Name as it appears on the ballot: Hillary MacKenzie
Campaign website: www.mackenzie4ocs.com
Phone number: 919-619-0833
Years lived in Orange County: 30
1. In your view, what are the three most pressing issues facing Orange County schools? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?
Safety: I will focus on capital improvements, access control on campuses, safety action plans, mental health partnerships, and advocating for our immigrant families. I will also speak about gun safety in my answer to question 6.
Equity: Racial equity groups should be formed at each school to help normalize conversations around race on campuses. We need to address biases in testing, assessment, and discipline. We must hire and retain teachers of color, and we must meet the individual needs of students so they each graduate college and career ready.
Budget: We must maintain our buildings, advocate for better salaries and benefits for teachers, creatively bring more innovation to our classrooms, and market our public schools to be the community’s first choice in education.
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.
Prior to having my own family, I worked in the foster care system, volunteering as a Guardian ad Litem in Orange County. My experience with foster children taught me the importance of attending to the individual needs of each child through complicated situations.
More recently, I have served as one of the leaders of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, which seeks a physically and emotionally safe environment for all students. A central goal for my work in Orange County Schools will be to continue my efforts to make our schools safe, particularly for students who are part of traditionally underserved communities.
As an active community member, I have been advocating for equity, single-payer health care, common sense gun regulation, school safety and other causes for a long time. I will bring a passion for coalition building, love for children, and a commitment to breaking down systems of injustice to the board.
3. If you are a challenger, what decisions, if any, has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are the incumbent, what in your voting record and experience do you believe entitles you to another term?
Last year I attended the majority of the Orange County Board of Education’s meetings. I did this as part of the community effort to get the Confederate Flag banned from the student dress code. As a parent of children in Orange County Schools, as a voter, and as a member of our community, I was disappointed that what should have been a simple decision turned into a 9-month ordeal that ended in a ban only after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville under Nazi and Confederate flags.
In addition, I found it especially upsetting that, while the community was petitioning the board to put this important protection in place for our students, the board voted to limit public comment. The school board should welcome input from the community and encourage family involvement. If it were impossible to accommodate so many public comments during regular meetings, the board should have invited the public in for a discussion in a different setting, where everyone could voice their opinions, including the board members. When I am on the school board, I will always prioritize transparency and open
and encourage students, their families, and our community to use their voices to change our schools for better
4. Research, including a new 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 Orange County schools need to address? Please explain your answer.
Race and economic disparities in our district absolutely need to be addressed. Regardless of who gets elected, our district is planning student reassignment as some of our schools are exceeding capacity while others have many empty seats. After the data have been analyzed, we must create zoning that addresses racial and economic segregation and equitably distributes students throughout the district. In question 5, I will also address the ways that charter schools contribute to this situation.
I believe we have an important opportunity at this time to show members of the community how special Orange County Schools are and highlight the great things each school has to offer our children.
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?
Around 10% of the students who are
for OCS attend charters instead. Families with more resources are typically the ones who are able to send their children to charter schools, as charters do not usually provide transportation or free/reduced meals. The county is then liable for funding students at charters, and this reduces the
budget for our public schools. Additionally, because families with more resources are the ones leaving public schools, OCS ends up with fewer resources in the form of family contributions to fundraisers and fewer parent volunteer hours.
6. In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, what do you think should be done to make schools safer? Do you see preventing such shootings as a “school safety” issue?
As a parent to kids in OCS, student safety is not only a priority, but it’s personal. Access control must be a focus at each campus. Schools need to be locked with an intercom system and security cameras at front doors. Visitors should continue to enter identification and create a badge to wear at all times. Teachers should check hallways before students leave rooms during fire alarms to ensure halls are secure. Mental health partnerships must be prioritized on campuses. I will also personally advocate for common sense gun regulations, as I believe that these protections would make our schools safer. I do not support arming teachers.
7. In a similar vein, do you support the placement of school resource officers in Orange County Schools? If so, what do you think their role should be? If not, what do you propose as an alternative?
I support the placement of School Resource Officers in Orange County Schools. I think that it’s important to have someone on campus who is able to respond to threats or perceived threats, especially in the case of armed intruders or students. It allows teachers and
to focus on educating our students while law enforcement can focus on this area of safety. That being said, I think it is extremely important that our School Resource Officers be trained in racial equity as well as de-escalation techniques to make sure that students—especially black and brown students— are not disciplined inappropriately or unjustly criminalized.
8. In the most recent data, Orange County Public Schools had a graduation rate of 89.1 percent, a little bit lower than Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools’ rate and considerably better than Durham County’s. What steps can the school board take to ensure that more of its students graduate?
We need a multi-faceted approach that looks at each child holistically in OCS so that we can improve the graduation rate of all students, and particularly students of color that graduate at a lower rate. Several indicators I would like to monitor as we strive to increase the graduation rate are the following:
• Hiring, supporting and retaining teachers and administrators of color, and those who are fluent in Spanish, within our district.
• Continuing to enhance the plan that ensures students are encouraged to participate in advanced classes. The students in these classes should at least represent the racial
of the student body and should include students whose parents did not attend college.
• Decrease disparities in suspensions and criminalization between white students and students of color. Teachers and administrators should be comprehensively trained in restorative practices. Schools that use these practices decrease overall suspensions, which actually boost graduation rates.
9. According to the most recent data, 47 percent of Orange County Public Schools students receive either free or reduced lunch. In your experience, what are some challenges that economically disadvantaged students, in particular, face day-to-day? What steps can the school board take to help these students?
As a Guardian ad Litem and a volunteer in classrooms, I have seen the challenges that economically disadvantaged students face. It’s very difficult for these students to focus on work when their basic needs are not being met. These students often face food insecurity, lack of weather-and size-appropriate clothing, unstable housing, and limited access to school supplies. We need to ensure that our schools are trauma-informed institutions that help match student needs to the resources we can help provide. We need to shift the culture of traditional discipline to restorative practices that help students work through any issues that they may be experiencing at school and at home and help them focus on their studies.
10. Last year, Orange County schools earned seven Bs and five Cs under the state’s scoring system. Do you think the current state grading system is fair and truly reflects school quality?
I think each of the schools in our district is special and have their own strengths and identity to offer students, and the grades that are assigned are not truly able to capture certain characteristics of our schools that make them special, such as their diversity or sense of community. Our teachers are extremely committed to our students, and I have been very happy with my own family’s experience in OCS.
Regardless of what grade our schools receive from the state, we need to constantly assess what is working in each school and what is not as successful. We need to transparently name and address the areas where progress is needed, such as capital improvements to buildings, better benefits for teachers, hiring and retaining more teachers of color, a stronger dedication to racial equity, as well as stronger community partnerships and school board transparency.
11. What do you think the system could do to keep down suspension rates in Orange County schools?
Our schools need to become trauma-informed, and we need to increase our ability to look at students holistically. OCS should take into consideration how many children experience adverse childhood events, such as homelessness, abuse, neglect, or exposure to substance abuse, as these events can have a substantial effect on academic performance and behavior. As we build our skills in these areas, we must also focus on discipline and
our students understand how their actions affect other people. Restorative practices can dramatically decrease suspension rates and increase college and career readiness. The education that OCS offers should address social and emotional development and include teaching students how to be successful citizens in the community.
12. 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 am an activist, not a politician, so I am prepared to take any stand I need to protect the best interest and safety of our students. I took a stand last year asking the board to ban the
flag from the student dress code. Many people in our county disagreed with that decision. While I can respect someone’s right to wear that symbol outside of school, we must create learning environments that are safe for all of our students.