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Candidate for Durham Public Schools Board of Education

Heidi H. Carter 

Candidate for Durham Public Schools Board of Education

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Heidi H. Carter
Date of Birth: March 15, 1961
Campaign Web Site:
Occupation & Employer: DPS Board of Education, graduate student UNC School of Public Health
Years lived in Durham County: 29



1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school system? What are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Perhaps the most important issue we face is the persistence of inequities in the academic performance of all students. We must ensure that all students, the highest and lowest achievers, experience at least one year of academic growth for one year of education in our schools. And at the same time, we must work to diminish all achievement gaps until they are extinguished. The other important issues that are linked to student achievement include the dropout rate, school suspension rate, and the socio-economic challenges that our lower income communities face.

Durham Public Schools leaders are attacking these challenges from multiple angles since they are complex problems. We have a number of programs and initiatives underway to eliminate achievement gaps. I think our most compelling charge and top priority now is to ensure that our programs are implemented in an excellent and faithful manner in every school in the district. A second top priority is to ensure all students in every classroom in every school are exposed to an enriched, rigorous curriculum that is consistent throughout the district and is aligned with the NC Standard Course of Study and our district’s benchmark diagnostic tests. Thirdly, the district will have highly qualified and caring staff members who will work in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to share best instructional practices, develop common assessments, and diagnose each student’s specific learning needs in order to design instruction accordingly. This will allow teachers to determine what their students need to know, whether or not they know it, and what steps to take if they do and if they do not know it. This should lift student achievement districtwide.

Our School Board has invested time and effort in Reform Governance in Action training provided by the Center for Reform of School Systems. We have adopted a set of core beliefs and commitments that will serve as a framework for our decision-making. We are also adopting a Theory of Action for change that we believe will produce the pattern of excellent schools we want district-wide. Our Theory of Action encompasses my top 3 priorities as described above. We believe that in order to achieve real school reform we must manage our district’s curriculum from the Central Office level to ensure consistency and equity in all classrooms, we must empower our teachers and principals to be leaders and innovators in their schools through PLCs and more, and we must mobilize community resources and key partners to support our students and our efforts to raise student achievement. Our Theory of Action for change is “Manage, Empower, Mobilize”, and those actions are my top 3 priorities for addressing our most important issue of student achievement.

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.

I am currently a member of the school board that is very high-functioning. I think that I have helped to develop the current atmosphere of unity, civility, respect and admiration among our members. During my tenure on the board, we have established 3 school board sub-committees that are working very well—Instructional Services, Administrative Services, and Support Services. These committees allow us to delve deeply into the instructional and operational issues of our district. The school board has also hired an excellent superintendent, Dr. Carl Harris, who is unflappable in his focus on student achievement, wise in his leadership, and gifted in his ability to engage our parent, civic, church, and business communities. The community has also approved a 194 million dollar school bond referendum in November by an overwhelming majority, indicating support for our work.

My record also shows that I am steadfastly responsive to my constituents through emails, phone calls, and appointments. I am a dependable and well-prepared school board member, having an impeccable attendance record at our committee meetings, full board action meetings, grievance panels, and school and community events. I also take every opportunity I can to attend school board development conferences. I have chaired the Instructional Services committee for the past 2 years and have been instrumental in assuring our board understands and provides excellent oversight of our instructional programs. The largest percentage of our monthly meetings is devoted to instructional topics.

While on the board I have been instrumental in initiating the development of several policies, including our Living Wage policy and our School Wellness policy. I advocated for strong language in these policies and led the authorship of our Wellness Policy.

Additionally, I am knowledgeable about our schools, having visited every school at least once during the past 4 years. I also have first-hand knowledge as a parent of 4 children who have been or are still in schools in our system. For the past 17 years I have been active in my kids’ schools’ PTAs and Site-based Teams, I have tutored students in reading and math, and I have worked as a substitute teacher. This gives me an informed perspective for decision-making.

It is also important for school board members to be collaborative with members of the community. I have worked with numerous key partners to coordinate resources to address challenges in our school district. I serve on the School Health Advisory Council, the Triangle Fitness Leadership Council, the Workforce Development Board and Youth Council, Student U Advisory Board, Crayons to Calculators Advisory Board, NC State Dept of Public Health Successful Students Committee, and the NC Action for Healthy Kids steering committee. I collaborate with leaders across our district and state on these boards and committees to assess, plan and evaluate programs to help our schools and students.

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

I try to be fair-minded and progressive in my politics. I have an earnest interest in current educational issues and topics, and I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of strong public education as the cornerstone of democracy, as an essential construct of society’s commitment to helping all children become productive citizens, and as a bastion of equality that promotes an understanding of and respect for our social and cultural differences. My past achievements and present campaign platform reflect my belief that all children have a right to excellent education, healthcare, housing, and childcare so that the playing field will be level for the development of our talents and pursuit of our dreams.

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

I will invest my energy into strengthening our school system so that families in Durham will want to choose our schools. This will in turn bolster the public education system, which is an essential construct to justice and to society’s commitment to helping all children succeed. I will work to end educational disparities, which cannot be eliminated unless we also work to end disparities in healthcare, housing and childcare opportunities. I am committed to working on these issues, as well, since they are inextricably linked to student academic performance.

5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you know might cost you some popularity points with voters.

Based on what I currently know, I support the stand that DPS should invert its bell schedule for elementary and secondary schools so that middle and high schools start around 8:45 AM and elementary schools start around 7:30 AM. Research shows that adolescents’ biological alarms do not go off until later in the morning. When our high schools and middle schools start at 7:30 AM, our students are not as alert and ready to learn as if they had an extra hour of sleep. Elementary students tend to be earlier risers, so the early start time should work better for them. Their brains are ready to go at the earlier hour.

I believe we must continue to strengthen our School Wellness Policy by disallowing the sale of unhealthy food and beverages in our schools. This would mean donut and candy sales would be prohibited. We are responsible for providing a healthy environment for our students that is consistent with the nutrition education and healthy lunch options we provide. Schools can play a critical role in reversing childhood obesity, and healthy, active students have better cognitive ability.

I am supportive of a strengthened comprehensive sex education curriculum with accurate information on sexually transmitted diseases and contraception methods, as well as abstinence education.

6. Creekside student reassignment recently has been a controversial topic. Since, given Durham’s growth, it is likely the board will continue to reassign students, what are your guiding principles when considering such action? How would those principles be transformed into policy? What financial issues are influencing the decision? How can those financial issues best be addressed? Land-transfer tax? Increased property taxes?

Student assignments should be made based upon proximity to schools, prevention of assignment zone islands or peninsulas, and the provision for an alignment in assignment of neighborhoods to elementary, middle, and high schools. Additionally, the principle, and core belief of the school board, that all students benefit from being educated in racially, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse environments should be promoted. Student assignments also should be the least disruptive as possible for families.

To prevent and alleviate over-crowding, DPS must invest resources in more sophisticated long-range demographic planning that is coordinated with the planning of the City and County governments in order to predict and provide the sufficient infrastructure to support the population growth. DPS must also plan with the County government for bond packages to provide funding for capital needs and construction, similar to the planning that has led to the successful passage of the 2007 School Bond.

The School Board should also advocate for additional revenue sources for capital construction, such as the real estate transfer tax, and should encourage the County to place this item on a referendum for voter approval in the near future.

7. In paying for new schools and other county needs, what role would you like to see assigned to:

  1. Property taxes? Property taxes should continue to be a major source of funding for the school system’s capital needs.

  2. Impact fees? I support the efforts our county has made to advocate with our legislators for the right to impose impact fees on builders and developers to help finance the infrastructure needs that result from developments, including new schools in high growth areas.

  3. Year-round schools? Year-round schooling can help alleviate overcrowding because with a multi-track system, the school is used all year long with different groups of students in attendance on each of the tracks. This is a good way of maximizing the use of school facilities, but it only works well if the community supports assigning families to year-round schools rather than have it be a choice. We are seeing the struggles the Wake County School Board is having with this issue. Their mandatory assignment of students to year-round schools in order to alleviate crowding has been declared unconstitutional.

  4. More charter schools? Durham has more charter schools per capita than any other district in North Carolina. The state has put a cap on charter schools at 100, which could mean about 1 per school district. Durham has 9 charter schools, giving families more than ample opportunity to choose one of these, if desired. I am opposed to opening more charter schools in Durham, because they make the work of the public school system more difficult, and they have not served the intended purpose of improving test scores in public schools. Furthermore, the students in charter schools in NC do not have higher test scores on state accountability tests than students in traditional public schools.

    Per pupil funding follows the students to the charter (and stays there, even if the student returns to our schools later in the year) which leaves the school system with some of the more difficult students to educate but with less financial resources to do so. Charter schools have students whose parents are able to be involved enough to fill out the application for admission so that they tend to take students who have parents that will be involved in the education of their children and in the schools. We need these students and families in our schools, involving themselves in the schools to help make them better. Also, charter schools work in such a way that they divide us at a time when we need to learn to work together for solutions to educational and other community challenges.

  5. Sales tax? The use of sales tax as a revenue source for school facility’s needs is regressive and has a greater and negative impact on the poor.

  6. Other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods? Our school system leaders need to be continually looking for ways to cut costs in operations and to be fiscally vigilant and responsible. DPS administrators have many creative ways of cutting costs, including self-insurance in several key areas, performance energy management, energy-saving incentives for schools, and zero-based budgeting, to name a few. These methods have saved our school system hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

8. The No Child Left Behind Act has set a goal that all students would be proficient in reading and math by 2013-2014. Only seven of 21 Durham Public Schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB. Specifically, what can the school board do to help the schools that didn’t make their AYP? Secondly, what is your opinion on NCLB’s emphasis on standardized testing? Is NCLB a fair and effective program? What can be done to help low-performing schools?

We must have excellent teachers and principals in all of these schools so that high-quality instruction and leadership can be sustained. We must ensure these schools have the financial and human resources they need to be successful, including additional teachers, social workers, counselors, behavior coaches, ESL teachers, funding for technology needs, books, etc. We must mobilize our parents, local universities, businesses, church groups, civic clubs, and other community volunteers to help support the efforts of the school system. We must ensure that all schools have a rigorous, enriched curriculum that is aligned with state tests, and we should continue to benchmark student progress throughout the school year and redirect student instruction as needed. We must consider offering extended day learning opportunities to our students in these schools, giving the students who need the extra instruction the time for it. We must work with our community to help address disparities in healthcare, housing, and preschool opportunities for our students in these schools.

One very positive result of the NCLB legislation is the readily available useful information about schools. We now have data that are disaggregated so that test score information is available for different groups of students. Our schools certainly must make sure that all students are acquiring the most basic skills that the accountability tests are assessing. However, I also believe that the NCLB legislation has a punitive effect on schools that are the most diverse. The greater the diversity in a school, the more difficult it is for the school to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress toward the goal of having 100% of students on grade level by 2014. This aforementioned goal is also unrealistic, and it sets up schools for failure. In addition, it creates unrealistic expectations from the public that schools alone can achieve this goal. Schools must have the financial support of the government for the mandates of NCLB, and schools must have the support of parents and social services to raise the performance composite of schools to the high level we demand. NCLB holds schools accountable, but local, state and federal governments, as well as societal support for much-needed social services should also be part of the accountability system. Further, student academic growth might be a better measure of accountability than proficiency set at some low standard, and varying from state to state.

The test-based school accountability system and the barrage of tests in the core subjects have led to some behavior changes in schools that are not desirable. Schools now have an incentive and a tendency to focus instruction on the tested subjects, reading and math, at the expense of non-tested subjects. This narrowing of the curriculum is not beneficial to our students who also must be learning at high levels in social studies, science, and elective classes. Physical Education has been especially affected by NCLB, such that many school districts have cut back on PE opportunities for students to give more time for reading and math instruction. Meanwhile, our sedentary children are becoming increasingly overweight and unhealthy, which has a negative impact on learning.

9. What is your opinion of the 2007 personal leave bill, which, had it passed, would have allowed teachers to take personal days without being docked $50 in pay? What guidance would you give state legislators on crafting a bill?

I support the 2007 personal leave bill that would allow teachers to take personal days while receiving full pay, with no deduction in salary ($50) for a substitute. The DPS Board of Education passed a resolution last year in support of this bill. State legislators need to be fully aware of how confining teaching can be. We must treat our teachers with the same level of respect that we treat other professionals, most of whom are granted personal leave without penalty. In crafting a bill, I would encourage our legislators to include provisions for limiting the number of personal leave days with no salary deduction to a certain maximum per year, for accumulating personal leave days up to 5 per year, for personal leave taken more than twice per year to have the required substitute deduction, and for converting accumulated personal leave into sick leave for purposes of retirement.

10. The Durham school board underwent scrutiny last year for failing to comply with the state open records law. Public documents requested by the League of Women Voters have yet to be disclosed. For incumbents, explain why those documents have not been turned over; for challengers, what concrete steps should be taken to ensure transparency in the board? Be specific.

When the League of Women Voters made the request last year, school board members searched through our email accounts to sort and send school-board related emails to our school board liaison. After making several inquiries from the League, we learned that the only reason for the request of documents was to check our compliance with the law. Further, our attorney advised us against spending the resources to sort through the thousands of emails to eliminate any that would violate the student and personnel privacy rights. To do this would have cost the school system thousands of dollars in legal fees. This request did spur our board to take the action of using a DPS webmail system. This means that if requests are made in the future, the emails can be readily dumped from the DPS system. I now use a DPS webmail address for my school board communications in order to facilitate compliance with the open records law.

11. Special-needs and gifted children present unique educational challenges to the district. Evaluate how the district is 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?

DPS has the Exceptional Children’s Program to address the special needs of children with varying degrees of disabilities. The children in the EC Program are to be educated in the least restrictive environment possible, and all except the students with the most severe exceptionalities are mainstreamed into regular education settings for much of the day. Other students with very special needs are taught in self-contained classrooms with EC certified teachers. All EC students have Individual Education Plans that prescribe the special services that they must receive, and EC teachers work with these students both in the classrooms and in pull-out settings as described in the IEPs.

DPS has recently reorganized its EC Department at the Central Office in order to improve our compliance with statutes governing the delivery of EC services. We have directors of compliance, programs and instruction who work throughout the district with EC teachers and parents in our schools. These directors also work with the regular education teachers to enhance their skills in working with EC children who are mainstreamed.

With the reorganization of the EC Department, we are hoping to see improved outcomes for EC students and families. We will be monitoring our compliance rates, EC student achievement, EC teacher retention, and family satisfaction with services. Each of these areas has its own challenges that we will continue to address through strong leadership at the Central and local levels, through the hiring of the most qualified and caring EC staff, and through the formation of an EC Parent Advisory Committee. I would also support the formation of an EC Teacher Advisory Council who could provide regular and first-hand feedback to Central Administrators on the challenges they face in serving children in our system and on ways we can support them in their work.

The DPS Board of Education approved its AIG Plan for 2007-2010 in the fall of 2007. This plan includes strategies for continuing to improve the educational challenge that we provide our students who are identified as AIG, as well as ways to increase the identification of underserved populations for AIG services. The school district will conduct sweep screens of our students at kindergarten, third grade and 6th grade in order to identify students for services as soon as possible. Additionally, our schools are developing and implementing “nurturing” programs to help more capable students qualify for AIG services.

We have begun the implementation of a rigorous new curriculum from the College of William and Mary for middle school language arts, and this will be expanded into our elementary schools, as well. All schools also offer AIG services for math in elementary and middle schools.

In high schools, students may take honors and AP courses in order to be challenged to achieve at their potential. DPS will continue to increase access to AIG services, honors and AP classes. We have had good success with these endeavors. We have increased enrollment in honors and AP classes by 60%. We continue to have more students taking the AP exams, and we have a larger number of students who are passing the exam with a score of 3 or above. Our AP exam passing rate has dropped a bit as our number of test-takers has increased, and we want to improve this rate. Some level of decrease in the passing rate is expected as the number of students taking the tests increases.

Our challenge as a school system and a community is to ensure that we are providing all students at every point on the achievement spectrum with the educational services to enable them to achieve at their full potential. DPS has a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students whose achievement is far too low. We must continue to work harder to help these students achieve. At the same time, our district must not loose sight of the needs of its highest achieving students. One way we are addressing this challenge is through the creation of the Office of Advanced Academics and an AIG Coordinator at the Central Office level who works with the AIG facilitator at each of our schools and with an AIG Parent Advisory Group to help promote the excellence of our AIG program.

The School Board must continue to provide oversight of both the EC and the AIG programs in our schools. Both of these programs provide services that are critical to the success of our students and of our school system.

12. What steps, if any, would you advocate to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students and to reduce dropout rates?

While we are pleased that the dropout rate has fallen for the past 5 years in DPS while the student population has increased, we still have over 500 students who leave our schools before graduating from high school, and this is a major problem. Only 69% of our students entering high school as freshmen are graduating 4 years later. This high school completion rate is even lower for African American and Latino students. While this is a nationwide trend, DPS leaders know we must redouble our efforts to increase the high school completion rate of our students.

Some of the current programs in place to address the drop-out issue are:

  • Creation of smaller learning environments as alternatives to the large comprehensive high schools, such as the Performance Learning Center, Hillside New Tech High School, Southern School of Engineering, Early College High School, Middle College High School, City of Medicine Academy
  • Establishment of Ninth-grade Freshman Academies at our high schools to help with the transition of our 8th graders to high school
  • Increased access to counseling and social services via Child and Family Support Teams and the Durham System of Care
  • Efforts to reduce truancy, such as truancy courts, truancy officers, strict follow-up parent contact procedures for truant students
  • Increased mentoring and internship opportunities
  • Improved CTE offerings, such as the Construction and Design Academy at Southern High School and Hillside Finance Academy
  • Small program for high school students in need of flexible schedule or additional help at Southern High School during extended day hours
  • Block scheduling and Mid-year graduation opportunity
  • Lakeview School as an alternative school for long-term suspended students
  • On-line credit recovery options
  • Transition to Opportunity forums for recent drop-outs to offer reading level assessments and individual counseling about opportunities both within and outside DPS
  • Homeless liaison services
  • School Wellness Centers
  • Personal Education Plans
  • Student Assistance Program
  • Capturing Kids Hearts and Teen Leadership
  • Futures for Kids, a portal for career exploration to guide high school coursework planning and selection for 8th and 9th graders
  • High School and Beyond plans for every high school student developed with students by counselors and career development coordinators
  • Community Learning Centers at Oxford Manor, McDougald Terrace, and Cornwallis Community
  • Parent and Community Involvement Coordinator
  • Student U and Summer Restoration Institute for Leadership

An important precursor to dropouts is truancy. Efforts to reduce truancy include creation of a Truancy Triage Center where truant students can be dropped off for an academic and social needs assessment, followed up with the appropriate services to help keep the students in school. DPS must continue to improve its Career and Technical Education (CTE) and well-structured school-to-career programs. We must also push forward with the Holton School Vocational Training project in partnership with the City and County. DPS must also continue to connect with business partners for job shadowing and internships for students, as well as connect with other community partners for increased access to mentors, mental health and social services for our students to help them stay in school and graduate. DPS should place increased emphasis on System of Care with earlier identification of students who may need its resources.

In the 2004-2005 school year, our suspension rate plummeted by nearly 50%, and our methods for its decrease were studied as best practices by districts around the state. The Superintendent studies the discipline data from each school and works with the principals to identify and support teachers and classrooms that have high suspension numbers in a targeted effort to improve behavior by methods other than suspension.

DPS is working to implement Positive Behavior Support systems in all of our schools, where appropriate behavior is taught to our students and is rewarded on a proactive basis. For students who have behavior challenges, the Student Assistance Teams at our schools conduct behavior assessments and develop behavior plans for the students working with teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and parents to improve behavior outcomes. Suspensions should be a last resort consequence or reserved for behavior infractions that are a threat to school safety and student security. District leaders are also continuing to find ways to improve the In-School Suspension program so that it supports academic performance, modifies behavior, positively shapes student character, and provides emotional and social counseling to students, as needed. We must also continue to find and fund other discipline alternatives to suspension to support our principals in their efforts to keep our schools safe and orderly and to keep kids in school.

  • Candidate for Durham Public Schools Board of Education

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