Kris Castellano | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Kris Castellano 

Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

Name as it appears on the ballot: Kris Castellano

Full legal name, if different: Kristine Castellano

Date of birth: December 10, 1968

Home address: 1624 Meadow Lane Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Physical Therapist, Legacy Healthcare


If elected, what are your top priorities for the school board and how will you achieve them?

My goals for the school board are:

Globally competitive.

All students need the opportunity to be globally competitive. It is not just about the inclusion of diverse viewpoints, it is understanding unique backgrounds and leveraging diverse skill sets. It is about closing the achievement gap for our students, but it is also about developing leaders from the underrepresented. It is a worldview that I have helped to nurture in the dual-language program, and in the relationships that I have carried on to the middle and high schools. I understand this worldview, and its growing importance in our community.


The School Board needs to ensure that teachers are effectively teaching our students. The Board must require that the District's organizational structure is clear and readily understood by parents. If a parent has a concern, he or she should readily know who to first approach. Your mailing address within this district should not dictate the learning experience your child receives. Over the years, some schools and teachers have deviated from the established delivery of district curriculum. Despite good intentions, all staff and administrators need to be following the same blueprint. Each school and staff member brings its own unique footprint that we all value, but educators and administrators need to be held accountable for specific established deliverables. With accountability and consistency, best practices can be learned and shared, ultimately improving success district wide.

Professional Development.

Staff needs to be given the time and opportunity for professional development required to provide a rich and engaging educational opportunity for all their students. The Board should make on-going professional development a budget priority because effective teaching should be a hallmark of our District.

Five core achievement priorities are listed on the district web site which I will support as a new Board member:

"preparing for the common core state standards and the state's essential standards". This can be achieved through successful district and school leadership and ongoing effective professional development. We cannot hold staff accountable if we don't give them the professional development they need to be successful in the classroom. Professional development is more than just training; it is the follow up and efficacy of that training. Ensuring uniformity so everyone can be held accountable for the same set of standards and expectations is important.

"development and implementation of a comprehensive PK-12 literacy program with 96.5% of students at grade level by the end of second grade and remaining proficient". Asking good questions and providing schools with the resources they need to accomplish this goal- each school's demographics vary, as does its needs. We should not adhere to rigidity of practice, but take best proven practices and mold them it to each school's needs with proper education so everyone is starting "on the same page" with proper administrative oversight and accountability.

"recommending a clear direction for second language instruction, including but not limited to dual language instruction". Two of my three children are in the dual language programming and one child is in traditional language instruction. I will be able to provide first-hand knowledge as an involved parent and encourage dialogue with our stakeholders to make adjustments needed for successful global instruction for all our language learners. I am an advocate for language acquisition; in order to be globally competitive our students need to have the opportunity for language acquisition, cultural understanding and diversity appreciation.

"making effective and efficient use of technology". Do we want to use technology as a tool in a primary or secondary role in our classrooms? I believe it is a priority for us to be 21st century learners. However, we need to make sure the technology we have is operational and supported by a knowledgeable staff. These experts also need to be able to educate our educators in using technology in the classroom as an adjunct to support their teaching; technology is important but only if the teachers know how to leverage that technology.

"successful transition to new district leadership". Helping our new Superintendent, Tom Forcella, transition to his new role in our school system and our community will ensure success for our districts students. Providing him with a background in our district successes, challenges and solutions will enable him to be a more effective leader.

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? If you are an incumbent, what are your most notable achievements and how will you build on them? If you aren't, what do you bring to the board that it now lacks? Please be as specific as possible about the relevance of your accomplishments to your goals for the board.

My experience in the schools goes from classroom volunteering to leadership roles on school committees. I have been an active volunteer in the classroom and have seen first hand what is often considered for policy implementation and changes. I am entering my 8th year as a School Improvement Team (SIT) member, 4 as chair in two separate schools. Through these roles I have participated in district wide chairs meetings and been on various district committees- including as a leader in the Dual Language Parent Group- interacting and advocating for best practices with our administrators and central office employees. Some of the community volunteering I have done includes: weekly craft groups at Ronald McDonald House, weekly visits to a local nursing home with the children and annual volunteer coordinator for my daughter's scout group, matching needs with resources and promoting volunteerism in the community.

My career as a Physical Therapist requires me to effectively communicate, lead and teach a variety of patient populations. I am confident this skill will serve me well to represent our diverse community members.

Through my volunteering in the schools and community I bring years of knowledge, positive relationships and trust with current community leaders and educators. Additionally, I know what I don't know, which is just as important as knowing what I do know; and I am ready to learn. I bring a new and fresh perspective that will enable me to ask different questions and bring a viewpoint from outside the current CHCCS Board of Education.

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?

Building a "just community" in the Triangle means working together to bring values of diversity and inclusion to the forefront as decisions are made. I have always been an active volunteer in the Triangle, having lived in both Durham and Chapel Hill. I value and support diversity; that is one of the reasons it is great to be a member of this community. I enjoy bringing people together and can engage in positive dialogue with people of different background and values, getting people to feel that their voices have been heard and valued. An effective school board member listens to the total community and respects diverse cultures.

I have worked as a parent leader in dual language to make it a success because I believe that children should understand and appreciate different cultures and languages. Our multicultural parent group works side by side on school and district issues, like redistricting and program advocacy, in addition to sharing traditions and celebrations. This sharing of languages and culture enriches our community and will develop children with an appreciation and understanding of people who might seem different from them. It would be my hope that as they mature, these values of tolerance and goodwill will lead to a more just society. I would like more of our students to be able to understand their obligations and contributions toward a just community.

For the first time in two decades, CHCCS has a new superintendent in Thomas Forcella. What do you hope he achieves in his first year in charge and what will you do to support his efforts?

I hope Dr. Forcella achieves a quick and accurate study of our district. I hope he embraces the opportunity to get to know each of the schools, school administrators and strengths and weaknesses of our district. This will provide him a better picture of our district and how to properly mentor our leaders so we are afforded the best possible outcomes for our students. An effective leader needs to be an effective communicator and one that can cultivate relationships. I trust that the current board made this assessment and that all stakeholders can be active and accepting recipients of his communication. I will support Dr. Forcella and provide him with opportunities and encouragement to engage with other experts, our parents and diverse community resources outside the administrative circle that can bring value and depth to achieving our ongoing district goals for our students.

How can the district close the achievement gap? What strides have been made in the past four years, what worked, what didn't, and what should be done now?

The district has continued to strive annually to close the gap, with some solutions delivering more value than others. We need to improve on identification of individual precursors to success and impact those areas. What kind of learner is the child? Is it a home environment issue? Learning disability? Social discomfort or immaturity? Nutritional need? Mental illness? Supporting our teachers, social workers and family specialists with ongoing professional development and the time to properly identify barriers and subsequent resource connections of solutions is imperative.

Everyone needs an advocate. There is a gap between test scores, parent participation and inclusion, along with gaps in our community fabric. Most often that is the team of teachers and support staff in the school, but is sometimes a church member, parent, guardian, neighbor or mentor. All these voices should be heard as the school works with the child to close the gaps. I will encourage our community to be engaged and our schools to take a more in-depth look with open ears of each of our students. Everyone needs to ask the question "How can I help this child be more successful?" I will continue to advocate as I have for 10 years.

Strong school leadership that supports professional learning and an understanding of cultural differences, values teacher observations, regular home visits and personal communication and knowledge of local resources is a strong start. Some of our schools have made great strides in these areas; they need to be the flagships for our other district schools to model.

How do you make sure that despite budget difficulty, the district will push past the status quo and achieve more? What more needs to be done to help support teachers?

The Chapel Hill- Carrboro community has thrived on its reputation for educational excellence for years; we have a veneer of exceptionalism while still many of our students have opportunity and unrealized potential. We must not rest on our reputation, but continue to open all doors so that we deliver excellence to all our students. We need to be leaders with innovative ideas in our learning community and push for globally competitive standards to match our globally competitive world.

Providing the educational support our teachers need through professional development enabling them to provide that experience is paramount. Teacher educational opportunities dwindle with a dwindling budget. We need to be creative in how we deliver quality instruction to our teachers, and subsequently our students. This is a budget priority.

Other priorities won't impact the budget; for instance, greater emphasis on teacher input on programs and policies. A valued employee is a more productive employee; if we are respected and supported we "go the extra mile"; we will achieve more. We all know that from our own experiences, so of course we would want that for the educators of our children. Our teachers need to know that their administrators recognize and support their efforts and value their experiences in our diverse community. Our teachers need to feel supported and heard. Encouraging an atmosphere of open dialogue and sharing without judgment leads to problem solving and new ideas. Collaboration needs to be the expectation, not the exception.

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?

The goal of literacy competency is imperative; this is the key to success in all academic studies. One cannot possibly advance his/her studies without this core competency.

This district must have a system in place for active community engagement and participation. Schools need to actively encourage parent involvement because it is essential to accomplishing the goal of literacy. Increased literacy performance is known to follow increased parent involvement.

The district needs to implement literacy assessments at every level and cannot rely on End of Grade (EOG) results alone for this student specific information. Pushing for language acquisition that leads to true fluency will help our students get ahead in this challenging economy. In recent years we have been more focused on the finish line and not the journey. Our students need to be engaged and challenged to think creatively and in new ways, with focus on the process not just the solution. We must support our teachers with professional development so they can create this stimulating learning environment.

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? How would you ensure those children who are long-term suspended are given an opportunity to be educated?

Discipline starts with school policies, rules, and clear expectations. It is up to the school community to consistently communicate and enforce these expectations in a kind and respectful way. Respect breeds respect. This modeling and enforcement is done in the hallways and in the classroom by our school teachers and support staff. Adherence to these expectations, starting at the classroom level, will minimize the need to bring students to the next step of intervention. The goal of catching a student behaving, instead of misbehaving is the premise behind the program Positive Behavior Support (PBS) that our district embraces. Individuals need to do a better job of embracing it. Teacher and administrator training should be provided so there is consistency throughout the school and the school district.

Minimizing disruption and loss of instructional time are also critical. When students lose hours sitting in the front office, especially a struggling student, they are only getting further behind in their studies.

There is a district student code of conduct handbook that clearly outlines offenses with its ranges of consequences. Certainly our staff should be able to identify problems before they reach the critical stage of long term suspension. Identifying and matching needs with resources will help to minimize the elevation to school long term suspension.

Ensuring that long term suspended students have the opportunity to be educated is dependent on the education team. What led to the suspension? Is the student getting all the interventions (social, medical, academic) needed to optimize his/her abilities for success? Once you can identify the origin of the problem a solution can begin to be formulated.

There are two specific programs in our district that reach out to suspended students; Phoenix Academy and Boomerang. Phoenix Academy serves some students in our district that need more individual attention and some students that receive long term suspension. It began in 1998 in one room with one teacher and one assistant. It now is able to offer programming with 5 rooms, 7 teachers, 2 assistants, 1 guidance counselor and a principal. It also has its own School Improvement Plan (SIP). Boomerang is a community program in our district that offers an alternative to short term suspension for middle and high school students. These are excellent programs.

What would you do to increase parental involvement in the schools? What should be the nature of that involvement? Where should the line be drawn?

Connected families are better able to help their students, with test scores reflecting these positive connections. We need to show interest in and change practices and school structures to accommodate the cultures, languages, customs, and values of all its constituents. For example, at Carrboro Elementary, it is a welcoming environment where all parents and families can walk through the front door and ask questions knowing they will receive and answer, no matter their native language. Translating of both written and spoken word is the norm, not the exception. Each building needs to have a diverse staff to meet the needs of their students and their families to properly greet, direct, engage and answer questions for parents and families. This creates a both a welcoming and inclusive environment.

The line should be drawn when volunteerism crosses into the profession of teaching; there is no substitute for a trained teacher. There are many activities and things that can be done to support the classroom learning environment as directed by the teacher. This allows the teacher extra planning time and less time needed to spend organizing, copying, cutting, etc. Literacy and cultural diversity are home runs. Families should be encouraged to come to the classroom during the part of the day when literacy is done- whether it is reading to the students or participating in "drop everything and read". Having adults model this behavior is tremendously positive.

As Chapel Hill's population continues to grow, 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?

SAPFO (Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) is already in place to guide school planning and should continue to be used. We need to continue to bring together all of our community resources and elective officials to work together for creative solutions that benefit the children in our community. The school board needs to work closely with local city councils, planning boards and planning staff to plan future school sites. The positive relations with our Orange county commissioners and Orange county educators have grown more collaborative over the years. The collaboration continues to strengthen with community organizations- the active support of the cent sales tax is just one example.

There are few areas that perk for new development for schools within our borders, hence finding appropriate land is a challenge, as is the price for land. Do we think outside the box and look to preexisting structures that are for sale and renovate as we did for Elementary #11? Do we ask those in our community considering selling land to consider us? Do we offer a tax incentive? Creative and collaborative solutions will be essential.

As the development areas in our district shift, so will our attendance zones. We will need to continue to maintain balanced, diverse schools and redistrict as needed to ensure no undo stress is placed on any individual school. This only challenges our teachers and our resources, providing less than an optimal learning environment for all of our students.

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