Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Donald A. Hughes
Mailing address: P.O. Box 51204, Durham, NC 27717
Date of Birth: 10/21/1987
Campaign Web Site: www.hughesfordurham.com
Occupation & Employer: Advertising Strategist, Blogads.com
Home Phone: (919) 578-7511
Work Phone: 9(919) 636-6551 x802Cell Phone: (347) 820-5484
Twitter handle, if applicable: @hughes4ed
1. If elected, what are your top priorities?
If elected, my top priorities are for the Durham Public Schools system are:
• Closing the achievement gap that exists for Black and Hispanic students
• Protecting public education funding and advocating against efforts by the statelegislature to cut funding, eliminate teacher tenure, and end vital public educationprograms
• Improving communication and collaboration between Durham Public Schools andcommunity organizations to improve literacy skills and prepare students for college orcareers in today’s 21st century global society
• Reducing disparities in school discipline/suspensions and ending “school-to-prison”pipeline
• Providing effective fiscal oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectivelyand efficiently while supporting district goals
2. What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability tobe an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community servicebackground.
Since 2010, I have served as a member of the Durham Workforce Development Board (DWDB).As a DWDB member, I have worked closely with business, education, and civic leaders to createa workforce system that meets the needs of employers and equips youth and adult residents withthe skills they will need to compete for jobs in today’s increasingly competitive 21st centuryglobal society.
Prior to serving on the Workforce Development Board, I served as a youth representative on theDurham Juvenile Crime Prevention Council (JCPC) where I worked with community leaders tocreate strategies aimed at helping young people at risk of juvenile delinquency.
In addition to my service on the Workforce Development Board and Juvenile Crime PreventionCouncil, I recently earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration (MPA) from NorthCarolina Central University (NCCU). In completing my master’s degree, I acquired manyimportant skills that have helped me grow into an effective leader capable of making thoughtfuland informed decisions, specifically related to the administration of public organizations. Theseskills—public budgeting, human resources/personnel management, organizational and behaviortheory, nonprofit management and more—combined with a record of community advocacy,engagement, and service, uniquely prepare me to serve on the Durham School Board.
Other activities include:
• NC Democratic Party State Executive Committee Member
• Durham Democratic Party Executive Committee/Precinct Chair
• 2012 and 2010 Delegate to Democratic National Convention
• NAACP, Member
• Congressional Intern
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself inyour past achievements and present campaign platform?
I define myself as a liberal, rational, and progressive person that believes every citizen has theright to a world-class education, safe communities, affordable and decent housing and thechance to earn a decent living that allows them to provide for themselves and their families.
My political philosophy has shown itself in my past achievements and present campaignplatform through my advocacy for public education. I have spoken out against cuts to publiceducation funding (that reduce the number of teachers in our classrooms and resources availableto those schools and students most in need). As a member of the Durham WorkforceDevelopment Board, I am a vocal advocate for programs that serve our most at-risk youth andseek to create pathways to jobs and not jails for Durham’s youth. Much of my platform focuseson addressing and ending disparities that exist in our public schools and community(suspensions, achievement gap, dropouts, unemployment) through specific measures such as theenactment of restorative justice programs in schools that work to improve student behaviorsrather than further the “school-to-prison” pipeline and funding for increased support personnel(e.g. teacher assistants, guidance and career counselors) to help students and relieve some of thepressure placed on teachers.
4. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost yousome popularity points with voters.
If elected to the Durham School Board, I would be a fierce advocate for public education. Istrongly disagree with many recent decisions by the North Carolina General Assembly, which I think undermine and threaten the foundation of public education in our state, and will publiclyspeak out against those decisions and work to repeal any legislation that does not align with thevalues of our community. Specially, I oppose school vouchers, the unregulated proliferation ofcharter schools and attempts to eliminate teacher tenure and enact four-year contracts for 25% ofour state’s teachers.
5. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would yourelection to office help further that goal?
I have a record of working to create a just community here in Durham through my service onvarious boards and advocacy at the local and state level around important social and economicjustice issues. As a member of the Durham School Board, I will continue that advocacy andwork to create policies that benefit our entire community, especially those often marginalizedgroups.
6. Minority children and children with disabilities are suspended from DPS at higher ratesthan their white counterparts. To what do you attribute this disparity? How should thisdisparity be resolved?
Durham Public Schools has a serious problem with the suspension of minority students andstudent with disabilities. Research shows that students that are suspended from school are morelikely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and eventually come into contact with the criminaljustice system. The cost of students dropping out of school and entering the criminal justicesystem is much greater than the cost of exploring restorative alternatives to suspensions that seekto keep students in schools and classrooms rather than on the streets unsupervised or in jails.
There are many reasons this disparity exists, including large classroom sizes, a lack of supportpersonnel to help students work through challenges and alleviate pressures placed on teachers,internalized racial/ethnic biases that could be addressed through effective cultural competencytraining and many external social factors (e.g. hunger, mental health, domestic violence) thatwill require support from our entire community to address.
As a member of the Board of Education, I would work to implement a restorative disciplineprogram that focuses on prevention of conflict and misbehaviors that often lead to suspensions.Restorative practices that actively engage students in the process have proven extremelyeffective in reducing suspensions in other school districts and are worth exploring in DurhamPublic Schools. In addition to implementing a restorative discipline program, I would work withother board members to pass a resolution calling for an end to suspensions except when theoffense threatens school safety and is a matter of state law.
In a broader sense, I understand the impact that cuts to public education funding have had on ourschools. With decreasing resources and support personnel in our schools, our teachers are facedwith the great task of teaching while also acting as nurses, counselors and more. We must protectpubic education funding and keep important support personnel in our schools to address themany challenges students face outside of the classroom and help relieve some of the pressureplaced on our teachers.
7. The Durham Board of Education recently joined a lawsuit with dozens of other publicschool districts challenge the law that ends teacher tenure. Tell the voters about your viewson this law and the board’s legal challenge to it.
I fully support the Durham School Board’s decision to join a lawsuit with dozens of other publicschool districts challenging the law that ends teacher tenure. This law, as I stated publicly (asreported by The Herald Sun), is “divisive and threatens the foundation of public education in ourstate.” The plan to award four-year contracts and monetary awards to only 25% of the state’steachers is not sound public policy, pits teachers against one another, reduces teacher morale andforces school districts to make arbitrary determinations as to which teachers would receive thesecontracts. If elected to the Durham School Board, I will support any efforts to challenge andultimately repeal this law.
8. The General Assembly passed sweeping legislation on education budgets, teacher pay,vouchers and charter schools in the last session. Assess the impact of that legislation, eitheras a whole or individual laws. Which laws do you agree/disagree with? Why?
I completely disagree with the North Carolina General Assembly’s (NCGA) legislation oneducation budgets, teacher pay, vouchers and charter schools. Based on their actions, it seems asthough their goal is to destroy public education in our state.
A bill approving school vouchers quickly made its way through the legislature last year and weknow that vouchers take important funding away from schools districts. This funding could beused to support teachers and other staff and increase student achievement instead of supportingalready well-off private schools. While the implementation of school vouchers has recently beenhalted by court order, there must be a long-term strategy and efforts to repeal this program as itis not a sustainable solution for serving our most disadvantaged students.
Charter schools have a place in our community, but they must be regulated and grow at ameasured rate. The recent removal of the cap on charter schools has led to the proliferation ofcharter schools that place profits over students and we must advocated for the controlled growthof charter schools in our community. Understanding that charter schools have been an importantpart of our community and in some cases have done a great job in preparing young people forcollege or careers in today’s 21st century global society, I hope to expand dialogue between localcharter school leaders and the Durham School Board in order to share best practices and ensurethat our goals (traditional public schools and charters) align with our community’s values.
The NCGA also conceived an illogical plan to award four-year contracts to 25 percent of thestate’s teachers in an effort to eliminate tenure. This plan does nothing to inspire our teachersand improve morale. Instead, this plan is uninspiring and pits teachers against one another. Iapplaud the current school board for opposing these 25 percent contracts and joining withschool districts from across the state in challenging this law.
Finally, in passing the 2013 state budget, the NCGA cut over $500 million from publiceducation. This direct assault on public education meant that teachers, teacher assistants andother support personnel would be eliminated from our schools and ultimately led to larger class sizes when we should have been reducing class sizes and working to improve studentachievement. The NCGA sent a message to North Carolinians that they did not value publiceducation and would replicate efforts by conservatives across the nation to destroy publiceducation in our state.
All of these actions have done nothing to improve student achievement, reduce the dropout rate,end the school-to-prison pipeline, support teachers, create pathways to jobs or prepare our youngpeople with the tools they will need to compete in an increasingly competitive global society.
9. Several candidates in this year’s school board election have strong ties to charter schools.For candidates with those ties: Why are you seeking election to a public school board?What are the pros and cons of vouchers? How would you respond to perceptions thatcharter school employees could have an agenda in pursuing election to the public schoolboard? And if you were to share the board with members who are unaffiliated withcharters, how would you address your policy differences?
For those candidates unaffiliated with charter schools: Should the state provide vouchersto parents who choose private (K-12) schools for their children? If so, for what amount?What are the pros and cons of vouchers? What is the impact of the voucher program onpublic schools? And if you were to share the board with members who are affiliated withcharters, how would you address your policy differences?
The state should not provide vouchers to parents who choose private (K-12) schools for theirchildren. While I am sympathetic to the concerns of parents who feel as though public schoolsare not meeting the needs of their children, school vouchers can be problematic for ourcommunity in that they take important dollars away from our public schools—funding that couldbe used to support teachers and students and improve student achievement.
If I were to share the board with members who are affiliated with charters, I would work withthem to ensure that our top priority is student achievement. If there are successful models incharter schools, I hope that we are able to constructively discuss those and determine if and howthey might be applied to traditional public schools and vice versa.
10. Durham’s school system is facing perhaps one of the most challenging budget years inrecent history. What direction will you give to school administration to balance thebudget? In what areas would you recommend cutbacks and which services should remainuntouched?
With the revelation/discovery of an additional $15 million in the school system’s unassignedfund balance, this year’s budget should not be as challenging as it has been in past years. Evenwith this unexpected fund balance, we must be sure that we are spending only on those programsthat contribute to the achievement of the school district’s goals and that we are doing so asefficiently as possible.
I would ask the school administration to evaluate central office spending for efficiencies such asuse of fleet vehicles, limiting technology expenses only to those tools that are absolutely criticalto the job functions of central office staff and evaluating bus routes to ensure that buses are notmaking unnecessary trips on routes where there is no to little ridership.
In regards to services that should remained untouched or expanded, I strongly believe that wemust keep teachers, assistants, and support personnel in our schools and classrooms. Under nocircumstances should be reducing the number of teachers, assistants, guidance counselors andother support personnel from our schools and classrooms and, as a member of the DurhamSchool Board, I will make this point extremely clear to the administration.
11. The previous superintendent, Eric Becoats, resigned amid allegations of financialirregularities in his office. What oversight was lacking that led to Becoats’ financialquestions? How should this oversight policy be rectified? What is the board seeking in anew superintendent? Are there aspects of the search process that could be improved?
The current board could and should have done a better job in providing financial oversight. Myformal training in public budgeting would have allowed me to potentially prevent some of theseirregularities by recommending specific measure to ensure that taxpayer dollars were handledappropriately. The Durham School Board should require the Superintendent to provide regular(quarterly) updates on the budget and fund balance so that we can actively and in a timelymanner evaluate how spending aligns with the goals of the school district and determine ifresources need to be adjusted in order to better serve our students and staff.
The new superintendent should have a strong record of success in terms of student achievement,community engagement and financial management. Durham Public Schools needs a leader thatthe community can have faith in and will serve as a vocal supporter and advocate for publiceducation. Four years ago, as a candidate for school board, I called for an open process thatallowed the community to see and question finalists. I have renewed that call and it seems asthough the current school board is moving in that direction with their recent search firmselection.