Gary Wallach | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Gary Wallach 

Candidate for Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Gary Wallach
Full legal name, if different:
Date of birth: 9/10/42
Home address: 301 Westbury Drive, Chapel Hill 27516
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Not-for-Profit Consultant, Self –Employed
Home phone: (919) 929-4523
Work phone: Same
Cell phone: (919) 357-3456

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

  • My number one priority is to make the district more accountable to its students, parents and teachers.
  • Number two is to make the educational opportunities equal whether a student attends a high economic status school or a low economic status school.
  • Number three is to have a top to bottom review of the budget with a special eye to whether the programs are working and worth the cost and whether or not the expenditures are in line with the district’s strategic plan.
  • Number four is to increase the time for, and availability of, training for teachers and aides.

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.

As executive director of several not-for-profit organizations, I’ve worked with boards of directors for over 25 years. I’ve also been on boards. The most recent one was the Chapel Hill Human Services Advisory Board. So I have a sense of what makes them work and how to get things done. I have always been an activist, usually on behalf of some under served or under represented group and I would like to see the board move in that direction. From the outside, the BOE does not appear to embrace major change. However, incremental change is possible and I will try to promote it.

Also, because the issues with which a board member must deal are so varied and so complex, I will gather a group of advisors: educators, managers and construction experts, to offer advice on many of the issues facing the district.

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?

My election would further that goal because two of my key issues—equity of educational opportunity and increasing accountability—are directly related to achieving it. We need to review the allocation of resources to the schools and programs. We must ensure that where needs are greatest resources flow in that direction. We also need to ensure that where programs and staff work well, their work is recognized. But, we also have to ensure that when programs or staffs are not working well the district will take the appropriate action to correct the situation.

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

I have been, for some years, advocating improving educational outcomes for at-risk students. Most of my advocacy work has been in the area of children with special needs. I was one of the original founders of the Special Needs Advisory Council (SNAC). Since becoming more closely involved in a wide number of educational issues, I have noticed some of the same problems being faced by low achieving African American and Latino students as those with special needs. Accountability and parent involvement are just two of the issues that cross over. Both of these are key to my campaign.

5. In your view, what is the source of the conflicts between parents and the school system regarding the education of children with autism and developmental disabilities? What should be done to improve the quality of education for these children and how would that be achieved?

Several months ago, at the urging of myself and a few other parents, the district commissioned an outside evaluation of its Exceptional Children’s program. The results of that evaluation done by John Thomas, a nationally known autism education expert, indicated that the district was not meeting the needs of the children with autism or teachers who teach them.

The problems ranged from a severe need for teacher training to the need to make the Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) for each child more productive. Parents have highlighted these and many other issues for years. Many parents felt their concerns were ignored.

In response to the report, the district produced an 80-page plan (with appendices) and presented it to the Board a few weeks ago. The district should be applauded for taking this initial step to respond to the parent’s concerns. However, the plan lacked time frames and measures of accountability. It relied heavily on bringing the principals on-board to oversee many of the recommendations. The Board members and parents questioned the plan’s assumptions and lack of specificity. The plan is currently being revised to attempt to answer the concerns that were raised.

If the district wants to improve the quality of education for this group of children it will have to take into account the concerns of the parents; it will have to provide the necessary teacher training; it will have to develop accountability standards for all who are responsible for educating these children. And, it will have to be willing to include the parents, in meaningful and respectful ways, in the education of their children.

6. The board has approved Abstinence Until Marriage federal funds. What is the appropriate sex ed curriculum and why?

The appropriate sex ed curriculum explains sex and the issues that surround safe sex. It is interesting that the misconceptions about sex that were around when I was in school are quite similar to the ones that students have today—and they need just as much explanation. Many parents either find the subject too difficult or too embarrassing to explain to their children. A health ed class is an appropriate, safe setting for the discussion. The research indicates that the abstinence until marriage concept simply does not work and I am not in favor of it.

7. 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?

The district’s current policies on long-term suspension appear to be reasonable and in line with what would be considered generally accepted community norms and legal requirements. There are around five long-term suspensions each year and they are decided on a case-by-case basis.

There is no evidence that these decisions are not applied fairly. These suspensions are generally related to cases of students bringing weapons or drugs to school. In these cases, the student may also be facing arrest and their primary concerns are often more with the legal system than the school system.

Currently, only children with individual educational plans (IEP’s) who receive long-term suspensions receive educational help during the suspension. If the student were simply out of school during the suspension and not in the penal system, I would advocate trying to get some educational instruction for him/her. Since the child may be returning to school at the end of the suspension, I think a strong argument could be made for helping them return with an increased chance for success.

8. How would you increase parental involvement in the schools? What should be the nature of that involvement? Where should the line be drawn?

I think parent involvement in the schools is at a generally good level now—depending on the school. There are active PTA’s and active School Improvement Teams (SIT’s). The involvement tends to fall off to some degree in correlation to the Socio Economic Status of the student body of the school. When there is a single parent or when both parents have to work, involvement, by necessity, is reduced.

Parents see schools from a very visceral perspective. All of us want the best for our children and view the school from personal experiences. While parents cannot run a school, we have insights as to what is happening in the classrooms that sometimes even the school administration misses. So, our involvement should be welcomed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. And this needs to change. A full court press from the central office in this direction would be much appreciated.

The SIT’s offer opportunities for the parents to share their insights with the administration. I believe that SIT’s are a good mechanism for parent involvement. However, awareness of the SIT’s and their role has to be increased so that more parents understand that this channel for communication/change is open to them.

I think the lines for involvement are clear and generally open. The problem is not the opportunity for parent input. The problem is what the schools/district does with the input once it is given.

9. What should the district’s budgetary priorities be? What areas are currently underfunded? How would you find the resources to better fund those areas?

The budgetary priorities should include ensuring equity in educational opportunities throughout the district. Money should follow need. If certain schools are struggling, and particularly if the struggle is related to goals in the current strategic plan (i.e. reducing the student achievement gap by 17% each year for five years) then the money should follow the stated need.

I will advocate for a cost/benefit analysis of our current programs. This is an often-used tool used to discover if we are getting a decent return for our investment. This analysis could indicate ways of saving or alternatively, finding less expensive ways to achieve similar results. I would also work very hard to engage the talent in the community to help with programs and reduce costs. The Triangle has an amazing talent pool that needs to be tapped into more.

Another priority is to put money into our program evaluation and research department. The district needs to know more about its students and teachers, particularly the ones with the greatest challenges. We need to know how to measure progress, or lack thereof, if we are ever going to be able to help the students, teachers and schools that need the help.

I would also like to see more money put into teacher training and to make sure that there is time for teachers to attend the training. The teaching assistants, who are the backbone of many elementary school classrooms, and who sometimes have to fill in for teachers, should also receive training. They also should not be treated as low person on the job security totem pole. To be at-risk of losing one’s job each year—no matter how well you have performed in the past--is an unacceptable and unenlightened situation for them to be in.

10. A new school recently opened in the district. Do you see additional schools opening in the next 10 years? If so, where? Even with the district’s extra tax revenue, can the district afford and obtain the land necessary to build these schools? How should the district manage its growth?

There will need to be more schools opening in the next ten years and they are on the drawing board. The district plans to open two elementary schools and one middle school. The district does not currently have land “banked” for that purpose, but is working with the county to find the space. The middle school that is projected will likely wind up near elementary school # 10, as there is enough land there for it.

Continuing to work cooperatively with the county and the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro to find land clearly needs to be a school board priority. Part of this solution could requirement that large land developers donate land for a school in order to get permission to build. The general argument is that if the builder is putting up the homes, bringing more people to the area, that he/she should defray some of the cost for educating the children that the development attracts.

It should also be noted that the thinking on the part of the legislature, when it decided to reduce the county share of Medicaid, was that this reduction would free up funding for school construction. We always need to be looking for ways to reduce construction costs, and looking for partners to help fund construction of facilities.

As for managing growth, this continues to be a discussion between the School Board and local governments. Part of the question is being answered by the fact that Chapel Hill and Carrboro are running out of buildable land. So, there is a limit as to what growth can take place and the need for more classrooms. But on the short-term horizon, growth will continue and construction needs to keep pace. The Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, adopted by the towns and the county, should help by deferring development approvals if facilities are not adequate to serve the new students that would come along with the new development.

The question will come up again when the Carolina North plans are finalized.

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