Name as it appears on the ballot: Riza Jenkins
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation & employer: Vice President, Asset Management – Summit Ridge Energy
Years lived in Chapel Hill/Carrboro: 11 years
1. In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the school board do differently or better over the course of your term?
I am a change agent with a proven track record in strategic decision making in order to provide the best educational outcomes for all students. I am the proud mother of three children in the CHCCS schools at Smith Middle and Seawell Elementary.
I have worked in the clean energy industry for 7 years and am the Vice President of Asset Management for Summit Ridge Energy. My leadership in the clean energy industry extends to my board position on the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) where I am the chair for the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) committee.
My commitment to serving the community and our schools spans almost 10 years in this district. I have served as the President, Vice President and Advocacy chair for the Seawell Elementary PTA and also served on the Seawell Elementary School Improvement Team (SIT). I am the immediate past President of the CHCCS PTA Council. Through my leadership role on the PTA Council I have served on various district level committees and task forces. I also volunteer as an elementary faith development teacher at Saint Thomas More.
The work that I have done in this district supports why I should be elected. Through my leadership as the President of PTA Council, I standardized the CHCCS School Improvement Team (SIT) election process to increase diversity of parent representatives.
My three focus areas are:
• Increasing the intentional work around diversity and equity
• Ensuring transparency and accountability of the CHCCS district to its stakeholders
• Ensuring fiscal responsibility
I would like to see the board and district continue improvements with communication and engagement with students, families, staff, and the community.
2. Given the direction of the school district, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
I believe there are things in the district moving in a positive direction. There are areas that the school district can improve ensuring that decisions are being made with the input from students, staff, and families/community. Also, there have been efforts to provide more fiscal oversight in the spending process, but there needs to be an outcomes based approach to spending. The funds spent should be tied to the strategic plan of the district with particular focus on student outcomes.
3. What are the three main issues that you believe the Board of Education needs to address in the upcoming year?
The three main issues the Board of Education should address are related to providing support to students as the result of COVID-19 schools closures and other areas they may have been impacted. I would focus on providing additional social and emotional support to students, provide enrichment support for students, and expand the summer learning programs for another summer to support students.
4. Describe something you think the school board should have prioritized differently in the current budget. Do you think the budget supports students from lower income families as well as from wealthy families? Does the budget meet the district’s infrastructure needs?
The board should prioritize staff salaries. With the requests to the county being not funded, the district should fund the items in the budget request related to staff salaries and benefits.
The budget does have some inequities that exist used to assess programs that are implemented and its ongoing impact on students. Programs and spending should be assessed to ensure accessibility for all students. For programs that are not accessible to all students, we should look at ways to address these issues.
Additionally, the budget does not meet the infrastructure needs with over $200 million of building repairs and updates that have not received funding. The county and state will need to provide the funds to ensure the infrastructure needs are being met.
5) What is your understanding of what Critical Race Theory is? Is CRT currently taught in K-12 public schools? What are your thoughts on House Bill 324, the bill Gov. Cooper vetoed because he said it “pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education?” Would you support such a bill?
Critical race theory looks at racism beyond the individuals and examines the policy and legal system which constructed the system which perpetuates racism. No, Critical Race Theory is not being taught in the schools. House Bill 324 seeks to educate students in a way that does not allow for all perspectives to be shared which would allow students to think critically about topics that they may be learning. I would not support a bill like House Bill 324 because it does not provide the educational space for students to learn and be critical thinkers.
6) Should the state legislature comply with the Leandro mandate, its constitutional obligation to fully fund public schools? Please answer yes or no and explain your answer.
Yes, the state legislature should fully fund public schools. By fully funding public schools that are accessible to any student, this ensures that students are receiving the education that will give them the tools in life to be successful.
7) How has the State Board of Education and CHCCS board handled the COVID-19 pandemic overall? Has the state/CHCCS provided enough assistance to teachers when they have to work remotely? What more could have been done, or should be done, in future? Should school boards continue to have to vote each month on whether students should wear masks in schools?
The CHCCS board and State Board of Education have done the best jobs they could have considering this is a global pandemic. The combination of resources that were provided to staff during the pandemic was adequate. One area that could have done better was to offer bonuses to all staff, especially teachers and staff in the classroom. Some of the bonuses and incentives were provided to certain groups of staff; however, all staff were working diligently to support students and families.
I don’t know if it is a formal vote, but school boards should have a review process for the current COVID-19 protocols to ensure we are responsive to any changes with COVID-19.
8) In what ways can CHCCS work to erase racial inequities in the education system? How can the Racial Equity Impact Assessment tool be better used to guide CHCCS in setting policies? How can the district make student achievement more equitable?
CHCCS should review its policies and programs by doing an equity assessment. A comprehensive review would shed light on opportunities to grow and/or strengthen policies that programs that address racial inequities. It will also highlight programs or policies that may not address racial inequities as it was intended. This review will allow for the district to make adjustments to the policy/program or determine that the policy/program should be discontinued.
The Racial Equity Impact Assessment tool and an equity assessment tool should be used to review any existing and new decision. The tool should be done to completion and reported to the board to inform their decision making.
The district can make student achievement more equitable through program reviews for equity which includes accessibility to programs and resources.
9) Last year, Black CHCCS students were almost 14 times more likely than white students to receive short-term suspensions. Why do you believe that is? In what ways can the district address this disparity?
There is still bias in our schools and how students of color, specifically Black students, are being disciplined. The district can reevaluate the Code of Character and Conduct to ensure it is responsive to student needs with social emotional support instead of punitive punishment, such as suspensions. Additionally, all staff should receive training in racial equity, social/emotional awareness, and any other areas that will provide them the tools to be better equipped to see their own bias or provide support for students’ needs.
10) Do police officers (School Resource Officers) have a role in schools? Do you agree with the way the current board is trying to address the role of SROs in CHCCS?
I currently serve on the district’s School Safety Task Force (formerly the SRO Task Force). I do not think police officers have a role in schools. Many times decisions being made focus on one aspect of the challenge instead of addressing the bigger challenge. This was the case when the task force was established to make a recommendation about SROs in the schools. The challenge in the district was how we define school safety, how safety is defined for the various stakeholders in our community, and what is the safety plan in our schools to ensure all students and staff are safe. When we focus on ensuring all students are safe in our schools, we create the opportunity for our community to have dialogue on how students and community perceive some of the policies and current safety plans in the schools, which includes one aspect of safety plans – SROs. It also creates an opportunity to discuss other areas of safety such as discipline in the schools and what it looks like for various students in our community.
11) Research has shown that increasing teacher and staff diversity can improve education outcomes. What do you think of the faculty/staff diversity in CHCCS? If you believe increasing faculty diversity should be a priority, how do you believe the district should go about it?
The district has made great efforts with increasing staff of color, particularly African American staff. The district should continue its work around diversity to ensure that our staff is representative of the school community with other groups in our community across all schools, which includes, but not limited to the Latinx and Asian community. Also, we should have diversity in other areas such as gender, sexual orientation and identification, and geographic location (where the staff has lived, worked, attended school). The district should work with existing staff and community members in the groups so that we would like to increase diversity to identify opportunities and challenges in the recruiting process. There should be intentional work to identify places where candidates of various groups may attend school, live, and popular publications so that recruiting efforts can be intentional. Also, we should inquire about the current compensation and incentives to see if there are some areas that can be improved or added that are creating barriers for potential staff.
12) How can the school board better assist students who lack broadband access? Is the district better prepared than before if it has to move learning online again?
The district did vote to become a 1:1 with respect to technology prior to the pandemic, which meant we were ahead of most schools in that regard. The district also purchased internet hotspots for anyone who needed internet. I believe the district has been responsive to the needs of the students to ensure they have computers and internet access. The district should work with the county commissioners on efforts to improve broadband access since many of our staff may not live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro, but instead live in the county.
In my opinion, the district is better prepared, if we need to move to online learning again.
13) How should the school district address the mental health concerns for students, teachers, and staff that we have seen arise during the pandemic? What, if any, mental health services should schools provide?
The school district should provide additional social and emotional support to the students and staff in the district. The demand for mental health workers is high, so we will need to be creative with recruiting and collaborating with the county to get the staffing support to put programs and resources in place to support students and staff.
14) How can the school district better assist refugee students?
The district currently has the newcomer program, which is helpful with some of the transitions for refugee students. At the school level, there could be programs in place to support students, such as a buddy program, so students would be paired with other students in their school. Some schools do a buddy program with older students and the kindergarten or even Pre-K students, so they have someone who they are connected to as a new student in the school. A similar program would allow for students to meet other students and they can learn from each other. This is one program that could support students feeling connected with one another and being part of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.
15) Is the district currently doing enough to assist disabled students? What more could it do?
I believe the district could be doing more to assist disabled students. There are still challenges for students and their families to access/participate in their educational experience. Similar to other groups, the district will need to take intentional steps to ensure that students can have their educational needs met and families can access the resources and information they need to support their child(ren).
16) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.
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