Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Brenda Stephens
Legal name, if different: Brenda Wilson Stephens
Date of Birth: 10-22-1952
Mailing address: P.O. Box 481 Hillsborough, NC 27278
Campaign Web Site: www.stephens4students.com
Occupation & Employer: Retired Library Director
Years in Orange County: Lifetime resident
Home Phone: 919-732-4384
1. What are three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
1. School Safety – Without safe schools, children do not feel secure in the classroom. Parents want to know when they send their children to school that their safety is of the utmost importance. Every student should feel secure in knowing that school is a safe learning environment. I will continue to work with the Board and the safety committee to address recommendations identified in the Safe Haven report.
2. Teacher Pay – Teachers have been asked to do more each year in North Carolina, but have not seen appreciable increases in the salaries. Teachers provide for and ensure success for our children. We should do what we can to support our teachers in and out of the classroom. Our Board unanimously passed a resolution opposing the 25% legislation, and I will continue to be advocate for teachers as well as an opponent against Senate Bill 402.
3. Academic excellence for all students – Too often have we heard of the “achievement gap.” No child should feel that he or she is falling behind another group of students. It’s important that all students realize gains in their education. Only then will the gap close and exist no more. If elected, I will continue my commitment to improve education for our children in order to engage every child in the process and in the promise of learning.
2. What is your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Orange County School Board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I previously served 4 terms on the board; twelve solid years of working in a respectful manner with my fellow board members. I fully understand the important role that education plays. In my professional career I have worked over 30 years with citizens in Caswell, Orange and Person Counties (COP) assuring access and improvements to the public library system. It was essential for me to work cooperatively with County Commissioners and staff in three counties. I was able to make advances in libraries, and those changes are still having long term positive effects on communities.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I consider myself to be progressive. My philosophy is to make certain that everyone is treated with respect and has access to the same opportunities without regard to skin color, religion or personal preferences or beliefs. I am running because I remain committed to the education of our children in Orange County. The business of schools and education is the business of all of us--- it determines whether or not our children will be able to share in the American Dream. It also determines the future of our country and community. We all know that education is a strong predictor of our future success, and I am certain that most parents want success for their children. As A board member, I have been a consistent advocate for success and excellence for all children. Having a chance to succeed is crucial for a child’s future. Positioning our students for success is important. I want to be involved in positioning the direction of our school district. Education is where real change starts and success begins.
4. A recent national report ranked the average teacher pay in NC at 46th in the nation. Considering that pitfall and ongoing tumult in the N.C. General Assembly over education funding and teacher tenure, how do you recruit and retain quality teachers in the school system?
Recruitment is challenging when we are constantly faced with a General Assembly that is not responsive to the local needs of schools boards. The unfunded mandates and dictates from Raleigh do little to increase local retention and recruitment efforts. Local boards have to make positive steps in spite of our General Assembly’s inept approach to teacher retention and recruitment. It is importantthat school districts provide additional incentives to retain teachers, such as discounts with local merchants (restaurants, dealerships) and other incentives that improve the quality of life for those that we entrust with our children and their success. It will be up to local boards and community partners to help retain and recruit the best teachers.
5. Considering funding cuts at the state level, how do you shape a budget that maintains the school system’s reputation for quality, innovative education?
Orange County Schools is very fortunate to have a Board of County Commissioners who supports school funding at a high level. Educational funding has topped their list for years.As a board, we have been able to redirect funds to save all of our Teacher Assistant positions.Last year we gave a one-time bonus to staff,and we are expanding our one-to one-laptop initiative. Given the generosity of our County Commissioners, myself and the other board members have been able to focus on our students and staff. If re-elected, I will continue to seek the highest quality of education possible for the students of Orange County Schools.
6. Recent changes to the SAT scoring system have made the essay question optional and reduced the emphasis on tough vocabulary words in an effort to make long-time testing system more modern and fair. What do you think about the changes? What else can be done to make the college prep testing process fairer for all students?
The SAT has long had its detractors. The College Board (makers of the SAT) has revamped and modified the SAT numerous times over the past two decades. At the very least, that demonstrates a response to calls for equity across the test. Yet, the modifications indicate some problems that the SAT has: what does it test and what do test scores really mean? Currently, our students are faced with a non-stop testing mentality. There seems to be no end to standardized tests. Standardized tests shouldn’t be the exclusive indicator for a student’s performance or success, but so often it is used that way. To provide for more equity in the college prep testing arena, test makers might consider aligning the test to the curriculum that students have been presented and taught. As a board, we have no control over tests like the SAT, but what we can do is to offer as much support and instruction as possible to ensure that our students are strong applicants to whatever college they apply.
7. Anti-bullying campaigns have become popular in the wake of numerous school shootings in recent years. Would you further the anti-bullying campaign in Orange County Schools?
County Schools? If so, how? I would absolutely further the anti-bullying effort by encouraging professional development for our staff in identifying and diffusing potentially volatile situations. It is important tosupport the formation of groups such as KidsAgainstBullying or TeensAgainst Bullying. It is essential to continue to work with our School Resource Officers so that they can provide training, and to encourage open dialogs with the students so that they have a positive view of law enforcement, not an adversarial one. An open line of communication will allow the officers to function more as a resource.
8. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.
Redistricting is an arduous task. It is the bane of a school Board member’s existence. I have had the opportunity to serve through two redistricting processes. Schools often become overcrowded, and new schools must be constructed. Consequently, redistricting is always a reality in growing school districts. Making certain that everyone is treated fairly is paramount throughout the process. Parents are certainly ardent in their stances for where their children should attend school. They should be. In the end, as a board member, I must make a decision that is in the best interests of all the students in Orange County Schools. I realize that not everyone will always agree with those decisions, but decisions made in the best interest of Orange County Schools are the right ones.
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?
I have always stood for justice. That’s not always the easiest thing to do. I aspire to serve the Citizens of Orange County as a good steward of our schools. If re-elected to the School Board, I will work to ensure that the Orange County Schools will be a leader in promoting high standards for our students and achieving those high marks. Orange County doesn’t need to be just a part of the Triangle community. Orange County needs to be a leader in the Triangle Community and the State.