Name as it appears on the ballot: Barbara Fedders
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: barbarafedders.org
Occupation & employer: Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Youth Justice Clinic, University of North Carolina School of Law
Years lived in the area: Fifteen years in the great town of Carrboro.
- In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position?
I want to help the district provide excellent, equitable education. I have unique professional and personal experiences the Board needs. Since 2008, I’ve taught at UNC School of Law, where I direct the Youth Justice Clinic. My students and I advocate for court-involved youth, helping them access needed services. I’ve seen and researched the centrality of a positive school experience to the healthy development of a child and the class and race disparities that interfere with that experience. A long-time child advocate, I will center students in making and implementing policies. A long-time practicing attorney, I can effectively evaluate policies and practices against their stated goals.
My 16- and 11-year-old daughters have attended CHCCS since kindergarten. I’m personally familiar with what our schools do well and what we must work on. A member of the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve researched issues faced by LGBTQ+ youth. Republicans are actively discriminating against gay and trans kids, so this perspective matters; the Board hasn’t had an LGBTQ person in decades.
My priorities are ensuring rigorous, research-based instruction, measuring excellence by more than test scores and improving curriculum for students who don’t plan to go to college. We need to ensure Black and Brown students, students with disabilities, multi-language learners, and low-income students have what they need to succeed. Our state has terrible pay for educators, so we must find creative ways to recruit, retain, and diversify our staff. We need to prioritize safety and wellness for students and staff. I’d like us to organize other school boards in pushing back against Republican attacks on public education. We need more effective partnerships with local, county, and state agencies to collaborate on improving transportation and affordable housing for families and staff. These partnerships are also crucial to ensuring our students can access community-based resources.
2. Given the direction of the school district, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
In important respects, yes! The district has a good strategic plan with clear goals against which initiatives can be measured. It has hired qualified people to help implement its racial equity initiatives. The Board has shown an awareness of barriers to participation in school district decision-making and the need to make meetings more accessible. The district is providing information in a wider variety of formats, using video and apps along with email to ensure as broad an audience as possible receives key information. Graduation rates have improved.
Yet, we have a long way to go. It’s too often still the case that a student’s race and (dis)ability determine their academic outcomes. Our curricular offerings haven’t kept pace with the rapidly changing job market. We haven’t effectively grappled with the academic and mental-health impacts of smart phones and social media. There’s too much reliance on technology in teaching and not enough reading entire books and writing long papers. Our K-5 teachers have begun doing explicit, direct literacy instruction, but it’s still the case that too many of our students aren’t proficient readers. As the parent of a high-schooler, I’m dismayed that there seems to be very little teaching done in AP courses after the AP exams. What about project-based learning? Community service? I don’t like that high school feels optional in the latter part of May. We need an artificial-intelligence policy; AI poses many challenges – teachers must create assignments that can’t be done by Chat GPT, for example – but also opportunities. My university has adopted guidelines for teachers and students, and we need something similar. I’d also like us to re-commit to sustainability. We need to investigate solarization possibilities for CHCCS facilities. Our district should prioritize decreasing food waste, composting the food that is wasted, and expanding school gardens. In addition, we should promote walking and biking to school, while disincentivizing driving. To get there, we should study other school districts around the country that are exemplary in addressing the climate crisis. Being integrated into the planning structures of both towns and the county will help in this regard.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
- The district has prioritized equity, and it has committed to using data as a tool in measuring it. This is good! We need to regularly and scrupulously evaluate all our programs and initiatives to determine whether they advance equity aims. Let’s not continue with programs that are window dressing; let’s commit to really moving the needle on improving proficiency across racial groups and among students with disabilities.
- Staff! Students can’t achieve without positive relationships with their teachers and everyone they work with. We have staff shortages everywhere. This is bad for students, because it often means either larger class sizes than optimal or short-term substitute teachers. And it’s really bad for teachers, who are being asked to teach an extra class to make up for the deficits. We have to protect planning time for teachers, find ways to create wellness days for them, and make sure they get the professional development they need. We need a permanent corps of high-quality substitute teachers to make this happen. The raises passed by Republicans in Raleigh are insulting. This means we need to find ways other than salary to incentivize longevity in teaching. Let’s collaborate with town officials on new housing initiatives so our staff can afford to live in the district they serve.
- Being visionary. It’s the job of the Board to be looking ahead – anticipating capital needs, finding ways to bring together school boards across the state to advance public education needs in the state legislature, and forging new partnerships with local and state elected officials on housing, transportation, and provision of community-based services to our students.
4. Describe something you think the school board should have prioritized differently in the current budget. Do you think the budget supports students from lower income families as well as from affluent families? Does the budget meet the district’s infrastructure and staffing needs?
I applaud the fact that the school board prioritized raises and benefits increases for staff in the last budget. Students from affluent families have access to tutoring, high-quality summer enrichment, ACT and SAT prep, and out-of-school extracurriculars. Absent the funding provided through the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate Program – which involves only a small percentage of students – the school district budget does not fund similar programs for lower-income students. We face significant infrastructure needs that the County will need to assist with; many of our buildings need substantial maintenance if not replacement.
5. Does the General Assembly have a constitutional obligation to comply with the state Supreme Court order in the Leandro case to fully fund public schools and give every child in North Carolina a sound basic education? What other policies should lawmakers enact at the state level to strengthen public education?
The General Assembly has shirked its constitutional obligation under Leandro to fully fund public schools since the case was decided in 1997. Given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, it looks like they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future without consequence. As for other policies – basically, everything the Republicans have enacted in the recent past has been bad for public education. The expansion of tuition vouchers for private schools will continue to drain money that should go to public school. So too the elimination of caps on enrollment and accountability measures in charter schools. The horrendous “Parents’ Bill of Rights” requires book-banning, restricts teaching, and imposes on teachers the duty to inform parents every time a child asks to be called a different name (think “Kyla” instead of “Kyle,” or even “Chris” instead of “Christopher”), which could place students with unsupportive parents at risk. In the short term, educators and school boards need to organize to push back against these policies. But in the long, even medium term, we have to break the Republican supermajority, which has shown itself to be deeply hostile to public schools.
6) Despite boasting a 94.8 percent graduation rate last academic year, and ranking in the top four percent of all public school districts in the nation, an achievement/opportunity gap still exists between white students and students of color. What specific policies should CHCCS pursue to close this gap?
We should work to expand high-quality pre-K in the district. It should be universally available, likely on a sliding scale. Currently, we don’t provide transportation to the students in the program. Finding a way to do that would help enormously.
We need to continue to prioritize and fundraise for the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate Program, which finds mentors for students of color beginning in middle school.
We should explore ways to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.
CHCCS needs more teachers of color. Research shows clear benefits for students of color – more engagement in school, more academic success, decreased likelihood of experiencing exclusionary discipline.
Along with these shifts in policy, there are programmatic things we can do:
We need to encourage students of color to take Honors and AP classes. Rich curriculum delivered with high expectations yields better academic outcomes than when students of color are confined to standard or remedial classes. But the lack of Black and Brown students in these classes can deter other students from enrolling because they don’t want to feel isolated.
Even as we seek to integrate AP and Honors classes, we need to ensure that all courses are rigorous, so students are prepared for college or meaningful, sustaining work no matter the course of study they undertake.
Education policy, no matter how well-intentioned, can’t alone fix opportunity gaps. Too many of our students have food insecurity, insufficient access to transportation, unstable housing, a lack of health care, and no after-school or summer opportunities. Students need services that can be best provided by schools working in conjunction with community-based programs. The fact that addressing gaps means working on local, county, and state issues only highlights the need to have school leaders present in planning and policy-making outside the school.
7. Despite working for CHCCS, many teachers and staff can’t afford to live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro. What role should the school district have in ensuring that affordable housing is available for its workforce?
We need to have a seat at the table in the town government structures of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Each town has an affordable housing strategy. We need to be involved in implementing it to help our staff get access to the units created pursuant to these strategies. We also need to be sure our staff are aware of local programs designed to assist with the renting and purchase of Chapel Hill and Carrboro homes, such as the Community Home Trust. When our staff don’t have to commute from Mebane and Greensboro, all of us win – they are less tired, and there are fewer cars on the road.
8. Recently, groups of parents with students in North Carolina public schools have mounted efforts to ban certain books from school classrooms and libraries. How should school boards handle these efforts?
Public-school students need exposure to books that accurately depict history and include descriptions of LGBTQ youth and families. Groups seeking to ban these books see educated citizens with an appreciation of diversity as a threat to an extreme right-wing political project of white supremacy and homophobia. I’m confident families in this district don’t support these efforts. Unfortunately, the General Assembly has made it difficult for school districts through passage of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which seeks to sharply curtail the exposure of students to this material. The Campaign for Southern Equality has persuasively argued that this law violates federal law. They recommend that districts postpone or suspend compliance with this law until these conflicts are resolved; I agree.
9. Do police officers (School Resource Officers) have a role in schools? Please explain your answer.
I’ve done extensive research on the topic; the evidence just doesn’t support that SROs in fact keep students safer. What is clear is that schools with SRO’s often see criminalization of school-based misbehavior, especially for Black and Brown students. In my view, the money we spend on SROs would likely be better spent on student support staff like counselors and social workers. However, the district just last year concluded its two-year study of SROs. The School Board voted 5-1 to maintain SRO’s in the high schools and all but one middle school, where a full-time behavioral health specialist was installed instead. The board cited broad community support for the SRO program in its decision. In this era of school shootings, I am sympathetic to the sentiment that we need police in schools to keep students safe. Given that the community just engaged in deliberations on the topic, and given that the vote was what it was, I wouldn’t be in favor of re-litigating the question of whether we should have SROs in schools. What we do need is to look carefully at the results of the pilot program in the middle school with the behavioral specialist and see what the safety outcomes are. We also need to be vigilant in ensuring that SROs don’t involve themselves in classroom management but are instead confined to addressing genuine security issues.
10. CHCCS was able to hire drivers for all bus routes this academic year, but, as with other school districts in the state, it has had a hard time filling transportation vacancies in the past. What steps should the district take to ensure that there are enough bus drivers for all routes in order to get students to school on time going forward?
The district has done what it can do to manage the bus driver shortage, particularly given the demands placed by having magnet schools which draw students from across the district. We need to have a holistic approach to transportation planning. We should do what we can to create and expand walk zones wherever safely possible. Construction of the greenway should enable more biking to school. We should incentivize carpooling at the high schools by giving better parking spots to students who aren’t driving alone. We need to plug into the Safe Routes to Schools program of the U.S. Department of Transportation. I realize I’m repeating myself, but being integrated into the planning structures of the town will help here.
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