Michael Kelley | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Michael Kelley 

Candidate for Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Michael Kelley
Full legal name, if different: Michael John Kelley
Date of birth: November 20, 1959
Home address: 205 Ukiah Lane, Chapel Hill, NC
Mailing address, if different from home: same
Campaign Web site: kelley4schoolboard.blogspot.com
Occupation & employer: Duke University and Durham VA Medical Centers
Home phone: 919-969-8734
Work phone: 919-286-0411 ext 7326
E-mail: mkelley3@nc.rr.com

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

My top priority is the continuing improvement of student achievement for all children instructional techniques documented to be effective. Additional priorities include assuring a safe and welcoming environment for students and staff, continuing to attract and retain the best teachers and staff, planning for growth, improving the budget process, and maintaining effective working relations with other governmental bodies.

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 have served on the school board for four years. Some of the major committees on which I served are listed below. My community service activities prior to joining the board are also listed below. Professionally, I am a physician scientist, chief of my division at the VA Hospital, and direct a research laboratory. Through these many activities, I have demonstrated skills as an effective leader and board member. My professional training has allowed me to evaluate data sets and reports generated by the district and integrate that analysis into the decision making process. I have also been an ardent advocate for open access to board meetings and have been personally accessible to citizens.

School board-related activities (2003-2007)

  • Co-Chair, Redistricting Committees, 2006 and 2007
  • Curriculum Advisory Committee
  • Drug Abuse Task Force
  • Health Advisory Committee
  • Technology Advisory Committee
  • Head Start Policy Council
  • Special Needs Advisory Committee
  • North Carolina School Board Association’s Legislative Committee
  • Liaison to School Governance Committees at East Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill High School, Culbreth Middle School, Scroggs Elementary School

Other activities

  • Member Rashkis interim School Governance Committee, 2003
  • Treasurer, Chapel Hill-Carrboro chapter of Partners for the Advancement of Gifted Education
  • Officer US Public Health Service for 8 years
  • Parent volunteer for Math Superstars at Estes Hills Elementary School
  • Science Day Symposium presenter at Culbreth Middle School
  • Hands-On-Science instructor
  • Instructor, National Science Foundation funded program for science teacher training
  • YMCA Indian Princess Program Tribe Chief

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 share the goal of living in a just community and believe that an essential prerequisite to achieving that goal is an educated and well-informed population. I seek to achieve that goal by providing the educational opportunities to challenge and stimulate each child to achieve their potential so they can be fully functional members of society. My work on the board is rooted in the compassion I have learned as a physician, and the critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making necessary for my work as a scientist. My goals for the schools are those widely held in the community and expressed in the vision statement of the district. Using evidence-based and data-driven methods to select the means to achieve these goals provides the best chance to successfully educate each child. I have also been open and encouraging of input from parents and other concerned citizens with regard to the decision-making process of the board.

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

The most important step our district can take to improve educational outcomes for all students, but especially those at risk, is the rapid and effective implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s). PLC’s are a framework for teachers to work as teams, an essential component of which is provision of progressively more intense academic support individualized for each student. The curriculum to be taught must be defined and student learning assessed frequently with appropriate modification of the delivery of instruction for those students who have not yet learned the material. Each PLC defines the supports they will provide and are generally characterized by more adults spending more time with a child, such as through tutoring, communication with parents, and required extra study periods.

The dropout rate in our district is one of the lowest in the state. However, the number of students dropping out has been trending upward and although about half of those students end up in alternative educational settings (mostly community college), improved effort to retain students in school is needed. Steps that should be pursued include assuring academic success (e.g., through implementation of PLC’s, improving Career and Technical Education, and other academic support that allows students to catch up on failed courses such as through summer school and online credit recovery), alternatives to out of school suspension (e.g, Boomerang and Phoenix Academy), Positive Behavioral Support (which should help reduce suspension rates), counseling and/or referrals for treatment of substance abuse or mental health problems, provision of English as a Second Language instruction, close monitoring of at risk students, and mentoring for students without adequate parental support.

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?

Conflicts between parents and the school system arise most often when there are different understandings of what the schools should provide or when communications break down all together. This year has seen the remaking of the Special Needs Advisory Committee into a parent led group working closely with district personnel to improve education for children with special needs. I have served as the board’s liaison to the SNAC this past year and have seen this as an effective model for parental involvement in schools that should improve education by using the energy and determination of motivated parents to a positive end. The district also conducted a programmatic review of the Exceptional Children’s program. These two processes helped identify a number of areas for improvement. Despite a very difficult budget year, the board was able to fund an additional support person for children with special needs. The board should continue to review program effectiveness on a regular basis.

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

Our district has adopted a comprehensive sex education curriculum and I believe that is the appropriate curriculum. We accept Abstinence Until Marriage funds only to the extent that those funds support a component of our comprehensive sex education curriculum. Last year those funds supported the Baby Think It Over program, which uses infant simulators with the intent of reducing teen pregnancy. Some studies have questioned the effectiveness of this program to attain this goal so I favor a review of the continuation of this program in our district.

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?

Discipline should be administered equitably with the goal of education, remediation, and, when necessary, to assure the safety of students and staff. The district has extensive policies that detail procedures for student discipline which follow these principles. Over my tenure on the board, the district has decreased out-of-school suspension by supporting in school suspension programs at the high schools and partnering with the Boomerang program at the YMCA. Longer term suspended students are offered placement at Phoenix Academy, which offers a very low teacher-student ratio and intensive efforts to continue students’ education. The demand for Phoenix Academy has been increasing and I support expansion to meet the educational needs of children who are on long-term suspension. We also provide opportunities for online learning, summer school, and homebound instruction as appropriate to an individual student’s circumstances.

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

Parental involvement is an important component of education and a key element of student success. Our community has many very involved parents who help make our district successful. Parental involvement should be encouraged through open and proactive communications from teachers, principals, the school board, and other school staff. To increase parental involvement, parents should be told explicitly that their involvement is important and welcome. Parents should be reminded of ways to be involved, such as reading to their child. The district should expand its informational materials on what learning is taking place at each grade level and in each course. Parents should be kept informed of their child’s progress and provided with opportunities to receive information to help support their child’s education. There should be early and frequent efforts to communicate with the parents of any child who is not being successful; waiting for the results of end of year testing is much too late. Parents should be welcome in their child’s classroom and as volunteers in the school, which helps build the school community. For example, many parents have skills that can help enrich the classroom experience for all children. However, teachers and staff must direct the educational program and the privacy of other students must be protected.

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?

The district’s budgetary priorities should be aligned with district’s overall priorities. We are currently writing a new, five-year strategic plan and each year the board approves a set of goals on which the superintendent should focus. The overall theme of these guiding documents is student focused, primarily through improved learning. While many areas could be better funded, we have tried to retain funding for programs that support struggling students. In addition, during this past budget, we protected many programs from cuts and even increased funding for children with special needs. One area that has been found to be under-funded this year is the middle school academic afterschool program that provides academic enrichment and a safe environment for at risk children. This program has been demonstrated to be effective at improving student achievement and will need to be adequately funded in coming years.

To find the necessary resources to support needed programs, the board needs to review the goals and effectiveness of programs that have been supported in the past so that we fund programs that effectively improve student achievement. The board must assure that the district is spending available funds as efficiently as possible, such as through energy conservation measures and bidding of contracts. In addition, the board should have broad input from parents, teachers, administrators, and other members of the community during the budget process.

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?

The district does not have authority to regulate growth, only the obligation to educate all students who reside within our district. Carrboro High School opened this fall. Construction of Elementary School 10 has begun with planned opening in Fall 2008. Student enrollment projections indicate continued growth over the next 10 years. In addition, the class size for grades K-3 has been reduced by the state from 23 to 21 by the state, which requires more classrooms. The district’s recently approved 10-year Capital Investment Plan includes more than $270 million, mostly for new facility construction including an elementary school in 2010, a middle school in about 2013, expansion of Carrboro High School in 2014, another elementary school in 2017, plus new administrative offices and conversion of Lincoln Center to an alternative school. There is clearly much growth anticipated and that growth will be expensive and disruptive to the school district.

Two approaches should be followed to help manage growth. First, the school district should consider alternative approaches such as more efficient use of existing space. For example, the original design of several of our schools includes provisions for expansion and others might also be expanded rather than building on a new site. Second, the board should engage the county commissioners (who pay for new school construction) and the town boards (who approve new housing development plans) in discussions about the impacts of growth on schools. Although SAPFO is available to temporarily slow approval of new development if there are not adequate school facilities to support that development, it is not a tool designed to regulate growth. If the towns are going to continue to allow growth, we need to consider sources of funding that may extend beyond those currently available such as a bond and/or real estate transfer tax.

Finding land for new school sites is challenging in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. There are two additional sites designated for schools in the land Twin Creeks land owned by the county. Chapel Hill has a provision that has allowed the district to designate future school sites, which gives the district an opportunity to purchase sites prior to development. The board should request that Carrboro consider adopting a similar provision. The board should continue to encourage the county commissioners to fund a land bank for future needs, including schools. Finally, when necessary, the board can exercise the right of eminent domain, as was needed to build Carrboro High School in the southern end of the district.

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