Name as it appears on the ballot: Susana L. Dancy
Full legal name, if different:
Date of birth: 10/18/1968
Home address: 105 Parkview Crescent, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site: http://susanadancy.blogspot.com
Occupation & employer: Real Estate Development in Downtown Durham – Rockwood Development, LLC
Home phone: 919-960-0635
Work phone: 919-225-7701
1. If elected, what are your top priorities for the school board?
Consistent excellence among schools: Policies and programs have been developed by the administration and approved by the board, yet implementation among the schools is inconsistent. The quality of the education students receive should not be determined by where they live in the district.
Close the achievement gap: This is a persistent problem that demands attention. The district needs to systematically evaluate the programs currently in place to identify what programs are working in which schools so that efforts can be effectively refocused. I strongly support early intervention programs such as ReadySchool.
2. What is there in your record as a public official or other experiencee.g., career, community servicethat demonstrates your ability to be effective as a board member? Please be as specific as possible about the relevance of your accomplishments to your goals for the board.
Community Service: An active and informed parent, I lead the effort to gain funding for the Carrboro High School arts wing and auditorium. As a quick study of the budget and political process, I was able to provide information to students, parents and other interested parties so they also could effectively lobby the school board and county commissioners. As a result, I have a strong understanding of the budget process and the relationship between the school board and county commissioners. I also serve as a member of the Carrboro High School Improvement Team and am co-chair of CHS Encore!, the performing arts booster organization.
Professional Experience: I prepare and manage budgets and arrange financing for a real estate development firm. I consistently must find creative solutions to keep projects on budget, especially when revenues are unreliable. These skills are directly transferable to the responsibilities of the school board.
3. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to the board help further that goal?
My desire for a just community is exactly the reason that I am running for school board. I got involved in the CHS Arts Wing effort because of the fundamental unfairness of the board’s decision to delay construction of the wing — part of the high school’s core facility — until at least 2014. Because parents, students and community members were organized in their lobbying efforts, the CHS Arts Wing was moved higher on the district’s priority list and is likely to receive funding from the County Commission. While this is a great example of the current board’s ability to change its position when needed, fairness and equity should not be dependant on how organized the parents are or how well they lobby the board.
4. What steps, if any, would you advocate to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students and to reduce dropout rates? How can the district close the achievement gap?
I am a fact-based decision maker and believe strongly in the need to evaluate existing programs to see which ones are effective, so they can be replicated, and to eliminate programs that aren’t making a difference. There are strong, effective programs, such as AVID, that can make a difference in the middle and high school years. Yet the results are inconsistent among the schools. We need to look at the implementation of these programs to see why they are more effective in some of our schools than in others.
Current research says that early childhood interventions for high-risk students have measurable effects into adulthood. We need to watch closely the effects of the ReadySchool initiative to see if the program is worth replicating.
5. The district faced a tough budget this year. What would you do differently in hindsight? What was cut that shouldn’t have been? What survived that should have been axed?
The district did an excellent job of planning ahead of schedule in anticipation of the budget shortfall. By planning for different scenarios, they were ready to act quickly when the state presented its final budget. I am concerned that many of the cuts were made according to formulas, without regard to the ways they affect schools differently. For example, classroom enrollments were increased across the district for grades 4-8, which means that the older schools with smaller classrooms — such as Ephesus Elementary — will have more physical crowding than the newer schools. Fortunately, most of the programs for underperforming students were preserved, and I am hopeful that services for gifted students will be restored when the pressure on the budget eases a bit.
6. In keeping with that line of questioning, what can the district do moving forward to make sure schools not only maintain the status quo but become stronger even when they receive less funding?
The status quo is not acceptable, especially at the high school level, where the achievement gap is most acutely realized. The district needs to work much harder at (1) sharing best practices among the schools, and (2) finding creative ways to share resources such as specialized teachers. This will improve teaching and learning for students at all levels.
Historically, our schools have operated independently from each other, with little effort toward collaboration, and this needs to change. Some efforts have already been made in this regard, such as the creation of Professional Learning Communities that provide teachers an opportunity to share best practices and strategies from their classrooms. I would like to see these PLCs fully implemented so that teachers can benefit from their collective knowledge.
7. How will the policies you push, if elected, help develop students for the new economy? What kind of nontraditional education is now needed and how would you help provide it?
One of the current challenges the district faces is the inability to teach the full course offerings at multiple locations — especially at the middle and high school levels. By connecting the students with teachers via broadcast software, such as “Go to Meeting,” we can reduce the need for teachers and/or students to travel between schools AND give students experience and skills for working on teams that are scattered at different sites, much like global businesses today. Our district has already embraced some components of nontraditional education, such as the use of online courses through Virtual Public Schools. As with all new programs and technologies, we need to evaluate VPS courses to assure they are valuable for students.
8. How should student discipline be handled? What are your views on the district’s current policies for long-term suspension? Do you think they are fairly applied? Along those lines, there have been reports of children receiving little, if any, education while on long-term suspension. How would you ensure those children are given an opportunity to be educated?
The district policies regarding discipline seem to be age-appropriate. While long-term suspensions are never ideal, they are necessary in some circumstances. The district has done an excellent job with the implementation of Phoenix Academy, which has admirable graduation rates.
9. How would you increase parental involvement in the schools? What should be the nature of that involvement? Where should the line be drawn?
The district has made great improvements in its efforts to keep parents informed about activities and opportunities at the schools, and the School Improvement Teams offer a collaborative forum for parents to provide input about ways schools can address unmet needs.
10. What should the district’s budgetary priorities be? What areas are currently underfunded? How would you find the resources to better fund those areas?
The budgetary priorities should always be centered on the classroom: What is the student’s experience? Are the teachers given the professional resources they need be effective? Is the building conducive to learning?
I am concerned about two areas which received significant budget cuts during this most recent budget process — professional enrichment for teachers and foreign language for elementary students — and I would strive to reinstate funding as the budget allows.
11. As Chapel Hill’s population grows, what should guide future school planning. Can the district afford and obtain the land necessary to build these schools? How should the district manage its growth? How does redistricting fit in?
Rashkis and Scroggs elementary schools are excellent examples of the town worked with developers to secure building sites for schools, and it is important to do this whenever possible. Elementary school #11, to be built in the Northside neighborhood, is another great example of building a neighborhood school. While few people look forward to redistricting and the disruption it causes, it provides an opportunity to balance school enrollment.
12. Both CHHS and ECHHS have new principals this year. How will you measure their performance?
Since both schools have strong cultures and traditions, I think that the measures that were used for previous principals would remain important for new principals.
However, one of the most immediate indicators of a new principal’s performance is the feedback the gets from teachers, parents and community about the school environment. Board members should be attuned to this without interfering in the superintendent’s responsibility to appropriately manage the district administration.