Name as it appears on the ballot: Monika Johnson-Hostler
Date of birth: 2/12/75
Campaign website: www.monikaforschools.com
Occupation & employer: Executive Director of NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Do you have a Facebook page? Monika Johnson-Hostler for Schools
Do you have a Twitter account? @monika4schools
1. What do you see as the most important issues facing the Wake County school system? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Increase Student Achievement: I am committed to seeing our student achievement levels increase at all of the schools in District 2. I want to work with the Superintendent and members of the school board to help set clear goals to improve student achievement. Working together, the Board of Education, our principals, teachers, parents and community leaders will create strong partnerships focused on reaching our goals.
Increase Teacher Pay: I will work hard to seek ways to support our teachers which includes increasing the local supplemental pay to give our teachers a raise. This is critical if we want to keep our most qualified and experienced teachers. In addition, I want to expand our professional development program to help teachers implement the new curriculum standards and related instructional strategies. I will also advocate for having teacher assistants in the lower grades and work to keep our classroom sizes reasonable in the K-5 grades.
Increase Classroom Resources: We need to expand technology resources at every school. The use of technology has proven to increase student achievement. While our children need to understand and have experience using technology resources, it is equally important they have updated and relevant textbooks and classroom supplies.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you’ve identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.
My experiencesas an executive director of a nonprofit, a Sunday school teacher, parent of a school-age child, wife of a school teacher, and my volunteer work in the communityhave given me valuable leadership and business skills that will help me be an effective school board member.
As the Executive Director of a successful statewide nonprofit that works to end violence against women and children since 2001, I have learned how to ask questions, listen to the answers, and advocate for solutions. I will use these same skills to advocate for our children and for the needed improvements in our schools. School boards set policy that guides the Superintendent and his staff. As a policy analyst, I understand policies should be written within a clear long range strategic plan to ensure thoughtful and visionary decisions are made, and I will work with board colleagues to set sound guidelines.
Being married to a high school math teacher and having a daughter who attends elementary school have given me real life experiences with issues facing parents, teachers, and school administrators. As a parent, every day I am reminded how important it is for our children to be prepared for careers or college after high school. I truly understand how parents feel and how they only want the best opportunities for their children. I pledge to make every decision with the same concern and passion I have for my own child, and I will work with other local elected officials in our District so our improving programs continue going forward and that our schools improve even more over the next few years.
3. IndyWeek’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.
I will place a high priority on reducing the achievement gap. I want to support our teachers and create productive learning environments where teachers can teach and students can learn. With effective teachers and relevant curriculum, our schools can engage students and set high expectations for all students. I believe every childregardless of where they livedeserves an equal opportunity to graduate from high school prepared for the career or college. Creating a just society requires that every child have a high quality education to help them fully participate and contribute to our community.
4. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
For many years, Wake County schools have had a high rate of out of school suspensions. A child can only learn and achieve if they are in the classroom and behaving appropriately. Research shows that suspensions increase the probability of these students dropping out of school and not graduating from high school. I believe we need serious policy changes and expanded ways to help teachers and parents create more positive outcomes for student with behavior/discipline problems. It does not serve our community well if our students fail grades or drop out of school due to problems with discipline at school that leads to expulsions. These students cannot get a job or attend a two-or-four year college without a high school degree. We have to fix this problem for the sake of our children, and improved outcomes will reap benefits socially and economically.
5. If these issues haven’t been addressed above, would you please comment on:
a) Do you support or oppose the 2013 bond issue for Wake schools that is on the October ballot? Do you think the $810 million bond is adequate to meet school construction needs for the foreseeable future? Is it more than is needed? Or is it not enough, which would necessitate another bond within 2-3 years?
Yes, I support the 2013 bond for Wake County Schools. Based on the information the County Commissioners and the School system used about seat capacity and the needed renovations in older schools, we have real needs. They are projecting almost 20,000 additional students by 2018. I defer to the County Commissioners as to the way to finance construction since they are responsible for finances and tax collection. However, I do believe it is necessary to provide high quality learning environments for all students and that a community cannot be a great place to live or start a business without quality schools in the community. I know that Garner and Fuquay-Varina have been waiting a long time to improve their facilities and these additions will enhance both communities as great places to live and educate children. In addition, we can keep exploring ways to efficiently use our current classroom space and seek innovative ways to stretch our resources.
b) Annual spending for the Wake schools has dropped below $8,000 per student, which is less than the state average, about $500 less than in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and $5,000 less than in Fairfax County, VAwith which Wake is often compared. In light of this, should the Wake school board be asking for more money from the Wake County Commissioners? If so, how much?
It is unacceptable to continue to underfund our schools, I am an advocate for requesting more at the state and local levels. The budget officer for Wake Schools reports that we are getting about $100 less per student than last year from the state for our 152,000 students. This shortfall means that we will continue to overcrowd our classrooms and risk laying off teachers and other professionals such as guidance counselors and teacher assistants. I will advocate for more of our local revenues to help us avoid the severe budget crisis predicted for 2014-2015.
c) As a school board member, what steps would be recommend, if any, to better support our teachers? Ideas might include pay supplements? Hiring more teacher assistants? Adding professional development programs? Or others?
I will advocate for more local funding to allow us to increase the local supplemental pay in next year’s budget. In addition, I support keeping classroom sizes small, reducing non-teaching duties, keeping teacher assistants in the lower grades and expanding professional development time. As the state funds are reduced, our community will need to examine how we can be innovative and effective in supporting our teachers. I will support staff-driven analysis and a coordinated strategy to improve working conditions for teachers and other classroom staff in every school building.
d) What programs or policies would you recommend to improve students’ performance and raise Wake’s high school graduation rate, which last year slipped below the state average?
Teachers must have the continuous staff development opportunities to learn new curriculum, sharpening instructional strategies to help our students make academic progress expected by national standards. Our teachers need technology and other classroom resources to keep instruction engaging to students. Parents need the same, continuous information and training opportunities that could enhance their understanding what is going on in the classroom and how they can be supportive at home.
At the federal, state and local level, benchmarks are set to determine if a student has learned required curriculum to pass a grade or course. These various measures of student learning help us decide if a student has “achieved academically” at each benchmark. Just as I do not believe that teachers should be judged solely on one or two student test scores, I also do not believe that a child’s “achievement” should solely be based on one or two test scores. The skill set that each child needs to move from grade to grade or from high school to jobs or college is broader than “student achievement” in the assessment world. I think our diplomas must reflect this more comprehensive view.
As stated earlier, I also will advocate for sound discipline policies that keep students in school and on track to graduate.
e) In pursuit of school safety and discipline, the Wake school system has tried zero-tolerance policies, resulting in high out-of-school suspension rates, and spent heavily on paid security officers with arrest powers. Now, some advocate letting armed volunteers help in the schools? What’s your view of school safety needs and how to achieve them?
Dr. Merrill, during his interview for Superintendent, stated that he wanted to review suspensions for Level One Offenses (talking back, being tardy, etc.) and felt that students should not receive out of school suspension for these violations. I agree–we need to work with parents and teachers to seek more positive outcomes for students with behavior/discipline problems. I feel it is critical to improve the relationship between parents and the school. Research shows that resolving minor behavior problems in a positive manner can keep incidents from escalating to more serious behavior problems at school and home and helps keep students in school. Finally, school resources officers, administrators and teachers need the training and resources to address behavior problems at the appropriate level and in ways that keep children on track and in school whenever possible.
I do not support allowing armed volunteers into our schools. We already have security in our schools, and they work directly with local officers and with the school administration. I support the recent recommendation by the school safety task force headed by Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison and retired Police Capt. Al White: Only trained and licensed law enforcement officers should carry a firearm on school grounds. We need to improve training for our school resources officers and make sure they are trained to deal with our children. Every child and teacher must be safe and have an effective learning environment, and this requires strong, clear policies and strong, effectively trained staff to implement the policies.
f) Diversity in school populations has been a controversial subject in Wake County for years. Do you support or oppose a policy to assure that every school has a diverse student body in terms of family income? Do you support or oppose a numerical goal such as the former one of no school with more than 40 percent of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program?
I do support using income in our work to keep school populations balanced and manageable for instruction. However, Wake County can and must balance many considerations including student stability, achievement and proximity in any assignment plan. Academic success for all students must be the top goal of any student assignment plan. I feel we need to expand parent choice to allow more parents opportunities in every school district.
g) Related to diversity, the magnet school program is much debated. Some think every school should have comparable curricular offerings, even if it curbs the magnets’ special attractiveness. On the other hand, application rates to the magnet schools are on the decline, suggesting they’ve been weakened too much. What’s your view?
I believe each school should have rigorous academic programs available to all students. Ensuring parents have access to choosing schools with special programs, such as magnet enrichment, global learning, STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics), or a small schools model that meet the needs of their children is important. These types of programs will keep many of our schools from being under enrolled and thus will maximize the use of our tax dollars for public education. I support the new Vocational and Technical High School and the Early College initiatives. We have to stay innovative in our approach to high school programs and encourage many ways to keep students on paths to career and college after graduation.
h) Wake is experimenting with all-male and all-female academies. Is this a good idea? Should it be expaned?
Like any new program, it is important to examine the data and outcomes from the schools. Therefore I think it is important to have at least two full years of data, which would include feedback from students, teachers, and parents and we will need to look at the costs associated with the program as well. The key will be making sure all students in special programs stay on track in terms of student achievement.
i) With state policies favoring more charter schools, should the Wake school system have its own charter schools? Why or why not? And if your answer is yes, how should they be governed?
Wake does not need its own charters. In fact, Wake has been a leader in parent choice already with the Early College Programs, the Vocational and Technical High School, the STEM programs and the Young Women’s and Young Men’s Leadership Academies. We should stay on the cutting edge, always looking for ways to challenge our students and prepare them for an ever changing global economy. I do hope that Wake will look for ways to work with existing charters and hope that as new charters come to Wake they are complimentary to existing public schools.