Name as it appears on the ballot: Natalie Beyer
Campaign website: NatalieBeyerforDurham.com
Phone number: 919-382-2823
Years lived in Durham County: 40
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the Board of Education? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
The Board of Education represents the people of Durham in governance of the school district in keeping with Durham’s values, sets policies, hires and evaluates the Superintendent. I hold Superintendents to high standards and expect leaders to inspire an innovative ethical team of student-centered principals, educators and staff. The Board must listen thoughtfully to community concerns, and utilize evidence-based education practices to lead Durham Public Schools towards a focus on equity and excellence for all. It is imperative to focus the work of the district to transform Durham Public Schools to break down systemic inequities, challenge every student and transform lives and communities through strong public schools. In order to address these issues Durham Public Schools must: focus on equity issues and disproportionalities in schools and across the district, recruit, retain and train professional educators and principals and advocate for universal pre-K for Durham and statewide.
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 was a student in Durham Public Schools from kindergarten through high school. My three children all attended Durham Public Schools from kindergarten through high school. I have been a long-time parent, community and school volunteer. I have served as PTA President in two different DPS schools and have served on a school improvement team (SIT) as an elected parent representative. I successfully collaborated with other DPS parents and teachers to lead advocacy efforts including the construction of the first sound wall on an interstate bridge in North Carolina to protect a DPS elementary school playground, worked to stop the DPS “Reading Street” scripted curriculum and championed the development of a new arts-focused middle school. For several years before I was elected to the Board of Education I worked part-time for Durham Public Schools to develop Kindergarten marketing and community outreach events for prospective families. I helped found two grassroots non-profit organizations focused on public education advocacy, Parents Across America and Public Schools First NC. I continue to volunteer as a Board member for PSFNC. I served on a Task Force on low-performing schools sponsored by the Public Schools Forum.
Since 2010 I have been honored to serve the Durham community as the District 4 representative to the Board of Education. I volunteer on the DPS Arts Advisory Committee and serve on the Board of Project Graduation, a non-profit that coordinates a safe graduation celebration for all DPS students. Most recently I was sworn in as a court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem. In this volunteer role I am an advocate for minor children who are involved in court cases due to allegations of parental abuse and neglect.
3. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your record and experience do you believe entitles you to another term?
It has been my honor to serve on the Durham Board of Education since 2010. I am blessed to have a flexible schedule that permits me to visit schools, serve frequently on hearing panels, and represent DPS at day, evening and weekend community events. I am a champion for excellence and equity. I base every decision on what is best for every student and have been a local, state and national advocate for strong public schools. As an advocate, I volunteer as a Board Member for Public Schools First NC, a non-partisan statewide education advocacy non-profit. In Durham I have written or supported numerous progressive resolutions, policies and actions for our Board including support for boys and girls of color, immigrant and refugee students, LGBTQ students and a resolution opposing hate speech and white supremacy.
I have been a vocal advocate against flawed policy proposals from the General Assembly like the unfunded mandates regarding K-3 class size and advocate against vouchers for private schools and other privatization schemes. I speak as a champion for professional educators and worked to restore due process rights and extend four year contracts to Durham educators. I successfully advocated for limiting the use of high stakes testing data in teacher evaluations in DPS. I worked with Board members to end the district’s contract with Teach for America. TFA educators, although well-intentioned, are not adequately prepared during their short five week preparation program and they rarely remain in the classroom beyond two years.
I have been a leader for equity and transparency regarding disproportionalities in our district. I voted to create the Office of Equity Affairs to better focus our district strategies. I am a strong voice for Latinx students and families in Durham as we strive to expand support services and interpreters throughout our schools. I support the work of the DPS Community Task Force focused on revising the DPS code of student conduct. The policies are focused on school climate and prevention. I champion alternatives to suspension and restorative practices. Our Board led the community effort to expand pre-K by maximizing the number of pre-K spots available in our DPS elementary schools and in new sites like the Whitted School. I supported the development of a sliding scale for pre-K programs to increase equity and access. I have attended every DPS budget meeting for the past seven years and overseen budgets that protect the classroom while cutting central office expenditures. I advocate for increased budget transparency. I championed Board advocacy efforts for a strong local funding request from the County and requested financial analysis of what it would take to move all DPS staff up to at least $15/hour.
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 DPS needs to address? Please explain your answer.
Durham County White 29%/ Black 37%/Hispanic 26%/Asian 4%/ Other 4% (2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children Full Report)
DPS White 19%/Black 45%/Hispanic 31%/Asian 2%/Other 3%
Durham went through the painful process of merging our separate but unequal City and County schools systems in 1992. It is heartbreaking to some (and perhaps unknown to newcomers) that that are significantly fewer White and Asian students enrolled in Durham Public Schools than live in our community. This is a fundamental issue for student achievement and for the good of every student we should work to ensure that our school demographics mirror the diversity of our community at large.
This issue is largely rooted in race and class. Many newcomers do not even understand the history of Durham but are swayed by negative school rankings or isolated news reports. It is imperative to highlight the quality of DPS teachers, the enriched curriculum, the focus on critical thinking, and the universal benefit of integrated schools. Research shows that integrated schools bring higher student achievement for all students. In this area I believe that DPS and the Durham community can lead frank conversations about advantage, privilege and our local history. I am working with community members to invite Nikole Hannah-Jones to speak in Durham and spark a broader community conversation. As the Board considers future redistricting and our community struggles with gentrification, a deep understanding of these complex issues will be critical.
I encourage Durham families to visit and tour their community school as their first best option. We need to challenge families to consider how individual decisions impact the greater community good. I know our district can also increase our efforts to highlight the great work of DPS students and educators through social media and traditional media outlets.
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?
Durham County currently has 15 charter schools including two virtual charter schools and an additional charter school has already been approved. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed and in Durham they are draining resources and increasing segregation/racial isolation. Dr. Helen Ladd’s research has shown that charter schools in NC tend to be racially isolated and some Durham charter schools exacerbate racial isolation by policies that create barriers to students like lack of transportation or free healthy school meals.
I worked with former board members and Durham charter school representatives to draft “Our Vision of Public Education in Durham: Quality Schools for All Children”. This vision statement was approved by the Durham Board of Education but never by the Boards of any charter schools in Durham. It was reported that charter schools did not agree with the sentences: “We envision a community that will equitably confront, together, our fundamental challenge of weakening the powerful link between socioeconomic disadvantage and student learning. All of our public schools will share equally in this challenge to educate our impoverished children, with no barriers to admission, retention, and success.”
In most states, charter schools are actually authorized by local elected boards of education and operate like magnet schools. NC could strengthen charter school legislation by allowing local boards of education to govern some charter schools in their local education agency. I hope that DPS could find an existing local charter school that would be willing to be governed by the local board of education. We could then work with our local legislative delegation to get a bill passed that would enable this pilot. In this work Durham could lead the state in innovating while increasing charter school accountability and transparency. In the meantime, DPS will continue to co-exist with local charter schools and encourage better state and local oversight for students and taxpayers.
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?
School safety is our first concern. Every student should feel safe in school without fear of bullying, threats or violence of any kind. The press has reported extensively on school shootings but it is important to remember that statistically shootings are actually extraordinarily rare and people are more in danger just traveling to and from school by vehicle. The specific risk of gun violence is actually greatest within homes and the community at large – not within schools. There have been several horrible school shootings including most recently in Parkland, Florida and students are leading national efforts to reform state and federal laws so every student can feel safe and say #NeverAgain. I drafted a resolution on gun violence and school safety that our Board unanimously passed at our March 22 meeting. Our resolution calls on state and national elected leaders to pass “legislation that more effectively regulates access to firearms in the interest of public safety, funds public-health research on firearms-related issues, and advances mental health supports.” The resolution also addresses gun violence in the community which disproportionately impacts students of color.
Every school in Durham Public Schools has a safety plan developed by the principals, teachers and staff working together with local law enforcement experts. These plans are never made public but staff are working behind the scenes with trained law enforcement agencies to keep students safe. I do not support proposed policies to arm teachers because teachers are not trained law enforcement officers and more guns in schools actually increases the chances of gun violence. Our staff monitor social media for threats and concerns. Students should report any concerns to their teachers and school administrators. DPS has a text-a-tip line for anyone to report concerns anonymously. No concern is too small and staff will take all concerns seriously and investigate.
7. In a similar vein, do you support the placement of school resource officers in Durham schools? If so, what do you think their role should be? If not, what do you propose as an alternative?
Most of our secondary schools currently have school resource officers. I support the development of a Community Task Force to review school security. I would like the Task Force to survey teachers, students, principals, parents and community members as well as review data from our district. It is time to examine national best practices for school security and resource officers in order to make improvements and eliminate any disparities while we seek additional counselors and other support staff.
8. On the most recent Durham City and County Resident Survey, respondents rated DPS poorly in terms of community engagement, quality of education, budget management, transparency, and quality of leadership. Do you think this is a fair assessment? Why or why not? What do you think should be done to improve the system’s image?
The survey – while representing a small sample size – reflects a persistent negative perception of Durham Public Schools within the community at large. While the sample size was small and the survey questions were weak, Durham Public Schools must address this nagging criticism. Public relations experts report that the district must shower the community with a “firehose” of positive news. The community needs to hear 10 positive stories to counteract the effect of 1 negative news story. We have added a position to our DPS PR staff and are working to identify champions at every school who can help photographs and report on “good news”. Staff is beefing up our web presence and social media efforts. Our team is working with the Chamber of Commerce and local leaders to build the DPS brand. We need to continue to empower our students, parents and families as our best community ambassadors for Durham Public Schools. It was heartening to know that the Durham community is willing to pay higher taxes if necessary to invest in our students. On the 2016 bond referendum voters supported Durham Public Schools at a higher rate than Durham Technical Community College, the Museum of Life and Science and the Durham County Library.
9. According to the most recent data, DPS’s four-year graduation rate is 81.4 percent, which is significantly lower than other Triangle counties’ graduation rates, as well as the state average. To what do you attribute this? And what steps can DPS take to increase its four-year graduation rate?
Since I joined the Board of Education in 2010, our district graduation rate has increased from 69% to over 81%. We still have significant work to do and I will not rest until our graduation rate is 100%. Durham has unique demographics within the state and the Triangle area and does not have a similar comparative peer district.. Over ⅔ of our students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Our district is 82% students of color and while every child can learn and be successful, we must acknowledge and break down the generations of systemic inequities that exist for students and families of color. Over 31% of our students are Latinx and many face issues with English as a Second Language, racism, discrimination and fears over immigration concerns. Many students are working to support their extended families and lose hope for higher education plans. Many of our students face challenges from previous or ongoing child trauma. None of these issues are excuses but solutions must address all of these complex issues.
One of the first changes DPS made was to add a 22 credit diploma (state requirements) in addition to our typical DPS 28 credit diploma. In addition, we added Latinx dropout prevention coaches but could probably add many more with additional funding. Our Latinx drop out data is the high and alarming. I support efforts to enable immigrant students to attend NC Community Colleges and UNC System Schools at in-state tuition rates. This state policy change would give students an affordable path to higher education. I have advocated for a Newcomer Center to address the needs of older immigrant students who might need additional supports to succeed in middle and high school content taught in their second language. Additional efforts are being led by our Equity Director and Curriculum staff to ensure that courses are engaging and culturally relevant. Durham Public Schools has several alternative settings such as the Performance Learning Center and Middle College which could use additional marketing support to increase community awareness. Our counselors and staff must continue to educate students and families about the importance of school attendance and utilize early warning indicators (like Balfanz) to provide additional supports for students early before they fall off cohort.
10. Three-quarters of DPS students are black or Hispanic, yet students of color are trailing their white peers in grade-level proficiency. Why isn’t DPS doing a better job of reaching students of color? What should be done to close this achievement gap?
The struggle of African-American and Latinx students is largely the result of decades of institutionalized racism and economic inequality. School discipline disparities and segregated, underfunded schools also contribute to the challenge. The first step Durham Public Schools can take is to continue to increase transparency about disparities in our district data and outcomes. We must acknowledge and fully share the concern for all children with our community. The community schools model should help focus our district work. We can certainly look to other districts for best practices like Oakland or Cincinnati. Research shows that educators are most effective when they build strong relationships with students. Schools should focus on inclusive practices, project-based learning, student-centered literacy initiatives, healthy food, parent involvement and mentoring particularly for boys. In order to support first-generation college students DPS and community partners should improve counseling, ensuring challenging relevant courses at every school and sponsor college tours. One struggle for the district will be to devise strategies to ensure the most challenged students have the most experienced, culturally competent educators every day.
We need to hire and retain more bilingual staff. We worked to add bilingual skills to many of our district job descriptions. In reality we struggle to recruit and retain because the private market can compensate bilingual employees better. This is probably an area where we need to develop a program with a local university to train teachers and “grow our own”. In addition we are going to need to work with Human Resources to recruit from outside of North Carolina. I have been a leading proponent of developing a newcomer center within Durham Public Schools particularly to serve older students struggling with language acquisition, cultural adjustments and core content subjects. I have attended the free DPS summer camps for elementary and middle school students last summer and was delighted to see engaged immigrant students learning together. This is also an area where our staff need high quality professional development, particularly in assisting students who are dealing with issues of childhood trauma. When we tackle these concerns together Durham will truly become the beloved community we all strive towards.
11. What do you think the system could do to keep down suspension rates in Durham County schools?
School discipline is the most complex work of being a member of the Board of Education. I have served on numerous discipline hearings during my time on the Board and each one requires preparation, time, thoughtful judgement and discernment. Positive school climates require the work of experienced principals and teachers trained in restorative justice practices and working collaboratively to prevent discipline issues and address the root issues. Engaged students are key. Our community focus on high quality universal Pre-K will help improve school climates. Our focus on truancy courts in every DPS school has been an attempt to identify challenges families are facing and identify resources to support students. I was heartbroken to learn that after many years of positive trends our discipline data saw a significant uptick last year. Our student support staff is focusing on the small group of schools that showed significant disproportionalities in order to urgently identify solutions.
The members of the Task Force are meeting to review the data and make more targeted recommendations. I asked that our experienced principals share best practices throughout the district. We have developed more restorative practices, in school consequences and alternative settings such as New Directions and community non-profit partners like Rebound. We have co-located mental health services in every DPS school. Our administrators are offering drug counseling and misdemeanor diversion court at every opportunity. We need to continue to build relationships with parents as partners in this work. I am heartened to have DPS Superintendents who take this issue so seriously that they personally review each long term suspension. Our staff gave a thorough update on discipline disparities at our work session on March 8th. We must continue to be transparent about the issues and disproportionalities while we come together with our community to address these concerns.
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.
It is time for Durham Public Schools to tackle student assignment and redistricting. This is some of the most challenging work of School Boards because these changes tends to make everyone nervous and potentially affect property values. I believe that our schools need to reflect our community and not further benefit the privileged. As our staff brings recommendations I will consider every change with an equity lens and attempt to re-integrate our segregated schools through attendance lines.