Name as it appears on the ballot: Doug Hammack

Age: 64

Party affiliation: Democrat 

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Minister. Common Thread

Years lived in the area: 27

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 turned around as a young person, simply because I was lucky enough to live in a great school district. Teachers, School Board, County Commissioners, and our state legislature had all invested heavily in education in the years before I started school. Consequently, I was able to rise above my broken family system, and build a life of economic stability, psychological, emotional, and physical health. I’ve had a great life.

Then, twenty five years later, my children entered WCPSS after the State of NC, Wake County, and the WCPSS Board had made significant investment in education. Consequently, they too received a stellar education. They too have their lives set on a healthy path.

So now, my grandkids are starting WCPSS. I owe a debt that can only be paid forward—to them, and to all the kids in all the families in Wake Co. I’m running for school board to pay that debt, to invest in the future health and stability of public schools, arguably, our most important social institution.  Everything we want starts with public schools—economic prosperity, an informed citizenry, a healthy democracy, everything good starts with schools. When our schools do well, we all do well.

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?

There is a lot going well in WCPSS. We are the envy of school districts across NC, as well as the nation. Our graduation rates are outstanding. Our acceptance rates into college and vocational training, outstanding. Our teacher certification, and in-service professional development, outstanding.

And yet, our teachers are losing morale and don’t trust the system to watch out for them. We don’t pay them enough to live in Wake Co. Their working conditions have deteriorated over the last 10 years. Even worse, a toxic narrative, driven by nationally coordinated strategies to win elections, has tried to convince people that teachers ARE the problem, when they are actually the very solution to our problems.

On my campaign website, I articulate my primary focus. Teachers, teachers, teachers, teachers. Everything good starts with good public schools, and good public schools start with our teachers.

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

a. Staff shortages.

Teachers, bus drivers, educational assistants, reading specialists, counselors, nurses.

b. Mental health services. Counselors and social workers who can properly train staff in deescalation strategies, emotional management, self-regulation, and executive function skills.

c. Safety. Secure facilities. Well trained staff and SROs. Effective training and sufficient staffing to combat alienation in our young people. Children with a deep sense of belonging don’t shoot up their school.

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?

It’s challenging for the school board, not having the power of the pursestrings, to work within the limits of the General Assembly’s consistent underfunding of schools. Each year since 2008, the State has reduced per-pupil spending. In Wake County, our county commissioners have worked heroically to fill in the gap, but that has meant robbing Peter to pay Paul. We’ve had to reduce our funding of buildings (the county’s job) to pay our operating expenses (the state’s job). Consequently, our schools are left scrabbling for scraps, while the district office has to choose between a playground closed for unsafe equipment, or adequate locks on the doors.

Again, the county and school board have worked together heroically to give our children outstanding educational opportunities. We have to lay the blame where the blame lies. It’s NOT with the school board’s budget priorities.

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?

Critical race theory is a graduate level theory about how race has become embedded into the systems of our society, and until we explore those systems, we won’t be able to work against the racial inequities that still plague our society today.

Which has NOTHING to do with what happens in WCPSS. The curriculum of our schools is determined by a lengthy and tedious three year process undertaken by the State DPI. Critical race is not in any approved curriculum in the state of NC.

But that doesn’t matter, because race is a volatile issue, and unethical politicians can use it to gin up outrage. And outrage drives voter turnout. So, to score a few political points, unethical politicians can paint an inaccurate picture of what CRT is, and make claims that our kids are being brainwashed. And because they do, we are unable to have reasoned discussions about the very real problem our nation faces, of racial inequity that continues to persist year after year.

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 it does.

We didn’t HAVE to have a state funded educational system, but we did. Our state constitution obligates us to send our tax money to the State, and obligates the State to send it back to the counties, to ensure the “right to the privilege of education,” that is “the duty of the State to guard and maintain.”

And given that every county (except for a handful) has to provide a county supplement just to pay our teachers, it’s clear the state is not fulfilling its obligation.

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?

I have not read Orange County’s policy, so I cannot speak with authority on implementing it in Wake County. I can say this, every student belongs. Every student matters. Every student has the right to a good education, and to respect, and to inclusion. Culturally divisive issues notwithstanding, every child belongs.

Also, I can say that big social policies like this are best made in consultation with doctors, psychologists, and other mental professionals, those with expertise in the field. This is particularly important because every major policy decision generates unseen, unintended consequences. We want to have our best experts, doing their best data-driven thinking before we implement policy.

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

About as well as could be handled. It was an event unseen in over 100 years. Further, it happened at a time of hyperpartisan division, when every societal decision generated sides. In those circumstances, the board’s decision to defer to medical and governmental experts helped us take care of our most vulnerable students and staff. The Board deferred to experts. They did their best to avoid partisan infighting. Their decision to require masks gave us our best chance to insure an equitable education for the largest number of students. If there’s anything they might have done better, it would have been to enlist the parents who understood what was at stake, to organize their voices to counter the very vocal group who resisted medical experts.

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?

They handled it well. WCPSS has policy and process around inappropriate student resources, and they followed it.

That said, if a book is truly age inappropriate, of course let’s remove it from the library or classroom. But that’s not what’s really going on, is it? Our kids have the internet, for goodness sake. Do we really think a book about Timmy’s two moms is going to be news to them?

What’s really going on, is a nationally orchestrated effort to gin up outrage at the institution charged with social solidarity. They don’t WANT social solidarity. That won’t get their base revved up and to the polls. To drive their base’s voter turnout, these scoundrels have been willing undercut our most precious social institution, the one that best builds social solidarity, economic prosperity, and a solid democracy. It’s a very high price to pay for a few votes, a few elections.

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 Wake County Schools?

For good reason, given the events of the last few years, parents are deeply concerned about the safety of their children at school. SROs are an integral part of school safety. That said, in our society, how white people experience the police is quite different from how black and brown people do. Of course this social reality shows up in schools,, exacerbated by the reality that SROs are trained in law enforcement, and schools are full of children. Our SROs need specialized training in both racial sensitivity, and dealing with children.

WCPSS recently signed a MOU with those agencies who provide SROs, creating a more child-specific training, including deescalation and restorative justice strategies. I do agree with the direction WCPSS is heading.

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?

The best research available on closing the achievement gap comes back again and again, to diversity in our schools. When we balance free and reduced lunches, and don’t concentrate poverty in any one school, our lower achieving students improve, while our higher achieving students do not lose ground. I will continue the good work WCPSS board has been doing, getting back to the 40% cap on free and reduced lunches that was in place for years before 2010.

I would also encourage the implementation of more holistic educational strategies, including training in self awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

This would require more guidance counselors, more social workers, more mental health professionals

12) How should WCPSS address its ongoing shortage of educators, support staff, bus drivers, school nurses, mental health professionals, and other key staff?

We have a nascent teaching fellows program in Wake County. I’d support expanding that. Also (and this is painfully obvious) we need to improve pay and working conditions for our staff and teachers. But, as mentioned abovem that’s complicated by the state’s consistent underfunding of public education.

Consequently, one of the most effective things a school board can do to retain key staff, is to improve morale. We can restore respect to teachers, and staff who serve our students. We can change the narrative that is shouting to anyone who will listen, that WCPSS is failing. It is decidedly not. Despite this toxic narrative, our teachers and staff have done extraordinary work (see the metrics above). School boards must use the bully pulpit to tell the WHOLE story. Yes, there are things that need improving, but our teachers and staff are dedicated, hard-working, and effective. That’s a story we need to tell. That wukk improve morale, a significant way to retain staff.

Another thing that impacts teacher satisfaction is the presence of highly qualified, effective administrators. Admins who pick their battles well, communicate well, and hold fast to key, core values motivate teachers and staff. We can work to attract the best administrators we can for our schools.

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

Fortunately, we have a statutory framework that demands we meet the needs of identified special need students. The laws are in place. What we need, are more adults in the building to help us implement the laws. Teachers are consistently asked to do more and more, with less and less support. To comply with the statutory framework already in place, we need staffing to do so. We need Leandro.

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

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