Name as it appears on the ballot: Curtis Hrischuk

Age: 57

Party affiliation: Unhappy with both parties

Campaign website: 

Occupation & employer: Principal product manager at a high-tech company working in the digital currency area

Years lived in the area: 5 years in Durham, 22 years in Raleigh-Durham area

1. 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? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the school board do differently or better over the course of your term?

I am running for the District 1 seat on the Durham Public School Board. I have benefited greatly from a public education because I spent a lot of time being educated. You see, I’ve earned four university degrees in engineering and technology:: a B.Sc, a B.Eng., a M.Sc., and Ph.D. I have some experience being an educator because I taught at universities for a little while.

I am really concerned about the education our children are receiving in the Durham Public School system. Because of my work in the high tech industry, I understand what skills are needed to succeed in technology. I have found that our children are not being equipped with the skills they need and deserve.

Let’s use the example of academic proficiency. This is a simple measure about how many students are ready to leave their current grade and advance on to the next grade. After all, the point of being in Grade 6 is to learn enough to get into Grade 7. So how many students, at the end of the year, are ready to move from Grade 6 to Grade 7? To move from Grade 8 to Grade 9? …

In District 1, where I’m running, there are about 19 schools. If you take the average across all schools, then only 20% of the students can do math, science, and reading well enough to move to their next grade. Again, this is across all schools and grades. This means that 80% of the students are not equipped to advance to the next grade. Saying it differently, for any 5 students, 4 of those students aren’t ready to move to the next grade in all 19 schools.

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?

Things are not on the right course when 80% of the students aren’t ready to move to the next grade. The school system needs to focus on its main mission of education so that the students are prepared for the future. There are three priorities that I would focus on:

1. Raising academic proficiency of District 1 from its average of 20% (i.e., 4 out of 5 students are not proficient enough in reading, math, and science to move to the next grade) to 60%. This is intellectual impoverishment that haunts the student for a lifetime.

2. Ensure schools are safe and feel safe. There have been far too many reported instances of students’ safety being jeopardized on campus.

3. Parental and extended family involvement as much as possible, in as many ways as possible. The extended family unit is a critical factor in the educational success of the students.

3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?

As mentioned, a common sense but focussed approach to education. 1. Raising academic proficiency of District 1 from its average of 20% (i.e., 4 out of 5 students are not proficient enough in reading, math, and science to move to the next grade) to 60%. 2. Ensure schools are safe and feel safe. 3. Parental and extended family involvement as much as possible, in as many ways as possible.

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 wealthy families? Does the budget meet the district’s infrastructure needs?

Wouldn’t you think the priorities are wrong when a 1st grade teacher runs out of printer paper because they are only given a single ream of paper? This email was sent out to the community begging for paper and it is shameful.

Regarding incomes, equity is important where each student should receive a high quality education. This means that children from lower income families should receive more support so that they are not disadvantaged. The budget does not meet the infrastructure needs because there is building maintenance that is not being done.

5) What is your understanding of what Critical Race Theory is? Is CRT currently taught in K-12 public schools? What are your thoughts on House Bill 324, the bill Gov. Cooper vetoed because he said it “pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education?” Would you support such a bill?

The injustices of the past need to be taught but this also needs to be balanced with those things that are good. For example, slavery and the incarceration of Americans of Japanese heritage during WWII need to be discussed. However, this needs to be balanced by those that fought against slavery and generosity like the Marshall Plan.

I just read the bill and it seems reasonable because it points to those aspirations that we all should strive for: treat others as you would want to be treated. I agree with Bernice King, daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter who says “When he talked about the beloved community, he talked about everyone bringing their gifts, their talents, their cultural experiences,. We live in a society where we may have differences, of course, but we learn to celebrate these differences.”

6) 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?

Of course. I would strive for more than a basic education and want an excellent education.

7) Orange County’s Board of Education has passed some of the most progressive policies in the state around strengthening racial equity and providing a safe, inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students to learn. Should Durham follow Orange’s lead and implement Gender Support guidelines that create a protocol for students who are transitioning or want to?

This is a very controversial topic and the best medical program for care is not yet settled. This New York Post article has Erica Anderson, 71 — who is transgender herself and helped hundreds of teens transition has warned that it has “gone too far” — and fears many are making life-changing decisions because it’s “trendy” and pushed on social media. I see articles on both sides of these discussions so I think great caution is needed here when someone who is such an advocate is suggesting care.

8) How do you think the current school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic? Please explain your answer.

They followed the NCDHHS guidance which was the proper thing to do. I would have preferred to make the masks optional a little earlier if possible.

9) Recently the DPS board voted to change how it assigns students based on community infrastructure in an attempt to address disparities and increase equity. Do you support the new Growing Together assignment model? Please explain your answer.

The website has these three goals

● Aligning PreK and EC Special Program classrooms so that our youngest and often most vulnerable students have access to programs that they need and deserve.

● Evaluating the impact of magnet programs to ensure that students can equitably access programs.

● School boundary adjustments in response to our rapidly growing community. DPS has three schools under construction and is renovating several others.

These are very generic goals but, as stated, they seem the proper direction. What I would be interested in seeing are:

● Monitoring of key metrics to ensure that this is beneficial to the education of the students and course corrections if needed. ● Input from parents to make sure that it is not overly disruptive to the community and families.

● Building in the safety of the students.

10) Do police officers (School Resource Officers) have a role in schools? Do you agree with the way the current board is trying to address the role of SROs in Durham County Schools?

School safety is a plank in my platform. I think SROs serve a purpose provided they are trained appropriately. For example, recently an intruder was spotted walking the halls of Durham School of the Arts and making a detour into the girls restroom. This is a case where having an officer handy is appropriate.

11) Research has shown an achievement gap for Durham County Schools students based on race and socioeconomic status. What specific policies would you support or what actions would you take to help close the gap so that race and socioeconomic status don’t persist as predictive factors?

Unfortunately, Durham students are not unique with this problem. The good news is that there are successful innovators who are focussing on how to address this. Let’s learn from these successes and incorporate their best practices. For example, “Operation Breakthrough” in Kansas City is a non-profit Kansas City STEM lab that supplements the missing curriculum in the public schools.

12) How can the school board better assist students who lack broadband access and access to laptops?

Rally the local government, corporations, and the community to raise funds to provide these necessities. 

13) Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?

The aforementioned “Growing Together” program addresses some of the needs for the EC Special Program classrooms. I would need to do further investigation.

14) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.