Pat Heinrich | Candidate Questionnaires - Orange County | Indy Week
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Pat Heinrich 

Chapel Hill/Carrboro School Board

Name as it appears on the ballot: Pat Heinrich
Party affiliation, if any: None
Campaign website: patheinrich.org
Occupation & employer: IT Consultant, Sirius Computing
Years lived in Chapel Hill/Carrboro: 1

1) Given the current direction of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?

I’ve been surprised by the lack of immediate efforts to make our schools safe by modern building code standards. As a board member I would advocate for this to be a priority on the capital improvement roadmap regardless of the outcome of the upcoming Orange County bond referendum.

As our community becomes more diverse, I’d like to see our board members take off their suits, leave Lincoln Center, and go visit community groups that they have never interacted with before. I believe that our board does a very good job of interacting with those that reach out to them, but I believe there is an underrepresented majority that may be apprehensive about reaching out or may not realize the importance of their interests and concerns. I believe it’s incumbent on our board to be proactive and reach out to these groups and individuals.

2) Please identify the three most pressing issues the school system faces and how you will address them.

1. School capital improvement needs and the upcoming bond referendum.

School maintenance has been deferred for decades in favor of construction of new schools to meet growth of the community. That growth has slowed (compared with previous decades), and it’s time to address needed maintenance, safety, compliance needs in our schools.

However, we need greater transparency. The board has provided some materials that show what they would like to do from a capital improvement standpoint. But the board has not been specific about what they would or would not be able to accomplish depending on whether the bond is issued. Though the Board of Education cannot take a position on a referendum, the board can provide transparency to show voters what the board would do with funds, or what the board would not be able to do if the bond is not passed. As the bond is being discussed by the county commissioners, voters should have greater transparency into how the funds would be used by the Board of Education. And voters should also know what will not be possible if these funds are not available. This would enable voters to have more informed dialog with the county commissioners as they discuss the bond referendum. If I was part of the board, I would work for greater transparency around how the bond funds would be used by the Board, and the limitations that the Board would be under if the bond is not approved.

2. The decline or stagnation of state funding resources.

I feel that the board is not asking the schools to be proactive with regard to funding constraints. The public sector budgeting process differs from the private sector and from how many of us budget at home. Funding for each year is typically determined by the funding entities (e.g. the state legislature), and can change on an annual basis. Because of this and the current climate in Raleigh with regard to school funding, I believe that the Board of Education needs to take a more proactive approach to creatively exploring ways to trim our budget. If such reductions are unnecessary, then we can use the savings to fund other programs. If they are necessary, then we are prepared and don’t have to rush to make hard decisions quickly during budgeting season; we already have a strategic plan.

3. Addressing the continuously evolving change in community diversity.

Though the board does provide information online and provides translation services at board meetings if requested in advance, there is an implied expectation that the parents and constituency are aware of the meetings and have both the time and understanding to participate if they desire. I believe that the voices of the most vulnerable and least privileged segments of our community need to be heard; however, they may be least likely to participate. Because the schools impact families across our entire community, I would help the board reach deeper into our community and build relationships within the portions of our community that are less likely to provide unsolicited feedback to the board.

3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the Board of Education? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to be an effective advocate for them?

I've spent the past two decades helping organizations improve. I've helped hospitals plan for disaster. I've helped construction firms build new facilities. I've helped manufacturers be more efficient. I've worked as a manufacturing consultant with workers on the factory floor and I've been an executive faced with making difficult choices. Throughout all of these experiences there are three consistent elements; unwavering integrity, honest communication and the willingness to make bold choices.

I have a passion for education and an understanding of the difficulty of realizing change and building consensus. I have a strong bias for consensus, not compromise. I foster a sense of inclusion and being heard and considered (consensus), not a sense of making sacrifices or giving up on ideas (compromise). This is important because of the increasing diversity of our community. Consensus, inclusion, and transparency are more necessary than ever to foster and maintain trust in the community. That trust is paramount to developing and maintaining a strong partnership between the schools, parents and the community.

I spent several years living and studying in Spain, and I've worked and lived in several countries around the globe. I've experienced the challenge of not being able to blend in and not speaking the native language. I've struggled to communicate in languages I didn't understand, and I've experienced the warmth and kindness of individuals that have accepted me for who I am. Having been one of the more diverse elements of a community, I understand the challenge of cultural and language barriers that individuals sometimes feel in our own community. I understand the empathy required to bridge the diversity between within our own community.

For several years I taught math to GED students. These adults spent three hours a day, four days a week in class working toward their GED while holding a job and raising a family. I’ve seen what happens when students experience an undesired outcome from our schools. And I’ve seen how difficult it is for adult students to make up for this later in life. My four-year-old daughter will be attending CHCCS schools next year and I want to be part of the Board of Education because I refuse to accept that our schools can fail our children.

4) Please give one specific example of something you think the Board of Education has done wrong or that you would have rather done differently in the last year. Also, please tell us the single best thing the town has done during that span.

Best: Providing an organized and prioritized plan for capital improvement.

Worst: Not providing a specific backup plan nor factually demonstrating how difficult it will be to address safety and compliance issues if the bond referendum is not approved. I realize that the board cannot take an official position on whether or not they would like the referendum to pass or not. However, the board can provide facts around the challenges that CHCCS will face if the bond does not pass. The board has talked about this but I have not seen concrete action to provide facts to the community in light of the Orange County public comment session scheduled for September 15. This is a missed opportunity to educate the public on the facts of the situation.

5) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?

Progressive. I believe that our community has a responsibility to educate and prepare children. I believe that our children will live and work in an environment that is more diverse and more competitive than the one that we currently live in. I believe that critical thinking will be even more important for the next generation than it already is for our generation.

To provide additional context . . . outside of the direct realm of schools and education, I believe that:
• Lower taxes aren’t necessarily better. We need to invest in infrastructure, research, and education to ensure our economy continues to grow.
• We have a moral responsibility to provide healthcare to our entire community.
• Employers should provide a living wage. The average family with adults working fulltime should not have to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

6) The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?

CHCCS has implemented a living wage program for their employees. I would advocate for extending that to the contractors that provide services to CHCCS.

I would also advocate for additional partnership and outreach from the schools to ensure that we’re engaging the community as we’re educating students. Education doesn’t begin and end at the doors of the schools; the schools can encourage activities outside of the school e.g. closing the “word gap” between economically advantaged and disadvantaged families before children are old enough for school. This outreach can be and should be led by individual board members as an example for the community. (The word gap is the disparity in words heard by young children from parents and caregivers. Research indicates that the word gap is a factor in the difference in positive outcomes for school age children. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/26/us/trying-to-close-a-knowledge-gap-word-by-word.html?_r=0)

Please address, in detail, the following major issues in Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools:

7) While North Carolina lawmakers have approved some modest raises for teachers in recent years, teacher pay continues to lag behind most states in the country. What would you do as a local school board member to offer incentives for high-quality teachers to remain in the school system? Please offer specifics.

I had the good fortune of working for an organization that was on Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. It was well known among the employees that they could make more money elsewhere, but they would not have the same workplace culture. The culture of the organization helped with retention, because compensation isn’t the only factor is an employment decision.

I am a strong advocate for competitive teacher compensation. However, given the recent change in teacher compensation from the state, I feel we need to:

1. Ensure that the corporate culture of our schools is congenial, positive, and that our teachers believe they can grow and make a difference.
2. Empower our teachers by making them stakeholders and enabling them to provide meaningful input into teacher career development paths.
3. Provide relevant training to teachers and the tools for them to be able to apply training in their classrooms.
4. Hold teachers accountable with meaningful quantitative and qualitative measures of classroom performance and career growth. Teachers should provide input in how this measurement is designed. I am not an advocate of singular quantitative measures without additional context (I don’t believe that an end of year test by itself is a measure of student achievement or teacher performance).

As a board member I will advocate for competitive teacher compensation. However, it is difficult to predict state funding. Orange County has helped make up for the loss of state funding; however, we have to ensure that compensation is only one of many reasons teachers would want to stay with CHCCS.

8) Where do you stand on the ongoing debate over the Common Core curriculum in North Carolina? If you would support doing away with Common Core, please explain what you would substitute.

Common Core has unfortunately become a lightning rod issue for many groups with differing opinions. There is a lot of ‘mythology’ being propagated as fact.

I believe that the intent of Common Core to provide a nationally and internationally competitive educational standard is valid. Common core focuses on critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical skills to better prepare students for careers and higher learning. Educational standards that are benchmarked against international educational norms enable us to ensure that our students remain competitive in our more diverse community and workforce. Watering down or walking away from these standards does our children a disservice.

9) Orange County is expected to consider a $125 million bond referendum next year with the stated goal of paying for infrastructure improvements for local schools. Many school officials say that spending amounts to less than half the total needed for aging school facilities. Considering budget constraints, what kind of innovations can you offer as a school board member to help manage these costs?

I’ve worked as an engineer on large capital projects in the private sector. I’ve seen firsthand the importance of a competitive bidding process and having an expert design team that is not overextended to ensure that the design is accurate and complete and doesn’t lead to changes during construction (a major source of cost overruns on construction projects).

During construction I can’t overemphasize the importance of a capable and firmhanded project management office with capital project experience, and the value of providing incentives to construction firms that complete projects on time and under budget.

10) Racial academic disparities are a perennial problem in every school system. Please provide fresh ideas you have for addressing this long-running problem.

We’ve gone through the important exercise of disaggregating test scores and other performance measurements into differing economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds of students. By doing this we have identified and acknowledged the variance in academic performance of different segments of our community.

While we’ve acknowledged that different segments of our community may have different needs, we haven’t segmented our teaching to address more individualized needs. To do this we either need more teachers or we need a different way to provide more individualized instruction to our increasing diverse population of students. While no technology is a substitute for the interaction between teachers and students, I believe that we can use technology to provide more individualized tutoring and practice to students. This could more closely meet the needs of the individual student. In other words if half the students in a classroom excel at fractions and has difficulty with multiplication and the other half excels at multiplication but has difficulty with fractions, what should the teacher prescribe to help the whole class? Though that example is somewhat contrived, if the school can provide more individualized instruction that helps students with their particular needs then we can better disaggregate teaching and instruction. Using technology to supplement teacher efforts can do this without putting overly demanding expectations our teachers. I’d like to see this idea explored by CHCCS, and I will advocate strongly for tools that enable more individualized instruction.

Additionally, if we focus education on reasoning and critical thinking skills rather than memorization, we can provide a more level playing field between students with different backgrounds. Students that have experience or exposure to the subject matter typically have an advantage in memorizing facts over students without a context for these facts. For example, the experience of visiting state capitals makes it easier to remember them. Students that have visited capitals likely have an advantage in memorizing them over students that may not have traveled as extensively. But almost all students can think critically. By emphasizing critical thinking over memorization, we help level the playing field in education between different student groups. I’m a strong believer that when teachers deliberately emphasize critical thinking skills, this can help at risk students build confidence in their academic skills.

Finally, I feel that the culture in our schools is slow to reflect the evolving norms and values of the different segments of our community. While the schools have made some strides to understand and adapt, the community is changing faster than the schools. This shouldn’t be a ‘one off’ program to address the needs of a particular community. I believe that we should have a robust framework that continuously accounts for the evolving norms and values of the changing demographics of our community. I’m not advocating that the norms of schools should bend like a reed in the wind to the norms of the community, but I do feel that understanding the norms of communities and cultures can provide insightful context into student behavior. When schools enforce behavioral expectations without bridging the gap between community or ethnic norms they may inadvertently be putting additional emotional burdens that make it more difficult for students to achieve successful academic outcomes.

11) Schools in the 21st century face the task of educating an increasingly diverse student population. What about your background has prepared you to lead a 21st-century school system, knowing the unique challenges students from different backgrounds face in the schools?

Growing up with a white American parent and a Korean parent, I was one of two Asian-Americans in my elementary school. We lived in a small town that was predominantly white and African-American. I was the outlier. I attended Korean Language School on Saturday mornings in Greensboro, NC while my friends relaxed and watched cartoons. And I played soccer at the local YMCA with many of my friends from public school. However, like many children with parents of different backgrounds, I lived the life of a tug-of-war rope being pulled in opposite directions by different cultures.

As I mentioned in the paragraph 3 of the answer to question 3, I’ve worked and studied overseas in several places. I know what it’s like to be an outlier as an adult. And I know how powerful the kindness of an outstretched hand can be.

These are the reasons that I feel that there should be more outreach from the Board of Education into our community (see question 1 paragraph 2). I believe that are many families in our community that would view the board reaching out to them as an act of kindness that would help bridge the gap between them and the greater community.


  • Chapel Hill/Carrboro School Board

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