Will Atherton | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Will Atherton 

Orange County Board of Education

Full Legal Name: William Atherton

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Will Atherton

Office Sought/District: Orange County Board of Education

Date of Birth: 04/19/1972

Home Address: 1621 Cavell Court, Hillsborough, NC 27278

Mailing Address (if different from home):

Campaign Web Site: www.willforschools.com

Occupation & Employer: Electrical Engineer / IBM

Years lived in Orange County: Over 8 years

Home Phone:919-732-4790

Work Phone:919-254-4709

Email: willaton@yahoo.com

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

The most important issue the Orange County School system is facing is the budget crisis at county, state and federal levels. Orange County Schools are funded by all three, and, with current budgets cuts and shortfalls, there is no indication of short-term improvement in the crisis.

The second issue is insuring the education of ALL children in our school system. We have made some progress toward closing the achievement gap, but we need to focus on implementing programs that will benefit all students of Orange County and continue to close the achievement gap.

The third issue is insuring the safety and security for all students and staff.

If elected I would first look at fiscal responsibility and implement realistic budget planning. I would also look at our current programs from a fact based perspective while generating new plans for programs with genuine focus on each child's education. I would work with vigilance to insure that Orange County School's children and staff are provided a safe learning environment, safe and reliable transportation, and campus and playground safety. This can be supported by networking with local EMS, police, Sherriff and other emergency agencies.

2. 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.

I believe in being open-minded and maintaining strong conviction with "hands-on" fact finding before making any decision.

Community involvement has always been a high priority for me. I have served on the board of directors for the Churton Grove Homeowners' Association over the last 8 years, where I was recently voted as the president of the HOA. As a board member and now the president I am responsible for all of our community business. I have focused on fiscal responsibility as I am responsible for the budgets and insuring dues are kept at a minimum. One key item for me has been "Buy Local" to support our community. By contract, the Churton Grove management company is required to use local businesses and resources to support the neighborhood. Other key items of focus are insuring safety of our community and handling the concerns of all community members with fair mindedness. I believe my experience in working for my neighborhood has given me direct experience on finance, budget, working with the community and insuring that everyone has a voice.

In 2009, I was named chair of the Sportsplex Community Advisory Committee to the Orange County Board of Commissioners. I have been an active member of this committee over the past 3 years and have focused on gaining better accessibility and affordability for all Orange County residents. I have been very active in the development and cost associations for the KidsPlex programs and membership. We worked with the County during planning and design of the Senior Center, and provided input during construction. This has given me direct experience working with the community, different groups within the county and the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

As a volunteer in local sports activities and classroom environments, I have gained insight into the way children interact and learn. I believe fostering positive, structured environments will help assure our children's success.

While completing my under-graduate studies at McNeese State University, I volunteered as a remedial math lab instructor, as well as a Percussion/Drum Core Instructor at a local High School. These experiences have shown me how important basic learning tools are in the success of our students. Enrichment and extra-curricular activities foster core values and responsibility in students, and implementing and sustaining these types of programs can lead to confidence and success with our students.

My position as an engineer with a global firm has offered experience working with colleges, companies and customers worldwide. My travels abroad have given me a unique view of the ever-changing marketplace. Developing multi-million dollar budgets, and subsequent budget cuts and trade-offs, gives me the advantage of seeing real-world application and impact of plans developed throughout the system. My background in research, development, data analysis and fact finding leads to a practical approach in budget planning. I believe that innovative thinking and practicality can be keys to success in Orange County Schools.

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

I define myself as a fact based decision maker who has no hidden agendas.

Gathering fact based data and references and making constructive suggestions have been my approach to addressing the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Orange County Board of Education, as well as the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners.

I presented a detailed layout proposing a new Kindergarten registration process online, including a sample website, parent checklists and detailed information needed to complete the registration process. Since the process has been implemented, it has helped alleviate the confusion and frustration some parents previously experienced when enrolling their child or children into Orange County Schools.

I brought forward to the Orange County Commissioners and Town of Hillsborough board concerns regarding the double water rate that out of town customers pay and on the effect that it has on our lower income and our senior populations. After many meetings with the town and county representatives and with other citizens who presented data, statistics and facts, the town reduced the double rate and created Water/Sewer Advisory Committee. The committee is comprised of in-town and out-of-town residents.

I presented findings to the School Board concerning the Orange County Schools after-school program, including emails, flyers and details of the program's cost structure. The findings concluded the program was charging for dates where camps were not offered, as well as identifying discrepancies in the registration process and communication to parents. The results of the findings prompted the program to refund the erroneous charges.

I have used this same strategy in my campaign. I believe in compiling information, sharing the findings, and making decisions after hearing all sides.

4. Academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) and exceptional children present particular educational challenges to the district. How well is the district 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?

Our County has a larger number of AIG children (higher than the state average). It becomes more challenging as state funds will not cover the needs of all our AIG children. We must focus on insuring that the AIG children are able to meet their full potential.

The current state budget crisis will create new challenges to reach more children while promoting diversity and sustaining the current AIG children.

As a parent of a child in the exceptional child program I understand the challenges and issues that face the school system. The program has shown improvement in our school system as a whole, but does not address the differing needs of each child. I feel that the program needs to improve on meeting the specific learning needs of each identified child and improve collaboration with families.

5. NC School Report Cards In 2008-09 show 79.1 percent of white students and 79.4 percent of Asians passing both reading and math EOG tests compared to just 44 percent of black students and 48.4 percent of Hispanics (lower than the state average). How will you work not only to close the achievement gap but to raise standards and produce results for all students? What specific plans and strategies would you implement to reach at-risk students and how quickly would you do it?

We need to insure that each child regardless of their background is getting the proper amount of content and time based on their specific needs. We need to look at newer proven programs to help the students and evaluate the effectiveness of these programs.

One program that could help children is to allow the student to have more time on the subjects that they are struggling with during different parts of the day versus only 1 focused hour a day.

We can't close the gap until we focus on the specific child and their needs as early in their education as possible. We need to insure that kids who are identified as at-risk are getting the support and encouragement that they need in order to succeeded.

I will work with all the other board members to come up with these new policies to help focus on all at risk children for the upcoming new school year and review the results on a regular basis.

6. What can the Orange County Board of Education learn from the Wake County School board's recent move for neighborhood schools and ending busing to create racial diversity? What's your position on this issue?

While the Orange County School system does not face the unique challenges presented in Wake County, I believe and fully support diversity in our schools. The focus of the school board should be meeting the needs of all students in the county and providing resources in the areas that will best support the students.

7. What method would you use to determine how resources should be allocated within the school system? Do you believe that resources are well now? If not, what would you change? Building off of that, how will you balance upcoming budgets during these economic times? What's one thing that is currently overfunded that could be cut?

I feel gaining more input from the teachers and administrations at each school would provide insight to meeting the challenges in allocating resources in our school system.

Based on my current understanding we are doing well in the current budget crisis. Significant funding decreases have taken place over the last 2 years with the state elimination funding in a number of programs, e.g. text book allocations and driver's education funding. Currently the budget is balanced with no planned staffing loses. One item that I feel needs more focus is grant writing, which could help provide more funds to improve our education system. I understand that several years back when the public information officer position was established, that the intent was to split efforts as 50% public information and 50% on grant writing. I think we should take another look at the feasibility of this arrangement. This would allow us to not only apply for more grant money but also allow us to recoup the funds allocated for that position for additional budget savings.

We need to first focus resources on assuring the safety and security of all the children. Second we need to focus on the children with the greatest needs.

9. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

My family and I are strong believers in giving back to the community and helping all of its members. I was born and raised in a small Louisiana town, similar to our communities in Orange County. Learning to drive a tractor at a very young age was required in my family, long before we were able to obtain a driver's license. My public school education provided the ground work for me to gain my under-graduate degrees at McNeese State University, Masters degree at NC State University and the opportunity for employment at IBM. I want our public school system to provide the same for our children.

10. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.

My focus in office would solely be on the students of Orange County Schools. While I understand that decisions will not always be popular with voters, I will not let that affect my ability to make solid, researched decisions in the best interest of our children. It would be irresponsible to make decisions that directly affect so many families in our county, based on popularity or special interests. I will be fair, transparent and informed.

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