Name as it appears on the ballot: Lois Nixon
Full legal name, if different: same
Date of birth:
Home address: 107 Overview Lane, Cary, NC 27511
Mailing address, if different from home: same
Campaign Web site: www.loisnixon.com
Occupation & employer: retired Program Director, Wake County
Home phone: 919-467-6474
1.What are the specific needs of your school district that you will fight for if election to the board?
My top priority is to re-focus the School Board's attention on student achievement. We must raise expectations for ALL students—for high achievers and for those who struggle with academics. Excellence is not easy—ask a winning athlete—we must set high expectations to achieve excellence.
At the same time that we raise expectations for students, we must also raise our expectations for adequate funding. According to the NCDPI website, Wake County is far below the state average in school funding—in fact $400 per student per year below the state average—that's $10,000 per classroom! We can do better. We want our students to rank and graduate at the very top of the national class. So we must support that expectation with adequate funding.
2.What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the council? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.
I've lived in Cary for 30 years, spent 21 years as a PTA parent and volunteer, and had 2 sons who graduated from the WCPSS, and my two grandchildren will enter the school system in the next 3 years. My mother was a School Board member for 12 years. I've been in many schools across the county as a substitute teacher for 5 years and as an environmental educator for 20 years. I'm the Education Department Chair for the NC General Federation of Woman's Clubs. As the Director of Wake County Keep America Beautiful for 20 years, I have also developed a positive working relationship with the Wake County Board of Commissioners. The Board of Education is open for new leadership, and I believe that I am well-qualified to fill that role.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I have always been a "professional volunteer" working for the betterment of any community where I have lived. (As an Army wife, I've lived in 18 communities around the U.S. and the world.) Politically, I've always been registered as Unaffiliated, because the issues I am most passionate about are nonpartisan issues—the two at the top of my list are education and the environment.
4. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
In our desirable and fast-growing community, growth should pay for growth. I will work with municipal, county, and state elected officials to provide adequate funding for the schools our students and teachers deserve and that our community demands. We must look for creative ways to adequately fund our schools without always using the property tax.
5. What's your position on the issue of "neighborhood" schools and abandoning, or changing, current assignment policies that seek to balance student populations in every school ("diversity")?
I believe that we now have "neighborhood" schools, which becomes evident by looking at school attendance maps. We also have an admirable program providing a variety of choices of schools for parents and students to choose from if they want to travel farther to a school with special or magnet programs. Due to rapid growth, parents do not always get their first choice. I would work to make the most popular programs more widely available. For example, there is often a waiting list for magnet schools, but the school system might be able to provide "mini-magnets" or enrichment programs at additional schools, to expand the choices for parents. I would use the three year hiatus currently in place to develop plans to prevent students from changing schools in the middle and high school years, and seek to minimize moving students in the elementary grades.
The current policy to balance economic diversity in our schools is a strategy that is proven (and verified in credible research—Coleman Study and more recently Dr. Gerald Grant of Syracuse University) to enhance achievement for all students. I believe we can improve on this system by raising expectations for all students, but we cannot eliminate the policy if we want to maintain our school and community quality. This policy will help us to graduate globally competitive students equipped to be outstanding citizens for the 21st Century.
We must make a commitment to equality of opportunity for every student. We must ensure that every school is a place where teachers want to teach, students learn, and parents are welcome as volunteers. Finally, I want to look at a variety of other board policies to determine if they are as "family friendly" as possible.
6. To limit reassignments and busing distances, some local officials have advocated either splitting the Wake school district or else creating sub-districts with fixed boundaries within it. What's your reaction to these ideas?
The Wake County Public School System is the most cost-effective (per pupil) of the five largest school systems in the state, while maintaining an outstanding national reputation. This advantage would be lost if the system were split, taxes would go up to pay for duplication of services, and home values would likely decrease along with the quality of the schools across the county. A recent study by the WCPSS shows that 99% of students attend schools within 10 miles of their homes, and maps on the WCPSS website of school attendance areas confirm this.
7. Wake County's graduation rate hovers around 80 percent, meaning that of the students entering high school, about one in five doesn't finish within five years. That's better than the state average, but it isn't great. Should the district be doing more for at-risk students in the earlier grades and if so, what?
The graduation rate is a focus of need statewide. There has been research on improving graduation rates, that mostly involves mentoring or making sure that at-risk students have a caring adult to encourage them to graduate. Such programs must begin in upper elementary or middle school, and will require extra funding. However, this funding will prevent paying higher community costs later for students who fail to graduate. The Board might also expand learn and earn opportunities for our students and provide online courses for students who need special assistance to graduate.
8. Are new programs needed to help dropouts return and finish high school?
Yes. See #7 above.
9. Does Wake County have enough schools and enough classrooms? If not, would you advocate speeding up the pace of new buildings and additions, even if tax hikes were required?
In its response to rapid growth, Wake County has not been able to keep pace with the growth in school students, due to inadequate funding to provide additional schools. All of the programs that frustrate parents are a result of the school system attempting to provide for this growth and maximize facilities and buses in the most economical way: year round schools to accommodate 25% more students, magnet programs to fill older schools, trailer classrooms on many campuses, and lengthy bus rides for some students. The biggest challenge to crowded schools at present is the strain on shared spaces such as lunchrooms, gyms, libraries, and restrooms. I will work with municipal, county, and state elected officials to provide adequate funding for the schools our students and teachers deserve and that our community demands.
10. Year-round schools are one way the county's kept school taxes low. Should more schools be made (or built to be) year-round? Should students be assigned to attend them?
I agree with the current policy to open all new schools as year round schools, in order to maximize the availability of space for the growth of students at the most economical cost. These schools must be a part of the entire school system attendance policy and a part of the choices available to parents.
11. Magnet schools are a key element of current diversity policies, but they're expensive—and outlying areas of the county wonder why they can't have them too. What changes, if any, do you support in the way magnets are used?
As stated in #5 above, I would work to make the most popular programs more widely available. For example, there is often a waiting list for magnet schools, but the school system might be able to provide "mini-magnets" or enrichment programs at additional schools, to expand the choices for parents (perhaps with online or virtual classes). Enrichment courses might include foreign languages, art, drama, music, even "real-world" math. This would help to achieve the kind of schools envisioned in the Wake Education Partnership report, "Suspending Disbelief", mentioned in #13 below.
12. Does every new high school need a football stadium? A theater? Are shared facilities an approach you'd support to save taxpayers money?
Shared facilities would result in the unintended consequences of transportation and scheduling difficulties. However, I think each high school certainly can have an all-sports stadium to accommodate all outdoor sports—football, soccer, track and field, for example. However, I do think there is an opportunity to offer some courses by teleconference between high schools—perhaps languages, with a face-to-face conversational lab experience with a teacher once a week.
13. The Wake Education Partnership's recent report, "Suspending Disbelief," describes a 21st century school system—quite unlike anything that exists in the U.S. today—that would equip students to succeed in a global economy. The report calls for a longer school year and far-reaching improvements in curriculum and assessment, none of which would be free. What, if anything, would you take from this report if elected?
I believe this report provides a useful vision for the future of education—not only in Wake County, but across the state and nation. Wake County has been a leader in education in many ways, and there are elements of this report that offer opportunities for Wake County to again provide leadership. Specifically, in addition to implementing a longer school year, I think the Board of Education should consider extending the school day to 3 or 4 p.m., in order for students to have time to study core subjects, but also electives and enrichment courses.
When such programs result in improved student achievement, I believe our community will support efforts by our elected officials to provide adequate funding for such innovations. Such results would make community leaders, parents, students, and teachers invested in, and PROUD of our leadership for 21st Century schools.
14. What question(s) haven't we asked—and what's your answers?