Name as it appears on the ballot: Rita Rakestraw
Full legal name, if different: Rita Romaine Rakestraw
Date of birth: 12-02-69
Home address: 615 Jumping Frog Lane, Knightdale, NC 27545
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site: ritaforboard.com
Occupation & employer: Developmental Therapist/Cornerstone Family Services
Home phone: 266-3709
1) What are the specific needs of your school district that you will fight for if elected to the board?
We need to prepare our students to be able to compete in our increasingly global society. In order to do that our students need foreign languages in all the elementary schools and Academically Gifted programs in grades K-5.
Strong schools are not only important for our children, but our entire community. Job recruitment, housing values, reducing crime, all depend on maintaining and improving our outstanding school system.
The job of the School Board is to listen and be strong for all of Wake County’s children. That is why I’m running for School Board, to bring a fresh voice for all our children, a voice that listens and works to bring our community together to find solutions, not divide us.
2) What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the council? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.
I got my start in politics a couple years ago in Knightdale by trying to stop a proposed business development (Super Wal-mart) that encroached upon our neighborhood. It threatened the safety of our neighborhood. I organized a group in my community. We fought it and were successful. I worked hard to organize my community and I will work just as hard for the students, parents, and teachers of the Wake County Schools when I get elected to the School Board.
Having taught in the public schools in Durham and Orange County I am know what it takes to have healthy schools. I taught special education and second grade for 9 years.
3) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I think my past achievements, as a special education teacher and community activist, make me a great potential champion to carry on the heritage of Wake County.
This is a non-partisan election, and one of the great achievements of Wake County is the broad business, professional and clergy support for the unique, fair-minded, democratic, and creative evolution of our school policies. This has led a leading educational writer (Gerald Grant), who has studied our system and systems across the country, to subtitle his book, “Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.” I’m very proud of what’s been done here, with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents cooperating to create an outstanding school system.
4) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
I know some voters feel that ‘no busing’ is a solution. And the idea of neighborhood schools is the basic value we should follow. Even if it leads to lessened property values in low income areas, schools that become resegregated among economic lines, and cost our taxes to go up. This happened in Charlotte and other cities who have abandoned their diversity policy. Senator Vernon Malone helped lay down the foundation for the diversity policy over 30 years ago. I’m going to stand firm that having a right to chose various educational options, and having the means to do so, is the way to go forward, and we should not retreat from our path of excellence.
5. What’s your position on the issue of “neighborhood” schools and abandoning, or changing, current assignment policies that seek to balance student populations in every school (“diversity”)?
Most of the evidence from the past 40 years of research, and our own evidence of our eyes shows, that our children will grow up in a more diverse society, and the sooner they get the opportunity to work, learn, play and be together, the better for all. In fact, business leaders, and educational leaders and scholars know that our current practices lead to best educational outcomes, best economic outcomes in terms of community cohesion, housing values, and general economic development — why would anyone want to move backward is a mystery to me.
However, I will say that it’s important to have means for parents to have input into the places their children attend school, and the system needs to be flexible. That is why there are different options available for families, traditional schools, year round schools, magnet schools and charter schools.
6. To limit reassignments and busing distances, some local officials have advocated either splitting the Wake school district or else creating sub-districts with fixed boundaries within it. What’s your reaction to these ideas?
I disagree with creating sub-districts in our school system. 99% of all Wake County children are assigned to a school within 10 miles (as the crow flies). However, we do need to work on that 1%.
Certainly we should be aware that long bus rides are not ideal for young children, and I think we should be aware that some parents want their children closer to home so that they can be more involved in the child’s development. But I think we can accommodate that under the present system, and also allow for the greater diversity, and excellence, that the present system offers.
7. Wake County’s graduation rate hovers around 80 percent, meaning that of the students entering high school, about one in five doesn’t finish within five years. That’s better than the state average, but it isn’t great. Should the district be doing more for at-risk students in the earlier grades and if so, what?
Yes. Research shows that when kids have a firm foundation and are successful in the earlier grades they have higher graduation rates and are more successful throughout their academic career. I support reducing our class sizes and hiring more teacher assistants, improving our after school tutoring programs, and forming partnerships with our 9 colleges and universities in the area.
8. Are new programs needed to help dropouts return and finish high school?
I think there’s a need for adult high schools, where people who have dropped out and have gone into the work force can feel comfortable coming in and finishing once they realize they need to do it. Also, I’d like to see more online learning programs be available, using computer learning.
9. Does Wake County have enough schools and enough classrooms? If not, would you advocate speeding up the pace of new buildings and additions, even if tax hikes were required?
We need to work on finding ways for growth to help pay for itself. I support having growth help pay for school construction so more of our tax dollars remain in existing classrooms. We need to consider a county wide impact fee.
There is also stimulus money coming from the federal government, and I think we should work on getting our share of that federal money for these purposes.
10. Year-round schools are one way the county’s kept school taxes low. Should more schools be made (or built to be) year-round? Should students be assigned to attend them?
Here, I think flexibility is the key. There are no mandatory year round schools in Wake County. Parents in Wake County have a choice. They can choose the year round school or the traditional school that is assigned to them. Some students may benefit from year around schooling, and others may need the traditional summer vacation.
11. Magnet schools are a key element of current diversity policies, but they’re expensiveand outlying areas of the county wonder why they can’t have them too. What changes, if any, do you support in the way magnets are used?
Magnet schools are just another way to give parents a choice. They help draw kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds to the inner city or lower income schools and assist in keeping all of our schools diverse and healthy. I support the use of magnet schools in Wake County and I wish all of our schools could get the expanded educational programs magnet schools provide. Recently more magnet schools have been formed in the outlying areas of the county and I support that.
12. Does every new high school need a football stadium? A theater? Are shared facilities an approach you’d support to save taxpayers money?
Yes, I’m for sharing. Paring the excess, planning for cooperation, conservation of resources, and best use of existing facilities
However,. sometimes a physical facility can be a neighborhood, or community cohesion factor, however, so every situation is unique, and I would look at each one carefully. (However, I would like to see every high school have their own theater. Having been in plays myself in high school I know how beneficial that can be for kids, for their self esteem, positive outlook on school, keeping them out of trouble, etc.)
13. The Wake Education Partnership’s recent report, “Suspending Disbelief,” describes a 21st century school systemquite unlike anything that exists in the U.S. todaythat would equip students to succeed in a global economy. The report calls for a longer school year and far-reaching improvements in curriculum and assessment, none of which would be free. What, if anything, would you take from this report if elected?
Well, obviously, it can’t all be achieved at once, but expanding curriculum options, and creatively enhancing the school year is something to consider. We do need to prepare our students to succeed in a global economy. That’s why I support foreign languages and Academically Gifted programs for grades K-5 in ALL of our elementary schools.
I’d like to see more world history, and green technology training in the high schools. I support having a magnet high school focused primarily on vocational training, because not everyone will go to college.
14. What question(s) haven’t we askedand what’s your answers?
Well, you haven’t asked me about another book I highly recommend. It’s by the former head of the Wake County School board, and a very dynamic and public spirited businessman, who also happens to be my neighbor, friend, and supporter. (A School District’s Journey to Excellence, Lessons from Business and Education by Bill McNeal and Tom Oxholm)
I hope that we can continue to build on the fantastic coalition of excellence which is described in both Professor Grant’s book, and in this book by a former Wake County School Superintendent and former Wake County School Board member. I hope the Independent will have experts carefully review these books, and encourage voters to read them. They are together a roadmap of hope, and excellence. My candidacy and work on the board will be guided by the cooperative spirit of citizenship described there.