Jane Allen Wilson | Candidate Questionnaires - Chatham County | Indy Week
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Jane Allen Wilson 

Name as it appears on the ballot: Jane Allen Wilson
Date of birth: June 21, 1968
Home address: 424 East Raleigh Street, Siler City, North Carolina 27344
Campaign website: https://www.facebook.com/JaneAllenWilson4BOE4
Main occupation & employer: Shelter Director, Family Violence & Rape Crisis of Chatham County
Cell phone: (919)548-4029
Email: janeallenwilson@yahoo.com

Chatham County Schools Board of Education Questionnaire

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school system. If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Public education is our state and our county’s most important and successful investment. Everyone benefits when our children discover their unique talents and abilities, are nurtured and supported to live up to their potential, and grow to become adults who contribute to a vibrant and successful community. I am completely dedicated to sustaining the quality of public education in Chatham County.

Our schools are at their best when we truly value our teachers. I will work with others to continue to attract and keep good teachers. We must support them to have the resources they need to teach and be an interactive presence in the lives of our school children. My mother, Betty Wilson, was a kindergarten teacher and elementary school guidance counselor before she became a county commissioner. I grew up hearing her stories and coming to love with her the children she sought to inspire. Now, as a social worker, I feel a kindred spirit with teachers and understand some of the many challenges they face each day, in addition to teaching. I honor their commitment and their longevity in the work.

I will also work for our children, so that they delve into their futures secure in that fact that we have given them the foundation and the skills to create their futures. Whether they decide to enter the workforce or to pursue further academics, we want for Chatham County’s children to be fully ready and prepared for the many opportunities that arise. It means staying attuned to innovations and advancements that can benefit our teachers and students, while also creating a strong foundation. It means working with children where they are, to close achievement gaps. (An issue of dear importance to me in our district.) It means creating an environment in school that is safe physically, culturally, and individually. It means partnering with supportive agencies in our community to benefit the schools. It means advocating on the state and county level on their behalves. It means listening well to our children and to their parents, and enhancing parental access.

I have been pleased to attend the majority of our local Board of Education meetings for the past year and half. We already have so much to be proud of in our Chatham County Public Schools! I want to support our administrators and staff to make our schools even better.

2. Chatham Park is on the way. Considering the implications this development has for the county’s population and, thus, its schools, how would you work as a school board member to prepare for the changes in store?

Chatham Park is indeed on the way, along with other projects and projected demographic changes and population growth. It is absolutely crucial that we plan ahead and create a long-range vision that responds thoroughly and holistically to growth. We have an opportunity to assure that we are benefitting rather than being burdened by the new demands. If we respond with political courage, foresight, and proper planning, we are poised to prevent some of the mistakes of our neighbors and continue a Chatham County tradition of making the schools our wellspring and focus. Although our school system has had an eye on the progress and increasing likelihood that Chatham Park would be passed, now that we know for certain and now that Chatham Park is beginning the first phase, we must quickly mobilize and intelligently utilize collected studies, continue to study and consult with long-range planning committees and researchers, collaborate with community members and agencies, engage in comprehensive critical thinking, and together create the best plans.

Because county commissioners and town boards in this case are the ones who approve developments and form the requirements developments must meet, it is of vital importance that school board members consult regularly with them and collaborate and advocate for the good of all our children. County commissioners also ultimately decide how much funds our county will dedicate to the construction and maintenance of our schools. There are a number of factors which we will be considering as the school board in deciding along with the community about the placement and construction of new schools. Obviously, population growth is a factor and needs much study. The Board of Education must also think about transportation issues and safety, infrastructure needs at existing schools, the availability and viability of potential sites, and maintaining as best we can a sense of community in our schools, including in our rural schools, which may not yet be experiencing such growth. I am hopeful all our county’s elected officials will recognize the importance of long-range planning along with us as we advocate, so that we may join together as an ongoing model for the state in school system design.

3. North Carolina lawmakers approved teacher pay raises in 2014 that offered relatively little to veteran educators in the state. As a local school system leader, how do you work to recruit and retain some of the most experienced teachers for Chatham County Schools?

I honor the commitment and longevity of service of our county’s teachers. Teachers who have dedicated a lifetime to the service of our community and to our children are truly our great leaders. While we welcome new teachers and their energy and fresh ideas, seasoned teachers offer wisdom, guidance, and experience which is the heart and foundation of the school. I was deeply disappointed to learn that the state legislature had excluded seasoned teachers from pay raises. It seemed incredibly disrespectful and unfair, especially considering that it will also affect their retirement pay rates. North Carolina and Chatham County have traditionally made funding education, including supporting teacher pay, a priority. Commitment to our teachers means allocating funds to assure it. In addition to paying them well, they deserve opportunities for job growth, training, and enhancement, along with other incentives. Public recognition for their work, while not a substitute for financial support, can help and is deserved. Given the recent climate in Raleigh, teachers also need assurance that the Chatham community and the Board of Education is completely behind them, has their backs. I believe seasoned teachers do have a right to have the board hear their cases should a principal want to let them go. In an ongoing way, I will listen well to our many teachers so that we can advocate for them on the state and county level and remain abreast of issues which affect them. Finally, teachers should have their classroom assistants back so they have time to do what they do so well – teach.

4. In 2014, Chatham County became the only county in the state to offer a district-wide, locally funded incentive program for teachers. If you support the program, explain how you maintain the local funds needed to offer the incentives. If you oppose the program, tell us what you believe is a better alternative.

I fully support the incentive program. I truly wish that the state legislature was taking better care of all of our teachers. I remember a time in North Carolina when our legislators sought to boost support to rural schools so we could achieve equity with urban schools and their affluence and larger tax base. We should not have to lower our standards because the current legislature has lowered theirs. It is of vital importance to our county’s well-being as a whole. I believe the people of Chatham County value public education. We value our local teachers and their contribution. I would advocate for our county commissioners to continue making the incentive program a collective funding priority. I would also make strident efforts to encourage community businesses and industries to develop enhancement packages. Not only is public education good for our people, it is good for business development, and so there is also economic incentive for our doing so.

5. 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.

In addition to being a native and life-long (40+ year) resident of this county, I bring a myriad of experiences to the Board of Education that will benefit our efforts.

I have an understanding of the challenges children and families and teachers from all over the county face. I am currently the director of our local shelter for women and children at Family Violence and Rape Crisis, where for 12 years, I have also been a crisis advocate, a family counselor, and a court advocate. I have worked actively with families from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and various parts of the county - listening, supporting, and advocating, coming to understand their challenges on the ground level. I will continue to listen and advocate for families with children in our schools.

I also have extensive experience collaborating on the local level for the well-being of children. I have been funded though the Partnership for Children, and I worked on both the Safe and Smart Start initiatives, working with kids 0-5 and 0-8 and their parents, to help children heal from trauma. I participated in extensive trainings and planning and feedback sessions with community partners. I have actively collaborated with countless county agencies and non-profits such as the Childcare Networks, DSS, Chatham Together, Hispanic Liaison, law enforcement, the courts, and our school social workers and school resource officers, among numerous others. I have also served on local task forces working actively to address real issues county residents faced. I served as the facilitator of the Chatham County Criminal Justice Task Force for four years and received state level recognition for my work on behalf of crime victims. I managed the programmatic implementation of a grant through the county that funded all three law enforcement agencies to better serve families in crisis. I know our community partners and am ready to collaborate on behalf of the schools.

Although I have always remained a Chatham resident during times I worked outside the county, I have approximately six years of experience at the state level, including experience in long-range strategic planning and policy development, through work for a statewide non-profit (NCCADV). I partnered with the Council for Women, The Governors Crime Commission, the Department of Health and Human Resources, serving on committees and projects that helped shape state policy on domestic violence, people with disabilities and mental illness, and to better respond to teen survivors. For three years, I trained professionals in rural communities all over North Carolina in responding to family violence. I provided training to the Orange County Public Schools in an effort to help improve their response to domestic violence after a homicide occurred their school grounds.

I also have experience working directly in government. While remaining a Chatham resident, in the 1990’s, I worked for U.S. Senator Terry Sanford (D) in his Raleigh office, and I served as the Co-Clerk to the House Committee on Finance (one of the larget committees at the legislature) under Representatives George Miller (D) and Joe Hackney (D). I have an understanding of how state government operates and can advocate for our schools at that level.

I also have experience working directly with children in school and teaching settings. While spending time abroad studying Spanish, I was an assistant teacher at a multi-cultural elementary school, and I taught ESL to teenagers and adults. Through my involvement in the performing arts, I participated in a program to bring the arts to rural schools around the state through the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. I led an arts-based bullying prevention workshop for the Pines of Carolina Girls Scouts. Here in Chatham County, a school therapist and I designed a peer and arts-based bullying prevention program for middle school children in my free time, who then shared it with ninth graders at Jordan Matthews High School. In my free time, I co-facilitated a support group for teenage girls from Jordan Matthews and helped two of them get scholarships to attend a statewide youth summit. I also helped two of them get scholarships to an international gathering of teenagers to learn non-violent communication and to bring the techniques back to their communities, holding fund-raisers with the girls to fund other aspects of their trips. (I also have experience teaching ESL to adult migrant farmers from Mexico and Central America.)

In addition to work and volunteer experiences, I bring understanding of the people and geography of the county as a whole, which will be useful in making wise county-wide decisions. While I have chosen to live and/or work in Siler City the last 10 years (where I own a home), I spent the first 18 years of my life in Pittsboro, during a time of tremendous change in the town. As soon as I graduated from UNC-Ch, I returned to Chatham County, and spent 17 years in the Browns Chapel/Chicken Bridge community (north central Chatham), excluding brief time I spent abroad teaching and studying Spanish. Although I have chosen to call Siler City home, I still have family in Pittsboro and in north Chatham and I have had family in Moncure. As a teenager, I worked in my fathers dentist office (Dr. Noah Wilson, who retired at age 80), getting to know his patients from all over the county. With my current agency from Bennett to the other side of Jordan Lake, from Silk Hope to Brickhaven. I know people from many different socio-economic, cultural , and education backgrounds all over the county from farmers to professors (or both) young people, retirees, etc. In my district, we are experiencing economic hardships from factory and plant closings, while the eastern part of the county is considerably affluent. Some of our county is still like the rural community I grew up in and which I still value with deep understanding; some of the county is more like the community in which I went to school and which I also value greatly. Having lived here all of my life, and dipped into our many communities and cultures and partnered with people all over the county, I understand the county as a whole. It would help me anticipate and foresee the impact and ripple effects of any decisions we make in selecting school sites and in considering bus routes, etc.

6. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I have always followed the path towards social change and community service, since I was a teenager, into adulthood to now, age 46. In a similar way that I value a liberal arts education, I value as a citizen continually seeking to learn about the world and cultures around me. I consider awareness a personal responsibility. My parents were always civic-minded and taught us to stand up for what we believe and to have compassion for our neighbors. As a young person, I was deeply inspired by Terry Sanford, one of our state’s great “education governors” and U.S. senator, known as a progressive leader of the south, supporter of the arts, promoter of peace in Central America, and whose plan to end poverty in North Carolina inspired President Johnson to do so nationally. His example led me to believe it was possible through integrity-minded governing to create social change and a better way of life for humanity. I interned for David Price and interned then worked for Terry Sanford after I graduated in 1990 from UNC-CH with a degree in political science (Latin American studies focus). I also worked for the Chatham County Preferred Site Advisory Committee between legislative sessions at the General Assembly, and helped stop a massive multi-state nuclear waste dump from locating on our county line. I have always valued the arts, working for the American Dance Festival for three seasons, and performing in theater and improv.

Of all these things, it is social change for people that I have dedicated most of my life. I have committed the last fifteen years of my life working in the movement to end domestic and family violence, both locally and statewide, collaborating, as I stated above, in a real hands-on manner with countless agencies working to make things better. I believe in ending discrimination and opening our institutions to be fully inclusive. I support for individual freedoms and human rights. Although the seat I seek to fill is a county-wide office, the population of nearly half of the people my district is Spanish-speaking. I have made an effort to come to know the Latina community in my work as an advocate and family counselor, on local committees, as an ESL teacher and in my social life. Bill Clinton says that the best leaders are not necessarily experts on a single subject, but people who have the intellectual and emotional capacity to connect the dots between seemingly unlike things, to govern with broad insight, compassion and vision. I agree, and I will work to remain aware and connected.

7. Spanish-speaking students present unique educational challenges to the district. Evaluate how the district is 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?

We do have unique challenges in responding to Spanish-speaking students in our district, and I am eager for us to better engage the community around this issue. In one of the schools, 80% of our children are from Spanish-speaking homes. First let me say, we have accomplished so much, and I am very proud that many of our students from Spanish speaking homes are doing well in our schools. The dual language program at Siler City Elementary was recently recognized by the government of Spain. Also, Jordan Matthews High School (along with Northwood High School), even with the language challenges it faces, was recently ranked in the top 20 high schools in the state and has ranked well nationally, too. We are also very fortunate to partner with local non-profits that work directly with our schools. I am thrilled about the Communities in Schools Project that is starting up in one of our middle schools, which under their former name and intent has worked closely with Latina kids in our schools, as has the Coalition for Family Peace and others. Nevertheless, we have so much to do. Teachers need support to facing the language challenge while also being present for students who at a different level. Responding to our language barriers in the classroom prevents children who are otherwise capable of learning from being unnecessarily held back. It will help us to close the achievement gap. It would help to have more bilingual teachers and teachers which reflect our community demographics. Parental access is a huge issue. A whole generation of kids has come through our kindergarten and graduated from high school without there being anyone on the school board who can speak to their parents. As a counselor and advocate, I have heard a number of stories from Latina families I was working with regarding serious issues in the schools. The schools would have surely wanted to respond to them, but parents either did not know with whom to talk, or they were afraid to come forward.

I speak Spanish, and I have an understanding of their concern from having worked with them and known people in the community for years. I want to serve as a bridge so that children can be more safe, and their issues be addressed. Children need for their parents to know about opportunities as well. While take-home materials are in both languages, we have so much to improve by way of access to information interactively and on the board level and our materials. It appears we may have relied too heavily on using children or ESL teachers as interpreters. We need to fill those gaps. I would like to share ideas to help. I would reach out to the community. We can explore holding community or individual meetings with parents in Spanish. I would certainly offer to connect one-on-one. Decades have now passed. If we truly believe that community support is essential to the success of our schools, it important that we not overlook half of our community. More importantly, to many children who have immigrated here or who were born to immigrant parents, Siler City (and other parts Chatham) is the only home they know. It is here, in this community, where they are forming their childhood memories, their sense of the world ahead. It is a moral issue to me. There are a lot of churches in this community, and it seems like church members would see it as such. We cannot exclude these kids, because some fear change. To feel a part of the school, the children need to know their parents are welcome. The children are this community’s future, too.

8. Chatham County Schools has piloted a laptop program aimed at offering computers for high school students and teachers. Do you support or oppose the program and why? If you support the program, how do you open up the program to offer the technology to more students in the school system?

I am in full support of the laptop program. I have been present for school board meetings where the laptop programs were discussed, and it sounds like the program has really been working well. There are a number of great reasons to support it. While many children have access to computer technology at home, there are still a number of children who do not have access or who lack consistent access, which were it not for the laptop program would put them at a potentially serious disadvantage. This program also helps close the achievement gap. Having computers available through the school helps those children remain abreast and prevents them from falling behind in the fast-moving technological world. It makes it so much easier for students to complete assignments. Also, laptops can help teachers with their curriculum work and in communicating with parents on-line, among other key administrative and teaching activities. Having computers in the classroom settings also helps engage students in the work, in developing a strong foundation of essential computer skills, in research, and in participating in unique learning activities and exchanges.

There are a number of ways to fund the programs to supplement what we have budgeted, to include more grades and increase the computer to child/teacher ratio. This year, the school system received a number of new computers at the high school level and made the decision to redistribute the computers which had been in use to younger grades, so that more kids benefit earlier from access to laptops. Being so close to the triangle, we are perhaps in a good position to explore benefitting from companies which recycle laptops when new technology is purchased, in a similar way that United Way had partnered with local companies to receive refurbished used laptops. There is much potential to pursues national, state, or community grants, partnerships with industry, or partnerships with our local non-profits that support education and our students.

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