Full Legal Name: Donna Dean Coffey
Name as it Appears on the Ballot:Donna Dean Coffey
Office Sought/District: Orange County Board of Education
Date of Birth: 50 years old
Home Address: 3839 Shelly's Trail, Efland, NC 27243
Mailing Address (if different from home):PO Box 119, Efland, NC 27243
Campaign Web Site:
Facebook Group & Fan Page: Elect Donna Dean Coffey for Orange County Board of Education;
Occupation & Employer: Retired from Orange County Local Government
Years lived in Orange County: 15 years living in Orange County; 30 years working in Orange County
Home Phone:(919) 304-6839
1. What do you believe are the three most important issues facing the Orange Co. school system? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Financial Challenges – Right now, almost everyone is facing the challenge of balancing increasing demands on their wallets while the amount of money they have to spend stays the same or decreases. Orange County Schools is no different. As Federal, State and local budgets become more constrained, the prospect of increased revenues in the near future is bleak. To that end, school leaders must be informed and make wise decisions about programs they fund. They have an obligation to the future of the District to look at the short-term fiscal environment as well as to seek longer-term solutions to the challenge of "making ends meet." For this reason, I believe Orange County Schools should collaborate with other local and regional - public and private - stakeholders and seek economic growth that builds sustainable revenue bases in Orange County rather than depending on residential property taxes as a major revenue source.
Student Success – Last school year the District saw an increase in the number of students graduating along with a decrease in the number of students dropping out of school. We should definitely celebrate the fact that 81% of the District's seniors successfully completed high school last year. On the other hand, now school leaders should intensely focus on motivating the remaining 19% of students to stay in school and reach their full potential.
In order to be successful, it is imperative for students to grasp and understand fundamental skills of reading, writing, math and science. In addition to keeping students in school, leaders must set their sights on programs that help all students master these essential skills.
Priorities for me include enhanced class offerings, diverse/alternative learning tools and environments, intense early intervention and further engagement of parents and our community. Unfortunately, until additional revenues are available, the Board will be forced to make difficult choices and decisions in order to implement new programs and take on new initiatives. These choices will likely involve re-thinking and re-prioritizing how current resources are allocated and possibly re-directing monies from one program to another.
Communication and Public Process – I have a deep appreciation for community and citizen input into the public process. It is extremely important for the Board of Education and other school leaders to be proactive and seek parental involvement and community input. Clear communication and prompt responsiveness are absolute musts. I believe investments in technology such as video streaming, webinars, and improved websites would result in a more positive interactive public process.
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.
One of my biggest assets is I understand school finance and budget issues. I recently had the opportunity to retire from Orange County Local Government after almost thirty years of public service. During my tenure, I served in a number of finance and budget-related positions with my most recent appointment being Budget Director – a position I held for more than twelve years. In that capacity, I oversaw the multi-million dollar day-to-day operating budget and ten-year Capital Investment Plan for the County. Since about fifty percent of the County's resources are dedicated to funding local school districts, I gained much insight into school finances, policies and needs. In addition, I was staff advisor to a number of Commissioner-appointed committees related to school operational and capital needs and funding. I have also served on, and learned much from, several state committees dedicated to public education and local taxation and finance.
As a parent of three children in Orange County schools, I have also volunteered in various capacities in schools as well as with community organizations and our church.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
My values and beliefs do not totally align with any one political ideology, and for that reason, I am, and have been for more than 25 years, unaffiliated with any political party. I am running for this position, because I believe our community, as a whole, deserves hard-working, dedicated leaders who focus on the educational success of all children rather than on individual constituencies. Parents trust school leaders to make sound decisions that will positively influence their children, and my goal is to "do the right thing" for ALL children and for the good of the entire school district.
4. Academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) and exceptional children present particular educational challenges to the district. How well is the district 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?
Every student deserves opportunities to grow to his/her full potential, and the needs of AIG and exceptional children must be a priority for the Board. Overall, the District currently dedicates a considerable amount of resources to these programs. However, the number of children eligible for these programs increases each year. The result is that limited monies continue to be stretched further and further; therefore, the main obstacle in providing these critical services is, and will continue to be, the lack of sufficient funding to meet increasing demands.
5. NC School Report Cards In 2008-09 show 79.1 percent of white students and 79.4 percent of Asians passing both reading and math EOG tests compared to just 44 percent of black students and 48.4 percent of Hispanics (lower than the state average). How will you work not only to close the achievement gap but to raise standards and produce results for all students? What specific plans and strategies would you implement to reach at-risk students and how quickly would you do it?
According to the District's 2009 Annual Report to the Community, the achievement gap at almost every level – from elementary to high school – is narrowing. Recent staff reports indicate even more optimistic news - between 2007-08 and the first quarter of the current school year, the district-wide gap narrowed in 7 out of 10 high school end of class (EOC) tested areas. In addition, for grades 3 through 8, the gap has decreased in 10 out of 12 tested areas.
While this news is positive, it is clear there is more work to do. In order for this trend to continue, the District must not only expand programs already in place, such as parental involvement, community learning centers and free middle school afterschool programs, it must also focus on intense early intervention along with recruitment and retention of more diverse teaching staff, and alternative learning opportunities and environments.
6. What can the Orange County Board of Education learn from the Wake County School board's recent move for neighborhood schools and ending busing to create racial diversity? What's your position on this issue?
I believe lessons learned from the Wake County move revolve around ineffective communication and lack of respect. Regardless of individual beliefs, elected leaders should respect all parents and the community at large as well as fellow board members. Above all, students and their well-being should be at the forefront of everything a school board does. I feel, based on accounts I have read and heard, Wake County's move appears to be subjective rather than objective and lacks analysis.
Recently, the Orange County School Board has discussed the need for redistricting. This relates to the fact that while the district-wide elementary school enrollment is well within the number of students the District has room for, there are two elementary schools overcapacity with the remaining seven under capacity.
In order for far-reaching changes, such as redistricting, to be effective, several components are essential:
Engage and communicate clearly with stakeholders - parents, staff, students, community leaders – throughout the process from beginning to end
Agree on district-wide core values and beliefs along with guiding criteria and principles prior to the work beginning
Employ outside consultants to develop a mathematical and scientific model
Avoid changing the core components once the model is developed and presented
The Board should also be pro-active and put measures in place to circumvent future overcrowding – one example is re-vamping the student transfer policy – something that is currently under consideration by District leaders.
7. What method would you use to determine how resources should be allocated within the school system? Do you believe that resources are well now? If not, what would you change? Building off of that, how will you balance upcoming budgets during these economic times? What's one thing that is currently overfunded that could be cut?
The opportunity to serve on the Board of Education allows me to make the most of my life experiences, sound judgement, and professional knowledge. I would dovetail these elements with information I gather from staff, parents, teachers, students, community members, and fellow board members.
Overall, it appears the District has made good choices in how it allocates discretionary funds. As I stated earlier, until additional revenues are available, the Board will be forced to make difficult choices and decisions in order to implement new programs and take on new initiatives. These choices will likely involve re-thinking and re-prioritizing how current resources are allocated and possibly re-directing monies from one program to another.
As for my priorities, I believe the district should dedicate the bulk of its resources to the classroom and to technology to ensure each student has the opportunity to succeed.
8. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
As a community, we must never lose sight of our ultimate goal – to ensure each and every child has a successful educational opportunity, and I pledge never to lose sight of that goal. I believe the District has all components to be successful in this endeavor – excellent students, dedicated teachers, committed parents, and professional administration.
9. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.
I make decisions after I have analyzed the data and spoken with those affected by the outcome of my decision. I try to put myself in other people's shoes when making those decisions. Prior to making difficult decisions, I also give thought to the direct impact as well as unintended consequences of my actions. Sometimes my decision may not be the most popular one, but I am willing to stand my ground for what I believe is "right" and "fair." All children deserve the best a community can provide for them, and as a school leader, it would be my job to ensure that Orange County Schools serves and protects ALL children regardless of socioeconomics, race or gender.