Zora Felton | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Zora Felton

Candidate for Wake County Board of Education


Name as it appears on the ballot: Zora Felton

Date of birth: 4/10/51

Campaign website: zoraforschoolboard.com

Occupation & employer: Retired Wake County Public School Teacher

Email: zoraforschoolboard@gmail.com

Do you have a Facebook page? Zora for School Board

1. What do you see as the most important issues facing the School board's office?

The greatest issue I see facing Wake County is our ability to attract and to retain highly qualified staff, especially given the continued growth in student enrollment. We need talented, motivated teachers, and staff members to attain high academic achievement in our excellent schools.

1A. If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

I will work with a teacher's perspective and work to support policies and programs that provide professional development, instructional strategies, and classroom resources for teachers. In times of scarcity, especially with no pay raises again this year, these factors become more critical to professional motivation and to staff morale.

I will seek ways to improve funding, boost teacher pay, increase classroom resources including teacher assistants, and improve overall school environments. To achieve this, we need to work with parents/guardians and local businesses to seek other tangible resources to improve our schools and their daily functioning.

I will help set clear and attainable goals that impact student achievement for each school. I want to find ways that we can help principals, teachers, and parents/guardians reach these goals; I wish to be a real partner with our teachers. Currently, we are implementing tough new curriculum standards with fewer dollars for professional development. We must have clearly structured goals from daily lesson plans and pacing guides to benchmark classroom and school formative data to help teachers become more effective with students.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you've identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.

I have spent 25 years as a teacher in Wake County public schools, and now that I have retired this summer, I have the time and knowledge to share my experience in the classroom. My experience, from a teacher's point of view, will be important in serving on the Board. Since 2009, the Wake Board of Education has been through tumultuous times; I want to keep calm the environment on the Board and focus on supporting our teachers and working collaboratively with a former colleague, our new Superintendent Dr. Jim Merrill. I want board members to promote sound policy and solutions for students and teachers, not politics. I will keep the focus on student achievement our students must be prepared to face the challenges in career and college after graduating from high school.

I have lived in Wake County almost all my life, graduating from Sanderson High School and North Carolina State University. My three children graduated from Leesville Road High School and public universities. I believe in public education. I have spent my career in public education. I will be focused on the end producteducated young adults who graduate ready for college or career.

3. Indy Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

My family is filled with educatorsmy mother, my sister, and my daughter are all teachers, and I want to make sure school board policies work for the classroom teacher as they educate our students. This perspective will be a great asset to District 7 and to the school board overall. I will work hard to advocate for policies that provide the best learning environments for all students--policies that put students first so that our schools maximize teacher excellence and student potential.

Strong public schools with excellent teachers and staff supporting our students are critical to a successful and inclusive community. Strong public schools that give equitable opportunities to all students, no matter where they live in Wake County, make for a strong community.

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

I will support asking the Wake County Commissioners to increase the funding they provide locally for each student. It is critical for our local elected officials to work together to keep our public schools great and maintain our stellar reputation as a public school system if we are to stay competitive in the region.

5. If these issues haven't been addressed above, would you please comment on: a) Do you support or oppose the 2013 bond issue for Wake schools that is on the October ballot?

A compelling case has been made for adding more capacity. I do support continuous improvement to our existing schools and to adding new seats to allow us to have a place for each of the roughly 20,000 students expected by 2018.

Do you think the $810 million bond is adequate to meet school construction needs for the foreseeable future?

I have reviewed the proposal; I understand that it received unanimous support from the both the Board of Education and the County Commissioners as well as their professional staffs. I will have to trust that these elected officials understand the needs and the appropriate levels of bonding that the county can sustain. While the school system has identified more than $2 billion in capital needs, it does seem reasonable to have smaller bonds every so often to allow the community to absorb the costs than to have larger bonds less frequently.

b) Annual spending for the Wake schools has dropped below $8,000 per student, which is less than the state average, about $500 less than in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and $5,000 less than in Fairfax County, VAwith which Wake is often compared. In light of this, should the Wake school board be asking for more money from the Wake County Commissioners? If so, how much?

As I mentioned earlier, it is time to have frank conversations with our locally elected officials, our city councils, and our County Commissioners to look for ways to increase local funding to help us increase our technology resources and other classroom tools as well as increase the local supplemental pay for Wake teachers. We have the responsibility to keep our school system operating at the highest level. This keeps Wake County economically competitive. Keeping our teachers from leaving Wake County is critical to the academic success of our students and to the economic well-being of our community. The neglect to our school funding from the N.C. General Assembly has left local elected officials with huge challenges as state dollars have been cut again for the next two years. This does force us locally to make up the difference if we want to hire and retain qualified teachers and keep teacher assistant positions. I am not sure the amount of the increase needed in our local dollars but this is a conversation that must start soon.

Yes, we will have to. If so, how much? (Answered in main answer)

c) As a school board member, what steps would be recommend, if any, to better support our teachers? Ideas might include pay supplements? Hiring more teacher assistants? Adding professional development programs? Or others?

As I wrote earlier, yes, I am in favor of supplemental pay increases, maintaining teacher assistants in grades K-3, and a rigorous professional development program for implementing the new Common Core standards.

d) What programs or policies would you recommend to improve students' performance and raise Wake's high school graduation rate, which last year slipped below the state average?

I am very interested in ways to reduce the in- and out-of-school suspension rates, improving communication between the classroom teacher and parents. (I think the new Home Base web site from the Department of Public Instruction, which allows more ways for parents to see and understand curriculum standards, homework assignments and school projects, will help.) I am very interested in the new Vocational and Technical High School and all of the Early College initiatives. These innovative ways of reforming our approach to high school programs and paths to career and college are critical in keeping students engaged and on track to graduation.

e) In pursuit of school safety and discipline, the Wake school system has tried zero-tolerance policies, resulting in high out-of-school suspension rates, and spent heavily on paid security officers with arrest powers. Now, some advocate letting armed volunteers help in the schools? What's your view of school safety needs and how to achieve them?

I do not support armed volunteers in school. I am in favor of eliminating out of school suspensions for Level I violations, which are typically low level offenses such as having a cell phone violation. I believe we need a strong training program for School Resource Officers in every school. I do believe that the new superintendent has made this area a primary goal, and I feel that the Board must examine student code of conduct policies and search for the fairer and more reasonable approaches to keep students in school and on track to graduate. Some of the policies seem harsh and more about being punitive than helping students prevent reoccurrences of inappropriate behaviors.

Extensive research has shown that we can reap large payoffs for investing in prevention and intervention strategies such as bullying prevention, mentoring with families, staff training to help deal with student discipline. We need more alternatives to suspension that keep students in school and out of the court system. I firmly believe we can do better in Wake County and that it will pay off in higher graduation rates and better school environments for students and staff. Simply expelling students is not acceptable to me as a parent or educator.

f) Diversity in school populations has been a controversial subject in Wake County for years. Do you support or oppose a policy to assure that every school has a diverse student body in terms of family income?

I support policies that lead to diverse student populations in terms of family income.

Do you support or oppose a numerical goal such as the former one of no school with more than 40 percent of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program?

The current policy reads:

Student populations at each school will provide an optimal opportunity for academic success for all students. Factors for consideration include:

Providing an opportunity for families to select calendar, magnet, and application schools to support an individual student's educational needs;

Minimizing high concentrations of low-performing students at each school; and

Minimizing high concentrations of students from low income families at each school. While this policy does not include an optimal percentage, I believe the intent is clear and that is to not allow a school to be out of balance in terms of serving academically struggling or low income children.

While sometimes a percentage can be arbitrary, nonetheless, it is good to be vigilant in making sure that adjustments are made when the school's ability to help every child becomes overwhelming. I feel that board members must be responsible to the schools in their district and keep a constant check on this situation. Research supports that high poverty schools hamper student achievement, and that research cannot be ignored.

g) Related to diversity, the magnet school program is much debated. Some think every school should have comparable curricular offerings, even if it curbs the magnets' special attractiveness. On the other hand, application rates to the magnet schools are on the decline, suggesting they've been weakened too much. What's your view?

Magnet programs have been very effective in Wake County at reducing high concentrations of poverty in many schools, and this success should be preserved. I am pleased with the direction of the district to enhance curricula at various schools. Wake County is able to handle various levels of choice throughout the system. However, the magnet schools should remain attractive in order to reduce the creation of high poverty schools, which is in the interest of the entire district.

h) Wake is experimenting with all-male and all-female academies. Is this a good idea?

The school board must be willing to try new approaches that match student interests and academic needs and have parental and staff support.

Should it be expanded?

The program has expanded this year, and I feel we need to see the results of the program for student achievement and success before expanding beyond current capacity.

i) With state policies favoring more charter schools, should the Wake school system have its own charter schools? Why or why not? And if your answer is yes, how should they be governed?

Wake does not need its own charters. Instead, it should continue to seek creative and innovative ways to challenge and meet varying student academic needs within our schools system. I feel Wake has done a lot in this arena with magnet schools and other special themed schools, and with programs within our schools, such as Early College and the Vocational and Technical High School. I am in favor of having open communication with the existing Wake charters and seeking ways to coordinate in meaningful ways. I would favor charters being more complimentary to existing public schools instead of redundant since they would better serve children and taxpayers.

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