Name as it appears on the ballot: Jillian La Serna
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.lasernaforschools.com
Occupation & employer: assistant professor of educational leadership, UNC Charlotte
Years lived in the area: 11 years in Triangle, 3.5 years in Chapel Hill
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 name is Jillian La Serna and I’m asking for your vote for CHCCS School Board.
I have been an educator for the past 20 years. I started my career in K-12 education as a teacher assistant, working in severe and profound special education. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from CSU-Sacramento, I worked as a classroom teacher in San Diego Unified School District. I also spent a year teaching abroad in Ayacucho and Lima, Peru.
I hold a Master’s Degree in School Administration and a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from UNC-Chapel Hill. Over the past 11 years, I have had the pleasure of serving as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal at Carrboro Elementary School. Currently, I am an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership. I have two children in the school district, a 13 year old son at McDougle Middle School and a 10 year old daughter at Carrboro Elementary School. Both have been students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools since Pre-K.
I began my career in education to help all children realize their fullest potential, and I have never given up on that mission. I have worked in all levels of public education, from Pre-K to college, and know what it takes to improve the educational experience of every student. If elected to our school board, I pledge to demand equity for our children; recruit and retain diverse, quality teachers and administrators; create data-driven change; empower the community from the ground-up; and put students first.
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?
I applaud the district for focusing on equity in our schools. If elected, I know what it takes to make it a reality. I would advocate for extended learning opportunities, ensuring all students have access to rigorous and challenging curriculum that is culturally relevant, and building strong community and family relationships to ensure that all families have a voice in our district.
3) What are the three main issues that you believe the Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
-Recruitment and retention of diverse, quality teachers and administrators.
-Taking action steps to address the opportunity gap such as extended learning opportunities and offering every student a rigorous and challenging curriculum
-Ensuring transparency in decision making and building strong relationships with the schools, community, and families
4) Describe something you think the school board should have prioritized differently in the current budget.
I believe the school district should prioritize funding for extended learning opportunities during the school year as well as in the summer.
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?
I have 20+ years experience in public education. I have worked as a teacher assistant, substitute teacher, classroom teacher (kindergarten, fourth, and fifth grades), assistant principal, and principal. For the past 11 years, I have worked in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and know the system. I will use this background knowledge in addition to the vast connections and relationships within the district and community to advocate for issues important for our students.
In my current position as Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, I am constantly in conversation with the most current educational research that we can utilize in decision-making.
In addition to my years of experience in education, I have sat on the Dual Language advisory board for the state of North Carolina and served as an elected official for the Stoneybrook Homeowners Association.
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?
Research shows that all dual language students, no matter their racial or socioeconomic background, outperform their peers in comparable English-only settings. For my doctoral dissertation at UNC Chapel Hill, I conducted a study of the state’s most successful dual language programs to understand why black students in dual language classrooms outperform their peers in traditional classrooms. I found that the nature of dual language instruction lends itself to best teaching practices in the classroom, which explains the higher level of achievement for all students, regardless of their demographics. However, my research also found that the dual language structure alone is not enough to ensure cultural competence and socio-cultural awareness, and programs must incorporate the three tenets of culturally relevant teaching into their classroom instruction. Given the self-selection of magnet lotteries, action must also be taken to ensure that the lottery pool is representative of district demographics through public awareness campaigns and school registration structures in kindergarten.
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?
The Racial Equity Impact Assessment is a vital tool in decision-making and should be used in all decisions that will have a major impact on students, such as scheduling, after-school programming, student groupings, curriculum, etc. It must be used prior to decisions being
made, and not, as is sometimes the case, as an ex-post facto justification for decisions that have already been made. Another key component is ensuring a variety of stakeholders are present for the decision process and for the assessment.
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?
Unconscious racial bias and systemic racism are factors in disproportionate suspensions and behavior referrals. We need to reconsider the ways in which we conduct racial sensitivity training in this district. Too often non-black teachers believe themselves incapable of racial bias because they do not consider themselves racist. Training should focus on raising
awareness about racial bias and its manifestations, and empowering teachers to
acknowledge their own inherent assumptions.
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?
The district faculty and staff does not represent the student or parent population. The
district should continue its efforts to recruit and retain a diverse staff, including
black and Latino faculty. I believe that there are talented faculty of color within this state, and our district needs to develop relationships with universities and teaching candidates beginning at the undergraduate level. We also need to ensure that administrators are trained to
recognize micro-aggressions so that they can appropriately respond when faculty of
color encounter them at the workplace.
10) Do you believe the district is sufficiently transparent with the community? If not, in what ways can the Board of Education increase transparency?
Transparency and accountability are two of my commitments if elected.
Parents and citizens deserve to know why their school board and central office make
decisions, from hiring administrators to policy changes. Without this, there can be no
mutual trust between the community and the district. Clear decision-making processes that include the Racial Impact Equity Assessment should be systematized and shared with the community. I would also take steps to ensure that teachers and school administrators have a strong voice in decisions since they are the team members who know best what students and the schools need. Finally, if elected, I plan to offer “office hours” for the public so that there are open lines of communication between the community and myself as a board member.
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?
Common sense gun control is one of the best policy changes that can improve school safety. Individual school safety plans as well as close relationships with emergency personnel and law enforcement play key roles in responses to crisis.