Name as it appears on the ballot: Tyler Swanson
Party affiliation: Democratic
Campaign website: swansonforwake.com
Occupation & employer: Campaign Strategist- Legal Non-Profit
Years lived in the area: 2.5
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 experience as a classroom teacher in Wake County before and during the pandemic gave me a unique and valuable perspective in my candidacy for Wake Co. School Board. Being in the classroom allowed me to see the challenges faced by our educators, students, and their families on a first-hand basis. The instructional challenges alone were tremendous, and the social, emotional, and financial strains that educators and our students were overwhelming. The experiences left me with great respect for the WCPSS instructional staff and everyone involved in operating our school system. It opened my eyes to many issues we need to address regarding teacher pay and benefits, working conditions, and the overall funding challenges. I am committed to seeking ways to improve our excellent school district and our nearly 200 schools. I understand the importance of having educators and parents in every space where decisions are made regarding our schools and I will be a strong advocate to seeking external input. In addition, I know the value of establishing meaningful relationships among students, parents, and stakeholders to create efficient, engaging workspaces where every student can shine. I want every child to have the best opportunity to achieve their potential and I will put in the time needed to be a well-informed and engaged school board member.
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?
Our school system has a reputation for excellence across the state and nation. Our area is experiencing a considerable amount of positive growth, and our school system is one of the driving forces for that economic growth. We can educate students to be part of a robust talent pipeline for all the jobs right in our own communities. In order to continue our track record, we need to stay focused on investing in the whole child approach to education, on retaining our professional staff, and on ensuring that our school buildings are safe, effective learning spaces that have state-of-the-art technology. We need to make sure those opportunities for excellence and success are available to more of our students and that is something I will focus on if elected.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Wake County Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
1. Recovering from COVID and resulting learning loss created during the pandemic is one of my top priorities. Additionally, we must address the staffing shortages we are facing in the district. The pandemic highlighted numerous issues facing our schools, and we need to use these lessons learned to rebuild and re-imagine how to overcome our losses academically and emotionally. For example, we may always need to be able to offer some work and training virtually. The school board is responsible for moving our district forward and ensuring that our staff has the resources to assist our students. I take this role very seriously.
2. School Safety-Our students perform better when they feel safe at school. In addition, safe schools are well-maintained and create trust between teachers, staff, and students. Safe schools are created by students and staff building classroom communities to meet students’ needs as whole people and give every student a sense of belonging. In addition, we need more school counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and SROs who are trained professionals and are prepared to address our student’s mental health needs, which can assist in keeping our schools safe.
3. Teacher Shortage- it’s time that we trust and treat our educators as the professionals they are. Our educators are responsible for every career in this country. It is disturbing that the NCGA leadership believes that the starting salaries of our educators should only be $37,000 a year. The State’s decade-long underfunding of our public schools has undermined teachers and left students and their parents with less than optimal resources. They are failing to meet the state’s constitutional mandate to provide students with the skills needed to succeed in the future. We are at serious risk of losing more veteran teachers who are critical to the success of our schools. The pay scale does not consider the impact that inflation has on all of our school personnel and when you look at the pay raises this year, controlling for inflation, our teachers received a pay cut. We have been fortunate in Wake that our County Commissioners have covered many financial shortfalls created by the NCGA and that they have provided a good supplemental pay plan for our educators. We must provide excellent staff development, better healthcare benefits, and a supportive workplace to attract and keep our teachers. This is the most pressing issue at hand.
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 affluent families? Does the budget meet the district’s infrastructure needs?
I do not believe that the budget meets the needs of our students. The upcoming budget falls $443.2 million short of what a court-ordered budget recommends in the Leandro decision. Over the past decade, the North Carolina General Assembly’s leadership has underfunded our schools annually. If the NCGA fully funds Leandro, Wake County Public Schools would receive an additional 291 million dollars. That would pay for an additional 837 teacher assistants, 907 more nurses, psychologists, counselors, and social workers and provide $1,462 dollars per teacher for professional development. Our students cannot wait. It is time for the NCGA to fulfill its constitutional duty and fund our schools. Investing in our schools is a returned investment in our schools.
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?
Out-of-touch folks are using a false narrative about CRT in an effort to use politics to distract and divide us instead of addressing school funding and student safety. Instead of the leadership focusing on “created” culture wars, we must shift the conversation back to the lack of funding from the NCGA. CRT is not taught in public schools. The curriculum for all courses, including history, is developed by NCDPI via years-long processes that include teachers, parents, and content specialists. While the curriculum standards do include historical events about race and class, that is NOT CRT. However, I do support the teaching of history in an honest and accurate manner. It is not fair to any student to not have accurate facts about the history of our world or our state in understanding our world in current times. The same is true for other subjects such as science. We must teach accurate facts based on history and research. I support the Governor’s veto of HB 324.
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?
The NCGA has a constitutional obligation to comply with Leandro and fund our schools. The NCGA has not met its constitutional duties outlined in our state’s constitution. The NCGA leadership in the House and the Senate have consistently underfunded our public school system over the past decade. They have ignored the court rulings in Leandro, pointing to the need for additional funding. At the same time, they have diverted funds from our schools to give to private and for-profit charter schools, further harming our public school system. The NC Supreme Court is now scheduled to hear the Leandro case. I am hopeful that they will be able to compel the NCGA to fully fund Leandro, which will be a windfall for Wake county. As a school board member, I will continue to champion our public schools and work to establish collaborative relationships with elected officials at all levels of government, as well as business leaders in our community. We need additional local, state, and federal funding to meet our students’ challenges and mitigate the pandemic’s impact.
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 Wake follow Orange’s lead and implement Gender Support guidelines that create a protocol for students who are transitioning or want to?
WCPSS has a unique opportunity to address these issues through its new Equity policies. Our students deserve to learn in an environment that is inclusive to all students. I am hopeful that the new equity policy will be implemented soon and if elected I will annually monitor and review these policies for improvement.
8. How do you think the current school board handled the COVID-19 pandemic? Please explain your answer.
The COVID- 19 Pandemic was an unprecedented event. The District responded to the Governor’s executive order to the best of its abilities due to limited resources. The pandemic highlighted numerous issues facing our schools, and we need to use these lessons learned to rebuild and re-imagine how to overcome our losses academically and emotionally. The school board is responsible for moving our district forward and ensuring that our staff has the resources to assist our students. I pledge to use my time, knowledge, voice, and vote to advocate for all our students and educators. I will work to be an effective communicator with parents and other partners in our community. I am passionately committed to seeing our students succeed, and I will work with all involved in making this happen.
9. Recently, groups of parents with students in WCPSS have mounted efforts to ban certain books from school classrooms and libraries. The school board and school administrators pushed back on these efforts. Did the board and school system handle this controversy appropriately? What more, if anything, should be done to address efforts to ban books in schools?
I rely on the professionals who have been delegated the task of creating appropriate reading lists, such as librarians. I support clearly stating policies about selecting materials, which should include all stakeholders’ input and viewpoints. These policies should be used to approve or disapprove books and should be implemented by professionals who consider age appropriateness and other factors. I also support having an open and transparent review and appeals process to allow public input and the inclusion of differing views. While school boards delegate power to school officials/experts, they are still responsible for school policies; these policies and procedures must provide an open forum for deciding what should — or should not — take place in public schools. Ultimately, I will rely on a rigorous, expert-driven process to select books that are age-appropriate and an equally open process to allow for public disagreement.
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 Wake County Schools?
The board of education had an outside audit to assess safety issues at all of our schools. I agree with many of the suggested recommendations, such as increasing the number of security administrators to nine to reflect the large geographic areas we have in Wake County. Safe schools do not involve guns or arming teachers. Instead, they create a sense of belonging for every student. I support adding additional helping professionals in our schools, such as nurses, social workers, school counselors, and SROs. Every student deserves to learn in a school community free from bullying, hate speech, or violence regardless of gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, race, or religion. Similarly, our highly skilled staff deserve to teach in school communities that recognize their experience, professionalism, and contributions to student learning and success regardless of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. The WCPSS board has done a great job with its policies to protect and uplift all students. I am committed to ensuring our policies are implemented, and I will work to ensure the funds needed are allocated to implement the suggestions from the safety audit.
11. Research has shown an achievement gap for Wake 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?
We must address learning gaps and or growth for every student, regardless of their demographics or disability, who deserves a free and effective education. WCPSS’s new partner, the HELP Education Fund, promotes education equity through low-cost programs/services for all teachers and students. I will also continue to advocate for universal Pre-K and would like to see every elementary school, or perhaps several Pre-K regional centers established to ensure that all children come to school kindergarten-ready. I believe we should also have universal – free – breakfast and lunch for any child who needs/wants the meal. While the school board cannot expand medicaid, cannot increase family income, and cannot impact poverty directly, we can advocate for policies and programs that help improve learning success for our students such as those I just mentioned: more tutoring and after-school programs, more Pre-K, and less children hungry at school.
12. How should WCPSS address its ongoing shortage of educators, support staff, bus drivers, school nurses, mental health professionals, and other key staff?
I am encouraged to see the in-house program to “grow our own pool” of teachers that WCPSS has in place. In addition, we must provide excellent staff development, improve our health care benefits, and work to create supportive and professional workplaces if we want to attract and keep the best teachers. I also support paying supplemental pay or signing bonuses to attract new teachers and looking for ways to reduce college costs for those seeking to teach in our schools. The Wake Co. Commissioners have been willing to pay supplements to keep the best educators and we may need to expand this program to our helping professionals along with signing bonuses. Base pay is the key to attracting and retaining all of these critical positions and we must continue to push for improved federal, state and local funding. Continuing to build on our partnerships with our community college and local businesses is also critical to helping us resource and pay better our professionals.
13. Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?
I think WCPSS is doing a sufficient job but there is a lot of room for improvement in the services provided. Unfortunately, many of the issues require improved funding in all categories, especially pay. The federal and state contributions are wildly insufficient to the costs of providing specialized care for students with special needs. Without better funding, I think we will not be able to improve a variety of services that should be improved.
14. If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.
I know what it takes to build meaningful relationships among students, parents, and stakeholders to create efficient, engaging workspaces where every student can shine. The families of District 9 deserve a champion who will advocate for ALL students. A champion who will support our educators. A champion who believes in public education and wants to make it even better. I will work diligently to ensure our educators and students have the resources they need to succeed and graduate ready for work or college! This election is about choosing hope over fear, truth over lies, and love over hate. My personal and professional life has been about public service. I would be honored and proud to serve as District 9’s school board representative. I ask for your vote and support as we fight to ensure the best opportunities for all our students and families.
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