Jim Martin | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Jim Martin 

Wake County - Board of Education (District 5)

Name as it appears on the ballot: Jim Martin

Party affiliation, if any: Democrat (committed to Non-Partisanship)

Campaign website: www.JimMartin4Schools.com

Occupation & Employer: Professor of Chemistry, North Carolina State University

Years lived in NC: 17+

Given the current direction of the Wake County school system, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what are the specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?

The Wake County Schools are strong; though, there is always room for improvement. However, the direction of the current Board majority has been careless, and clearly lacking sound educational experience. First and foremost on the board I will work to bring education-focused leadership instead of partisanship to the board. With respect to educational initiatives I will focus on the following three top priorities:

1. Enhancing student achievement through comprehensive education: The ever-increasing emphasis on providing only education that can be evaluated using standardized measurement and testing must be shifted to focus on high-quality comprehensive education. To rise to the top in the global market place, our graduates need to be educated with the creativity of the arts, the critical thinking of science, broad communication skills, the perspective of history, and hands-on, vocational-technical experience. A shift away from over-reliance on standardized testing is needed. New assessments of student achievement that include assessment of a student's original work, of his or her ability to apply learning in one subject area to another (e.g. apply math in science, or language arts in history), and a student's retention of learning from course-to-course and grade-to-grade, should be implemented.

2. Enhancing the professional status of the teaching profession: It is the responsibility of the Board to develop an employment structure that recruits and retains teaching professionals, and appropriately respects their work and compensates them. While budget constraints may limit the ability to address appropriate compensation, the Board can be a body that listens to teachers, and advocates for policy and practice that maximize time for instruction and professional development (as opposed to increasing administrative demands on teachers). Creating a working environment that respects the professionalism of educators will positively impact the system's ability to recruit and retain high quality employees who, in turn, can maximize student achievement.

3. Adequately resourcing our public schools: Education is an investment in, not a cost to, a community. As a Board member, I will work hard to secure needed investments in our schools by personally interacting with the NC legislature, the County Commissioners, and the private sector.

In your district, please identity the priority needs as you see them.

District 5

1. Provide stability of student assignment: Due to extensive population growth without adequate long-range planning, students in the rim schools have faced reassignment and shifting student populations far too frequently. (Rim schools are those just outside Raleigh's beltline and not solidly in other municipalities.)

2. Provide adequate facilities: Renovation and repair (R&R) is needed in a number of the existing District 5 schools. An example of a facility in need is the Athens Drive Sports Complex. Even if District 5 is not a target for new schools, existing schools need appropriate R&R funding.3. Improve declining enrichment curricula: It is important to ensure that enrichment curricula such as arts, foreign language, advanced math and science, are present in all of our schools, not just our magnets.

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

I am a parent of two children who have attended Wake County Public Schools since kindergarten. I am a Professor of Chemistry at NC State University, having taught hundreds of students during my nearly 18 years as a faculty member. I was also elected to, and served in, the administrative governance post of Chair of the NC State Faculty. As Chair, I successfully led a governing body that concentrated on developing and practicing policy, strategic planning and budgetary analysis, all focused on education. Thus, I will approach leadership on the Board of Education with: the perspective of a parent, classroom experience as a teacher, and an understanding of effective administration and governance in an educational setting. My leadership will seek to bring all constituents to the decision-making table to find positive solutions for our schools.

How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you're a conservative, a progressive, a libertarian, or what?

I have a common sense political philosophy. I treat my political activity very much the same way as I treat my scientific research. I ask questions, conduct research, and make decisions based on evidence and experience.

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

I want to guarantee a world-class education to every student in Wake County because there is no doubt that education is the key that unlocks opportunity for every child. To do this, I will work to ensure that no high needs/high poverty schools are created. It is also my goal to ensure high quality education and enrichment opportunities at every school. In this way, our most academically gifted students can have their needs met while struggling students also have opportunity to discover new areas of interest. And I will work to develop plans for equitable distribution of resources.

Please address the following major issues that are before the Wake school board:

How should the school board resolve the issue of neighborhood schools and diversity? Is there a need to balance the two, and if so, how should that be done? Does Superintendent Tata's "Blue Plan" do the job?

It is important to recognize that the term "neighborhood schools" can mean different things to different people. "Neighborhood schools" can denote something very negative to the person who knows that as recently as the 1970's there were neighborhoods with deeds that explicitly stated that "Negros" could not own property in the neighborhood. Yet to another person, wanting a "neighborhood school" may simply indicate he or she wants all the children on their cul-de-sac to be able attend the same school. The former idea of "neighborhood schools" as known in the era of racial segregation must be strongly opposed, while the latter idea denoting stability of assignment is reasonable and can be incorporated into a rational assignment plan.

Unfortunately, a complete evaluation of the "choice-model's" impact cannot be done currently because sufficient detail related to the model is still unavailable to the public.

Superintendent Tata's recognition of the importance of magnet schools coupled with "Achievement Schools" will minimize the likelihood of segregation, and increase access to high quality schools. But it is not yet clear whether the Board will recognize this. Magnet schools are a proven mechanism to prevent high-poverty, racially identifiable schools. Effective magnet schools also require that outstanding opportunities exist for inner-city, non-magnet students. In fact, it is essential to have a strong, comprehensive curriculum in every school (magnet and non-magnet) so all students can receive an excellent education regardless of assignment.

A modified choice plan can be positive. A mandatory choice plan is as problematic as any other mandatory plan. Furthermore, as I talk to voters, the choice many parents want is for the children on their street to attend school together, with the assurance of stability in that assignment. I do not see this in any proposed plan. Such an option will require a plan with a base assignment coupled with magnet, calendar and themed-school choice.

If the Blue Plan is adopted, is it important to you that diversity be achieved – as Mr. Tata proposes -- by reserving a substantial number of seats in high-achieving schools for kids coming from other, low-achieving neighborhoods? Or should proximity to a school be the overriding factor in student assignment even if results in some schools with high percentages of low-achieving students?

As noted in my answer to question 6, I support the plan that requires coupling magnet seats with seats in high-achieving non-magnet schools.

It is also important to note that proximity is of high value to some families, but not all families. For some, proximity to work may be a greater value than proximity to home. If we focus on education as the purpose of a school system, then there can be only one "overriding factor" -- student success and achievement.

What additional programs or resources, if any, do you think are needed to address the needs of low-performing students and close the historic achievement gap between students from affluent and low-income families?

There is no magic bullet to ensure student success. Nor will only focusing on low-performing students close the achievement gap. Factors that positively contribute to student achievement, from special needs to high achieving students, are well known. Responsibility for student success includes roles for students, parents, teachers, administrators, the community and the School Board. The Board specifically can focus on:

Infrastructure and resources that demonstrate the community's commitment to student achievement. The Board has the responsibility to advocate for, and equitably allocate resources. Students are very observant of the facilities, instructors and resources available to them. Student achievement, like performance in the business world, is correlated to quality physical and human resources. People (including students) perform better in clean, well-designed spaces with adequate resources for accomplishing the assigned task.

Experienced and prepared teachers. It is the responsibility of the Board to develop an employment structure that recruits and retains teaching professionals, including minority teachers, and appropriately compensates them. Effective evaluation that is based on more than just student test scores, combined with on-going professional development, will enhance teaching skills. Outstanding, experienced teachers improve student achievement.

Rigorous rather than just accelerated curricula. Students' developmental readiness plays a role in their mastery of subject matter. Because of this, acceleration and early placement in more advanced classes should not be the only means of achieving college preparedness. Evaluation and administrative approaches should be developed to help students move to honors-level curricula at any stage in their education.

High-quality comprehensive education. Such education includes the Arts, Sciences, Math, History, Language, Phys Ed, and vocational-technical options, with computer technology and applied skills and competencies taught in the context of the academic curricula. While such comprehensive education requires more than standardized tests for evaluation, it provides a vast array of opportunities to challenge the most academically-gifted student, and helps practical learners and trades-oriented students to excel.

Electives to help close achievement gaps, and provide advanced learning environments. Elective courses provide an effective means to meet specific needs of students. Electives can provide remediation, without stigmatizing students being "pulled out of class." Electives in the arts, physical education and technology can effectively engage students with diverse academic abilities. Electives can also inspire learning beyond the standard course of study to teach creativity and critical thinking.

Community Resource Centers. Establish regional centers, possibly in shopping centers, staffed with social worker/counseling professionals. Such centers could: help educate about school assignment plans; refer students and parents to educational and social services; help students and parents resolve disciplinary matters, or problems with teachers or staff. Such facilities need to be accessible to families with limited transportation, as well as provide personal support and advocacy to help keep students in school.

What's your view of the need for another school construction bond referendum in the next two years? If one is needed, should be about the same, bigger or smaller than the 2006 bond of $970 million.

Growth projections currently show an anticipated shortfall of 5462 classroom seats for the 2012/13 school year. That shortfall is projected to increase to 18,211 seats by 2015/16. This projected growth requires immediate action, likely requiring a bond issue. However, it is important that we move beyond a repetitive "crisis-to-bond" school construction approach. An effective long-range growth plan dealing with both construction and assignments must effectively integrate municipal, county and school planning into a sustainable plan to ensure schools are built and funded as the rest of our community grows and develops.

The current school board declined to seek additional revenues from the Wake County Commissioners even as the number of students in the school system grew. The result is a substantial drop in per-student funding from the county (on top of state funding cuts). Did you favor this approach? If elected, will you continue the policy? Or seek more money from the county?

The current board's failure to request constant per-student funding from our county commissioners was irresponsible. Our county's growth led to 3000 new students this year; that growth should also have brought in commensurate revenue. If that per-capita revenue is not being used for our schools, as a community, we must seriously ask where that money went. A strong education system is key to the quality of life in Wake County. Thus, there must be mechanisms to ensure that growth will also sustain our school system. The school board, together with municipal, county and state planning and governing bodies must work to develop sustainable growth plans.

At the state level and in Wake County, some advocate for more charter schools and for tuition tax credits for private schools as a way of shaking up the public school system and creating more "competition" for students. Others say this approach undermines the public school system. In this debate, where do you stand?

I recognize that charter schools can fulfill unique niches in education if they are developed with appropriate expectations and accountability measures. I further recognize that the Wake County Board of Education has no jurisdiction over charter schools. That said, I concur with the sentiment expressed by Superintendent Tata when he noted that our job is to make the public school system so strong that charter and private schools are non-competitive.

As you look forward, what major changes (e.g., longer school days, year-round schools, pedagogy changes) should be made to public education here and elsewhere in the United States to better prepare students for the world they'll live in? As a Wake school board member, how can you help in this regard?

See points 1 and 2 of question 1. I think the two most pressing challenges to public education in the United States relate to the type of education offered and to teachers. First, we need a shift from standardized education and testing to comprehensive education that builds creativity and critical thinking skills. We also need education reform that makes teaching a respected and effectively-compensated professional career. I will bring to the board my unique educational experience that has required evaluation of educational outcomes that cannot be evaluated via a standardized exam. As a school board member, I will also listen to teachers and advocate for approaches that will enhance their professionalism.

To learn about other candidates' stances on the issues, read their 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.

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