Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools are largely renowned for their high-achieving students, which attracts families to the district who could just as easily live in Durham, Chatham or northern Orange counties.
However, the system also has a reputation for overlooking average, limited-English and learning-disabled children, as well as failing to make sufficient progress in closing the minority achievement gap.
Balancing these equity issues, plus grappling with a land shortage for new schools, redistricting and perennial budget constraints, requires a savvy, diligent board that is well-versed in the issues. Board members have to be responsive to parents yet remain independent arbiters of what's best for all children. As stewards of education, they must stand up, when necessary, to Superintendent Neil Pedersen, who is viewed as a heavy-handed administrator, even with the board.
We are heartily endorsing incumbents Jamezetta Bedford and Annetta Streater.
Bedford's deep knowledge of school issues would well serve the board. Before she was elected in 2003, she volunteered with the PTA and School Governance Committees; as a board member, she has been a liaison to the Special Needs Advisory Committee, which addresses the needs of children with learning disabilities.
A certified public accountant, Bedford lists her top priorities as planning for growth, improving student achievement by focusing on early education, and expanding dual language programs. She also supports boosting funds for staff development, mental health services, technology and special education.
Beyond board meetings, Bedford visits the schools. In one recent example, she took an interest in how redistricting was splitting the Latino community and thus diluting dual-language programs in schools.
Streater, a dental hygienist, was appointed to the board in June 2006 to replace Ed Sechrest. Since then, she's had a steep learning curve, but clearly advocates for every student, regardless of ethnicity or learning ability. "There's no one person more deserving of an education than another. We must dispel this idea that some people are more privileged than others."
She has served as co-chair of the Graham Elementary School Governance Committee, and if elected, would also advocate for starting the budget process earlier.
We also are solidly endorsing challengers Mia Burroughs and Gary Wallach.
Burroughs, a freelance grant writer, has volunteered in district classrooms for more than a decade. She chaired the Estes Hills Elementary School Governance Committee, focusing on minority-family outreach. Burroughs also has been a district budget advocate and volunteered as a district historian.
Burroughs supports an initiative called Professional Learning Communities, which encourages teachers to help one another improve teaching techniques for low-achieving students. She also has progressive views on parent-teacher relationships. "The most important thing is that teachers contact parents with something positive to say about their children well before the first report card comes out. They won't be able to build trust if they have to start on a negative note."
Wallach, who has worked as executive director of family planning and health centers in Los Angeles, is a quick learner and has done his homework on most of the district's issues. As a former teacher in the South Bronx, he is familiar with instructional techniques.
Wallach advocates for a cost-benefit analysis of programs and putting more money into teacher training, including that for teaching assistants. If elected, he would also partner with companies in Research Triangle Park so low-income children could have access to computers at home.
An original co-founder of the Special Needs Advisory Council, Wallach is concerned about children with learning disabilities. However, he says that while that issue is of personal interest, he can advocate for all children.
He would like to foster a friendlier environment for parents in schools. "Involvement should be welcomed," he wrote in his questionnaire. "Unfortunately, this is not always the case. And this needs to change."
Although Mike Kelley received our endorsement in 2003, we have chosen not to support him in this election. While his advocacy for gifted children is admirable, as their needs shouldn't be overlooked, when voting, he hasn't always kept all children in mind. His rigorous job as a physician scientist at Durham's veterans' hospital also has prevented him from attending many forums and activities beyond his basic board duties.