Brenda Stephens | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Brenda Stephens 

Orange County Board of Education

Full Legal Name: Brenda Wilson Stephens

Name as it Appears on the Ballot:Brenda Stephens

Office Sought/District: Orange County Board of Education

Date of Birth: October 22, 1952

Home Address: 5807 Craig Road Durham, NC 27712-1008

Mailing Address (if different from home):

Campaign Web Site: Political Facebook

Occupation & Employer:Retired Director of Libraries for Hyconeechee Regional Library Inc. Current ~ Adjunct employee at the Museum of Life and Science

Years lived in Orange County: Lifetime resident

Home Phone:(919) 309-0919

Work Phone:(919) 220-5429

1. What do you believe are the three most important issues facing the Orange Co. school system? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues? .The Retention of Quality Educators. We have some of the best educators in our school district. These educators are going to make certain that our children have the edge that they need to compete with the brightest in State---the nation. Retaining the best requires that we as citizens show our teachers how much they are valued—for they are nurturing our world's most precious resource, our children. The Budget. The board faces a monumental challenge in determining how to adjust the system's budget to meet the next round of funding cuts from local, state and federal governments. Achievement Gap. We have made some advances in the past; however, there are areas that need more work such as, the reading gap in grade 7 between black and white students, and the reading gap in grade 5 between black and white students. We need to redouble current efforts toward remediating students who are falling behind and vigilantly seek out new effective strategies for helping those students reach the same level of achievement as their peers.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office. I previously served 2 terms on the board; eight solid years of working in a respectful manner with my fellow board members. I fully understand the important role that education plays. In my professional career I have worked over 30 years with citizens in Caswell, Orange and Person Counties (COP) assuring access and improvements to the public library system. Working cooperatively with County Commissioners and staff in three county's I was able to make advances in libraries that are having long term positive effects on the communities; such as, Library automation in COP, three branch libraries in Orange County, and the new main library in Hillsborough.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform? My philosophy is to make certain that everyone is treated with respect and has access to the same opportunities without regard to skin color, religion or any personal preferences or beliefs. I am running for the Board of Education because I remain committed to the education of our children in Orange County. The business of schools and education is the business of all of us —it determines whether or not little Jane or Johnny will be able to share in the American Dream. It also determines the future of our country and community. We all know that education is one important predictor of our future success and I am certain that most parents want success for their children. I want to be involved in positioning the direction of our school district. Education is where real change starts.

4. Academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) and exceptional children present particular educational challenges to the district. How well is the district meeting the needs of these children? How could the district better meet their needs? What are the obstacles to these goals and how can they be surpassed? Generally speaking the district does a satisfactory job. However, there is always room for improvement in ANY organization regardless of the type of service offered, location, etc. The Board and Superintendent should continually evaluate and access programs for effectiveness, not only using data but also by gathering input from students and parents. In my previous experience on the board, we frequently requested data in our continual focus on the exceptional children's programming and funding. It is critically important that we're listening to parents as partners in education and this is especially true in this program area.

5. NC School Report Cards In 2008-09 show 79.1 percent of white students and 79.4 percent of Asians passing both reading and math EOG tests compared to just 44 percent of black students and 48.4 percent of Hispanics (lower than the state average). How will you work not only to close the achievement gap but to raise standards and produce results for all students? What specific plans and strategies would you implement to reach at-risk students and how quickly would you do it? Continue to maintain and support the Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap Committee (RACG). When this committee was formed during the 2006 school year, it was charged with developing a plan to address the achievement gap and with providing recommendations to decrease this gap over time. Over the last several years the efforts have paid off. Grades 3-8, the achievement gap in math between black and white students has decreased in every grade level and overall at the district level by .3%. In grades 3-8, the achievement gap in reading between black and white students has decreased in four of the six grade levels by 2.6%. In other words, the test results indicate that the strategic work of the district staff and community members is having a positive return. But this is not an area where we can afford to sit back and wait for results. Again, this effort requires continual assessment of the system's strategies, continued vigilance for new strategies and a continued strong partnership with the surrounding community to make certain that every student is served well.

6. What can the Orange County Board of Education learn from the Wake County School board's recent move for neighborhood schools and ending busing to create racial diversity? What's your position on this issue? Any decision that the Board makes should always have a focus of what is best for all of our students. How to achieve that end will often result in debate. The debate can sometimes shift the focus away from what is best from all children. From my vantage point, it appears that some members of the Wake Board were excluded from the discussion and decision making; in essence the result has been disruption that has overshadowed the primary focus, what is best for all students.

What's my position on the issue? As I understand it, the Wake County School Board implemented its busing program with socioeconomic factors at its core to achieve racial diversity. At the time the program was created, there was concern that solely using race as the determining factor in busing would be subject to attack on Constitutional grounds. The recent decision to move to neighborhood schools has raised a litany of questions and issues that have been in the public schools debate for more than 50 years. I believe that "separate but equal" has not proven an efficient and successful ideology. Also, diversity is valuable and important in public schools, and closing the achievement gap is essential in promoting a productive citizenry. I hope that Wake County School Board's neighborhood schools program achieves in raising student and school performance. Additionally, I hope that parents will appreciate that the performance of students is of the highest ability. Over the next few years, the community will be able to judge the program's performance and compare it to the data available from the socioeconomic busing program.

7. What method would you use to determine how resources should be allocated within the school system? Do you believe that resources are well now? If not, what would you change? Building off of that, how will you balance upcoming budgets during these economic times? What's one thing that is currently overfunded that could be cut? The system's resources should be allocated among schools according to need. For example, instead of dividing reading resources equally among schools, the needs of each school should be considered in the decision process. The current budget was developed during one of the most challenging economic shortfalls in my memory and therefore as I mentioned in a previous question, I think the real challenge for the new board will be to adapt the budget to additional shortfalls from local and state funding. These difficult budget decisions must hold our students and teaching staff harmless to the greatest extent possible. In other words, the prevailing question for every dollar allocated be "how does it affect what happens in the classroom?"

9. 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 have always stood for justice. That's not always the easiest thing to do, but it's the right thing. I aspire to serve the citizens of Orange County as a good steward of our schools. If elected to the School Board, I will work to ensure that the Orange County Schools will be a leader in promoting high standards for our students and achieving those high marks. Orange County doesn't need to be just a part of the Triangle community. Orange County needs to be a leader in the Triangle Community and the State.

10. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.

Redistricting is the hardest. It is the bane of a school Board member's existence. I had the opportunity to serve through two redistricting processes. Schools often become overcrowded, new schools are constructed. Consequently, redistricting is always a reality in growing schools districts. What I am about is making certain that everyone is treated fairly.

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