Gregory McElveen | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Gregory McElveen 

Candidate for Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Gregory McElveen
Full legal name, if different:
Date of birth: August 18, 1956
Home address: 457 Piney Mountain Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Owner, McElveen Research
Home phone: 919-933-9364
Work phone:

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

• Enhance the pursuit of excellence

• We have one of the best districts in the state, but there are areas we can do better

• We can better engage, challenge, and equip all students to achieve their potential for excellence

o including students across the academic spectrum—from currently struggling to gifted

• In this effort, I believe our first priority has to be to accelerate the closing of the minority achievement gap.

o While proficiency is just the starting point that we want all of our children to achieve to help launch them on to successful paths, proficiency is a starting point that our African-American and Latino students fail to achieve in highly disproportionate numbers

o We are very pleased that test results from last school year indicate that 95% or more of our white students achieved proficiency in end of grade and end of course tests. However, among African-Americans and Latinos typically only 50-60% achieved proficiency in Reading (elementary – middle school), 70-80% achieved proficiency in Math (elementary – middle school), and 50-70% achieved proficiency for high school classes.

o As African-Americans and Latinos together comprise about 25% our students, we are failing to adequately serve a very significant portion of our population

o There are many examples of public schools serving African-American and Latino students with much greater success, so we know that the disadvantages that these students often face need not keep them from achieving excellence in their education

• One example: Harlem Village Academy charter school in NY (in which students are selected based on a lottery, 100% minority, 74% free & reduced lunch, students generally enter school significantly below grade level), 97% of high school students passed NY regents algebra exam, 100% of 8th graders passed NY science test, 96% passed social studies test, etc...

o The strategies that can help ensure success for our minority students can help others who are not being effectively reached by current approaches as well

o Moreover, when all students are proficient, all students will benefit from higher levels of learning and interaction and engagement

o When we all achieve, we all succeed

• Other priorities we must maintain in pursuit of comprehensive excellence include:

o Consistently follow documented plans to meet the needs of students with exceptional needs

o Create an environment in which students love to learn and in which all feel welcome

• Including making material relevant as well as rigorous

• Including making well-targeted enrichment and supplemental resources readily available to teachers and parents

o Maximize parent and community participation through frequent communication with parents and through partnerships with community organizations

o Recruit, retain, support, & reward excellent teachers and staff

• In addition we must use our limited financial resources wisely.

• Finally, we must follow-up. We must make plans become reality.

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.

• In my time on the School Board I have worked well with my colleagues and with district staff to offer constructive new perspectives on how to achieve our shared objectives.

• For example, I worked with our superintendent to kick-off the creation of a new series of reports that enable our principals and district staff to better identify students who need more focused assistance or differentiated learning approaches.

• I have also been an active conduit for information flow between a broad cross-section of the community and the district. I have gladly answered questions from parents about district policies and have provided guidance regarding processes for resolving issues. In addition, I have played a very active liaison role with three School Improvement Teams (SIT's).

• In my 25 years of business experience at IBM and elsewhere I learned to be effective in working with others to get things done, despite differences in background or interests. Key to this is recognizing value in all perspectives, responding to issues and concerns, and linking the priorities that I am driving to goals shared by all.

• This collaborative approach has also been effective in my various leadership roles in my church, and is a reason I have often been called upon to lead initiatives (I am currently chair of our church stewardship committee and chair of our board of Christian education.)

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?

• One key element of justice is making opportunity for educational excellence available for all—family or economic disadvantages notwithstanding.

• Equal access to educational excellence is particularly important because without it, systemic factors that may have reduced opportunities for parents will continue to limit horizons for their children.

• The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District is committed to the expectation that all children can be high achieving learners.

• I am committed to doing all that we can to make that goal become reality on an accelerated trajectory.

4. What steps, if any, would you advocate to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students and to reduce dropout rates? How can the district close the achievement gap?

• Fundamentally, evidence makes clear that there are a number of different strategies that can lead to improved educational outcomes for at-risk students. But evidence also makes clear that there are no 'silver bullet' solutions that are unambiguously effective in all situations.

• I believe that the key is to take the position that failure is not considered an option. When all of our teachers and staff know that their jobs depend on helping all of their children learn and grow – independent of the children's family background or past educational experience – our community of teaching professionals will find and deploy the strategies that make the most sense for them and their situations. Moreover, we should reward those teachers who are particularly successful, and ask them to be coaches and mentors for others.

• Teaching strategies I would expect to be put to more consistent use would include

• teaching using culturally relevant material

• deploying approaches designed to engage and excite students

• using frequent assessments in class to understand student needs and provide tailored/supplementary instruction to meet those needs

• communicating with parents regularly when students are missing assignments or who struggle with work, to ensure that parents know what they can do to assist

• using assistants and specialists to assist with students with differential needs

• Of course, this also requires that as a district we provide ready access to the tools, techniques, and professional development necessary for our teachers to know how to meet their students' various needs.

• In addition I advocate

• expanding our work with local universities, churches, and community organizations to identify tutors

• establishing a database of parents who are willing to assist other parents with school-related issues

5. The district faced a tough budget this year. What would you do differently in hindsight? What was cut that shouldn't have been? What survived that should have been axed?

• In general I believe that the district made appropriate choices to meet the budget challenge. Services and classes targeted to at-risk and fragile students maintained high priority for funding. Increases in class size were minimized to the extent possible by focusing on reducing low enrollment class offerings. At the high schools, guidance was given to focus any increase in class size that was required on more advanced classes to the extent reasonably possible, as these classes are typically comprised of students who are more capable and could generally be expected to be successful even if 2-3 additional students are added to the class. Virtually no teachers were laid off due to budget constraints. Significant reductions were made in central office funding.

• However, the Board has received some feedback that our intent of minimizing the impact of budget challenges on our most fragile learners may not have been fully implemented as expected. While this has not been confirmed, if accurate, it would indicate that the Board should probably have provided more definitive direction on the priority to be placed on ensuring that we maintain appropriate focus on those who most need resources to be successful.

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?

• With less funding it becomes even more important to make sure that we use the best strategies to achieve success with each of our students early and often. We need to look for innovative ways to engage our students more completely and to then teach more effectively. We need to ensure that teachers have ready access to the tools and assistance that will help them teach using a variety of approaches to reach children with a variety of learning styles. When we are able to engage and teach with greater efficacy, students can be successful even with larger classes if further such increases become necessary. Examples of innovative strategies include:

o Incorporating music, motion, song, and chants into the teaching of core academic subjects (e.g. Learning a mnemonic song that summarizes a math rule)

o Providing students with access to computer-based learning tools tailored to their specific needs and learning styles to supplement teaching in the classroom

• Both for enrichment and remediation

o Providing students with access to high quality distance learning alternatives—particularly when those alternatives include teacher interaction

• In addition, we need to expand our links with the community to encourage community-based tutoring and to provide information that would help ensure that those tutoring resources are effective

7. How will the policies you push, if elected, help develop students for the new economy? What kind of nontraditional education is now needed and how would you help provide it?

• All of our students will contribute to the 'new economy' in different ways. But key to their future success will be building

o a strong foundation of knowledge from their K-12 experience

o a continuing interest in learning and exploring

o Confidence that they can achieve.

• The policies that I would push would ensure that each of our students develops this foundation, and each graduates knowing that they can be successful

o because they will have met rigorous learning objectives in ways that have engaged them and challenged them.

• The increasing use of approaches that I propose to help make learning more relevant as well as rigorous will help students link concepts with practical experience—something that will be helpful in their careers as well as in the classroom.

• Increasing use of computer-based tools to drive engagement and differentiated study will better prepare our students to use (and design) computer-based tools for other applications in the future.

o I am working to help facilitate this by encouraging our district to provide enhanced sharing of tools and techniques that teachers (in our district and elsewhere) have found effective for specific grade levels and learning objectives.

• I also believe we need to expand our career and technical course offerings, and link with local businesses to offer internship experiences associated with these courses wherever possible.

o Many students will learn more effectively when concepts are taught in the context of hands on career/technical type offerings in which the students have interest

o For those students who have no interest in college, we need to be sure that we offer access to classes that will still prepare them well for the future

• And still teach critical reading and analysis, math, and science foundations

o For those students who are interested in college, courses in career and technical education can help them explore areas of interest and begin to pursue their passions

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?

• First, we should keep in mind the objectives of student discipline:

o to help maintain an environment that is safe, welcoming, and conducive to learning

o to help teach self discipline by showing that poor decisions have consequences

o to serve as a deterrent for poor behavior

o to help put all students in the best position to continue to learn and progress

• To accomplish these objectives it is critical that discipline is:

o preceded by clearly communicating expectations and rules of behavior

o preceded by clearly demonstrating that all students are valued and clearly recognizing that all have the potential to do well

o preceded by doing all we can to fully engage students in the learning process

o administered fairly and consistently

o meted out at a level commensurate with the infraction

o accompanied by opportunities to continue learning—either through programs such as the Boomerang program (in which the district collaborates with the YMCA to teach students on long-term suspension) or through alternative learning environments such Phoenix Academy.

• I believe the current policies on long-term suspension should be reviewed.

o I support the overall objective expressed in the policies to use suspensions only when absolutely necessary to maintain a safe and orderly environment, with long-term suspensions only to be used in cases in which serious harm either did occur our was likely to have occurred.

o It is my understanding that the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district has the lowest rate of out of school suspensions in the state. However, there is room for discretion in how these policies are applied.

o We should review suspension data at each school to determine if there is evidence that rules are being applied unfairly or inappropriately. We should also make sure that long-term consequences are not being administered to minor altercations.

o In the past, often African-American males have gotten suspended in significantly disproportionate numbers.

• We need to be sure that we are not penalizing behavior where no harm was intended due perhaps to cultural misunderstandings.

• Wherever possible, we need to be sure that our first response to behavior issues is not suspension from learning, but rather engagement in learning.

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

• I intend to help increase parental involvement by:

o Maintaining oversight to drive each school and each teacher to consistently follow the intervention plans adopted by each school. These plans almost always require that parents be notified and engaged when students begin to struggle in class

o Encouraging the development of a database of parents willing to help other parents

o Maintaining open lines of communication with parents

o Encouraging parents to make their concerns and suggestions known to the appropriate teachers and staff

• Continuing to follow-up at the Board level where necessary

o Expanding opportunities for parents and community members to assist in the education of our youth, including

• Community-based tutoring

• Class visits / speaker series

• High school internships

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

• I see our key budget priority as providing sufficient resources to enable each of our students to be able to achieve success

o This includes resources for students across the academic spectrum

• One key area that may be currently underfunded is that of resources to coordinate distance learning classes and other computer-based learning alternatives

• In addition, we need to confirm that those most in need of smaller class sizes or other ameliorative actions are having the appropriate resources targeted

• Funding could come from such sources as:

o reduced textbook expenditures as computer-based learning becomes more effective

o fewer low enrollment courses taught on site in our district

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?

• I support the current process for identifying the need for additional schools based on projected growth associated with new construction. The district is fortunate enough to have at least two sites identified for new schools that would be donated: one associated with Carolina North and one (Elementary #11) in the Northside community of Chapel Hill. We are fortunately not in the situation that we are bursting at the seams and desperately in need of immediate new construction. We are also fortunate in that we will be making use of low interest bonds associated with Federal stimulus dollars to build a much needed Arts wing for Carrboro High School.

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

• Based on the same measures as our other principals, with a particular focus on:

o Student achievement

o Progress in closing the achievement gap

o School climate, based on surveys of teachers, parents, and students

o Energy and enthusiasm for the job

o Ideas for the future

o Commitment to implementing District priorities


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