Write in candidate for School Board

 I attended the meet and greet forum for school board candidates at the library tonight. Two arrived late. Also Al Baldwin spoke. He is a retired school teacher (we both worked at Chapel Hill High School and he also worked at East CHHS). He announced he is running as a write in candidate because he is very disturbed about what is happening to teachers in the district. He noted that many are afraid to speak up about concerns that they have about education at their schools and in the district.  I look forward to hearing more from him.



J. Al Baldwin’s Recommendations: CHCCS School Board Fall 2015

(Al decided not to run as a write in candidate.)For the past few election cycles candidates running for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education seemed to differ little, in any, in their views.  To a person, they stood  for the same things, the right things: ending the achievement gap, equity, supporting good teachers, challenging all students, building new schools, spending declining resources wisely.

But they were missing something: the subtle knowledge and skill to turn these values into meaningful realities.  

I believe the candidates listed below understand the power of doing their own analysis as opposed to relying upon that of others, and they understand the distinction between appearance and actual accomplishment. They know the difference between policy and day-to-day operations, and, most importantly, their intertwining nature.  They understand that the board works for the children of this community.

Indeed, these candidates understand that the board’s duty is to oversee the education of our children, not promote reputations, seek accolades, or enhance retirement accounts.  

These candidates bring greater wisdom than I have become accustomed to hearing.  I have spoken with all of them at length, and while I cannot be certain of anything, I am hopeful that if they are elected we will see a clear-eyed assessment of our system. Our schools will be run according to wise consideration, not the myopic, endless pursuit of the latest “research-driven” fad via the conveyor belt of expensive products and services that pass for modern educational policy.  They understand that if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t.   They know that data can be useful — if valid, reliable, and properly understood — but alone it neither drives nor constitutes sound policy.

I think, too, that if these individuals are elected we might finally see the system-wide forensic financial audit that many people have long sought. Instead of rumor we will have clarity.  

These candidates have embraced collaboration in their careers rather than merely tout  it as a public relations tool.  If they are elected to the board, I think good teachers will once again feel free to intelligently question initiatives, to suggest improvements, to participate in the healing of a misguided system.   Too often, our leaders have accused others of toxic behavior while ignoring the same in themselves and those who carry out their wishes.

I am not by nature an optimist, but I can hope.  And I am willing to help this healing in any way that I can.  The first thing I will do is vote.

To that end, what follows is a brief assessment of the individual candidates with whom I have spoken at length.  I urge you to visit their web sites and seek whatever information you can.

In alphabetical order, with a couple of additions at the bottom:

Joal Broun  Joal brings to the board extensive legal experience and first-hand knowledge of issues related to juvenile justice and racial disparities.  Her insight would bring coherence to a conversation more characterized by ambiguity, defensiveness, and hand-wringing than developing effective interventions.  She respects the needs and perspectives of all involved, and has spent her life seeking workable, effective alternatives to the expensive and counter-productive default of mass incarceration.

Rani Dasi  Rani brings to the board a profound appreciation of what it means to be educated in a way that exceeds any standardized test. Her mother, a teacher, encouraged her to excel broadly.  By disposition and training, she possesses a willingness, a need, to engage everyone involved in a sincere and open discussion of the issues that confront us. She favors leadership that is neither brittle, defensive, nor top-down, but rather emergent, evolving, open and cohesive.  Well-versed in all fields of study, Rani envisions the return of writing to its essential place in the education of  all children. Passionate about math, she understands that data has meaning only to the extent that it can be explained.

Margaret Samuels  Margaret brings to the board experience working with children and families who have known nearly unspeakable violence, trauma, and poverty.  More recently, she became president of a nonprofit that matches employers and adults with disabilities.  Her knowledge gained from navigating the nonprofit world would add much-needed insight and creativity to board discussions in these tight financial times.  Margaret also brings an infectious optimism tempered by the realities of the world we live in.  When she sees statistics, she sees human beings.  On all sides.  She is a healer, not a blamer, and understands data as the beginning of a process, not a definitive answer to be quickly “fixed.”

Theresa Watson   Theresa  brings to the board a huge heart, great wisdom, and life-long experience in this community helping children of all backgrounds deal with challenging, difficult situations. Her common sense approach in all situations involves clear, direct, immediate communication, but with an admirably light touch. She observes, listens, asks questions. She loves people, and sees possibilities where others see hopelessness. To meet her for breakfast is to see her life’s work, for Theresa seems to know every employee.  She acts, whether as a member of a board or a shopper in a store.  Hers is not the big persona that always knows best, but rather the patient, quietly concerned individual who cares enough to ask.  She has known the community and  its schools for a very long time.   Her perspective is invaluable.  

By the way, these women are funny, engaging, rapt listeners. Their back stories are rich, varied, and just plain interesting.  They abound in common sense, appreciate the challenges of parenthood, and understand the difficulty of setting policy and overseeing individuals tasked with CHCCS operations.  They are the kind of people I would turn to for help, or enjoy meeting for food and conversation.  This a rare opportunity, I think, so let us make the most of it.

If you want to acknowledge approval of the current board’s direction, consider Annetta Streater.  When I inserted myself into a meet-and-greet as a possible write-in candidate, she alone of the current board members in attendance came over to speak with me and take notes about my contention that teachers are afraid to speak, feel overwhelmed by paperwork, and are seeking employment in nearby schools and systems.  I did not reach out to Annetta that evening, but I think it speaks well of her that she reached out to me.

And, truthfully, I lack the time and energy to interview the other candidates.  They struck me as nice, concerned people, but they seemed to believe that the insight they have gained in business would be helpful to the board.  Maybe, but given modern trends in educational management, I feel matters have drifted too far in that direction already, and that at this time balance is needed.  The candidates I interviewed are well versed in the challenges facing this system in regard to the need for refurbishing, adding to, and maintaining its infrastructure, and they have made their cases for this elsewhere.  Their experience in business and nonprofits has taught them that when it comes to facilities, not taking the long-term view comes at great cost.


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