School board candidates voice platforms at forum

Sep. 29, 2013 @ 06:42 AM

Literacy, closing the achievement gap, strengthening the district’s infrastructure and supporting teachers were among the topics discussed during the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools candidate forum last week.
School board incumbents Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett, the chair and vice chair of the board, gave their platforms alongside two new candidates, Andrew Davidson and Ignacio Tzoumas, who promised to bring change to the district if elected.
Voters will elect three school board members from the field.
In his opening statement, Barrett said that he wants to deliver on the promises he made when he was elected two years ago and keep accountability in the equation to help foster positive change.
“The strategic plan of the superintendent (Tom Forcella) will take the district in the right direction and Common Core has the skills students need to be successful,” Barrett said.
Brownstein stands by her belief that educational success should be afforded to all students and that this can be accomplished partly by identifying and supporting programs that help students succeed.
“I believe that all children can and will realize their potential,” Brownstein said. “The challenge will be implementing the superintendent’s plan with less resources.”
Davidson said that his commitment to public school excellence was part of the reason that he and his wife moved their family to Chapel Hill and that he wants to have an impact that tradition.
“I believe I have the right reasons and passion for public schools,” he said. “My number one focus is to focus on the achievement gap. We also have to have measurable goals so that plans are executed properly.”
Tzoumas said that he moved to the area six years ago for reasons similar to Davidson and offers something that the other candidates don’t.
“This is a great school system and I am a big supporter of the public education system,” Tzoumas said. “The best and most successful board’s have diversity. I can bring this diversity to the board as a first generation Mexican-American who went from being a below-average student to an Ivy League graduate.”
The questions posed to the candidates came from the sponsoring organization, the League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham and Chatham counties, as well as the audience.
The extent of teacher support was questioned when asked if they would support a teacher walk-out in response to recent legislation that many feel devalues the public school teacher.
“I’d say look in your heart and see what’s right,” Davidson said. “But also be able to accept the consequences of those choices. Those who tout a free market don’t help recruit teachers when we’re 48th in the nation for teacher pay.”
Barrett’s mother is a teacher, and he said that the current state of education in North Carolina is disheartening.
“Dr. Forcella is doing things creatively with the money that we have and looking at different models of how to change that compensation,” he said. “I am heartened that we are creatively thinking about these issues.”
Smaller classes were brought up when the candidates were asked what they would do about the growing number of students to a dwindling number of teachers.
“As long as we’re anticipating that, we can hedge out funding so they’re mitigated and not so severe,” Tzoumas said.
“I’ve seen the state dismantle the allocations,” Brownstein said. “I’m absolutely committed to keeping teacher assistants but that money is being obliterated. Anything I can do to protect that I will.”
“It’s certainly not without its challenges,” Barrett added. “There are three schools who are doing things creatively with time to address this,” including staggering the school day for different grade levels.
“This is a long-term issue but I would ask for more allocations,” said Davidson. “We share the same goal, but we’re constrained by reality.”
Brownstein promised to “continue to focus on success for every child and be mindful of what that means.”
Tzoumas said that he would focus on equity, communication and innovation to help teachers without becoming a burden and addressing the district’s infrastructure.
Davidson said that he is “highly passionate about public education” and that he “believes in working hard with my community and working hard and honestly with voters.”
Barrett added that he would “encourage continued communication” between the district and the public, “a real two-way conversation” about how one can help the other.