Name as it appears on the ballot: Heather Scott
Campaign website: www.HeatherForWake.org
Phone number: 252-517-9514
Years lived in the county: 10
1. What do you believe are the three most important issues facing the Board of Education? What are your priorities for addressing these issues?
The Wake County Board of Education faces the ongoing and difficult task of student assignment. The county offers a presentation online describing the principles, or “pillars,” that drive assignment decisions. Explaining these pillars, why they were chosen as the basis for assignment, and how they are implemented in the assignment process could build more trust with parents. Better advertisement of Board Advisory Committee meetings for specific community concerns and continued promotion of feedback opportunities can also improve transparency.
Racial/socioeconomic equity in two parts: the achievement gap is a concern. Over the last few years, it has been pointed out that the WCPSS has not fairly served students of color with proportionate access to AIG programs and instruction. We also struggle with disproportionate suspension/discipline rates among students of color. WCPSS could include more vigilant implicit bias and differentiated instruction training during professional development. Improved parent feedback/communication opportunities and district-provided parenting programs may also be beneficial to help bridge these gaps.
We are losing quality teachers and struggling to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. Improved monitoring of teacher turnover rates and working conditions survey results can help address this as well as working with school administrators to address school-specific concerns for their faculty members. We also must continue to advocate for competitive teacher salaries, benefits, and bargaining rights.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective Board of Education member? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I have taught in PreK-12 classrooms as a music teacher over the last twenty years – with ten years full-time and the other ten as a substitute teacher/freelance private music instructor. Music teachers must have strong relationships with parents and excellent classroom management skills in order for their programs to succeed. I was able to grow the music programs at each of the schools where I taught – from taking a choir of 10 students to one with over 60, to starting K-8 general music, a chorus and two bands at a brand new school. My teaching experience includes public schools as well as several years at a private institution and a charter school. I believe this brings me real experience with what families consider when they opt-out of public schools, and I can share this unique perspective with the Board when considering educational programs and pedagogy, student assignment and teacher satisfaction. I taught in a variety of demographics including wealthy suburbs in North County San Diego, a high-density urban suburb in Northwest Indiana, a rural small town in Indiana and North Raleigh. These types of communities exist within District 1 as well as throughout other parts Wake County. I am also a lifelong public school advocate and product of public education, kindergarten through college.
3. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions have the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your record and experience do you believe merits another term?
The incumbent for District 1 did not refile to seek an additional term. I was disappointed with Don Agee’s tenure on the Board of Education. Mr. Agee had professional experience and personal insight of WCPSS schools’ facilities – specifically his involvement on infrastructural systems on school projects – and could have advised the board with that perspective. Instead he was often very vocal in accusing the board of being wasteful with spending and has now encouraged voters to vote against the much-needed school bond on the ballot this November. While no one wants to see families burdened with over-taxation, the bond is the least expensive way the county can address updates to our schools – including school security.
4. Research, including a report from the NC Justice Center, suggests that North Carolina’s schools are becoming more segregated by race and economic status. What do you think is driving this trend, and do you think this is an issue WCPSS needs to address? Please explain your answer.
The Triangle has been repeatedly recognized as a top place to live over the last decade. This is good news for growth in our area, but high demand has created affordability issues – especially when considering the gentrification many urban communities are experiencing across the country. A recent study shared by NPR shows North Carolina to be a state with extremely limited economic mobility – it’s very difficult for families to leave poor neighborhoods for a “better” opportunity. WCPSS shifted toward a “neighborhood school” student assignment in 2010, causing some schools to experience resegregation in their student population. Adding to this problem is the lifted cap on the number of charter schools as well as school vouchers. When parents are under the false impression their assigned public school is failing because of test scores (data suggests this only reflects the number of lower-income students), families with the financial means to do so are more likely to seek alternative schooling for their child. Charter schools, too often by design, can be very segregated communities. Admission is restricted (you must win a lottery position at the youngest grade) and lack of transportation combined with lack of a free/reduced lunch program are barriers for many parents and students. Students can be expelled for a number of minor disciplinary reasons, including dress code violation. WCPSS can address these concerns by continuing to build up our schools that struggle the most, offering innovative programs and partnerships throughout our schools, and recruiting and keeping strong teachers who share the vision that “what starts here changes everything.”
5. What effects do you believe the popularity of charter schools is having on the school system? Is it exacerbating segregation or draining resources from neighborhood schools, as some critics contend?
Charter schools are absolutely creating a funding strain on our public schools. Charter schools were introduced to North Carolina in 1996 as schools designed to help students with special needs and academically gifted students meet education goals, but all children could apply to attend charters. When the cap was lifted in 2012 from 100 schools (NC now has 185), additional funding was also siphoned away from public schools. Charters unfortunately do exacerbate segregation with a number of admissions policies, and although it may not be a direct intent – the collateral damage is clear. Most charters do not provide transportation or free/reduced lunches. More concerning are the number of schools with admission requirements that do not allow them to operate on a true lottery-based admission. For example, a K-8 Raleigh charter school requires students participate in a certain number of weekly hours in a professionally coached extracurricular activity. Free or low-cost organizations such as Y-Guides, Scouting and Parks & Rec are excluded. Since these extracurriculars are often costly (music lessons are $30+ per 30 minutes, year-long swim team can cost $1200+ per year, etc.), this effectively maintains a school with a student population drawing solely from families with higher incomes. Total state funding to charter schools in 2017-2018 was $580 million.
6. In light of recent funding debates, some Wake County commissioners have suggested shifting school-tax authority to the Board of Education. Do you think this is a worthwhile idea? Why or why not?
I do not think this is a worthwhile idea at this time. It’s understandable that the Commissioners feel it is unfair that the school board can publicly recommend spending without having to levy the taxes themselves, but there is great value in this arrangement. It means the Board of Education is focused solely on making schools the best they can be. It incentivizes transparency from the school board about both the money it spends, assuring taxpayers they are getting the most for their dollar, and money it doesn’t – to be open about the hidden costs of underfunding. I do not feel we would be best served by a school board with a political incentive to downplay funding gaps or to be reticent to identify and push for new programs. If there must be political tension over schools I would prefer it remain between the school board and the Commissioners rather than come between the school board and teachers/administrators.
7. Assuming the Board of Commissioners retains taxing authority in the near term, what steps do you believe the Board of Education can or should take to repair the sometimes strained relationship with the commissioners over funding questions?
The Board of Commissioners is in a very difficult position. They are the final stop in the budgeting process for schools, and are the last source of funding when state and federal funding sources fall short as they too often do. At the same time they are pressed to by a school board that is rightly focused on, and advocating for, making the school system the best it can be. The Board of Education needs to continue to share the very real consequences when funding does not meet needs. That will, from time to time, put the two boards at odds. Repairing the strain this puts on their relationship depends on transparency about priorities, timeliness in recognizing gaps in funding from other sources, and respect for the Commissioners’ wider fiscal responsibility. The county is wealthy, but property taxes are a regressive revenue source. According to NC Department of Revenue data, 52.8% of Wake County tax returns reported less than $50,000 in adjusted gross income in 2015, which means there are many people already stretched by high and rising rents in our area. Keeping in mind that an unfortunate amount of the burden for incremental funding comes at the expense of those vulnerable students we most want to help – and vice versa – should ease tensions.
8. In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this year, what do you think should be done to make schools safer? Do you see preventing such shootings as a “school safety” issue?
Schools should have safety measures in place that include properly secured entrances with a secure entry system, video monitoring, access to local law enforcement who are also aware of safety protocol at the individual school, regularly practiced safety drills, and procedures that are appropriately shared with all staff members (including substitute teachers). These precautions are not solely to prevent shootings; they improve day to day student and teacher safety in a number of ways. I believe school shootings are more closely related to student emotional wellness and the accessibility to firearms with high-capacity magazines or other modifications designed to rapidly fire many rounds of ammunition. Preventing school shootings can be accomplished by establishing positive relationships from the start – including open dialogue about bullying, mental health advocacy and treatment, and respectful school-parent relationships.
9. In a similar vein, do you support the placement of school resource officers in Wake schools? If so, what do you think their role should be? If not, what do you propose as an alternative?
I believe school resource officers are unfortunately necessary in order for some parents to feel their children are safe at school. However, I am greatly concerned – and data backs up this concern – that the presence of SRO’s may escalate problems in our schools with disproportionate discipline of students of color. We must acknowledge that people of color do not always feel safer with SRO’s present at their child’s school, and their concerns are just as valid and important. If we must have these officers within our school, SRO’s have the responsibility to use their presence to build trust within communities who often feel marginalized by police. Implicit bias training, social/emotional wellness training and mental health intervention training should be required throughout the school year. I also believe schools with or without SRO’s should continue to implement social/emotional wellness across the curriculum in addition to restorative justice discipline alternatives. We should continue to promote Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports to encourage better choices and reinforce ownership of the child’s education.
10. Black students make up about a quarter of Wake County public school students, yet, according to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, are nearly eight times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. Why isn’t WCPSS doing a better job of reaching students of color? Are racial disparities an issue you think the board of education needs to address?
We must remember the public school system was simply not created for students of color – most schools are not doing an adequate job with reaching students of color. As people of color have fought for equal access to education and other rights, they have been met with resistance in the form of privatization of programs, unfair legislation and lack of affordable housing restricting economic mobility. We must openly acknowledge this inequity in order to change it. All NC students have a fundamental state constitutional right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.” When that right is infringed because unfair disciplinary procedures keep a child out of school, we absolutely need to address these disparities (and the current Board has started this process). We should not tiptoe around matters of integration and racial disparities – it is our duty as a Board of Education to advocate for all students.
11. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
I do not support breaking up our school system into smaller school systems. While I recognize this could slightly improve some problems with student assignment, overcrowding and calendar problems (make-up days, etc.), it would also abruptly end the opportunity for distribution of funding throughout our district. A strong community with strong schools throughout Wake County ultimately benefits all citizens, all business owners, and our economy as a whole. A unified district also allows WCPSS to continue to set the trend for innovative and integrated public school systems, and can continue to attract highly trained professionals to our area in the field of education and beyond. Public education is a common good and I want all of our children to have access to the best opportunities.