Name as it appears on the ballot: Will Atherton
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: https://www.willforschools.com
Occupation & employer: IT/Technology – Clorox
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?
My passion for our schools and community motivates me to seek another term on the Orange County School Board.
Having served as a member of the Orange County School board during these very challenging times, I fully understand the commitment and determination needed to serve our schools, students, teachers, staff, and community.
During my time on the board, I have enjoyed spending time in the community and at our schools to greet our students during morning drop-off, visiting our classrooms, theater and concert performances, art exhibits, livestock shows and a number of sporting events. I truly enjoy seeing all the wonderful things our teachers, students and staff do every day.
I believe that we have a lot of work to do, and I want to continue to focus on our student outcomes and opportunities, our teacher and staff retention and the safety and security of our schools.
I will continue to be active in our schools and in student activities; and I will continue to listen to concerns from students, families, teachers, staff, and community. I will continue to focus on improving the academic success of every student, and on creating more opportunities for extracurricular activities. I will continue to support measures to recognize, support, and retain our exceptional teachers and staff and ensure staff diversity. I will continue working to improve and ensure student and school safety. I will remain focused on fiscal responsibility, transparency, and clearer communication with parents and the community. Thank you for your vote and support.
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 are making progress. First, we should take pride in our teachers and staff, that truly care about students, families, and community and their commitment to do everything they can. When visiting our teachers, staff, and community I hear about all the amazing things they are doing to support our students and community needs.
Our timely and transparent COVID responses to keep our teachers, students, staff, and community safe while, working closely with the and Duke’s ABC Science Collaborative and Orange County Health department for conscientious science and health guidance.
Another important area is the district being more inclusive and how best to address the disparities we have in our academic, discipline, and subgroup data scores. Recognizing that we need to work with our teachers, parents, and community, along with our equity task force, to find ways to address this and reviewing the metrics to see how our effective our approach is.
Adding more resources to improve student outcomes such as our math and reading coaches and facilitators, and tutors, and to enlist family liaisons to better engage our families and community.
The district’s approach to equity (for addressing each student’s need with academic rigor) by using a holistic approach for our students. Using MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) that includes many people from a school such as teachers, counselors, social workers, and nurses, to review and determine the needs of each student and the best way to address those needs. This includes the much-needed social-emotional aspects. Our investments in PLC (Professional Learning Community) is a common and proven practice to promote teacher collaboration that increases student achievement and feed from the MTSS teams.
Finally, the growth of our diverse CTE (Career Technical Education) programs in Middle and High School that give students life skills and offers over 85 courses and opportunities for Internships, job shadowing or apprenticeships to many businesses in our community. This gives our students the skills they need to be productive citizens whether that is going directly to the workforce, college, or community college. This cannot be done without our high-quality teachers.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
- Student Outcomes and Opportunity – We need to not only focus on academic success but what other opportunities do our students have inside and outside of the classroom for social/emotional support.
- Additional resources for support (Give planning time for our teacher and time for Professional Development)
- More teaching assistants in the classroom
- More high impact tutoring across different methods
- Social Emotional support
- Fully implement MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support). Including integrated SEL (Social Emotional Learning) component
- AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) education and skills
- Additional ESL (English as a Second Language) support
- Continue Internet access point to ensure continue access to content and resources for our students
- Listen to concerns and issues from our students
- Support opportunities so our students have access to: Career and Technical Education (CTE) working with local business that provides life skills and careers, support for our teachers to help improve our academic results, our exceptional children, and our extracurricular activities for students including arts, theater, sports, music, robotics, FFA, and many other clubs and opportunities that serve our students, families, and community.
2. Teacher Support and Retention – We must stabilize our staff and give them the support, compensation, and time they need. If your teachers and staff are constantly changing our students and families can’t build relationships.
- Protect Educator Time (lunch and planning time) and compensate for additional duties when they are asked to do them
- Work with county and state to Increase compensation and incentive pay for our district, such as our local supplement, and how to phase in a return to master’s degree pay
- As a district seek feedback and listen to staff (for me, to continue my visits to schools, events, and stay active in our community listening to feedback and ideas)
- We must improve the climate and communication that was raised by our Equity Report (Nov 21 – Millennium learning concepts, LLC) / and OCAE (March 7, 2022 board meeting). Work with and support the superintendent to determine the best way to address for the district as a whole.
- Continue to build our relationship with HBCUs (near and abroad), and encourage our teachers to leverage their networks to continue growing our staff and diversity across our district
- Continue programs such as “grow your own” where TAs can become teachers
- Teacher referral incentives.
3. Safety and Security – Safety in our schools is mandatory as our schools should be a safe place for our students, teacher, staff and community. That includes:
- Working doors and windows that must be able to close and lock
- Continuously improve our safety protocols for our classrooms for students, teachers, staff, and visitors.
- Ensure that anyone can report safety and/or security concerns that get addressed immediately
- Clearly communicate with families on safety or security
- Ensure all our buildings must have good air quality (Continue air quality testing in our buildings)
- Improve efficiency and quality in our buildings (better lighting, roofing, air conditions, plumbing, audio systems, internet, etc.…)
- Address bullying (on-line and in person) that is occurring
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?
Since I am the Budget Committee chair, I am comfortable with our requested budget, but our school budgets are never fully funded, and our state is not providing adequate funding.
I would like for us to explore more supports for our and students and families, such as more professional development for our MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support), providing more AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) education and skills. Continue Internet access point to ensure continued access to content and resources for our students, math and reading coaches and facilitators to support and improve student outcomes and Family Liaisons to better engage our families and community.
The district’s infrastructure budget need submitted is $77M over the next 5 years (Five-year Public School K-12 Facility’s Needs report released by DPI in September) and there is no current way for the school system to achieve that level of funding. Many of our schools are 50 years old or older, and not adequately maintained due to lack of funding. Several should be replaced. We are just wrapping up the projects that were funded with the 2016 bond. In the meantime, our facilities backlog is growing, including upgrades to keep buildings safe and conducive to learning.
I am pleased that we are working with the county and CHCCS on a capital planning work group (School Capital Needs Work Group) to rethink how we fund school maintenance. We need to find ways to move more quickly and efficiently to maintain our aging schools and identify the schools that need to be replaced. As part of that, we need to update our design and construction standards, establish a sustainable maintenance program, and fund it.
Even achieving the funding needs, we still face the rising costs of supplies and labor, as well as supply chain issues. Major repairs to the district’s buildings will require relocating students, teachers, and staff, which will then require alternate locations. Some repairs can be done during the summer months, but many capital improvements require significantly more time, which increases costs.
A comprehensive, long-term plan is needed. The School Capital Needs Work Group, in partnership with county leadership, is currently working on this plan to address.
We need to explore the need for more maintenance staff to help with preventive maintenance in our buildings and assist with day-to-day issues. This will help us identify issues earlier, better maintain our buildings and respond to maintenance issues as they occur.
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?
There are so many different definitions depending on the group that you are talking to. I would use:
U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. [Bookings, Why are states banning critical race theory? Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons, Nov 2021]
Critical Race Theory is not taught in our schools. I do not support the 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?
Yes, we need to pay teacher and staff the wages they deserve and give them all tools they need to support our students. National Education Association (NEA Research – April 2021) Shows that teacher’s in NC pay is ranked 33rd as compared to the nation average and starting teacher’s pay in NC is ranked at 43rd as compared to the rest of the national average. We can only offset this by the use of local tax money to create supplements.
Staffing allocations for districts are too small to support all the needs. If we look deeper, we can see how the state handles allotment (i.e. how many staff you get to support your students), you can look at page 58 on how the allotments works for teachers (Department of Public Instruction – https://files.nc.gov/dpi/documents/fbs/allotments/general/2018-19policymanual.pdf).
The formulas, rules, and regulations around K-12 funding all impact how our district is able to serve our students. This is why Orange County Schools currently has 69 positions paid for by county funds vs state funds. If we only did state allotments, we would not be able to support all the diverse programs or have the support we need for our students, teachers, staff, and families.
Lottery money that is not fully allocated to education [What percentage of North Carolina’s Education Lottery money goes to education? https://www.ednc.org/north-carolina-education-lottery-money-goes-to-education/, 2019].
We also have greater needs in our infrastructure needs, approximately $77M over the next 5 years. Which is funded by the County.
*Note: North Carolina counties are charged (Capital funding) with building, equipping, and maintaining school facilities; G.S.115C-408(b) stipulates that public school facilities requirements will be met by county governments.
7) Do you agree with the school board’s unanimous decision this winter to support decisions made at the school and administrative levels to keep the books Gender Queer, Lawnboy, and Out of Darkness on the shelves in school classrooms/libraries? Please explain your answer.
I am on the board and voted to support our staff, media specialist, and students.
8) 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. Do you support these policies? Please explain why/why not.
I am on the board and voted for these policies to support our families and students.
9) Do you support the Orange County School District’s Gender Support guidelines that create a protocol for students who are transitioning or want to?
I am on the board and voted to support our families and students.
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 Orange County Schools?
Yes, Our SROs are used today as safety only and play an important role in keeping our schools safe.
I see our SROs helping though out our schools making sure our building are safe.
They do not, and should not, have any role in discipline or day to day running of our schools.
11) Research has shown an achievement gap for Orange 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?
There are several complex and interconnected reasons that gaps can be persistent despite efforts of staff, schools, and district.
This is far from unique to Orange, but if we are to have effective schools that truly serve every child, then closing the achievement gap must be a priority.
Disparities have persisted for a long time; the impacts of covid on marginalized subgroups was disproportionate. We are now doing a better job tracking and looking at the disparities. As a district, I’d like to see us do more to adapt our culture and curriculum to better serve subgroups. We also need to do more to reach out to families. Bilingual family liaisons has been a great start and we are working more closely with the Family Success Alliance. We need to do more to diversify our teaching and support staff. I’m looking forward to working on plans to improve diversity in AP and IB enrollment.
I’d like to see us shift to look at equity-based funding and resourcing, to provide the investment needed to finally close gaps and reduce disparities
Many potential possible reasons:
-Food insecurities (can’t learn if you are hungry)
-Do families and students feel welcome
-Limited beliefs about student ability or readiness, implicit bias, and racism
-Lack of resources (Equality rather than equity-based funding and staffing)
-Lack of professional development in culturally responsive teaching practices
-Internalized biases about ability
-Inconsistent process for tracking, special education, gifted, advanced placement
-Inconsistent knowledge of assessments and proper interventions for struggling students
-Lack of staff diversity
-Lack access to the same enrichment experiences
-School / District culture, policy, practice, and climate
The board should be using data from multiple sources to determine how effective the approach is and be willing to try different approaches if the district is not making progress, especially on student outcomes, discipline, and inclusion.
We cannot do this alone. The district should do more to reach out to parents, community and faith groups, university partners and more to identify barriers, concerns, suggestions, and issues across our district. Then implement improvements and monitor outcomes. It’s great to see so many community stakeholders on the new equity task force.
12) How can the school board better assist students who lack broadband access?
Our laptop provides the ability to download content for offline use, but we need a better solution.
Every student should have reliable access to the internet. Internet access ensures that our students can access educational content, learning resources and opportunities. Our district has provided cellular internet access points to all families who did not have access previously or cannot afford. This option is very limited, as not all our families have cellular signals, and the internet speed is affected by your distance from the tower and number of people accessing the tower. Broadband needs to be a basic service for everyone.
We also must continue to advocate at all levels (our county, state and federal) to get more broadband access to homes. Orange County has a Broadband Task Force that is making some progress on the issue. We must ensure any solution is affordable.
13) Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?
I would like to see Orange County School implement a SNAC (Special Needs Advisory Council). This would be district run and has been very successful in Chapel Hill (http://snac.chccs.k12.nc.us/) and in Durham (Durham program is not run by district – https://www.facebook.com/dsnac/?ref=page_internal) . I believe this has shown to be a proven way to give a voice to all stake holders, get ideas, identify issues, new programs and direct feedback.
The district has offered incentives and is using outside services where possible. More attention from the board, through the SNAC, will help raise the priority of this daunting challenge.
I believe we will also have to look at more incentives and support to attract and retain EC teachers and staff, especially as we find a decline in teachers choosing EC. Potentially look at a grow your own as well.
14) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.
As a board member I feel it is very important to be active in our schools, student activities and community to understand how our polices and resolutions are impacting our students, teachers, and staff. Visiting our schools, reading a book to a class, help where we can, and thank our staff for their great work!
I feel it is important to be available to the public that you serve, and to listen to concerns outside of the board meetings. During the pandemic I held multiple virtual Office hours and in person (with all safety precautions). My phone number is posted on the school board website for anyone to call.
Please take time to look at my Facebook page to see my activities beginning in 2018 at https://www.facebook.com/willforschools