Name as it appears on the ballot: Natalie Beyer
Party affiliation: Democrat (race is non-partisan)
Campaign website: NatalieBeyer.com
Occupation & employer: Board Member, Durham Public Schools
Years lived in the area: 49
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?
There is a coordinated effort to take over Durham’s progressive Board. I have won this race before, can win it again, and keep moving Durham Public Schools forward. Community members keep asking me to run. I am known for listening thoughtfully and asking detailed questions to bring consensus on equity issues. I am a tireless advocate for students and helped found two non-profits focused on public education advocacy. I have a Master’s degree from the UNC School of Public Health and helped focus our pandemic response and recovery in science and equity. I will work to continue building excellent, equitable, and innovative schools that will be the first choice for our community. I helped draft our district strategic plan and equity policy which focus the work of our district. This work is not complete and is complex. In Durham I supported the creation and expansion of the Office of Equity Affairs and the Multilingual Resource Center. We are partnering with Durham County to secure strong funding for school construction and maintenance in a November 2022 school bond. As the most veteran school board member, I have deep institutional memory and long standing relationships with other elected local leaders to support my advocacy for policies and budgets that sustain Durham students. As we continue the decades-long Leandro fight and work to bring progressives back to the North Carolina General Assembly, our students can not wait. Since I took office, Durham Public Schools has improved academically and achieved stronger local funding. I stand by my voting record, advocacy and platform. Our schools and our schools are worth fighting for and my institutional memory, equity focus, and ability to bring consensus make me the most progressive candidate in this race.
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?
Prior to the pandemic, Durham Public Schools was making focused improvements in our schools by almost every metric. These metrics are reflected, and transparent for the public, in our focused strategic plan. https://www.dpsnc.net/strategic-plan and the Board receives regular updates from staff on the progress and challenges of this work. The plan is focused on 1) increasing academic achievement, 2) providing a safe school environment that supports the whole child, 3) attracting and retaining excellent educators and staff, 4) strengthening school, family and community engagement, and 5) ensuring fiscal and operational efficiency. Our plan is grounded on core beliefs of equity, shared responsibility, high expectations, and a child-centered approach. At the same time, it is critical to acknowledge that like school districts across the nation, our progress and metrics are not where we want them to be, especially for Black and Brown students. Our Board is using innovative, local solutions to address systemic issues during a time of state and federal underfunding and despite active efforts by leadership in the North Carolina General Assembly to privatize public schools and undermine the teaching profession. No one could have predicted the global pandemic and the historic traumatic and disproportionate disruptions of students, families and communities. In Durham Public Schools and the broader community, we are working to dismantle these disparities daily. We have a local plan for universal Pre-K which we are expanding in Durham. We have co-located mental health services available in every DPS school. We have revised our student code of conduct to confront disparities and implemented restorative practices in every school. We have focused funding on additional nurses, social workers and counselors to meet the social and emotional needs of students and staff. As we move forward, I will focus on implementing better tools for equity analysis, improved support for LGBTQIA+ students, deeper investments in early childhood education and in our students with exceptional needs, and district wide sustainability investments.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
Our core work is partnering with families and our wider community to support students as they heal and recover from the pandemic. No one can overstate the trauma that all people suffered from being isolated, virtual and dealing with loss. Our district is focused on rebuilding trusting relationships with students and families and meeting them where they are. We have focused staffing to support counselors, nurses and social workers as well as extra tutoring, mentoring and summer learning. In Durham we have seen great success from investments in the community schools model and I will advocate for more deep investments in community school coordinator positions across our district. Durham Public Schools has been focused on evaluating magnet schools and school redistricting. During the pandemic this work continued and our staff engaged with the Board and community members to propose a new draft plan for elementary schools that will be unveiled next week. The work has been named “Growing Together” and we truly will need extensive community feedback and engagement as we work towards a vision for a more equitable and efficient future for Durham Public Schools. The plan should increase equity of services for pre-K and EC students and increase transportation efficiencies. It also attempts to strengthen traditional “neighborhood” schools so those become strong first choice options for every Durham family. Several brave families have recently shared their heartbreaking stories of challenges within our schools for LGBTQIA+ students. It is imperative that we work quickly with our community to heal these harms and better train staff to support LGBTQIA+ students and families. I want to do this using national best practices and with an audit of our needs from PreK-12th grade. We will need to train, and retrain, our staff and have deep engagement to teach students and family members. Our schools must be safe and welcoming for every child and family.
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?
The Superintendent’s budget proposal prioritizes raising local salary supplements so that Durham Public Schools leads the state. This is a critical investment in recruiting and retaining educators. We continue to need the NC General Assembly to fulfill their Constitutional duty to provide every child in North Carolina with a sound, not basic, education. School districts across North Carolina are struggling to retain staff in every area, from bus drivers, custodians, child nutrition staff, to educators, principals and IT staff. Following the pandemic we have seen major shifts in the labor market. Housing costs and inflation have stressed DPS classified staff. I have been a vocal advocate for adding approximately $4 million to our budget request to the county this year so we can raise starting wages to at least $17/hour. While DPS is undergoing an extensive salary survey and market analysis, our staff can not wait. We can not afford increased turnover and loss of trained staff who have skills and built relationships with our students.
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 was first developed and taught decades ago in law school curriculum. CRT acknowledges that systemic racism is a reality in America and by understanding these systemic issues we can confront and address them. Systemic racism is embedded in American systems and laws. Critical Race Theory is not actually taught in K-12 schools but there has been an organized effort to fear-monger and stir up a base of conservative voters by false allegations about schools. It is imperative that we teach our students truthful and accurate American history including honest discussion of the painful truths of slavery, racism, homophobia, sexism and so many other complex topics. Our children are capable of learning about challenging topics from professional educators and with support of families. In Durham, we are training all of our staff in equity practices using a groundwater approach and working to raise anti-racist children. Along with Vice-Chair Lewis, I co-authored a Resolution of the Durham Board of Education Opposing House Bill 324. House Bill 324 was designed to limit the teaching of accurate history including issues like racism and discrimination. Our Board unanimously passed the resolution and Governor Cooper later vetoed the discriminatory bill saying: “The legislature should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning, and investing in our public schools. Instead, this bill pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education.” I am appreciative to serve on a Board united in the importance of equity and excellence for all.
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. In 1994, five school districts sued the state of North Carolina for failing to meet its constitutional duties to provide an excellent education for every NC child. Nearly 28 years later, despite numerous court rulings, the NC General Assembly’s budget fails to adequately fund local school districts. Most recently the courts developed The Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan which would remedy this funding deficit by 2028. Despite having over $6 billion in the state’s “rainy day fund”, the leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly has refused to cooperate with the court order and students are falling further behind. Local school districts are increasingly turning to local counties to bridge these funding deficits. Just this week, Judge Michael Robinson was granted a seven day extension before ruling in this long-delayed court case. I deeply appreciate the work of Every Child NC as they advocate for the leadership in the NC General Assembly to fulfill their Constitutional obligation to every NC student.
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?
Orange County’s community-wide effort, “One Orange”, is exemplary as they work to focus local efforts to address structural racism. Durham’s Racial Equity Task Force was convened in October 2018 and produced a similar transformative report for our community and their work is ongoing. As focused equity work, the Orange County Board of Education’s Gender Support Guidelines are also model guidelines for districts throughout the state and are based in previous work in Buncombe schools. Around 2015, the Durham Board of Education revised district policies to strengthen anti-discimination protections to include “gender identity” and increased staff trainings through Bull City Schools United. For the last five years, our district has started every year with every school adopting the #Day1 pledge (https://tylerclementi.org/day1/ ). This teaches every student and staff member to be upstanders. Despite these efforts and our district focus on equity for all, it has been heartbreaking to hear from students and families that our existing policies, procedures and training are not enough. Durham must be a national leader in policies, practices and trainings. I am very supportive of working with our community, students, families and educators to pass gender support guidelines in Durham Public Schools. I recently attended a US Department of Education webinar on national best practices and also met with families and students to accelerate this work. I am honored to earn the endorsement of Equality NC and look forward to leading advocacy to ensure that every child is safe, respected and affirmed every day in Durham Public Schools.
8) How do you think the current school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic? Please explain your answer.
I am an incumbent and have a graduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health. Our Board has prioritized public health and health equity when making every decision. Early in the pandemic, I advocated for staff to reach out to local medical experts. The ABC Science Collaborative sprung from the need for schools to have expert medical advisors and their work has helped us navigate difficult decisions especially as research and guidelines evolved. The first child in North Carolina who died from COVID was a Durham Public Schools student. Her loss has weighed heavy on my heart as we make decisions. Our Board has almost always been unanimous in our votes and in alignment with our school leadership and especially our nurses who are leading our district COVID work. In hindsight, I was probably too cautious on the vote to resume athletics in our district and I am glad our staff advocated to revisit that vote. These decisions have been difficult and we all realize that virtual instruction is no substitute for in person learning and relationship building. Throughout the pandemic our community has come together with care and compassion. I have listened to all perspectives and tried to respond to every constituent, even those who disagree. Our students, families and staff have survived a generational trauma. As we continue leading forward, it is imperative that we focus district efforts on the needs of students and rebuild strong relationships with students and families.
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.
Durham Public Schools has been focused on evaluating magnet schools and school redistricting. During the pandemic this work continued and our staff engaged with the Board and community members to propose a new draft plan for elementary schools that will be unveiled next week. The work has been named “Growing Together” and we truly will need extensive community feedback and engagement as we work towards a vision for a more equitable and efficient future for Durham Public Schools. The plan should increase equity of services for pre-K and EC students and increase transportation efficiencies. It also attempts to strengthen traditional “neighborhood” schools so those become strong first choice options for every Durham family. I look forward to fully engaging with our local community to hear their feedback on the plan that our staff drafted. As we listen and incorporate community concerns, the Growing Together plan will be strengthened and better than ever.
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?
Discipline disparities and criminalization of Black and Brown students are shared concerns for the Durham community. North Carolina has a long, complex history of state support for School Resource Officers (SROs). We must acknowledge that the presence of law enforcement officers in schools actually makes some students feel less safe and more at risk. In Durham, the City, County and School Board convened a Community Safety and Wellness Task Force to address these complex issues. My former board colleague, Xavier Cason, is graciously co-chairing this work. I am carefully following the work of the Task Force and look forward to their detailed recommendations on SROs in the near future. In the meantime I am continuing to advocate for more equity training as we follow national best practices for the SROs that are operating in our schools so that every child is safe and respected. When our Board hears specific community concerns those can be addressed in closed session and on a case by case basis.
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?
Research has shown gaps based on race and socioeconomic status across the nation. These gaps represent systemic disparities that our community is striving to address with local innovations and investments. We must continue to advocate at the state and national levels for the resources needed to address the root causes of these gaps. I supported the creation and expansion of the Office of Equity Affairs and Multilingual Resource Center in Durham Public Schools. It is critical that we identify and bring transparency to all gaps and disproportionalities so that we can work with our community to address them. Along with Chair Umstead, I advocated for the creation of a district wide Racial and Educational Equity Policy which is a model policy for school districts. https://boardpolicyonline.com/bl/?b=dps_new#&&hs=1056552 DPS is training and retraining all of our staff in equity practices. We have the most diverse and representative cohort of principals, educators and staff in the state. It is critical that our students see themselves reflected in school personnel. Our strategic plan has explicit bold goals for increasing Hispanic/Latinx staff to 10% by 2024 and we are working with UNC to train a cohort of diverse educators. All schools are adopting culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogy to engage with the strengths of our students. We are providing information in multiple languages as we work to bring language justice to the forefront. Our staff is working to qualify students for gifted services and honors classes using multiple metrics in order to increase representation. We are partnering with families and caregivers through Family Academy and new tools using technology and software, to build learning outside of school. All schools have partnerships with community organizations and nonprofits. We are working to address mental health needs in schools by offering co-located mental health resources in every DPS school. Still, we have significant work to do and welcome all feedback from our community as we continue to address these disparities.
12) How can the school board better assist students who lack broadband access and access to laptops?
Early in the pandemic, I advocated for our board to act quickly to address the digital divide. We used a lot of the first federal COVID funding to purchase chromebooks and hotspots for every student that needed them. Our staff worked overtime getting devices to students and pivoting to virtual instruction. Our community, especially more rural areas of north Durham and within Durham Housing Authority communities, struggles with broadband access. The City and Duke have worked together to address connectivity in several DHA communities. DPS federal COVID funding is still being used to fund additional chromebooks, chargers, hotspots and IT positions but this funding will sunset in 2024. Broadband access needs extend beyond the scope of the school district and must be supported by state and local funding. Durham County staff are evaluating broadband needs and planning to support these expansions with some of their COVID funding. In the long term, if the school district can continue to invest in sustainability, that could free up more local revenue to replace aging chromebooks and improve digital connectivity.
13) Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?
Durham Public Schools must increase support for students with exceptional needs. Even before the pandemic, our district was struggling to retain EC teachers and support staff. Salaries for educators in North Carolina have not kept up with other college educated professions and NC has fallen to 33rd in the nation in teacher pay. I have been a vocal advocate for raising minimum wages to at least $17/hr in DPS and increasing our local salary supplement for educators so that our district leads the state. The state funding formula for EC students places an artificial and arbitrary cap on funding which significantly underfunds these students. It is critical to have EC leadership representation in the Superintendent’s cabinet level meetings to give visibility and voice to the needs of these students. The district salary survey may reveal the need for salary adjustments for EC teachers in light of market forces. We have looked to expand our teacher cadet program in order to accelerate efforts to “grow our own” EC staff and assistants. Another significant priority must be hiring and retaining an outstanding, dedicated principal in every school who are trained in understanding and serving students with exceptional needs. They must embrace them as their students, rather than just students placed in their schools.
14) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.
My platform is building excellent, equitable and innovative schools. When I first joined the Board, I naively thought I would have a magic wand to make every campaign promise a reality. I quickly learned that board leadership does not come with a magic wand. It takes time and effort to work collaboratively with colleagues and staff to address deep-rooted systemic issues. It takes listening more than you talk and recognizing that outcomes are best informed by multiple perspectives and with our beloved community. I have worked with numerous colleagues and learned from them all. Our shared values are what binds us to this glorious work. In this current election, five of seven seats are on the ballot. Three current board members have joined our Board during the pandemic. Many of our staff and principals are new. We are still learning together and I plan to use my institutional memory to inform and focus our work. I would be honored to continue serving the Durham community as a member of the Durham Board of Education and appreciate your consideration.