MaryAnne Gucciardi | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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MaryAnne Gucciardi 

Candidate for Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

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Name as it appears on the ballot: MaryAnne Gucciardi
Full legal name, if different: same
Date of birth: 9.29.1962
Home address: 308 Parkridge Ave, Chapel Hill NC 27517
Mailing address, if different from home: same
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Co-Founder, G.O. Gamewear LLC
Home phone: 919 370 4342
Work phone: 919 260 9779

1. If elected, what are your top priorities for the school board?

1. Increase academic achievement for all students.

a. Focus on elementary and early intervention: Set a two- and five-year goal to decrease the achievement gap between K-2nd grades, a crucial period in a child's learning, and increase the academic achievement of all elementary students. Concentrating on the early years will maximize outcomes for closing the achievement gap.

b. Set a two- and five-year goal to increase literacy at all levels.

c. Set two and five year goals for the Response to Intervention (RTI) program to measure the success of early intervention.

2. Prepare students for the 21st century workplace.

a. Set quantifiable goals for our world language program at the elementary level to track the effectiveness of the program for language acquisition.

i. Implement a social science and history curriculum to accompany the language program to make language relevant and to develop cultural competency.

ii. Institute consistency in our language programs. Currently language is not required in middle school but is in elementary and high school. Eliminate this gap and coordinate curriculum between elementary, middle and high school.

b. Identify key information technology skills at each grade level that are essential for the workplace. Develop a set of goals and plan of implementation.

c. Develop a program for life literacy skills starting in elementary and finishing in high school.

d. Institutionalize our Professional Learning Communities (PLC) by setting a regular time for teachers to share techniques, attend conferences, participate in webinars, etc.

3. Plan for growth.

a. Finish the Arts Center in Carrboro High.

b. Build elementary school #11.

c. Physically maintain all of our existing schools.

2. What is there in your record as a public official or other experience—e.g., career, community service—that demonstrates your ability to be effective as a board member? Please be as specific as possible about the relevance of your accomplishments to your goals for the board.

My work with a school start-up, proven ability to bring valuable programs to our community, and entrepreneurial success, demonstrate my ability to originate new ideas, bring diverse parties together, create partnerships and successfully execute work and public service projects. These are relevant to the goals of the school board because they exhibit resourcefulness, a commitment to excellence and an ability to get the job done.

Experience with a school start-up.

We were a founding family of an English/Mandarin bilingual school that now enrolls 250 children and has educated children since 2002. I wrote the school policy manual and PTA by-laws started and headed the PTA and led fund-raising for a 5,000 book library with supporting computer system. Of particular note, we were in Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak and I worked with the schools founders to determine when the school would close in the face of the pandemic.

Proven ability to bring valuable programs to our community.

I organized the Family Health Fair with UNC's Department of Family Medicine and UNC Women's Basketball. I partnered UNC with Barnes & Noble to help fund part of the first year of "Reach Out and Read", promoting child literacy. For more information on the success of Reach Out and Read at Family Medicine, click here. I partnered UNC with WCHL to create the medical show "Here's to Your Health". (Monday's at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday noon). Leveraging resources by partnering will help us be cost efficient and effective.

Entrepreneurial success.

While living in Hong Kong, I founded and ran Pacific Rim Trading Partners for 13 years, selling American-made textile products to Asia's leading hotels, and creating a thriving business from nothing and all with an extremely limited budget. In this recessionary period, doing more with less will be important to keeping programs and services for our students.

3. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to the board help further that goal?

A just community is built on seeing every member of that community, recognizing and addressing their needs to the best of our abilities and providing them with access to programs. It means doing our best to prevent anyone fall through the cracks. My personal background and life journey motivate me to help those who do not have a voice. The most important thing I have learned is that hard work, a mentor, excellent teachers and easy access to programs are crucial components to educational success.

Personal background:

I learned the importance and pride of hard work from my family, especially my grandparents. I was raised in Medford, a working class town outside of Boston. My grandmother was a garment worker on Kneeland Street, Boston, and a member of ILGWU. My grandfather was a ditch digger. I am proud that my father earned his BS at Northeaster at night. The power of a mentor was important to my life success. My first mentor was our local librarian and I often refer to her as my grandmother who spoke English. The second key person was my high-school math teacher of three years. Those two relationships, along with a family that valued education and had high behavioral and academic expectations, kept me from making the wrong choices. I am grateful to have attended live-away college, which I believe changed me and my immediate and extended family.

Life journey:

Deciding to move to Hong Kong and sending my children to local (Cantonese) schools opened my mind to how many opportunities we have in the US, to the power of world languages and how striving to improve everyone's situation is essential. I developed a cultural competency and a deeper appreciation for traditions, language and education.

3b. What steps, if any, would you advocate to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students and to reduce dropout rates?

1. A mentoring program

2. Increasing student support counselors

3. Use online learning to extend schooling

4. Develop independent education plans for all at-risk students

4. How can the district close the achievement gap?

There are as many ways of closing the achievement gap as there are learning styles with our children. Some of the take-aways from the different locations and schools I have been involved with are:

1. RTI, (Response to Intervention) a new federally funded intervention program currently being implemented, holds great promise to close the gap. One of its greatest strengths is that it is evidence base itself, and that it requires that any proposed intervention pass the test of demonstrated effectiveness. provides and excellent overview as well as links to several valuable resources.

2. Partnerships between parents and teachers. This is the single most important factor for success in the schools where I have been involved.

3. Our students' parents and grandparents are among America's best minds in disciplines that are central to planning an effective curriculum. I recommend consulting with them about where schools should be heading, especially in areas such as information technology, the languages of tomorrow, and workplace skills. I propose task forces and workshops for my fellow board members, parents, business owners, administrators and curriculum planners to define where we should be headed, both with the curriculum of today and the faculty and administrators of tomorrow.

4. Find commonalities in how children learn and tailor programs, classrooms or schools around those learning styles. For example, in Palo Alto, CA, Ohlone Elementary has a similar teaching system to Montessori; Walter Hays is more traditional, etc.

5. Starting pre-school at two years old and making families "school ready" with baby college.

6. Using math/science/reading/ language software, the iPod and the cell phone, as well as tactile teaching aids, to assist teachers in the classroom and extend learning outside of school.

7. Partnering with our local library for reading, writing and social science programs. This may sound old-fashioned, but the library is a centerpiece of our educational programming and going to the library is a habit that creates life-long learners.

8. Keeping children close as a way to keep them on track. The schools can do this by having after-school programs targeted at different areas of passion and with achievement goals; for example, the Lego Competition, (, Math Olympiad, sports, a reading and writing workshop, etc. Other comparables are Peninsula Bridge in California (

9. Reaching out to the community and foundations for sources of funds that can free our schools to try new ideas and test innovations.

10. All of these steps will place substantial demand on teachers and administrators, and we must make sure that we provide them with the time and the incentives to make these changes a part of their professional repertoires.

5. The district faced a tough budget this year. What would you do differently in hindsight?

I would first cut administration and use technology as much as possible to keep operational costs down. Investing in technology to save labor and increase efficiency will save money in the long run. What was cut that shouldn't have been? I would not have cut the mentoring program, shortened summer school or world language for kindergarteners. What survived that should have been axed? Elementary textbooks could have been eliminated (as they were for the high schools). With so much content on the internet, we could have supplemented with freeware and other online resources.

6. In keeping with that line of questioning, what can the district do moving forward to make sure schools not only maintain the status quo but become stronger even when they receive less funding?

1. Tap into foundation grants. Some are multi-year and many come with an allowance for evaluation. By institutionalizing grant writing, we can support our strategic plan with dollars allocated for specific projects.

2. Increasing the use of technology to save on staff and reduce operational costs. Using free-ware such as Wiki's, Google dashboards, and teacher assignment software can stream-line group projects, create collaborative work environments, save paper and labor, and increase accountability for assignments.

3. Develop a digital (or electronic) portfolio. Having a school portfolio will help identify students that need intervention or that need a more challenging program. At the beginning of the school year, it will help teachers better know their students.

7. How will the policies you push, if elected, help develop students for the new economy?

Children need Life Literacy skills that will help them be successful. This includes financial, computer, critical thinking nutritional, exercise and injury prevention, auto (changing a tire, being knowledgeable about how a car runs), etc.

The policies I envision will create life-long learners. In this competitive work environment, and the even more competitive environments to come, we need to help students learn to learn, unlearn and relearn. Developing this ability to think and process information will be essential to all our children. Learning to envision possible futures and prepare for them is no longer the luxury of a visionary elite. It is one of the keys to survival and success.

b. What kind of nontraditional education is now needed and how would you help provide it?

1. Moving toward project and team-based learning and the Socratic Method would develop skills essential in the work place. An example of this type of innovation is the modeling instruction program (

2. Extending learning beyond the school day by using the computer, iPod and cell phone. Another way to look at this is integrating more effectively what young people learn outside of school with what they learn during the school day.

3. Increase online learning.

4. There are many free or low cost classroom tactics that would aid learning. One example, at the early elementary years, group children by age (ie Jan to March, April to June, etc birthdays) so that teachers have similar maturity and skill levels to work with. This could make it easier for children as they develop social skills, fine and gross motor skills, etc. (ref Malcolm Gladwell Outliers)

5. Institute strategies that serve our high and low achievers. For example, at the high school level, consider a block or hybrid block system which would enable teachers to work within a 90-minute period instead of a 50-minute period. This would allow for more Socratic method and project-based learning. More time serves both groups.

8. How should student discipline be handled? What are your views on the district's current policies for long-term suspension? Do you think they are fairly applied? Along those lines, there have been reports of children receiving little, if any, education while on long-term suspension. How would you ensure those children are given an opportunity to be educated?

I believe in the tenets of The Gordon Training Institute. I do not believe in time-outs or long-term suspension because they rob parents, teachers and administrators from communication in the teachable moment. I prefer children to remain in a productive, goal-specific school environment when they are not able to go back to the classroom. I would not sacrifice education for any reason and would use detention, Saturday school and other non-traditional ideas that have defined learning and social worker objectives. I would support programs that involve parents and mentors.

9. How would you increase parental involvement in the schools?

Several approaches have been shown to work, and I would want to be certain that principals, both current and future, are committed to either these or others for which there is evidence of success:

1. Partnering an incoming parent with a parent in the school to ease transition.

2. Free parent education programs on different topics relating to success at school.

3. Asking parents with native language skills to help with our world language program to give our children speaking practice.

4. As described elsewhere, I would draw on the minds of parents and other community members whose experience and academic research can help us better understand the future for which we are preparing our students. I know that there are people in our community who are more than ready to help us understand what lies on, and over, the horizon.

10. What should the district's budgetary priorities be?

As a small business owner, I have a demonstrated ability to prioritize spending and do more with less. No matter what our economic situation, maximizing the return on taxpayer dollars is our obligation. Our priorities should always be focused on serving our students by maximizing our teacher performance. Schools are the first safety net for our children and we must meet this moral obligation effectively and efficiently.

b. What areas are currently underfunded?

Every program we have could use more funding.

c. How would you find the resources to better fund those areas?

Tap into foundation grants. Some are multi-year and many come with an allowance for evaluation. By institutionalizing grant writing, we can support our strategic plan with dollars allocated for specific projects. Cut administration and have a greater reliance on technology to improve efficiency. The district should turn to technology as a way to get more for less. This includes increasing efficiency and saving labor at the operational level.

11. As Chapel Hill's population grows, what should guide future school planning? Can the district afford and obtain the land necessary to build these schools? How should the district manage its growth? How does redistricting fit in?

Maximizing student academic achievement and teacher performance -- our guide for our budget, is also our guide for future school planning. The debt ratio restrictions limit our ability to purchase land now, when it would be the ideal time to buy because land is so cheap. We must work with our county commissioners and maximize our use of stimulus funds for shovel ready projects to secure the financing we need for new schools and physical improvements.

12. Both CHHS and ECHHS have new principals this year. How will you measure their performance?

The question of how to evaluate our leaders of learning is one where a business approach could be applied. As in business, the new economy requires our principals to be more than administrators. They must also be instructional leaders focused on improving academics, coaching teachers to excellence and inspiring students for work and life in the new economy. Being an agent of collaboration, transparency and accountability are critical.

I recommend instituting a 360-degree review anchored in explicit standards established at the beginning of employment and continuing yearly on a regular basis. The review should make the expectations clear to the district and distinguish levels of proficiency. Metrics can include: Has parental involvement measurably increased? Have truancy rates gone down? Have dropout rates decreased? Are test scores up? Has resource management been efficient? Have the building and grounds been maintained? The metrics need to keep in mind any changes in the student population for example, an increase in ESL students from the previous year.

  • Candidate for Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

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