Name as it appears on the ballot: Millicent Rogers
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.millicent4dps.com
Occupation & employer: Staff Specialist, Duke University
Years lived in the area: 37
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 because I am part of the 44% of single-parent households in Durham, NC. As a student of DPS, I experienced the transition of a school system implementing magnet programs as a rising 5th grader at Holt Elementary, my neighborhood school became a year-round magnet school. As a parent, I have felt unwelcome in my own child’s school, like my involvement was neither desired nor allowed. As a community stakeholder, I have been shamed by some for advocating for my son and other children’s basic educational needs to be met. Durham Public Schools is at a pivotal moment: restructuring magnet schools, dealing with the wonderful growth of Durham, and addressing the impact of gentrification. My experiences as a student, a parent, and a lifelong Durhamite make me uniquely qualified to bring a different level of empathy and understanding of stakeholders that are often pushed out and overlooked as advocates.
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 think there are some things that are on the right course, but that need acceleration. Many people in Durham want to see more stakeholder input, but in order for that to be effective, we need to encourage administrators to include more shared power models. We need families to be valued partners in creating affirming and well-organized educational spaces for our students to grow. In general Durham Public Schools needs to move equity from being just a noun to an action verb. Equity policies for all students and staff need to be implemented and practiced consistently across the district. Equity policies need to be in place to reduce suspensions for Black and brown students; they are disproportionately suspended from school. LGBTQ+ communities should be proactively supported by all administrators, teachers, and school staff.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
Durham’s current magnet system is not serving families, this has to be fixed.
Improved working conditions and increased pay, this is not one or the other, both have to happen at the same time.
Increasing stakeholder investment, the Community Schools Model, known in Durham as the Bull City Community Schools Partnership brings in the tools we need for better-vested communities.
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?
I have been a strong advocate for a $17/hour minimum wage for classified staff during this current budget cycle and have spoken about this at multiple school board meetings this winter/spring. I understand the wisdom in a salary study and making sure that we are paying competitive wages in the long term. However, the current $15/hour minimum wage does not pay the bills for many of our classified staff, and waiting until the 2023-2024 school year is just not an option when we are facing record inflation and soaring housing prices more than a year in advance of that. Paying a fair, living wage is an ethical imperative regardless of how competitive our pay is compared to surrounding districts.
I have supported the piloting of the Bull City Community Schools Partnership in Club Boulevard Elementary and Lakewood Elementary where families have been able to find support in ways they cannot at traditional schools within Durham. Part of this is the funding for a Community Schools Coordinator, but another piece of it is a shared leadership model at the school level that gives families a say in the budget at their school. Expanding this model to other schools is essential to meeting the needs of all families, but to do that, the Board of Education, in partnership with the Board of County Commissioners and community partners, will have to fund Community Schools Coordinators at all participating schools.
The current budget does not meet DPS’s current infrastructure needs, as there will always be a need for investment in infrastructure. For example, while DPS is planning for significant growth in the coming years, the construction of Elementary School F is currently unfunded. Several other schools have been included in the CIP needs, and with the cost of labor and construction supplies continuing to skyrocket, it is imperative that a bond in the Fall include the needs of current structures and make the new spaces and renovated spaces as safe and energy-efficient as possible. Both of these, as well as numerous other infrastructure projects, would be funded by the most recent bond request.
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 lens to analyze how history impacts current problems and their solutions. We do not currently teach this in K-12 public schools. I agree with Governor Cooper that any bill against teaching “CRT” in K-12 public schools does not have an accurate grasp of what CRT actually is and is focused more on rallying fear to push a particular political agenda. Instead, I support transparent and accurate teaching of history so that our students are prepared for college and the real world where they can have accurate, fact-based conversations.
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?
Yes. There are several ways in which the state is not providing a sound and basic education to its children. One example is how the state caps Exceptional Children’s funding and English Learners funding at 12.75% and 10.6% of the student populations respectively. These are nice guidelines, but the state refuses to provide funding for any children who need services in excess of that. Because 17.7% of DPS students qualify as English Learners, that leaves a gap of students who need support but for whom the state will not provide funding to support. Similarly, state student ratios for social workers, school counselors, school psychologists, and nurses far exceed professional recommendations, but the state refuses to provide funding for enough positions to meet guidelines. These are just two examples of how North Carolina has underfunded education.
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. Durham Public Schools absolutely needs a district-wide policy that proactively protects LGBTQ+ students and staff, and I would support a similar policy to what Orange County has adopted. That said, my concern is less about what policies the Board adopts and more about the consistent implementation of those policies across the district. This has been the challenge in implementing racial equity policies, and I anticipate it would be the same in this case. Despite the current board policy (1710/4021/7230) that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the implementation of that policy varies widely across the district. In fact, in some schools, administrators, teachers, and staff are behaving remarkably similar to Florida’s recent “don’t say gay” policy. Respecting another’s identity is the basis of creating a safe space for learning, and anything short of that is completely unacceptable. I will always support policies that create equity and inclusion for everyone, especially our most marginalized communities.
8) How do you think the current school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic? Please explain your answer.
Retrospectively, it’s easy to look back at things and critique what was done. I think that, in general, the Board of Education made the best decisions they could with the information they had at the time. At the time, I did not support opening schools in Spring of 2021, and I was frustrated that reopening was done in the name of Black, working-class, single parents like myself without soliciting our feedback. 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. I remember watching my neighborhood school of Holt Elementary transform into the magnet program it is today as a rising 5th grader. Having lived through the city-county schools merger in Durham, I understand the history that has created the system we see in Durham currently. That said, many of the reasons for creating magnet schools that existed when those decisions were made don’t meet the needs of all of Durham’s families today. It is clear that we need to address the magnet schools. As a magnet school graduate, I understand the balance needed to create equitable magnet programs that serve the needs of more families and will fight to do just that.
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?
At this time in Durham, we have incidents that require interventions from law enforcement. These kinds of incidents include weapons on public school campuses, brutal brawls between students or groups of students, and domestic violence incidents that for now need intervention. These incidents should not require educators to intervene, are a distraction from the instruction that students should be getting in schools.
I support a district funded analysis and public report on the role of SROs while simultaneously improving the implementation of restorative practices in an effort to get to a point in which our students have the ability to de-escalate situations, remain focused on the learning experience, and do not have to defend their identities to others in school buildings. Some level of law enforcement is necessary to address weapons on school campuses, but SROs should not be school disciplinarians as many serve currently. Additionally, given the role that Deputies play in the community (serving eviction notices, issuing arrest warrants, and protecting the interests of Durham county outside of the school building), I believe there needs to be a clear distinction between who is serving as SROs versus other duties of the Sheriff’s Department in order to prevent student escalation.
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?
I have been a strong proponent of the Bull City Community Schools Partnership since the beginning and have read enough research to believe that expanding this model to more elementary schools and potentially even a middle school can mitigate the negative effects of poverty on Durham youth including their ability to learn and perform on standardized tests. With regards to the racial opportunity gap, many students of color are losing instructional time due to discipline practices that disproportionately punish Black and brown youth. We cannot expect students to learn without being in class. The community schools model focuses on positive behavioral practices such as the restorative practices that DPS has begun to implement. Unfortunately, these practices are not being implemented with fidelity across the district, allowing significant student discipline disparities to persist. I have advocated for more robust training for teachers as well as resource-rich schools with a sufficient number of social workers and counselors to meet student mental and behavioral health needs, and I will continue to advocate for resource-rich schools that center student needs over punishment and removal since such methodology has always disproportionately impacted Black and brown kids.
12) How can the school board better assist students who lack broadband access and access to laptops?
DPS needs increased tech staff positions to ensure support of the devices (including hotspots) we already have. A great deal of money has gone into making our district 1:1 students to devices, but that money will be wasted if we don’t adequately support those devices. I believe that the seven additional positions requested in the current budget request is a step in the right direction.
13) Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?
The short answer is no. There have been a lot of failures for students with disabilities during the pandemic, but the most noteworthy is the degree to which teacher and administrator perception impacts student resources. The same child can be perceived by a teacher and/or administrator as lazy, disruptive, and defiant or shut down, struggling, and frustrated. Many of the students who display the worst classroom behaviors are also the ones struggling academically. In fact, there’s a wealth of research noting this correlation. Nonetheless, many students are not receiving appropriate interventions or being assessed for hidden disabilities despite significant academic deficiencies. Parents are confused by the process, and even when students are able to be assessed and identified as disabled, accessing support through EC services is equally as difficult. Discipline data suggests students with disabilities are being punished instead of supported in the classroom, and at the same time, the teacher working conditions surveys say that teachers want more training on how to support students with disabilities. The answer is obvious: support teachers supporting students. We need fully staffed schools to avoid EC instructional assistants and teachers being pulled for unrelated duties, we need competitive pay and improved working conditions to fully staff schools, and we need support staff positions at the student ratios recommended for their professions. I am committed to ensuring all of these happen in Durham Public Schools, and I have proven that commitment through my advocacy thus far.
14) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.