CHAPEL HILL — Eight people — two current school board members and six new candidates — have thrown their hat in the ring for four open seats on Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ Board of Education.
Current board members Mike Kelley and Jamezetta Bedford decided to not seek re-election.
Joal Broun, one of the candidates, did not respond to requests for an interview before the publication deadline. A brief profile of Broun may be published in a later issue of The Chapel Hill Herald.
Here’s a look at seven of the candidates:
Rani Dasi has lived in Chapel Hill for about eight years. She has four kids — three who are enrolled in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system and one who will be enrolled next year.
Dasi said she spent time learning the issues that affect the school district and felt she could contribute by getting involved.
“I also feel like education is so foundational to society, and it affects everything, from medical outcomes to violence against women to violence in general and other issues in the community,” she said.
Dasi’s background is in corporate finance and strategy, which she thinks could help in an atmosphere that is always constrained by a budget.
Dasi said she can see the board cares about people, but she thinks it could improve on its communication and transparency.
She also said she wants to prioritize the achievement gap, which she thinks has been a persistent problem for far too long.
Dasi said the district needs to show it values its teachers so in turn teachers can show they have high expectations of all students.
She also said she thinks early childhood development is a key piece in closing the achievement gap.
“There’s a lot of data that shows kids start kindergarten behind, and so there’s such a cumulative effect on learning that it’s hard to catch up,” she said. “So how do we as a district engage, identify and help those children and their families early?”
She said that although the school system receives many accolades, she also wants to be a voice on the school board to make sure the schools are serving all students.
Theresa Watson grew up in Chapel Hill and attended Frank Porter Graham Elementary when it was still an all-black school.
She moved to the D.C. area where she had four of her six children, but returned to Chapel Hill around 2000.
Watson said she has wanted to run for school board for a while but didn’t think she could properly serve while also running a household. Now that her children are grown, she said she’s ready to contribute.
She has long volunteered with students, tutoring them in math and reading and even bringing them to school.
“I know you can’t do anything without a high school diploma,” she said, adding that she’s willing to do extra to make sure students are able to succeed.
Watson said she wants to join the school board to contribute to fairness.
She said she feels that the school board isn’t engaged with all parts of the community.
“It’s important to actually know the community they’re supposed to be supporting,” she said.
Watson said she believes all students can learn but that their desire to learn is dependent upon interactions they have at school with their teachers.
She said teachers need to show they have high expectations for all students.
“I think we can get much more out of our students if they know the expectation is genuine,” she said.
Watson compares schooling to mothering. With her children, she had 18 years to create a solid foundation, she said. She said the schools must create a solid foundation for their students during the time between kindergarten and 12th grade.
Margaret Samuels has lived in Chapel Hill for 10 years. Her son has been in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools since kindergarten, and he now attends East Chapel Hill High School.
Samuels has been involved in the schools in the past and has experience as a PTA president.
She feels she can contribute to the school board through both her personal and professional experience.
For years, Samuels worked at the Orange Partnership for Young Children, which directed Smart Start and other early childhood development funds for the county.
Through this and her other professional experience, she is used to leveraging existing funds to meet goals.
“I’ve worked to ensure that we can keep children in as high quality an environment possible with limited funds,” she said.
Samuels said she wants to focus on instructional excellence as a means of closing the achievement gap, whether this comes through professional development, pay or other means of support for teachers.
She also hopes to increase the board’s transparency because the board is a steward of taxpayers’ education funds.
Samuels also said she likes to ask questions and talk to every stakeholder so she has better and more complete information before making decisions.
Samuels’ main goal, she said, is to build a system that creates lifelong learners.
“Through the lens of high expectation, every child can do and can succeed, and we can provide the support that’s necessary for them to succeed,” she said.
Annetta Streater was first appointed to the school board in 2006 and has been re-elected since then.
Streater first came to Chapel Hill as a student at UNC, but she later came back and began to get involved in the community.
Streater said she continues to be excited about the work the school board is doing. She said she likes providing an environment in which students can thrive and find out not only what they need to do to be successful, but also what they enjoy doing.
She said that if elected to another term, she is ready to tackle the challenges that persist for the school board, such as the achievement gap and the uncertain budget climate.
Streater said two things that have been helping and will continue to help close the achievement gap are professional development for teachers and resources for students that allow them to be self-reflective about their goals.
She also said the current board members are collaborating with other counties to try to press the legislature for a finished budget.
One of the positive things the board has done during her time, Streater said, is taking away prohibitive prerequisite requirements for certain advanced courses.
Streater said she feels students shouldn’t be judged on past performance and should be allowed to enroll in a class if they are interested in the material.
As a board member, Streater said she looks at decisions from a standpoint of equity, or providing services at the level students and families need them. She said that fairness, which she views as making the same decisions for everyone, doesn’t solve all problems. Instead, she tries to advocate for equity within the district.
She also said she tries to advocate for more widespread opportunities in schools by asking the question, “How can this opportunity be provided for all?”
About 11 years ago, Gregg Gerdau moved to Chapel Hill from Silicon Valley because of the schools.
He said he conducted a nationwide search of the best school systems and ended up landing in Chapel Hill.
One of his children has already graduated, and he has two dual-enrolled at East Chapel Hill High and Chapel Hill High.
Gerdau said he has seen changes over time in the school system and thinks the district could be better.
He has a background as an executive for several different companies, as well as experience working with startups. Now, he works as a consultant to companies who are looking to grow.
Gerdau said he wants to use his background to help with technology decisions in the district. He wants to ensure that the district is making decisions that will benefit both students and the schools in the long run.
He also said his experience with startups and managing large budgets could be a positive contribution to the board. He feels he could help the district use its resources to its best advantage.
He also sees teacher recruitment and retention as a major problem and is supportive of Project Advance, a new initiative proposed by the district to reward teachers for training and longevity.
“We’ll probably always have to somewhere figure out how to do more with less,” he said. “That’s the way startups are built.”
Pat Henrich moved from Mebane to Chapel Hill in October.
A North Carolina native, Heinrich has lived all around the world, but he decided to settle in Chapel Hill both so his four-year-old can attend school here and because of the engaged community,
Heinrich, who works as an IT consultant, wanted to get involved in the community, as well. He had volunteer experience teaching a GED class. He decided to run for school board to help create a system where fewer have to work for their GED later in life.
Heinrich said he is worried the school system isn’t changing quickly enough to meet the needs of a community that grows more diverse every day. He said that although he thinks the school system is getting better at meeting the community’s needs, it can do more to address the needs of lower achievers without sacrificing higher achievers.
He said that he is a good person to help communicate with a diverse population because he has lived in many different countries and seen the global workforce of the future.
Heinrich is an advocate for teacher training and believes there should be a more holistic approach to evaluating teacher accountability rather than only relying on test scores.
But, he said, the district needs to make sure to close the gap on teacher training, making sure it is actually implemented and making a difference in the schools.
He believes that to help with the achievement gap, the district could implement simple, low-cost changes, such as partnering with nonprofits to help with family involvement.
“Being bold, trying new things — we’ve got to do this,” he said. “We can’t just wait for the funding to return because that’s probably not in the foreseeable future for us.”
David Saussy has lived in Chapel Hill for 10 years after moving from Raleigh.
He has two children, one in fourth grade at Glenwood Elementary and one in sixth grade at Culbreth Middle.
Saussy first got involved in the schools by volunteering in his children’s classrooms, but soon also joined the School Improvement Team.
When a seat on the school board became vacant last year after Mia Day Burroughs was elected as a County Commissioner, Saussy applied for the vacancy.
Saussy said he got involved to broaden his involvement and because he wanted “to do all that I can do to improve the performance of the district and everybody and all the students in the district.”
Saussy works in corporate development at GlaxoSmithKline and is also a professionally trained scientist. He said this background gives him experience in working with a diverse population, as well as an ability to make decisions based on empirical data.
Saussy said the board is addressing the achievement gap by increasing rigor across the board.
He said that although he believes improvements have been made in equity across the district, there is still more work to be done.
He said he also believes universal pre-K could help with the achievement gap, but the district is limited in how many pre-K slots it can offer because of funding.
Saussy said he believes the district needs to look into creative ways it could offer more instruction, such as more summer school programs or a longer school year.
He is an advocate for a newly proposed plan called Project Advance that will “reinforce the great things that teachers do.”
Contact Katie Jansen: firstname.lastname@example.org, 919-419-6675