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Chatham School Board interviews applicants to fill Gerald Totten's seat

By Mia Munn
Posted Friday, February 5, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham County school board interviewed five applicants to fill Gerald Totten's open seat on Thursday evening. Each was interviewed for 15 minutes, with the same questions. They were interviewed in alphabetical order, and were not present to hear the questions before their own interview.

Quick summary of questions asked of candidates -
• Why do you want to be on the school board?
• Give your assessment of the district, both facilities and academics.
• The strategic plan focuses on academic goals like 3rd grade reading and closing the achievement gap. How would you address that?
• There are budget cuts coming. What are your recommendations?
• What would you change about the district?
• What skills do you bring to the board?
• What is the single biggest issue facing the district?
• Why are you qualified to be on the board?
• What else would you like to tell us?

Mary Harris
• Taught 3rd grade at Bennett for 14 years, then worked in various administration roles (dropouts, 504, diversity training) for 19 yrs before retiring last year.
• Brings her experience, listening skills, and public speaking to the board.
• Some school facilities need work - concerns about mold, mildew, and dust, but money is an issue
• Academics - focus on reading
• Hire the brightest and best teachers that also reflect the diversity of the students.
• Last thing to cut should be direct services to children.
• What should be changed - talked about race and culture. Improve the climate of the schools.
• Brings experience as a teacher to the board.
• Spend money better, use consensus to make the decisions.
• Varied experience in education, and lots of ideas.
• The board needs a listening ear for critical conversations.

Jonathan Hart
• Father interested in helping his children (2 young kids) succeed. Get involved in schools to facilitate that, to help students become productive.
• Schools are up-to-date, though there are still needs (gyms at some schools). New school will help out the Northeast. New high school needed at some point (economic slowdown)
• Rural county - doesn't get enough praise for the good things.
• Scout leader - sees how kids grow. Some kids need special attention to be successful.
• Schools and family - need community encouragement. Increase parental involvement for minority improvement.
• Cut staff last. Look at certain programs. Athletics important but look at them. Move students to less crowded schools before building new ones. Compare the cost of repair/renovation and new construction.
• Review the necessity, usage, and effectiveness of programs. Look at non-college bound students - trade/tech programs.
• Personal experience, technical background, how the world works in business. Scout leader.
• Issue - graduation rate needs to be at least 90%
• No agenda to bring to the board - wants to see kids succeed. Kids want to learn. Not an education - experience in the business world. Need to be ready for life.
• Admired Col Totten who was very personable. Read to daughter's class recently - light in their eyes. Community needs to pay attention to the kids.

Gary Leonard
• Grew up around schools - lived across the street, gym rat. School people were mentors and friends. Led him to want to help young people - teach and volunteer.
• School board the best opportunity to give back. His 2 kids well prepared by CCS for college and grad school.
• Facilities continue to improve over last 10 years, but still more to do.
• Academically - continue to improve on testing and give kids opportunities to excel.
• Dropout prevention - mentoring. As 9th grade English teacher, saw that lack of success in 9th grade English and Math greatly increased dropouts, so focus there.
• Big not always better – keep schools a good size so students are known
• Reading – 3rd grade in particular. Early help, specialists.
• Look for more stimulus money (laugh)
• Classroom teachers are the front line, favors smaller class sizes. Bureaucracy – look at all areas. Mr. Logan should talk to other superintendants for budget ideas. Watch out for my program/my school – some things have to be cut.
• Kids like structure, but change can be good.
• Infrastructure – aging schools.
• Start early on the basics.
• Learn from other districts.
• Will vote his conscience. Do what is best for students and parents, for each child.
• Concern for all areas of the county.
• Do the best thing that is morally correct – sometimes you have to say No.
• Community schools. County is growing but keep community schools. Not size, but community involvement. Stay small without growing too big.
• School board is a hard job. You’d like to do everything everyone wants. As a teacher and athletic director, learned to stay civil, work through disagreements to agree to disagree.
• Mentors, use volunteers.

Carlos Simpson
• 2 teenage sons
• Brings ideas and perspectives as an African American and a Hispanic.
• Bachelors in Psychology – mediator and arbitrator.
• Involved in community organizations – was asked by community members to apply
• Does not know much about the schools or the school board
• Would need to do an assessment to know what to do about budget or strategic plan
• Diverse community, growing Hispanic population as well as African Americans and Caucasians.
• Emphasize Hispanic needs – bilingual teachers and assistants, help families.
• Arbitrator and mediator – use skills on board to better schools.
• Bilingual – help Spanish-speaking students
• Provide a diverse face on the board.
• Increase achievement for Hispanic students
• Bring fresh view, diverse view, and community service.

Trudy Walters
• Taught in CCS for 30 years. Gave life to schools and schools gave back.
• Learned how schools work, worked in different roles: teacher, administrator (helped develop SAGE Academy), Teacher Assistant, substitute.
• Thought of running for board in the past but had family issues (no longer issue)
• Asked by community members to apply and has support from husband
• Good schools and teachers in district
• In schools as substitute – schools are clean and well-maintained. Seeks out janitors to compliment them.
• Knows JM students do well in college. Friends at Chatham Central and Northwood report their students do well.
• Hard-working teachers led by principals to do the right things.
• Principal told teachers “have a classroom you would want your own child in”
• CCS is better than it looks on paper. Took part in Principals’ Executive Program – CCS compared favorably to other districts.
• Room for improvement – need leadership.
• Teachers need to teach. They have the training and tools – need the time.
• Use retired teachers as mentors and to cover duties to free up teachers.
• Reading gap – starts at the beginning.
• Encourage, not fuss at people.
• Did ESL testing – sees progress kids make
• Budget cuts – feel those cuts at home
• Last place to cut is direct contact with students.
• Look at master schedule to have filled, but not overcrowded classrooms.
• Eliminate one if two people doing the same job – don’t just keep people because they’ve always worked her.
• Look at ways of spending different funds (federal, state) to equalize loads.
• Look at job duties.
• Focus on the teachers – retain good teachers and recruit good teachers.
• Teachers must have subject knowledge and classroom management.
• Ongoing mentoring.
• It’s not about the money. It’s about how teachers feel about their job.
• Diverse perspective – Chatham Central, Siler City Elementary, SAGE, Assistant, Teacher, Administrator, Sub, worked under grant-funding.
• Likes the people of Chatham – both sides
• Works with NC Arts Incubator, Boys and Girls Club
• Experienced educator and loves education
(Ran out of time to get to last 2 questions)

The school board will make a decision on the appointment during its meeting on Monday, February 8, at the central office. The open session starts at at 6:30 p.m.

Mia Munn is a former educator who ran for the Chatham County school board on 2008.

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Chatham School Board interviews applicants to fill Gerald Totten's seat
Chatham School Board Chairman Deb McManus.
News Unofficial Chatham County Schools site

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