Name as it appears on the ballot: Rani Dasi

Age: 48

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website: https://www.dasiforschoolboard.com/

Occupation & employer: Corporate finance and strategy

Years lived in the area: 12

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 know firsthand how transformational education can be to a life trajectory. I want to ensure all students have access to a quality school system. 

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are touted as a top-rated school system based on overall graduation rates and the success of some of our graduates. However, detailed data shows the district has not been successful in educating students of color, students with disabilities and students with less access to economic resources. In some grades, about 80% of African American students, 60% of Latinx students and about 75% of students with disabilities in the district are not on track to be college/career ready. Incredibly, some less-resourced districts across the state show higher rates of proficiency in these groups. So, we can conclude that the concentration of students from highly resourced families have masked structural gaps in the CHCCS system’s ability to provide effective instruction for all students. 

Improving outcomes will require intentional changes to create an environment in which all students can be successful. 

Over my last term, I’ve focused on the most important factors which support education and these will continue to be my priorities:

Supporting teachers: A quality teacher is the foundation for quality instruction. 

Community collaboration: In addition to the quality of schools, education outcomes are affected by family and student access to resources. 

Transparency and accountability: improving communication and measures to understand progress.

I ask voters to entrust me with this work because:

My professional experience guides focus on structural change vs fixing symptoms

As a parent of 4 I know the importance of improving outcomes for all children

I bring a long-standing passion for and focus on improving educational outcomes 

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?

We must redesign core systems to create success for all students by eliminating institutional structures and practices that hamper student learning. Specifically:

Advocate for increased teacher compensation and supports 

Increase recruitment/retention of teachers of color

Build welcoming climate which engages families/students of color 

Implement culturally inclusive rigorous curriculum to meet wide range of student abilities

Build community support to address race issues

Strengthen accountability systems, communicating progress on success metrics and check points for interventions 

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

Increasing teacher supports: compensation, including salary and benefits such as paid maternity/paternity leave, outreach to better understand teacher perspectives on their challenges, recruitment/retention of teachers of color

Investing to renovate our school buildings

Expanding partnerships to address issues that hamper instruction and increase student and family access to resources (such as mental health supports and community conversations on race)

4. Describe something you think the school board should have prioritized differently in the current budget. 

The decision to provide Chrome books for all middle and high school students is one I think about. I wonder if we might have phased the initiative over time or found a way to allow students who already have devices to use their own and redirect those resources to other needs. However, the arguments in support of the initiative weigh heavily in that school technology teams do not have resources to support multiple devices, and with increasing movement toward online assessments access to a device is necessary for all students. 

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? 

My experience in corporate finance and strategy planning guides my focus on structural change and use of data in decision making and budgeting. I have demonstrated strength in listening to community members and incorporating multiple points of view in decision making. My style is collaborative and I’m willing to challenge ideas and consider new solutions to solve problems while keeping the community and all parties involved.

Over the past 4 years as a member of the school board I have brought a focus on the following areas:

Accountability

I’ve worked with the board and administration to:

Develop an Equity plan to address needs of all students and embed equity into daily operations

Establish quarterly review of discipline data to reduce disproportionality and consider structural solutions to reduce need for discipline

Develop and publish a scorecard which will include key success metrics and progress towards goals

Enable dialogue on ethics and ways of working between board members and key stakeholders​

Board operations

Proposed and implemented committees to enable more efficient board work

Served on finance and capital committee to present greater detail and increase transparency in planning and communication

Attending training and conferences to bring back best practices to the CHCCS Board

Community Collaboration

I’ve focused on strengthening partnerships:

Calendar committee – established to include community voices to align school calendar with community priorities

Family Success Alliance a collective impact initiative to close the opportunity gap

Meeting and speaking with groups such as PTA Council, Durham Lions Club and Sunrise Rotary Club of Chapel Hill, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA

NAACP and Campaign for Racial Equity board listening session

Listening and Dialog with sessions with community members

UNC Collaboration to eliminate disparities in education

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators and CHC Federation of Teachers – consulting on teacher related issues

Meeting with Town of Chapel Hill and Carrboro on shared priorities​

Facilities

Represented Board as member of Chapel Hill High school vision team with focus on responsiveness to community voice in Chapel Hill High School renovation

Bond advocacy for funding major renovation at Chapel Hill High School

Board representative to a task force with Orange county staff, County Commissioners, and Orange County Schools to address CHCCS capacity needs

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?

The dual language (DL) immersion model benefits both English-speaking students and foreign language-speaking students, because they all get to learn a new language. The model is highly supportive of English Language Learners as students do not need to relearn how to read in English; teachers help them transfer their literacy skills from one language to the other. 

The need to develop bilingualism in an increasingly globalized society has made the program appealing for many parents of children who are native English speakers (Calderón, 2000). Typically, there are fewer spots available in these programs than there are families who want to participate. So, we see inequities persist when parents of privilege are overrepresented in the program and other students have low access to the benefits of acquiring a second language. 

DL/Magnet programs can be more inclusive if the district:

Ensures programs have demographics consistent with student population (ensure equal opportunities for all students to access programs)

Ensure native speakers are appropriately represented

Provide appropriate supports for all students to learn the non-native language

Ensure teachers and staff receive training in implicit bias and race history in

America

7. In what ways can CHCCS 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? 

See answer #2

The Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) is an important tool to guide decision-making and policy setting. It provides a systemic lens to consider changes for CHCCS. It can be used to ensure policies and decisions consider potential adverse consequences of proposed actions on different racial groups. The tool guides processes to include engaging stakeholders, examining alternatives and success indicators. Effective application of the tool can lead to more inclusive, sustainable initiatives that are easier to implement.

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? In what ways can the district address this racial gap?

 Implicit bias is a key driver of racial disproportionality in school discipline. Implicit bias is the mental process that causes us to have negative feelings and attitudes about people based on characteristics like race, ethnicity, age and appearance. Because this cognitive process functions in our unconscious mind, we are typically not conscious of the negative racial biases that develop over the course of our lifetime. 

Existing research suggests implicit racial bias may influence a teacher’s expectations for academic success. For example, a 2007 meta-analysis of research found statistically significant evidence that teachers hold lower expectations—either implicitly or explicitly, or both—for African American and Latino children compared to European American children (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968; Tenenbaum & Ruck, 2007). 

Lowered expectations in the classroom may result in differential treatment for students of color, including less praise and more disciplinary action from teachers. Research suggests that when given an opportunity to choose among several disciplinary options for a relatively minor offense, teachers and school administrators often choose more severe punishment for Black students than for White students for the same offense. 

When discussing racial discipline disparities, issues such as poverty, or the hypothesis that black students are more likely to misbehave are sometimes raised as drivers. These questions have been researched and data have found that these ideas do not explain discipline disparities. Black students and white students are sent to the principal’s office at similar rates; states report they commit more serious offenses, such as carrying weapons or drugs at school, at similar rates; and when surveyed about their own behavior, they report similar patterns. 

In a sweeping 2012 study of discipline policies in Texas, researchers found that even after controlling for 83 other factors, black students were 31 percent more likely to be suspended for discretionary reasons, rather than because they committed infractions where suspension was a mandatory punishment. This suggests implicit bias leads to harsher punishment for black students than for others. This data is supported by a 2019 analysis from the Center for Racial Equity in Education which looked at discipline data across the state of North Carolina. They found that race/ethnicity was a significant and substantial predictor of being suspended after controlling for other factors. 

Raise awareness of implicit bias and train school staff to apply school discipline policies and practices in a fair and equitable manner 

Institute robust system of accountability with metrics that are frequently reviewed by leadership

Ensure that school-based law enforcement are not involved in minor disciplinary matters

Implement Restorative practices and other resources

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?

CHCCS needs more teachers of color in our classrooms. This is strongly supported by research which concludes that having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent. By high school, Black students, both boys and girls, who had one Black teacher had much stronger expectations of going to college. 

According to the Atlantic, “Anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that teachers of color can help disrupt what are often one-sided portrayals of the world and offer invaluable insight to students from different backgrounds.” Other sources cite additional benefits of having teachers of color in the classroom. “All students–regardless of race–have favorable perceptions of Black and Latino teachers vis-à-vis White teachers. They are perceived as more supportive and provide clearer and more useful feedback.” 

Proposals must address recruitment and retention:

Recruitment:

Intentional recruitment and retention of teachers of color (TOC) must be a priority for the district and school leadership including accountability for leadership

Advocate for state and local programs which support pipeline growth into education (ex. Teaching Fellows program focused on recruiting teachers of color)

Build community understanding of the critical need for TOC

Addressing retention:

Create opportunities for community building with the current teachers and staff of color across the district

Survey teachers to understand and address barriers to retention

Provide training for staff on issues related to race to improve school climates for TOC

10. Do you believe the district is sufficiently transparent with the community? If not, in what ways can the Board of Education increase transparency? 

Partnerships with community groups to understand issues and identify new portals for communication

Use of REIA and other tools will increase clarity on how decisions are made and how the community engages

Board commitment to transparency

Show how actions tie to strategic plan and improved student outcomes

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? 

The CHCCS safety plan is well planned and robust. However, as community members we must all address the root causes which create unsafe environments. School climate begins outside school doors and issues which threaten school safety exist in our families’ homes and other parts of our society. We need more changes (advocacy and support directed to the state and federal government) related to sensible gun legislation, investment in mental health resources and funding to repair school buildings. Additionally, we must have community conversations that lead to race based understanding of what causes trauma to students in order to build a safer environment for all of our students. If we can not recognize the ways in which our students feel unsafe, how as education leaders do we keep them safe?