OP Live Candidate Forum: Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

Welcome to Orange County's First Online Candidate ForumTonight, we have with us candidates for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. Thank you all for joining us.Come December, there will be at least one new member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education.Incumbent Jamezetta Bedford is running unopposed for an unexpired  two-year term and three of her board mates are running for re-election in a seven-way race for four four-year terms.Got all that?Good.Let’s get started. We’ve a lot of ground to cover.Here comes the first question . . .

As you’ve been out campaigning, what have you been hearing from voters? What’s on their minds?

The economy and state cuts to education have been on folks' minds.  Parents are also curious about our new Supt.Jamezetta Bedford

I have heard a wide variety of topics discussed.  Most people ask about the new superintendent, many questions about budget and how that will impact our schools, school growth and ES#11, personnel issues, reaching all chidren, bullying and discipline, changes to the curriculum, language instruction, among others. 

The issues that remain on the forefront of voters' minds are the quality of education for ALL students and concerns about how we are coping with budget cuts.  Parents in particular are often concerned about times when their child appears to have fallen through cracks in our system.  These worries come from parents of all types of children: struggling, special needs and academically gifted.  We have to implement the programs we have very well and make sure that all students benefit from them by assuring that no student is forgotten. 

It's nice to have time to fix typos while waiting for the next question! 

Trying to keep it light here!

Hi All,I've had a great time listening to stakeholders (voters included) about their concerns and the state of our schools. What I hear time and again is inconsistency among schools around resources for struggling students resources to accelerate the gifted student and discipline; overcrowded classrooms; and the lack of real application of concepts taught in the classroom.Stakeholders are also frustrated about the heavy tax burden on property owners. Among parents who have struggling students, the concern is when will we do something about the achievement gap. 

People are curious about the new superintendent, bullying in the schools, academic rigor and more uniformity across the system...Kris Castellano

Thanks to OrangePolitics for hosting this forum.  I appreciate that we’ll be able to get into greater depth on questions and do more follow-up because of the format here tonight.  Plus, there will be a great record of the forum available forever.  I encourage all who are reading this to check out my website even while we are blogging here -- http://barrettforschools.com.  I have lots of my previous answers there to questionnaires and even all 76 questions that were submitted for our last forum (all on the “Q&A with James” page).  I’ve been listening to stories about our district for the past five years as a leader in Justice United (http://tinyurl.com/3logdzo).  This broad multi-faith, multi-racial coalition of interests has talked about the need to make progress on the goals we share in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, especially closing the achievement gaps that have been persistent for ages.  It became clear through that work that changing the district from the outside is tough, thus I started this year considering this run for school board to continue a focus on social justice from the board.  I’ve been talking with voters since February about this election in coffeehouses and homes across the district, and attending or listening to many SIT meetings recently and every school board meeting for many months.The issues I hear consistently are: how our schools have a good overall perception, but fail many children, especially at the higher and lower ends of achievement.  How we pit groups against each other, especially in our budget process.  How hard parents have to advocate to get schools to follow through on written policies.  How little sharing of best practices occurs, also increasing inconsistency.

How soon before the next question? 

or so

Thanks. If you want to add anything to a previous question thread please feel free to do so.Next question: I feel fairly sure that everyone is happy to have a new superintendent hired on (please chime in if you’re not), but the transition is hardly complete. How will you as a board member ensure a smooth transition to the Forcella administration?

First, we asked Dr. Forcella to write a transition plan and provided input on that for consideration.  Second, the board has met with Dr. Forcella for a joint training session on superintendent evaluation moderated by an individual from the NC School Board's Association.  From these activities to date, we have developed a list of actions.  I do not think we need further NCSBA sponsored sessions but I do think further discussions between the board and Dr. Forcella will be useful to ensure a good transition. I will continue to communicate openly and respectfully with Dr. Forcella and board colleagues.  It is important for Dr. Forcella to become familiar with our district and he is well on his way in that regard.  We provided him with a long list of key constituents with whom to meet to gather input.   He has recently concluded a series of three listening sessions so anyone from the community could communicate with him.  

Early this summer each board member reviewed a Supt transition plan from various districts which included Durham and Wake counties plus Ithica, NY and several others.  We met and discussed the items that would be helpful for our district.  We wanted to educate ourselves about transitioning.  Then this summer, Dr. Forcella, presented a draft transition plan and then presented an update last month.  Key elements include meeting with community and school leaders, as well as each board member, and visiting schools.  He has held several meetings with school principals and central office staff.  But, more important are the classroom walkthroughs done with the building principal and asst principals to evaluate instruction.  About twice a month the chair (that's me currently) and vice-chair (Mia) meet with him as well.  This provides time to set agendas and cover any snafus like the scheduling of Homecoming at East and CHS on Yom Kippur.   The board also held master board training Sept 29 on the Evaluation of the Supt c/o NC School Boards Assoc to have a chance to talk about the big picture items for our district.  We will need to schedule a mini-meeting/business retreat to do more work on this transition to seque into the spring strategic planning process.Jamezetta Bedford

I have had the opportunity to meet Dr. Forcella a few times and have spoken with others in our community (parents, teachers, staff) who have also had the opportunity.    I think he brings a lot of energy and experience and he has already made over 100 classroom visits which is very encouraging…in addition to seeing him at multiple school functions all across our district.  This will provide him a better picture of our district and how to properly mentor our leaders so we are afforded the best possible outcomes for our students.  An effective leader needs to be an effective communicator and one that can cultivate relationships.  I trust that the current board made this assessment and that all stakeholders can be active and accepting recipients of his communication.  I will support Dr. Forcella and provide him with opportunities and encouragement to engage with other experts, our parents and diverse community resources outside the administrative circle that can bring value and depth to achieving our ongoing district goals for our students.Kris Castellano

I think Dr. Forcella has done a remarkable job understanding what makes this district unique in the short time he’s been here.  I appreciate his focus on excellent instruction in the classroom, accountability (including personally doing district-level walkthroughs in classrooms), high regard for the expectation that every student can learn and grow intellectually, and an understanding of ground-up budgeting and how that can help us get through budget crises that we’re in and even make us stronger in the process.  He is coming on board at a time of such change nationally and across the state in education that we will all be learning together how to use the streams of new data effectively in setting our district’s direction. I’ve spoken with him several times, and I look forward to helping him achieve greater two-way engagement of the community, based on my previous Justice United work and the expected role of board members as a voice for the entire community. 

The board developed, along with feedback from Dr. Forcella, a comprehensive but fluid transition plan. The summer he hit the ground running, getting out into the community and meeting a variety of stakeholders. The transition plan includes thoughtful planning to meet with district and school leaders, teachers, parent advocacy groups and community leaders. We all realize that needs this time to get to know us, see what's working, what's not and from there develop and articulate a vision and plan for taking CHCCS to the next level. I appreciate his excitement about learning and supporting teachers. He believes that all students can achieve. He believes, as I so , that teachers are the most critical factor in a child's academic growth and achievement. I will support him by facilitating introductions to parents, staff and community leaders who might not otherwise have an opportunity to engage with him. He welcomes all to share with him.

You'll have to excuse my errors. Meant to say 'this summer'.  I don't have a scribe. This whole refresh thing is a bit frustrating as well . I feel like I'm in a race to beat the auto refresh. LOL

As long as you use the reply button (as you are doing) the page should not auto-refresh. Take as much time as you need.

The Superintendent has met with dozens of stakeholders and will continue meeting with more.  The Board met in work session a week or two ago to develop plans for evaluating the superintendent that will allow us to give him useful feedback in a timely fashion.   Fortunately, Dr. Forcella has been a Superintendent in the past so he has a broad understanding already of what he needs to do to make this transition as smooth as possible.  The Board felt strongly that we needed a new Superindent who had a lot of experience and this is one example of where we will benefit from that experience.

We especially were pleased to have candidates with experience as high school principals.Jamezetta Bedford

OK, here's a tough one/two:Neil Pedersen was in the job a long time. What policies and programs implemented during his tenure do want to make sure continue to be maintained and supported?And, yep, the follow up to this is: What programs and policies do you want to see reviewed, changed and/or discontinued?

I would like to see the Bridges program for high schoolers with mental health needs continued.  Similarly the Triumph Academy in collaboration with OPC and Orange Co Schools that began last year fills a need.  I would like the Dual Language programs expanded to serve more children.  One of our five current year priorities for the district is to examine world languages pre-K to 12th grade, including a plan for DL.  I support the academies at each of the three large high schools too.  And, Phoenix would like to add evening classes.  An earlier board along with Neil did an excellent job in creating Phoenix .  Professional Learning Communities serve as a good model.  I think the FLES (elem world language needs to be revamped or eliminated in its current form.)  I'd redo Middle College as Early College in order to have more opportunity.   Jamezetta Bedford

Not many students have made use of Middle College.  For those that have, it represents a good program, in my opinion.  I would like to see if it could be offered closer to CH-C and more efficiently. 

I agree -- the students in middle college are not having their needs met elsewhere and have a great opportunity to a successful path to college and life and we should continue this program.

I agree with most of Jamezetta's points but also agree with Mike's view on Middle College.  It is an alternative pathway that is really helpful for particular students.  Like any program it can be improved but I would not make drastic changes.

When there is a change in leadership, it should be an opportunity to review/evaluate existing programs. What we have in place were implemented by board policies that speak to the experience that we want children and staff to have within our schools/environment. Policies may come from federal laws or state statutes and sometimes we don't have control over program/services that are dictated by policy. I believe that the board should continue to evaluate/review its current programs not just because of the budget crisis that we continue to work under but because regular review is essential to governing a large organization such as ours. Specific programs that I believe should be reviewed are literacy, world language, and programs that provide for collaboration with community non-profits, businesses and the university.

Yes, the board has asked for a review literacy curriculum and delivery for two years now.  Learning to read is the most important skill students need.  Something is not working.Jamezetta Bedford

First, I am appreciative of Dr. Pedersen's long service to our community.  My comments are not a reflection in any way on his service.  I think all programs and policies should be considered for re-evaluation.  Having Dr. Forcella on board provides us with an opportunity to reflect on all our work.  I want Dr. Forcella to provide input as to which programs or policies should be reconsidered. There are a few areas in particular that I think need rethinking.  First, for students who are behind and not growing at a desired rate, I think we need to find ways to provide more instructional time.  There may be better instructional methods (perhaps in literacy, for example) but I do not think such changes will provide all that these children need to reach their potential.  Another example is the foreign language instruction in elementary school, and to a lesser degree, in middle school.  We need more students to have a better mastery of the target language (primarily Spanish but also French and Chinese).  

The board just received a report on student growth.  About 7-9% of students had low growth last year.  I want to see how students look when considered for both growth and achievement level.  Clearly students who are below expected achievement and below expected growth need more.  Teachers already know who those students are but with this growth/achievement approach, we need to find ways to provide additional time to see them be successful. 

For foreign language, we have FLES or Dual Language in elementary school.  This presents an inequity because all students do not have a chance of accessing Dual Language (Spanish is available at 3-4 schools), which results in much higher level of foreign language acquisition.  However, Dual Language implementation in our district is currently done as school-with-a-school model, which creates its own problems so it is probably not the best approach to simply try to expand it into every school.  This will be a priortiy this year. 

We need to keep Dr. Pedersen's absolute dedication to the idea of excellence for all students.  What we need to do better is to ensure that no student gets lost by the system.  We need to refine our systems of support for students to address the challenges that they bring with them to to school. Our district has the great fortune of having full-time counselors, social workers and nurses in every school but students still occasionally slip thorugh the cracks.  A board priority of I will promote for next year is to look at systemic reasons for that and implement solutions.  While this isn't entirely new, I am very pleased with Dr. Forcella's focus on ensuring that every student has a great teacher in front of them every day.  He has already begun his Learning Walks that he perfected in his other districts.  These walks will help him coach principals on how to help teachers improve through frequent observation and feedback.  P.S. I don't know where that computer gibberish is coming from since I retyped my answer to get rid of it.  Perhaps the OP folks can edit it out for others reading ease!

Looked like code from Microsoft Word. We've zapped it.

I agree with Mia's comment about focusing on teachers.  I have been impressed with the amount of time Dr. Forcella has spent in the classrooms.  We need to reconsider how we provide professional development for teachers.  Funding has been cut drastically so at this point we provide very little PD. 

Dual language and Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocates are clear examples of programs that are delivering great value for our district at limited cost and need to be maintained, enhanced, and expanded.  There is a perception in our district that we’ve been better at creating programs and policies than seeing them consistently implemented and supported.  I think we see this in our results that have been fairly flat on primary goals we share, such as the achievement gap.  I expect our district to be reviewing all of our programs at some level for effectiveness every year.  We should not be continuing to do things we know aren’t working.  I’m glad to see that foreign language is a priority for review this year by the board.  Foreign language in elementary schools is a program that doesn’t appear to have clear goals and is delivering inconsistent results.  I support world language as important to education, but we need clearer goals to ensure that we are achieving what we want.  Differentiation is another policy that has not delivered the results we expect, as evidenced by our continuing achievement gaps.  Whether that is because it is not a sufficient method for instruction or because we have not supported well enough, we need to improve how we address the needs of each student as an individual.  One way we are making progress toward this, but not quickly enough, is to focus our metrics on growth for each and every student. 

Sign up at http://blueribbonmentors.org if you're interested in participating in this program which is a great success for our students

I also want to say that Dr. Forcella has talked about more than programs.  He is focused on great leadership in the principal's office and the culture among our teachers that will improve results, and I fully support these ideas.  Culture change is not easy, perhaps even harder in our schools, but it is critical.

Dual Language was one that was implemented in his tenure that has now been in existence in our school district ten years.  It is proving to be a successful program for students in many of our subgroups, which is consistent with national data results.Phoenix Academy is another program implemented.  It has grown from a few employees to over a half dozen and it looking to further expand its student base if necessary.   The Boomerang Program is another that was rolled out in this district in 2006 for middle and high school students and is meeting those needs.Blue Ribbon Mentor would be yet another great program, that I believe was rolled out during his tenure.  That program has grown in volume and support and has had some additions including recently Parent University to be rolled out in the spring.PLC’s (professional learning communities) were rolled out in his tenure.  That is one that is relatively new and is meeting various success and challenges at different schools.  It needs closer monitoring with accountability to ensure more district wide uniformity to capitalize on its benefits.Walk for Education was 15 years strong this year.  The Public School Foundation is a huge supporter of our schools and Neil cultivated that relationship- I was happy to see Dr. Forcella out there this year for such a great community event.SIT (school improvement teams)/ previously SGC (school governance committee) is one that has morphed.  It is an important vehicle for dialogue and interaction with all stakeholders.  In a system that has held site based management as its directive from the superintendent, this was an important piece of a system of accountability where all stakeholders have a voice.  In hearing from the most recent forum and follow up questions from it, that voice seems to have been lost a little lately and the SITs not as regularly attended by the board. Kris Castellano

There has been a long standing policy against having schools be substantially different from one another. Where are you on that?One concern I've heard over the years is that it makes innovation more difficult. So, how do we do innovation district-wide in a timely manner?   

The challenge that we will have going forward is balancing innovation against accountability.  Innovation can be wonderful but only if the innovators have a science-based plan in advance for measuring success.  The days of experimenting to see if a program "feels" more successful are over.  Without some substantial evidence that a program is working to increase student learning and thinking, we may actually be increasing the number of students who fall through cracks.Also as our district has grown, we have had particular challenges when we
have had to redistrict students.  When students move from school to
school it can be quite difficult if they have experienced different

Some children that have been redistricted between elementary schools with different FLES target languages (French and Spanish) is an example of the phenomenon of which Mia describes.  Some children get turned off by foregin language all together from bouncing back and forth in this manner. 

I disagree with the statement.  When I moved here in 1992, site-based managment was in.  Each school adopted its own reading and its own math curriculum.  Only as we built more schools and needed to redistrict was there a shift in the past 8 years for consistency to make redistricting easier for kids.  Now we have a district curriculum adoptions (math = Envisions).  Test scores are up across the schools with this consistency.  The real issue was equity and fairness.  During the 10+ years of site-based management, the lack of any innovation or proposed substantial change was a problem.  PLCs, the welcome center for new English Language Learners, Phoenix, Bridges,  high school academies, varied CTE classes like e-commerce, Japanese, have been innovations from the district central office in conjunction with the district curriculum management committee.  North Carolina Virtual Public School has been a state led innovation that our students embraced.  Any employee, parent or student may bring new ideas to their PLC, their SIT and/or principal for consideration.  Schools are doing some new time-management scheduling for interventions for students who need some help, for example.  They may also bring ideas to the related district committee.  Jamezetta Bedford

Thinking about the possibility of different style schools. I remember when the district considered partnering with Edison on Scroggs (Ted Vaden made me spend three days in Wichita). That didn't happen and today Scroggs is not all that different from its sister schools. Also, for years there’s been a large number of parents who want a year-round program, but no school has been willing to convert and the district has been unwilling to push the idea. 

Elementary #11 might be considered for a themed school, magnet school, or perhaps year round.  I have raised the issue of year round schools several times but there has not (yet) been support to move forward.  One problem is that families may have children at different levels (elem, middle, high) and if they all are not on the same calendar, that can be a real hardship on families.  Of course, that would not be a problem if all our schools were year round. 

Yes.  Just last Thursday we discussed considering options for the new elem #11 such as year-round.  [Watch out though.  Some new data says there are not academic increases from year-round, but staff and children feel better/happier.  I have not looked at the detail to see if intersessions were used for remediation and/or acceleration though.]  Certainly some students need more time.  I think this board is willing to consider new options.  Jamezetta Bedford

We have just began to discuss whether we might want to do something different at Elementary #11 located at the site of the original Northside Elementary School.  At our last board meeting, Mike Kelley reminded us that when Rashkis opened, the district surveyed parents about whether they would be interested in a year-round school.  He pointed out that we should ask that question again since enough time has passed and attitudes have changed.  For any new focus for Elementary #11 we will need to make sure that we study carefully to make sure we aren't just adopting the education flavor of the moment.  For example, we now know from at least one research study that year-round schools aren't necessarily a solution to the achievement gap unless students actually get extra time either in their day or in the number of days of school. 

Historically, our District has had emphasis on site based management.  I have heard that for eight years while on the SIT teams.    In order for us to move forward as a district and share in best practices and have students afforded similar learning experiences no matter their address, we need to do a better job of operating under the same blueprint.  There needs to be accountability for this.  Each school can have its own special environment, that we as a community value.  But we should all be afforded the opportunity to share best practices.  We need to share resources and ideas, yet maintain each school’s unique footprint. Kris Castellano

I would like to add that with any innovation, there needs to be more frequent monitoring and a shorter feedback loop for more direct and meaningful modifications.  i.e. be quicker with eliminating/modifying the challenges and replicating the successes. Kris Castellano

All of our schools are not the same and never will be.  That said, how they are different needs to be done thoughtfully.  Allowing unfettered "innovation" is not something I can support.  For example, one year two teachers decided to create same-sex classrooms at one of our middle schools because they were convinced it was a better way to teach.  If there is a better way to teach, I will likely support it but I think that in public schools there should be public discussion of such programatic changes.  In this case, I do not think a full and open discussion would have convinced our community to support this approach. Also, the board frequently receives complaints of lack of uniformity of programs.  I have already mentioned the lack of equitable access to Dual Language, for example.  The high school Academies are not available to all students (though the board was told when they were started that they would be after a short time). So, if teachers want to innovate (for example), they can do so after there is discussion with the principal and perhaps district administrators and leaders.  



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This Week in Orange Politics

It'll be a busy week across Orange County this week. The Carrboro Alderfolks will discuss bicycle-friendliness and the Lloyd Farm propery mediation process, while the Chapel Hill Town Council will get an update on UNC-related development. Both school boards will review the student performance data recently released by the state, while the Hillsborough Town Board will get an update on the Colonial Inn. The county commmissioners will meet with the Mebane City Council on public transportation and the Buckhorn EDD, and will get an update on Southern Branch Library in a serperate meeting.

CHALT and the Sierra Club/Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce/WCHL will hold candidate forums for Chapel Hill candidates.

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