academically and intellectually gifted students as well as our exceptional children programs, by establishing challenging curriculum to engage our students, and individual education plans for the success of all students. One main obstacle in addressing these critical needs is funding .With funds having to be reverted back to the state level it becomes hard, but it is imperative that this continue to be a priority for board members, promoting positive achievement for all students.

5. Given the expected dip in federal funding this year that could mean cuts of as many as 32 teachers and recent cuts to subs, guidance counselors, literacy coaches, etc., what will you do to make sure that the impact of the budget is felt as least as possible in the classroom? Despite the financial difficulty, how will you make sure that the quality of education stays, at bare minimum, at its current level, and, ideally, improves?

Building off of that, how will you balance upcoming budgets during these economic times? What's one thing that is currently overfunded that could be cut?

For the past four years, we as a school board with prioritized budgeting processes, and appointing a budget sub-committee, and maintaining accountability we have a shared dedication that classroom instruction not be affected, and will continue to provide quality learning experiences for our students. I don't feel that anything is overfunded at present; we as a school system are in the business develop the entire student by means of curriculum, and extracurricular activities.

6. What is the district doing now to receive and value parent input? What more should be done? How will you be responsive to those concerns?

Orange County Schools encourages parents to serve, and participate on school based, and district committees, by holding budget public hearings, and information sessions on such things as Common Core curriculum which has been adopted by North Carolina this upcoming school year. It is the responsibility of the district to keep the public informed, in addressing their concerns, and the success of our children requires- engaging, and embracing the community.

7. Please assess, citing statistics, programs such as SOCRATES, and other examples, the district's progress in closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. Are you satisfied with the direction? What else should be done?

The dropout rate has decreased in Orange County Schools for the fourth consecutive year, and the graduation rate continues to increase. The district has made positive strives in closing the achievement disparities among our students. Socrates- Socrates has been instituted at the middle school, and elementary levels. Community Learning Centers to give our students extra assistance with homework. Partnership Academy has been expanded to help students that would otherwise lose valuable classroom instruction due to out of school suspension for disciplinary reasons. Expansion of Pre-K programs within the district. Central Elementary becoming (STEM) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math School. We have made positive progress, but we must continue to embrace community partners, and parents in our mission of closing the gap.

8. What challenges do Orange schools face attracting and retaining top teachers? How will you overcome those, if elected?

Forty-eight percent of Orange County Schools teachers are highly qualified. We will continue to focus on putting the best teachers in our classrooms. By being a smaller district, we need to provide incentives that will attract, and retain excellent teachers to Orange County.

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

As, a parent, elected official, and resident of Orange County, I will be the "voice for all children", ensuring that all children receive a quality education and are prepared for the 21st Century, and an attentive ear to the concerns of the community.

10. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.

I will continue to collaborate with fellow board members, receive information, and research prior to make conscious decisions, and ensuring that those decisions are for the well-being of all Orange County students, regardless of race, gender or, socio-economics. "The Voice for All Children".

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