Name as it appears on the ballot: Jennifer Mansfield
Party affiliation, if any: Unaffiliated
Campaign website: www.mansfieldforwakeschools.com
Occupation & Employer: Stay at home mother, previously worked in Commercial Interior Design
Years lived in NC: 13
Given the current direction of the Wake County school system, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what are the specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?
Previous polls commissioned by Wake Ed Partnership and Public Policy Polling showed that the prior assignment policy was unpopular with a majority of Wake County residents, regardless of race or political affiliation. Results of the recent Blue Plan 'test drive' showed that across the county, parents most valued proximity and calendar. We are moving in the right direction towards community schools, but we have become bogged down in rhetoric and partisanship from both sides.
More importantly, we are moving in the right direction when it comes to addressing the educational needs of our low income and minority students. We must not only have high expectations for all of our students, but we must never make the fatal mistake of underestimating their capabilities or desire to succeed. We are making strides in this area under the leadership of Supt. Tata.
The major change that I would bring to the board is the ability to rise above partisanship and ideology and the willingness to consider facts from all sides of an issue. I am able to wade through the political rhetoric and hyperbole to get to the truth and I'm not afraid to ask the hard questions.
In your district, please identity the priority needs as you see them.
For the past 4 years, the needs of District 3 schools and families have been ignored. We need an effective representative to advocate for the needs of our families and to be an active participant amongst and a voice for District 3 residents. An effective board member must be able to put aside petty political and ideological differences to work towards solutions for the benefit of our schools, teachers, and students and must also not be so entrenched in the 'way things are done' that she is blind to legitimate problems in the system.
District 3 itself is very diverse and the different needs we have within our district are often ignored. For many years, it has been assumed that North Raleigh is 'wealthy', yet District 3 is home to one of the highest poverty schools in the county and we have Title 1 schools that struggle to meet the needs of both struggling students and high achievers. Those schools are under sourced and when parents have sought out enrichment through the magnet program, they have been virtually shut out of the process. When parents have asked about more resources or magnet programs for these schools, we have been denied because we are not allowed to compete with the magnets downtown. This, in turn, leads many families to leave the system in frustration. We must ensure that all of our students have access to high quality academic opportunities at their base schools.
Many of our communities have been fractured due to previous assignment policies and calendar mismatches. We need to rebuild and maintain community support for our schools—not just the families and teachers at those schools, but local businesses and citizens who have no children in WCPSS. We must return the community spirit, pride, and support to our District 3 schools.
What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the school board? If you've identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to be an effective advocate for them?
I became involved in Wake County school issues 9 years ago when I started researching school options for my then rising Kindergartner. After speaking with neighbors and other parents, I found they too lacked an understanding of Wake County's student assignment policies. When my early research uncovered a series of unfair and inequitable assignment policies that penalized low income students and students who attended higher poverty schools, I recognized it was time to take action. In 2007 I began my blog, www.voiceforequity.com as a way to share information and help other parents navigate the school system. Since then, I have remained a passionate advocate for all Wake County students to have equal access to WCPSS' academic opportunities and to the same baseline curriculum, and for low income families to have an equal voice in student assignment. Recently, I focused on three key issues that have become reality:
Eliminating socio-economic discrimination in the magnet selection process, ensuring that all WCPSS middle school students have access to foreign language instruction
The appropriate placement of qualified middle school students into 8th grade Algebra I
I'm proud to have played a role in raising the visibility of these critical issues and will continue to advocate for equity for all students as a member of the Board of Education.
How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you're a conservative, a progressive, a libertarian, or what?
I am unaffiliated, but have always considered myself a Democrat when it comes to most national issues. Locally, I find that I do not fit in with either party and am truly Independent.
The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?
Equity for all students and families has been the primary driver for my advocacy over the years. Over the past 3 years, I have attended meetings and spoken with parents and teachers all around the county in an effort to better understand the needs of the system as a whole. I am able to advocate for the needs of my own District 3 while keeping in mind the needs of the other 8 districts.
Please address the following major issues that are before the Wake school board:
How should the school board resolve the issue of neighborhood schools and diversity? Is there a need to balance the two, and if so, how should that be done? Does Superintendent Tata's "Blue Plan" do the job?
The key here is choice. For many years, low income families bore the brunt of the diversity busing. Affluent families are rarely bused for diversity against their wishes; they are enticed with special magnet programs. Low income families have been bused far from home for years with very little say in the matter. The magnet 'lottery' was rigged against them and they were bused far from home with no recourse. Diversity is good, but we cannot continue to achieve it on the backs of the low income families, whose children are often not served well in the suburban schools they are sent to.
I am not a fan of the Blue Plan. It is too complex, too confusing, and lacks transparency. Parents want choice, but it must be meaningful choice.
If the Blue Plan is adopted, is it important to you that diversity be achieved – as Mr. Tata proposes -- by reserving a substantial number of seats in high-achieving schools for kids coming from other, low-achieving neighborhoods? Or should proximity to a school be the overriding factor in student assignment even if results in some schools with high percentages of low-achieving students?
I am concerned that a school can be designated 'high achieving' without serving its low achieving students well. There is more to a successful school than just the EOG passing rates. Schools with high percentages of low-achieving students can still be successful if those students are showing appropriate growth and making progress. We run the risk of falling into the same flawed model we have now—that assignment can cure achievement issues.
As for setting aside seats in high achieving schools, there are still many questions that haven't been answered. Will the set aside seats remain empty if students from low achieving neighborhoods do not choose those schools? Are there enough seats for students in low achieving neighborhoods who want to go to a proximate school or are we offering them a false choice? Will the non-proximate options for those families be the next closest available or will their choices be determined by where WCPSS wants them to go for balancing purposes? We must have true choice and transparency for any plan to be successful.
What additional programs or resources, if any, do you think are needed to address the needs of low-performing students and close the historic achievement gap between students from affluent and low-income families?
One of the problems in WCPSS has been that of lowered expectations for low income, or 'at-risk' students. There are documented instances of high performing low income students being given remedial work because they have been identified as 'at-risk'. This is destructive and must stop. Our first step should be accurately identifying students' academic needs and giving them the appropriate curriculum.
Our second step is to ensure that teachers are equipped with the proper programs and resources to meet the needs of their students. We must continually evaluate the effectiveness of our programs to make sure we are seeing results. Otherwise, we are wasting money and short-changing futures.
Third, we need to actively engage parents in their children's education. This is not an easy task and we must get creative. We should look to partner with Wake County Human Services, local colleges, and service organizations to provide 'wrap around' services to students and their families in low income areas.
What's your view of the need for another school construction bond referendum in the next two years? If one is needed, should be about the same, bigger or smaller than the 2006 bond of $970 million.
There is no doubt that WCPSS is still growing (albeit at a slower rate than before) and we will need more seats, particularly at the high school level. As for when a bond referendum should take place and how large it should be, I don't have sufficient information at this point to form an opinion. The reality of our situation right now is that the public has been so turned off by the politics being played by both parties that it would be difficult to pass a bond no matter who was for or against it. We must eliminate political partisanship and restore public trust in our school system before we ask taxpayers for more money.
The current school board declined to seek additional revenues from the Wake County Commissioners even as the number of students in the school system grew. The result is a substantial drop in per-student funding from the county (on top of state funding cuts). Did you favor this approach? If elected, will you continue the policy? Or seek more money from the county?
The Board of Education should have asked the Wake County Commissioners for enough money to keep the per-pupil spending the same, even in these tough economic times. The BOE cannot be afraid to ask the Commissioners for the money needed to efficiently run the school system. The worst they can do is say 'No', but they will never say 'Yes' if we don't ask.
At the state level and in Wake County, some advocate for more charter schools and for tuition tax credits for private schools as a way of shaking up the public school system and creating more "competition" for students. Others say this approach undermines the public school system. In this debate, where do you stand?
Charters are an important part of our system and are a critical tool in serving niches within our student population. They fill needs that often cant be met in the standard public school system, including smaller class sizes for children who need more individual attention, calendar choice, specific teaching methods, and specialized curricula. I hope to see more innovation and growth in charter schools that serve low income and minority populations. These populations are under-served today and we must find new and creative ways to address their needs.
As you look forward, what major changes (e.g., longer school days, year-round schools, pedagogy changes) should be made to public education here and elsewhere in the United States to better prepare students for the world they'll live in? As a Wake school board member, how can you help in this regard?
We're currently on the path to recovery from a very unpopular student assignment policy. One positive that came from our previous policy is our magnet program. Often held up as the "shining star" in our school system, I don't believe that we should settle for excellence in just a few of our schools. Our magnets are outstanding models for what all of our schools can and should become. However, the magnet schools should not be excellent simply because we force our non-magnet schools to artificially limit their offerings. We are fortunate to have many talented and creative administrators and teachers in our system, and we should allow them to apply those talents to identify course and elective alternatives that we can offer across our schools.Additionally, I'd like to see more electives offered in all of our middle schools. A countywide goal of two elective periods for all of our middle-schoolers is certainly achievable, and I believe we have skilled and dedicated teachers who can make it happen, even on the tightest of budgets. We are on a tragic path of short-changing the creative arts, and to me, this is at odds with the board's mission to deliver a "world-class education."Finally, we've made good progress recently in getting middle school students placed in appropriate math classes, specifically, in identifying qualified students for placement in eight-grade Algebra I. This is something we should be replicating across all of the core curriculum. It's easy to say "let's raise the bar" – but here's a real example of where we've tasted success and rather than just talking about raising the bar, we can simply decide to do it.
To learn about other candidates' stances on the issues, read their 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.