Name as it appears on the ballot: Matt Sears
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: votemattsears.com
Occupation & employer: Director, Duke University
Years lived in the area: 20
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, again, because we are on the right track. Prior to the pandemic our number of “F” schools was down to 1, and our number of “A” and “B” schools was up. We have implemented a living wage in partnership with our County, brought our custodians in-house with better benefits, and are implementing programs of equity across the board–from pay for staff across the district, to building new schools and renovating others, and undertaking the redistricting work not done since merger in 1993. Our administration is top-notch and we need to support them and allow them to continue to do the good work. My priorities are listed in Question 3.
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?
The district is on the right course. Learning outcomes are up, a focus on equity is pervasive, and we are better taking care of our employees. Communicating this success better is the next step.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
● Continue to move toward #1 in teacher pay by setting this as a budget priority with the County
● Push for innovation in Human Resources department through Board direction with Superintendent ● Fair compensation for employees in all areas (classified and certified) through a classified compensation study launched now and colla
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?
No, the current budget does not meet the district’s infrastructure needs. We recently had the County commit to funding $840M in infrastructure needs over the next 10 years. THAT IS A HUGE, POSITIVE STEP! THANK YOU COMMISSIONERS AND COUNTY STAFF. And THAT IS NOT ENOUGH. That is just to keep the roofs from falling in, to keep kids warm in the winter, to ensure we can meet unfunded (from the state) class size mandates in schools that were not built for class sizes that small. In terms of equitable funding, we are doing okay. AIG support may be overfunded compared to other counties given the need to attempt to overcome the effects of poverty, but everyone, EVERYONE wants strong AIG programs, so I do not see us changing that.
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?
CRT is an analysis of how race and racism has been codified and institutionalized in our society. CRT is not being taught in K-12 public schools–public schools are teaching the Standard Course of Study as articulated by the NC Department of Public Instruction. No, I would not support such a bill.
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?
They absolutely have an obligation to comply. Further, they have an obligation to fund schools beyond the levels described in Leandro and certainly beyond the current state funding levels.
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?
Yes, we should.
8) How do you think the current school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic? Please explain your answer.
I think we did okay, given the challenges. We chose to be safe, having had a student die from COVID early in the pandemic. Parents may fairly say that we could have gone back sooner, as private schools did in our area, but we chose to prioritize safety. We absolutely could have done better communicating the return to school with our staff in March/April 2021.
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.
Yes, I support it. We are nearly 30 years removed from a comprehensive update to student assignment. Our experts working on this plan have deep experience in the field and are producing a strong plan that helps our community move forward.
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?
I am agnostic on our current position. My preference would be for our law enforcement partners to be outside of school, guarding it and responding to any legal emergencies, and to have Deans of Students inside the schools helping to keep the community safe and ensuring the Code of Student Conduct is supported. My position does not come from a place of “law enforcement is doing bad things in schools.” The opposite is true. I simply do not want guns and law-enforcement training in our buildings. That said, data from students and staff says that they would prefer law enforcement in the buildings.
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?
Every district in this country that has significant diversity of socioeconomic status has an “achievement gap,” which is actually an opportunity gap. This question and thinking essentially demands our teachers and schools to become superheroes to overcome the effects of poverty, the gap in opportunity before students enter at age 5, and to overcome institutional racism. They cannot do this. They can make gains, yes, but they cannot level such a tilted playing field. To directly answer your question, the best course is to have a well-educated, trained in racial equity, experienced teacher in classrooms with children year, after year, after year. That matters and that’s why we focus on teacher attraction and retention. A bad teacher leads to a student falling behind by a full year of learning. A great teacher can teach a full year of content and make up another ½ of a year. We HAVE to have great teachers with children year over year over year to be able to make any gains when the opportunity gap is so significant.
12) How can the school board better assist students who lack broadband access and access to laptops?
We are getting better and better at this, and must do so given how much of our textbook set is online.
13) Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?
We can always do more. The state funds us at base-level service, such that disabled students (really all students) rarely get all that they need.
14) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.