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Chatham school board candidate Mia Munn responses to Democratic party questionaire

Posted Sunday, October 26, 2014

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham County Democratic Party sent a questionnaire on education issues to all candidates for the Chatham County School Board. School Board candidate Mia Munn has given the Chatham Journal permission to reprint her responses here.

1.Why are you interested in serving on the Chatham Board of Education?

I have been involved with Chatham County Schools for over 25 years as a parent of students in the system and as a concerned community member. For the past 6 years, I have been attending school board meetings and sharing the information I collect at those meetings through social media. I have asked questions about the budget and policy. I have been an informal advocate for parents, students, and school staff. I have been involved in the district’s Raising Achievement/Closing the Gap task force, participated in community work sessions for the district’s strategic plan, served on the district budget committee, and was a subcommittee member for the district accreditation process. In addition, I mentored an at-risk student from Northwood for the graduation project through Chatham County Together and was an assessor for graduation project presentations at Jordan Mathews. Now I want the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table, and serve the county more directly as a school board member. I believe my background, particularly my experience with budgets and data management, provide a valuable perspective that no one on the current board possesses.

2.What do you see are the major issues facing public education this year?

My focus will be on improving education here in the Chatham County Schools. The major issue here is to continue to improve the delivery of a quality education to every child. On a state and national level, there are discussions about the Common Core standards, student testing, teacher evaluations, teacher compensation, tenure, and many other issues. I regularly read education research and news, and pass information on to the district administration. I believe my background knowledge of these issues will be a great benefit to the board and the district.

3.How do you perceive the county’s role in influencing state education policy, particularly as it related to the funding of schools and policies affecting teacher working conditions?

The school board needs to keep informed about proposed legislation that affects the local school personnel and students, including the development of the state budget. There are times when the local board should weigh in on issues with a resolution in support of or opposition to a particular proposal. If a resolution is appropriate, the board should ensure that the language in any model resolution provided by an outside group accurately reflects this board’s view. The board should always see the final language of a resolution before adopting it. The board may not want to weigh in on every issue that groups outside of the county request them to. At the same time, the school board and district administration need to focus on what is in their direct control, by using the funding that is available wisely and by creating a school climate that fosters student learning. Leaders throughout our county, including the past and current county commissioners of both parties and the current chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, have been advocates for improving education for all students. This bi- partisan consensus is a great benefit to the district.

4.What is your position on:

a.Online virtual charter schools:

The state board of education recognized that online education is a valid method of providing instruction when they authorized the North Carolina Virtual Public School, which has served North Carolina students, including students in Chatham County, since 2007. President Obama, in his proclamation of National Charter School Week earlier this year said “charter schools have the ability to try innovative approaches to teaching and learning…. those that are successful can provide effective approaches for the broader public education system. They can show what is possible -- schools that give every student the chance to prepare for college and career and to develop a love of learning that lasts a lifetime.” Since online instruction is a recognized instructional model in North Carolina and a virtual charter school could provide lessons in the use of online instruction to traditional public schools, I believe virtual charter school applications should be evaluated on the same basis and with the same requirements as other charter school applications.

b. Vouchers and education tax credits:

The Opportunity Scholarship program should complete litigation before implementation. Some states have found their voucher and tax credit programs constitutional and other have found them unconstitutional, so I leave it to the courts to decide if this program is legal under North Carolina’s constitution. It does appear that if this program is not permissible, then the special education programs (previous tax credits implemented in 2011 and current Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grants implemented in January 2014) would also be unconstitutional, but no group has challenged the these programs.

c. Current funding for public schools:

I heard former State Superintendent Mike Ward speak this summer at an education workshop sponsored by the North Carolina Council of Churches. He ended his address by saying “There is no magic pot of money. We can’t do everything. We have to make hard choices on how to spend the budget.” That is why we have to focus on and only spend money on the most productive programs to improve education. Since even a small tax increase would be a hardship for many Chatham County families, we need to ensure we are spending all of our available funds in the best way possible before considering the need for additional funding. Chatham County has been one of the top districts statewide for local funding for at least the past 15 years. I hope we can continue that trend to provide significant local funding to our district. Considering all funding sources, our per pupil funding is above the state average despite not being eligible for some state funds because Chatham is not a low-wealth county or a small district. We must continue to seek other ways to meet the needs of our school system.

d. Merit pay for teachers:

Teachers are professionals, not interchangeable cogs in a machine. Not every role in a school system is as hard to fill, or requires the same training, or has the same challenges, so I support differential pay, particularly for hard to fill positions such as Physics, world languages, and special education, and for teachers working in schools with more challenging populations. This school year, Chatham is implementing a school-based merit pay system, the first of its kind in the state. I am also interested in exploring programs like Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Project LIFT that extends the reach of excellent teachers and their teams with increased pay without increasing

the budget. I support school systems trying out different models for merit pay, and learning from each other to expand the best models to reward teachers.

e. A-F grading system for schools:

North Carolina’s previous school rating scheme, which used terms like School of Excellence or School of Progress, was confusing and unclear. Without a reference guide, there was no way of knowing what the labels meant. An A-F grading system uses a familiar frame of reference, which makes it easier for parents to understand. I believe that any rating system should consider both absolute achievement and student growth.

f. Employee transfer policy:

Board policy 7440 ASSIGNMENTS, REASSIGNMENTS AND TRANSFERS says: Voluntary and involuntary transfers will be made in accordance with course requirements, fluctuating enrollments, allotment, efforts to improve student performance, and the general welfare of the school district. The interests and aspirations of employees will be considered in making assignments and transfer decisions; however, such interests must be weighed against what is in the best interest of the students, school or school district. Employees will be informed of transfer decisions as soon as reasonably feasible.

The superintendent will establish and communicate administrative procedures for voluntary and involuntary transfers. The chief personnel officer will oversee the transfer process. An employee may appeal a transfer decision to the board. The board generally will uphold transfer decisions made in accordance with this policy that are not arbitrary, capricious, political or discriminatory.

This reasonable policy balances the needs of the district and schools with the desires of the teacher.

g. Local Supplements:

Some North Carolina districts do not provide any local supplement. Chatham’s local supplement is a flat amount based on years of experience. This is more attractive to early career teachers, which makes it easier to recruit new teachers. The county commissioners have increased the local supplement when the school board requested it, and at least once without the board’s request. I believe it is important to continue local supplements and increase them as possible so that we can compete with surrounding counties for the best teachers for our students.

h. Tenure / due process:

The National Council on Teacher Quality says, “Obtaining tenure status should be meaningful and the due process should be reasonable.” I agree with that statement. There is movement nationwide away from tenure, including a recent decision in California that struck down that state’s tenure law. In North Carolina, the removal of career status for teachers who already have it was ruled unconstitutional, but early career teachers will have shorter term (one to four year) contracts instead of career status. The current due process protections have not changed, and have always been applicable to probationary teachers and staff on contracts. New teachers tend to significant improvements over the first five to ten years of their careers, so shorter contracts during that period make sense.

i. Diversity goals:

I believe Chatham County Schools should continue or expand its efforts in minority recruitment such as recruiting at historically black colleges and universities, and should implement a “grow your own” strategy, nurturing CCS graduates who are entering education. The bottom line in hiring decisions has to be who is best qualified to teach. All personnel need to believe that all students can learn; I have unfortunately heard comments (and minority parents have told me of comments) by CCS staff that disparaged the ability of children in certain groups. That should not be tolerated, and a pattern of those comments and behavior should be grounds for removal.

5. How do you describe your values?

I value my family, my church, God, and serving others. I have spent almost two decades as a scout leader, and scouting has influenced my values. I strive to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent, but I do not always succeed as well as I’d like.

6. What are your thoughts about the NCGA’s legislative policy and education?

The legislature’s approach to the Common Core standards was a good one: people across the political spectrum have concerns about the standards, but rejecting them outright would have caused confusion and turmoil this year. Empowering a commission to study the standards and revise them as needed provide the due diligence that the State Board of Education should have done before the standards were adopted in 2010 only days after they were released. Many of the legislative changes in recent years (school ratings, teacher evaluations, student testing) are part of the accountability movement supported by presidents in both parties over the past 30 years. There were many possible ways of increasing teacher salaries, each with pros and cons. Focusing pay raises on early career teachers will have a more positive impact on the average pay and on recruiting then if the available funds had been distributed evenly across all employees. I believe that there is a commitment to continue to improve teacher pay in the coming years.

7. What are your thoughts about the current GOP’s majority’s policies regarding public education?

Education should not be made a partisan issue. I agree with Whitney Tilson, one of the founders of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) that “We must change the debate from Republicans vs. Democrats to those who defend the educational status quo vs. those who demand more for our children.” The current GOP majority on the county commissioners has been very supportive of public education. The same can be said of the Democratic majority of Chatham County’s past. The current school board chair, Karen Howard, has agreed that the commissioners have provided everything the board has asked for. Everyone I know, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Unaffiliated, values education and believes our schools have a big role in improving society. I want to work together with anyone who shares my dedication to deliver an excellent education to every student in the Chatham County Schools.

8. What should the Chatham Board of Education be doing today in order to meet the expected historic growth of the county?

The board should be discussing its philosophy for new schools. Do we want K-8 schools or separate elementary and middle schools? Should there be multi-school campuses, with separate schools sharing the same site? What is the best size for future schools? We have used Or/ED as consultants for a number of years, but they have used some questionable assumptions in the past (such as linear charter school growth for the period when there was a charter school cap). I would explore if there other consultants who can help guide discussions on the need for new schools. I would keep in close contact with Siler City and the western mega-site and with the site in Moncure working on that designation as well as with the Chatham Park developers.

9. In determining where to locate new schools in the county, what would be your top five considerations?

My priorities in siting new schools are minimizing the length of bus rides for students, keeping communities/neighborhoods together, safe road access, building for longer term (at least 15 years out) projected population, and coordinating school locations with parks and other recreational space like greenways or libraries.

10. Our lowest performing schools (in terms of standardized test scores) are also those schools with the highest concentration of both socio economically disadvantaged students and English Language Learners. What strategies, including student assignment changes, would you recommend to ensure progress for those at-risk students and a supportive teaching environment for staff?

The most important factors for student achievement are teachers and curriculum. Though these are important for all students, they are especially important for at risk students who may not have the same supports at home. CCS currently does not have any incentives to work in the most challenging schools, though other systems have implemented them. Charlotte-Mecklenburg is using “Opportunity Culture” changes in how instruction is delivered in some of its high-needs schools to extend the reach and impact of the best teachers, while rewarding those teachers by with significant pay increases. I would explore the possibility of bringing a program like that to our high-needs schools. I would also ensure that the curriculum is rich in history, science, arts, and literature, to systematically build rich content knowledge grade by grade. This curriculum approach has been shown to improve achievement and aligns with the requirements of the Common Core standards. Narrowing the curriculum and focusing on test prep is counter-productive. Instead, we should integrate history, science, and the arts into the literacy blocks in the elementary grades. I would also look at aligning school-wide behavior / leadership programs across the schools that feed into each high school, to give students and teachers a common language with common expectations for academic behavior.

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Chatham school board candidate Mia Munn responses to Democratic party questionaire
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