Name as it appears on the ballot: Andrew Davidson

Age: 46

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website: www.andrewdavidsonforschoolboard.com

Occupation & employer: Senior Data Engineer, IFG Companies

Years lived in the area: 15

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?

Indy readers should know that I am a candidate who shows up to meet them with a lot of experience. I have been actively working in our school district for 10 years now. I began by volunteering first as a member and then as chair of the FPG Elementary School Improvement Team. From that, I learned how to work collaboratively with parents and administrators. Since 2017, I have been as an active member of the district’s Special Needs Advisory Committee and am its current chair. From this, I learned how to advocate for the most fragile students in our district. And finally, I was elected to serve a term on the school board–which I did with pride from 2013 to 2017. From that, I bring a track record of honest, transparent leadership in working for the entire district. Not incidentally, I’d like voters to know that my family has lived in Chapel Hill for more 15 years, and that I love this town. I am dedicated to helping all kids in this district become college and career ready when they graduate from our schools. On a personal level, I am especially passionate about working with and for our special needs students.

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?

Truthfully speaking, I thought I would continue with my plan to retire after serving a four-year term. What brought me back was the continuous encouragement of constituents and local elected officials who have come to me in order to express their view that our current board has sent us down the wrong path. I agree that the previous board made headlines in the Indy and elsewhere for all of the wrong reasons – for engaging in unethical behavior that triggered a recall effort and a resignation, for instance. In the course of those events, the essential level of trust that must exist between a school board and its stakeholders was broken. The effects of this breakdown were felt across the whole district in a way that was not good for our administrators, our teachers, and, especially, for our students. I am here to restore and rebuild that trust. I know I can because I bring a track record of being able to work with all board members – even ones I don’t always agree with – in a way that brings honesty and integrity to the school board’s decision-making process.

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

My #1 policy priority is the elimination of out of school suspensions for all infractions except the one that’s required by the state, which is bringing a gun to school. African American students are 8-10 times more likely than their fellow white students to be suspended. Special needs students are 14 times more likely to be suspended for the same infractions as their typical peers. This data shows us that we’re working in an unjust system. Let’s fix that by restoring disciplinary equity and eliminating all but the most necessary out of school suspensions. 

I am data engineer. I know that our district’s Data Science capabilities are stuck in the 20th century. The way our data systems work today, we react too slowly to our students’ needs. Important situations do not get handled sometimes until the end of the school year because our district’s ability to analyze our data is stuck in the past. Data analysis capabilities are centralized at Lincoln Center, when it would be far more efficient for administrators and students if they were disseminated at our schools.  Our district is unable to make timely, targeted decisions to help our most vulnerable students because of these data management shortfalls. As a board member, I won’t vote for a budget that doesn’t make a significant investment in improvement and bringing up to date our Data Science capabilities.

I will continue to advocate for special needs students and their families and teachers . These are students who are often lost in the shuffle in conversations about services and instructional models, and as such over the years their opportunities for inclusion and free and appropriate education have continued to erode. I am here to ensure that our most fragile student populations including many minority students and English language learners receive the board-level advocacy it deserves.

4) Describe something you think the school board should have prioritized differently in the current budget. 

As I stated previously, I think our school board should have prioritized data science in the current budget. Our lack of investment in Data Science capabilities, and the ability to disseminate those capabilities down to the school and teacher level, is a crucial issue for the next budget session.

In addition, I would also like to advocate for the funding of three other important measures that our current budget does not prioritize. First, I will advocate for more funding for mental health services, particularly for identifying need-based mental health initiatives. Secondly, I believe that our district hasn’t effectively prioritized teacher retention. I would allocate funds specifically designed for retention programs for our best teachers. Finally, I support the district’s focus on safety, and would work hard to ensure that the budget focuses on long-term safety upgrades at all of our schools and particular in buildings with open campuses.

5) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the Board of Education and as an advocate for the issues that you believe are important? 

First, I would like to point out that I do have a record as public official, and it’s one I’m proud of: I served for three years on the SIT at FPG Elementary, including one year as chair, from 2009 to 2012. My tenure was during a very difficult time for the school – the board had just approved for the school to become a Spanish Dual Language school a year later, and I was chair during the traditional elementary school’s final year in service. I helped bring two contentious communities together in order to work together and have a successful final year. 

I served for four years on the CHCCS Board, including one as vice chair, from 2013 to 2017. And I have been an active member of the Special Needs Advisory Council (SNAC) since 2009, and currently serve as the Chair.

I would like to highlight for voters my experience with SNAC. Here, I can point to a track record of success. Our committee of dozens of parents have worked together with our administrators and teachers to help improve the schooling of special needs kids and, because of that, all kids, in our district. Here’s how: In the past five years, SNAC has helped bring in more than $918,000 in funding to the district from institutional grants. This has allowed the district to introduce programs like Peer Buddies, which now extend far beyond accessibility to our special needs children. I won’t, and in fact can’t, take credit for this work – it happened thanks to the tireless efforts of special needs parents who came before me. I do promote it now as an example of how schools and parents can meaningfully collaborate in order to improve educational outcomes for all of our district’s students. What I have observed in the past two years is an effort to reduce the engagement of parent input and advisory councils, and that has been to the detriment of our students. As a board member, I want to reverse that trend.  I know that increased parental engagement leads not only to exciting financial developments like big grants but also to good feelings among our constituents, trust between the board and its stakeholders, and success for our kids. 

6) There’s been some controversy pertaining to the district’s magnet and dual-language programs. How can CHCCS work toward making magnet schools more inclusive? Are dual-language/magnet programs an effective tool to combat inequities, or do they further them?

I am a big supporter of language acquisition, and at an early age. I believe as Americans we do a poor job of learning second languages. And I think the way to make language education more inclusive is to make it available to more students. I don’t see any data that dual language magnet programs contribute to inequities; at the same time, it’s important to make sure that programs like DL magnet programs are cost bearing so that we’re not spending more on one set of students vs. another. 

To broaden access to all of our students, we need to recruit more minority students via the pre-K and kindergarten registration process and partner with churches and preschools to inform parents about the Dual Language opportunities.

7) In what ways can CHCCS can work to erase racial inequities in the education system? How can the Racial Equity Impact Assessment tool be better used to guide CHCCS in setting policies? 

Eliminate out of school suspension for all infractions except bringing a gun to school.

Continue to support and strengthen the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate Program, and AVID programs. 

Defend the blending of regular and honors classrooms at the high school level.

Continue to focus on reading proficiency at the 3rd grade level. 

Expand gifted opportunities to the middle schools beyond LEAP, especially in math, and continue to support and target minority students for these programs. 

Support and target minority students for AP classes at the high school level. 

Not giving up even in years when the results are discouraging.

Regarding the Racial Equity Impact Assessment model, I think it’s a welcome addition to the policy making process. I would ensure that using the REIA isn’t “One and Done” – that as a district, we are continuously reviewing our outcomes, and including all relevant stakeholders – like teachers, students, and community members.

8) Last year, black CHCCS students were almost 14 times more likely than white students to receive short-term suspensions. Why do you believe that is, and in what ways can the district address this racial gap? 

The problem is acute for both black students and for special needs students, and our district needs to follow the lead of districts like in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and eliminate suspensions for all infractions except bringing a gun to school.

9) Research has shown that increasing teacher and staff diversity can improve education outcomes. What do you think of the faculty/staff diversity in CHCCS? If you believe increasing faculty diversity should be a priority, how do you believe the district should go about it?

Our district has done a good job of hiring African American principals and administrators; we’ve done a less good job hiring African American teachers. #9. We need to restore high impact recruiting at our HBCUs and increase signing bonuses. For retention our district should hold minority teacher council meetings. We are also behind the curve in hiring representative administrators and teachers to support our Latinx, Chinese, and Karen students. 

10) Do you believe the district is sufficiently transparent with the community? If not, in what ways can the Board of Education increase transparency? 

When it comes to the mechanics of transparency, I support the efforts of this board to present regular digests of board meetings. I believe the administration does a good job of being honest about our challenges when it comes to our students performance, and which populations we are failing to serve. But I believe this current board has let the public down with their lack of ethics and transparency in this past year, and it’s important for all individual board members to commit to behave ethically and transparently.

11) Are you satisfied with the district’s school safety plan? What are its strengths, and what are some ways that you would like to see it change?

From my prior experience on the board I learned that safety plans need continuous attention and updating. Specifically, our open campuses at our older schools require additional attention and resources to protect them from current threats that our schools face. 

I have two additional issues: 1) continue to keep our kids safe from active shooter scenarios; and 2) don’t involve kids, especially vulnerable kids, in the criminal justice system. I want our district to keep training around those issues.

12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

The CHCCS school district also must continue to lead in best practices in sustainability and health for our planet and children. My wish-list includes revamping and overhauling our school nutrition program, with an emphasis on education, but this is dependent on receiving better funding at the state level.