Name as it appears on the ballot: Ben Clapsaddle
Party affiliation: Democratic
Campaign website: benforwakeschools.com
Occupation & employer: Chief of Modernization and Functional Division, U.S Army Forces Command, Ft. Bragg NC
Years lived in the area: 17
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?
My life was shaped by educators at the public schools I attended. As an Asian-American child in the 60s, my siblings and I experienced being “othered” as my parents enrolled us in school in Cumberland County. That experience has driven me to make sure schools remain safe, inclusive spaces for all students. A sound education is a solid foundation for life and every child in Wake County deserves the very best we can give them. I will prioritize supporting teachers and staff, parental involvement and partnership, and fair budgeting.
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?
Recent test scores show that Wake Public School students are already rebounding from learning loss during the pandemic. Our graduates are earning scholarships and going on to great colleges and high earning careers. The WCPSS has already planned out many of the ways to address learning loss at each school level, and this appears to be impactful already at many schools, given the improvement in academic growth in the most recent test scores. I support the tutoring program that will go into place, making sure volunteers are fully trained in helping elementary students, and I look forward to seeing that expand to higher grades. I support recruiting and retaining the best teachers and academic support professionals in each building.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Wake County Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
1.) We must pay competitive salaries to recruit and retain the best teachers and school employees. 2.) Our educators and support professionals need resources in their classrooms and need to ensure they have state of the art, teacher-approved, educational resources. 3.) Our buildings must be updated, safe, and healthy. I support funding our buildings so children and educators can be proud of their physical learning environment.
We need to recruit and retain top quality educators, they deserve a strong support system, continuing professional development, and competitive pay. I strongly support having additional school counselors, mental health professionals, and social support staff available to all schools.
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 needs?
I applaud the school board for requesting the funding to make sure the district meets the needs brought about from the continued fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. By providing a well-funded public school system, the board is ensuring a proper investment in the infrastructure needs for a county that continues to grow. The board was able to become a 1:1 device district by distributing Chromebooks for distance learning. This has allowed for students from lower income families to receive education that they otherwise would have lacked. There will always be room for improvement, and I look forward to addressing those needs as they arrive.
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?
It’s my understanding that Critical Race Theory is a specific theory of law taught at the post-graduate level. Cynical attempts to distort American history are unacceptable. The purpose of education is not to tell us what we want to hear, but to convey facts, teach critical thinking, and foster creativity, ingenuity, and a love of learning. All policies should be reviewed through the lens of educators while respecting parents as partners in education.
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?
It absolutely does.
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 Wake follow Orange’s lead and implement Gender Support guidelines that create a protocol for students who are transitioning or want to?
School should be a safe and welcoming environment for all students and educators. I fully support non-discrimination rights for our employees, our students, and our students’ families/caregivers.
8) How do you think the current school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic? Please explain your answer.
The Wake County School Board did the very best they could in an unprecedented situation. They followed the science every step of the way with distancing, masking, and recommending vaccines as the best protection. I believe they saved lives.
9) Recently, groups of parents with students in WCPSS have mounted efforts to ban certain books from school classrooms and libraries. The school board and school administrators pushed back on these efforts. Did the board and school system handle this controversy appropriately? What more, if anything, should be done to address efforts to ban books in schools?
I believe in the freedom to read. It is critical for emerging readers to be able to see themselves in texts and stories. School librarians and teachers are trained experts in selecting age-appropriate and relevant texts. The State Board of Education adopts the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. School systems make curriculum choices and lesson plans that must follow these standards. I trust the professionals, teachers, and community members to make wise choices when adopting the NCSCOS. I promise to approve curriculum choices that align with the standards.
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?
SROs are an important resource for our students and faculty. It is important for each school to establish a memorandum of understanding with SROs. While many students have had positive experiences with SROs, students of color are disproportionately referred to SROs, and this must stop.
11) Research has shown an achievement gap for Wake 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?
Changes need to be made to reduce suspensions for minor infractions that have been disproportionately affecting students of color. Restorative justice programs should be implemented that can reduce the need for discipline that takes students out of the classroom. I also support better funding for our teachers and support personnel to ensure that they have the resources necessary to ensure every student gets the best education possible regardless of socioeconomic status or race.
12) How should WCPSS address its ongoing shortage of educators, support staff, bus drivers, school nurses, mental health professionals, and other key staff?
WCPSS is strained to provide a sound, basic education because our state does not fully fund our schools – the WestEd report and the Leandro ruling demonstrate this very clearly. As the Great Resignation continues to impact every industry in our country, I think we must make sure WCPSS embodies a culture where teacher’s voice is amplified, all other education professionals feel heard and supported, and our pay and benefits are competitive. Where we see Teacher Working Condition surveys show a concern, we must address them immediately and work to improve.
13) Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?
WCPSS provides services to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the regulations of the North Carolina Public School Law, Article 9. If there are any concerns brought before the board, I will make sure that they are heard and addressed to ensure all students are given the equity they deserve.
14) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.
I look forward to serving as the representative for District 1 on the Wake County Board of Education. My life and the lives of my children would not be what they are without the great public schools that we have attended. My family moved to Wake County specifically for the great school system established here. I want to continue the great efforts that the current board has established. I have committed my life to serving others and will continue to do so by making sure that every student, teacher, and parent is advocated for.
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