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Candidate for Durham County Board of Education

Leigh Bordley 

Candidate for Durham County Board of Education

NAME: Leigh Bordley

OCCUPATION & EMPLOYER: social worker, currently unemployed

PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat

E-MAIL ADDRESS: leigh.bordley@dspnc.net


1) If elected, what are your top priorities?

My top priorities as a second term school board member are to:

1) increase the number of children in high quality pre-kindergarden classes.

2) increase the quality of professional development available to our teachers (and therefore improve the instruction they deliver)

3) increase the quantity and quality of our after-school/summertime and intersession programs and programs that address the social and emotional needs of our children.

2) What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community service background.

I think my best quality as a leader is my willingness to consider varying points of view and learn. I am naturally inclined to see multiple perspectives, and I am interested to learn how other people see things. I have been eager to learn about education policy at national, state and local levels. I do my best to keep up with the research literature and glean what I can from what other schools systems are doing. Our board is made up of individuals with strong opinions who are passionate advocates for children. I try to help us find the middle ground or a third way when we feel we have reached an impasse.

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

I define myself as a Progressive Democrat. I attended Chapel Hill public schools and graduated from UNC-CH in 1983. My first job was working with migrant farm workers in Newton Grove, NC. In 1986, I earned a Masters of Social Work with a concentration in Community Organizing from the University of Maryland. I did my field work in social work school at the National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence (which no longer exists). My first job as an organizer was with a coalition of churches in Philadelphia that banded together to prevent and respond to incidents of racially-motivated violence after a black family was attached by a gang of white teenagers. My first job in North Carolina was with NC Equity, a nonprofit public policy organization that worked on issues affecting women and children. For the past 13 years, until the fall of 2012, I directed a mentoring program helping teens from the West End graduate from high school and continue their education.

As a school board member I have been a vocal advocate of policies and initiatives that I believe will help our children (particularly our highest need students) acquire a solid education. I supported the equity formula for staffing which Dr. Becoats proposed in 2010, which increased the number of teaching positions assigned to our schools with the highest number of students eligible for free/reduced lunch. I support initiatives that address our students' mental and physical health needs including our Child and Family Support Teams, the School-based Support Program and PlayWorks.

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

I am re-considering my stand on discipline and suspensions. I have been an advocate for reducing the number of suspensions. That is still my ultimate goal, but I am intrigued by some research I have recently come across that suggests that stricter discipline and possibly higher suspension rates actually help African-American male students achieve academically. Parents commonly cite discipline problems at some of our schools as a reason they are unwilling to send their children to them – and yet thousands of our children go to these "unchosen" schools by virtue of where they live. We must make sure that all of our schools are orderly and are environments in which students can learn. At this point, I would be willing to support higher suspension rates if students who were suspended were enrolled in a high-quality program that provided them with focused instruction as well as counseling or other services designed to address the root cause of the behavior that resulted in their suspension. I am still thinking and learning about this complex issue and have an open mind at this point. I am determined to do whatever we have to do to provide all of our students with the opportunity to learn.

5) 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 believe that strong public schools are an essential component of a strong democracy and a just society. Education is the path out of poverty and only through education can humans achieve their full potential. I decided to run again because I believe that with an understanding of how the board and school system under my belt, I can be an effective advocate for improving DPS. Specifically, I want to support: Play Works, School-based Support Program, 360-degree evaluation of administrators, and Positive Behavior Support. I want to fight against state funding cuts and help negotiate our relationship with the increasing number of charter schools.

6) How do you think the board should work with the superintendent? What are the respective roles and how should disagreements be resolved?

It's essential that the board, superintendent, and staff are united in their dedication to provide all children with the highest quality education possible. Board members are responsible for governing the district through the creation of policies. The Superintendent is charged with carrying out the policies we create and managing the district. There is a running, vigorous debate among our administrators and board about where the line is between governance and management.

As the director of a nonprofit who was answerable to a board of directors, I think I'm sensitive to the need for the board to avoid micro-managing. I think it's my job to offer the Superintendent honest advice and insights that will help him do his job more effectively without telling him how to do his job.

7) Teacher quality continues to be an issue in many school districts, including Durham Public Schools. How would you work to reduce teacher turnover, increase job satisfaction and attract more qualified teachers to Durham? What additional professional development or support should teachers receive that they are not already getting, and how would the district pay for this?

Teachers are undoubtedly the most important element of our education system. After four years without raises, increased class sizes and a national attitude of disrespect, it's more important than ever to commend our dedicated, hardworking teachers.

To improve the quality of our teachers, we need to:

a) provide targeted, high-quality professional development. I think principals, as instructional leaders, should direct teachers to areas they need to address through professional development.

b) support our Professional Development Committees – the forum within which our teachers examine student data, plan lessons and share their expertise with each other.

c) recreate a full-release teacher mentoring program to help new and struggling teachers with job-embedded support.

8) Test scores continue to show an achievement gap between students in an ethnic or racial minority in Durham and their white counterparts. How can Durham's school board shape new policy or initiatives to improve the performance of minority students?

Providing more children with high quality preK is most effective thing we could do to improve our students' performance in Durham Public Schools. Too many of our students arrive in kindergarten never having been with other children their age and/or having operated within an appropriately structured, stimulating environment. Two years ago, I joined the board of the Durham Partnership for Children as the Board of Education representative. I feel like I still have a lot to learn.

Our efforts to collaborate with other entities to increase the quality of preK offerings and ease the transition from those settings to Durham Public Schools are worthwhile. I therefore support our Transition to Kindergarten Initiative, the Stepping Stones program and the Incredible Years.

It's important for us to be a part of a strong effort to resist efforts by the General Assembly to reduce funding for preK and to shift funding away from public schools (particularly given the research that indicates that the programs offered in public schools are superior to those in private settings in a number of areas). What we need most is more money from the state to expand the number of preK slots we can offer. Unfortunately, it's not likely that will happen in the near term.

At the same time, we need to provide our older high-need students with high-quality after-school/summer and intercession programming so they do not lose the gains they make during the school day and year. As I have stated above, I support the programs we have to help our students who face social/emotional challenges which interfere with their academic achievement.

Lastly, I think DPS should lead a community-wide commitment to education. Too many of our children do not read, write or do arithmetic unless they are at school. Too many of our children do not eat a healthy diet or get appropriate exercise. Too many of our children live with unacceptably high levels of stress due to the housing conditions and crime they live with. Durham Public Schools struggles to educate poor children; our community needs to resolve the issue of poverty. In the meantime, DPS will continue to expect the best of every child who walks into one of our schools.

9) How should DPS address the issue of new charter schools in the district? What challenges and opportunities do these schools present?

I do not believe that charter schools benefit our efforts to educate all of our community's children for the following reasons:

Charters are segregating our children. They admit fewer children who do not speak English, have disabilities (and those they do admit have less severe disabilities) and no children whose parents do not actively seek out opportunities for them. Charters are also more racially homogeneous than traditional schools.

While it's become an article of faith that schools should operate more like businesses, I do not believe the free-market model benefits education. We're told that charters exist as healthy competition, but most staff at traditional schools are working as hard as they can. How will our schools improve with a higher concentration of high need students and fewer resources? Children are not dollars – moving them from school to school as parents shop, only hurts them. And, unlike businesses, traditional public schools do not select their raw materials – traditional public schools happily take every child who comes to us. I support traditional public schools for the same reason I support a national health system. We can support our neediest students more effectively, and we all benefit, if we all share the load.

Charters expend public funds but do not have publicly-elected boards. As a citizen who believes in democratic representation, I object to the fact that charters are not held to the same reporting standards as traditional public schools and that citizens have absolutely no control over their policies or practices.

While some people champion charters' independence and small size, those very factors make it impossible for them to operate economically. The fact that no one knows (not even other charters) when a charter school will open or close, leaves traditional schools and local governments guessing where we might need to build additional schools.

The real problem with charters is that I do not believe that the success of the charters can be scaled up to meet the needs of all of our children. We have thousands of children to educate in Durham County; these children have a staggering range of gifts and needs. I believe that our community's children need a strong school system that includes a range of types of schools that our entire community supports. I welcome the energy that charter school advocates have and look forward to finding ways to work together for the benefit of all of our children.

10) Durham's school system is facing perhaps one of the most challenging budget years in recent history. What direction will you give to school administration to balance the budget? In what areas would you recommend cutbacks and which services should remain untouched?

It's almost impossible to think of what I would suggest we cut; we are far beyond the point of finding painless cuts. I think we could make marginal Central Office staff and budget reductions. I will also ask our upper-level administrators who have raises written into their contracts to forgo them. I think we could do more to reduce energy usage in our buildings. The last area I could imagine cutting would be transportation, perhaps by identifying hubs for transporting students to the magnets rather than providing door-to-door transportation for every student. I'm afraid these cuts will not suffice, but I do not forsee agreeing to additional reductions – they will have to be made without my support.

I believe we must protect our teaching positions so that our class sizes don't grow larger than they already are. We know that there are high school classes that have over thirty students in them and that many sections of classes have been cut. Our teachers' salaries have been frozen for the past four years, and they are working harder with fewer resources. Preventing the loss of further positions has to be our first priority.

We must also provide our staff with high-quality professional development. I want our teachers to be actively engaged students of their own practice, and they must have protected time to do that.

We must also continue to support our students who come from families that face challenges including poverty, homelessness and poor mental health. It is crucial that we continue to work with the Department of Social Services, the Durham County Health Department and other agencies to continue our efforts to meet these needs.

  • Candidate for Durham County Board of Education

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