Mia Day Burroughs | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Mia Day Burroughs 

Candidate for Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Mia Day Burroughs
Full legal name, if different: Marianna Day Burroughs
Date of birth: 12/15/1961
Home address: 110 Cedar Hills Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Mailing address, if different from home: NA
Campaign Web site: www.miaburroughs.com
Occupation & employer: Freelance Grant Writer, self-employed
Home phone: 932-6282
Work phone: none
Cell phone: NA
E-mail: mburroughs@nc.rr.com

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

Achievement: Over the last several years the district's ability to measure achievement and growth for all our students has improved dramatically. From that data, we now know that some populations, particularly minority and economically-disadvantaged students, are not achieving at nearly the same level as others. Also, students' achievement at all other levels of the academic continuum has not been growing consistently. This school system has excellent faculty and staff who are going in the right direction particularly with the Professional Learning Community initiative that is giving teachers an effective process to help each other improve their teaching skills. I will encourage continuing down that path.

Impact: I have long preached the value of effective program evaluation as a part of my work for several youth-serving agencies. I will look carefully at program results to ensure that the district is using strategies that make a difference for our students. I will also think carefully before supporting new initiatives without being assured that the existing interventions are not working and that the new plan has been shown to be effective elsewhere.

School resources: I will use my knowledge of public policy and my unrelenting desire to communicate effectively to ensure that elected leaders and policymakers in our county have the confidence that support of Chapel Hill Carrboro School programs is a sound investment in our county's future.

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.

I will bring useful knowledge and skills to the School Board. I have worked almost my entire career for non-profit organizations that strive to bring youth through the tricky years of adolescence. These agencies work to prevent teens from sidelining themselves with adolescent pregnancy and juvenile crime. My role in those non-profits has been to advocate for improved public policies, raise funds through grants, and educate the public. My knowledge of adolescent behavior and youth programs will be useful in my service as a School Board member because school failure often goes hand in hand with other risky behavior.

I volunteered in CHCCS elementary classrooms each of the ten years that my girls attended Seawell and Estes Hills Elementary Schools. Helping in the classroom allowed me to watch some of our finest teachers work their magic. I have tremendous respect and appreciation for the men and women who educate our community’s children. I have worked outside the classroom on numerous committees including service for a year as the Chair of the Estes Hills Elementary School Governance Committee (SGC). I have included more details below about my focus as SGC Chair on minority-family outreach. Also, I composed a timeline of the district’s history with the help of local historians. I am especially proud that I was able to merge the histories of both our black and white schools so that the information is available in one place. That project gave me a particular appreciation of the failures, successes and ongoing challenges that our district faced during the integration years.

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

I have spent my career working for non-profit organizations that are dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty. My primary focus has been teen pregnancy prevention. In addition three of my current clients are dedicated to preventing youth from becoming involved in crime. Nothing can derail a youth’s chances of breaking out of poverty more than an unplanned pregnancy and/or a brush with the law. I will bring my experience and my passion for this work to the deliberations of the School Board.

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

As a long-time volunteer in elementary school classrooms, I can attest that the District’s faculty are working very hard to improve black, Hispanic and economically-disadvantaged students’ achievement. They cannot work much harder. What they can and have begun to do is to work together in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to help each other improve the teaching techniques they use with particular types of students. Teachers in particular subject areas and grade levels are developing common assessments of the essential information that all students need to learn. Through out the school year, the teachers are assessing students and immediately helping each other when they find out that one or more of the teachers are having trouble teaching particular subject matter. In addition, I understand the school principals are working more effectively to ensure that teachers are using high-impact teaching strategies that are also culturally sensitive.

The District is beginning to implement a concept called the Pyramid of Interventions to make sure that staff catch students who are at-risk of disconnecting from education well before those students actually drop out. As a Board member, I would watch that initiative closely to ensure that youth are no longer slipping through the cracks. I remain concerned that our District has not found a way to identify and serve students who aren’t failing but are underperforming compared to their potential. Often, attentive parents point out this phenomenon to the students’ teachers but I worry about the kids whose parents are intimidated by the school system or are overwhelmed by the other challenges they face. There is not a clear solution to this challenge but I will be dedicated to looking for one.

Schools can continue to build stronger ties with students and parents of particular racial and ethnic groups. Parents want the best for their children. We just have to work together to figure out how to make that happen. Soon after I became Chair of the Estes Hills School Governance Committee, I sought out and met with a teacher and an assistant principal at another local school that had made great strides in reaching out to minority families. I facilitated an SGC subcommittee that focused on reaching out to minority parents. This kind of work takes long-term commitment on the part of faculty, staff, and parent volunteers. As a Board member, I will support initiatives that continue those kinds of outreach efforts.

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?

Since I have not dealt with special needs services personally, I have “interviewed” a lot of people to understand this issue better. While I realize I still have a lot to learn, a key theme that I heard frequently is that we need to do a better job retaining teachers of special needs students. Many of the children with special needs thrive on consistency. Teacher turnover results in lost ground. I have found some disagreement as to why these teachers leave. Some have mentioned that the staff “burn-out” because the staff find that this is a difficult population to teach but others have questioned whether that is a myth. We should require a thorough exit interview with any special needs staff who are leaving to find out whether they are moving to another district, going to a non-profit but still working with this population, or really are leaving the field altogether. We also need to ask them what support would have helped them stay in the job with our district.

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

Students need and deserve comprehensive sexuality education that includes discussion of both abstinence and contraceptives. There are two laws, one at the state level and one at the federal level, that address “Abstinence Until Marriage”. When the North Carolina General Assembly passed their Abstinence Until Marriage law in the mid-90’s, the only silver lining was that the law included a provision that a local school board could hold a hearing and then vote to include contraceptive information in their sexuality education curriculum. Fortunately, Chapel Hill Carrboro was one of a small handful of districts in the state that took advantage of that and has had a comprehensive curriculum ever since. Regarding the federal Abstinence Until Marriage law, the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of NC (APPCNC) reports that all school districts in the state receive the federal Abstinence Until Marriage funding. Districts have been able to use those funds in ways that are appropriate with younger students even in the context of an overall comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.

I have worked for nearly my whole career for organizations that support comprehensive sexuality education- Advocates for Youth in Washington, DC Planned Parenthood in Florida, and APPCNC. I have also donated, volunteered for, and worked as a contractor for our local Planned Parenthood affiliate. As a result of my work in that field, I have to point out a caveat. Students need and deserve comprehensive sexuality education, but research has shown that sexuality education by itself rarely changes behavior. Youth at-risk of teen pregnancy need programming that is far more individualized than classroom lessons. The most successful teen pregnancy prevention programs usually involve more intensive staff/youth interaction and find some way to give the participants some reason to feel they have something to lose if they become pregnant or father a child. I will apply those lessons as the District grapples with youth who are at-risk of school failure and dropping out.

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 methods used for student discipline vary greatly by the child’s age and offense. School leaders have to work very hard to balance the needs of the child who is “acting out” and the remaining children in the classroom. At the elementary level this fine art is executed unevenly by the various principals in the district. If elected I would plan to learn more about this so that my information is more than anecdotal.

At the middle and high school levels, the District is collaborating with the YMCA and several other youth-serving agencies (including my client Volunteers for Youth) to implement the Boomerang program for short-term suspended youth. Boomerang, which started in January 2006, is a critical intervention because it puts these kids in the hands of caring adults who assess the students’ strengths and challenges in and out of the classroom. It also works hard to include the family in the program. As I noted above, at-risk students need more intensive programming than is provided in a typical school day so the launching of this program has been a great step in the right direction.

Long-term suspended students are automatically admitted to Phoenix Academy although I understand that they can refuse that placement. I have been told that students who qualify to go back to their home schools after the suspension period is over often choose to stay there because they like the faculty and the smaller school. There has been discussion recently as to whether Phoenix should be expanded. My sense is that the program should remain small because these students are likely to better off in an environment where all the students and faculty know each other very well.

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

Parents’ most important role in the schools is to advocate for their own children. After that, it is important for their children to see parents working on projects that benefit their classroom or the school as a whole because it reinforces to the children that parents value education. Fortunately, in the Chapel Hill Carrboro school system we have large number of parent volunteers and, as far as I know, those parents have behaved appropriately when on school grounds. The only line I would draw is that parents should have the same expectations we have for the children: they should be respectful and they should behave in a safe manner.

Soon after I became Chair of the Estes Hills School Governance Committee (SGC), I sought out and met with a teacher and an assistant principal at another local school that had made great strides in reaching out to minority families. I facilitated an SGC subcommittee that focused on reaching out to minority parents. Over the year that I coordinated that committee, it consisted of the Family Services Specialist (school social worker), the co-chairs of the Estes African-American Parent Support Network, a parent who was a resident of the Elliot Woods community, a teacher who also served on the SGC and the school’s principal.

We discussed what it would take to help parents who are uncomfortable with the schools become effective advocates for their children. The conversation went in two directions: one was to support school Minority Parent Nights for the three key minority groups at Estes: Hispanic, black, and Asian. At these events, the whole group joined together at dinner and then broke out into subgroups. This structure decreased the sense that any one group was being singled out. The first session was a rousing success but interest waned as the year progressed.

We also focused on teacher/parent relations. The most important thing we discussed is that teachers must contact parents with something positive to say about their children well before the first report card comes out. Teachers and parents won’t be able to build trust if it turns out that they have to start on a negative note. The teacher and the family specialist committed to remind teachers of this at the beginning of the following school year. This kind of work takes long-term commitment on the part of faculty, staff and parent volunteers. As a Board member, I will support initiatives that continue those kinds of outreach efforts.

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?

Budgetary priorities should be programs and staffing that touch the students every day. Of course, the primary expense in that category during the school day is the salaries of classroom teachers and their assistants. These professionals need to be treated so that they have no doubt in their minds that the district treasures their skills and experience.

I know from my work in teen pregnancy and juvenile delinquency prevention that well-designed after-school programs can make a big difference in student’s lives. If elected, I will need to learn more about our existing programs and what other programs are available in the community. When I began my term as Chair of the Estes Hills School Governance Committee, I asked the Family Specialist to give me a “tour” of the school’s fragile neighborhoods. As we drove around, I asked her where these children received after-school services. It was and is clear to me that the patchwork system our children used then and now is inadequate particularly for our low-income students.

Regarding resources, the puzzle remains complex. As a professional grant writer, I always tell new clients that grants are the worst way to raise money. This district has received grants for after-school programs that had to be canceled or scaled down after the grant ran out. Ultimately we will have to continue to look to our community to fund our schools. The Board will have to work very hard to ensure that our citizens continue to believe that our schools are doing an excellent job and are worth continued investment.

In the short run, the County Commissioners are likely to put either a land transfer tax and/or an increased sales tax on the ballot next May. I plan to do more research on the impact of land transfer taxes in the counties such as Dare County that have had them for a while. I have read concerns that such a tax would increase the problem of affordable housing in Orange County but I am not convinced that is the case. I am less inclined to support a sales tax since I consider that regressive in spite of the fact that it exempts food. If the Commissioners put the Land Transfer tax on the ballot and I remain convinced that it won’t exacerbate our affordable housing problem, then I will actively promote it. I understand the Commissioners can’t designate how the money would be spent in the language on the ballot but they can describe their plans in educational materials. I believe that since so many folks move to this county for the schools that significant funding from a land transfer tax should be dedicated to the schools.

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?

CHCCS Administrators are currently projecting that we will need two new elementary schools and one new middle school in the next ten years. Elementary #10 is already under construction at the Twin Creeks site off of Eubanks Road. Although Carolina North plans remain a moving target, local leaders seem reasonably confident that there will be at least one school site on that property. The Collaboration Work Group, which involves leaders from both school districts and the County, will be looking at both site selection and the role of the Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance this school year. Commissioner Jacobs has recommended that the group study to see if the Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) can be used as a tool to limit growth.

On a related subject, I have been advocating for almost a year, with my colleagues Susan Worley and Meg McGurk, that the new Elementary #10 should be named Morris Grove Elementary School. The remains of a school for black children founded by a former slave named Morris Hogan, which he called Morris Grove, are on a property adjacent to Elementary #10. This is the perfect chance to honor all the unsung educators in the black community. It will create an opportunity to teach Southern history to the students by describing the events that took place in their own back yard.

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