CoastLine Candidate Interviews: New Hanover County Board of Education - Republicans
This edition of CoastLine marks the beginning of our election-focused candidate interviews. It also marks the return of CoastLine two days a week – Wednesdays and Thursdays with Sunday re-broadcasts of both.
New Hanover County’s Board of Education has three open seats this year. Here are the three Republicans vying for those spots – which carry four-year terms. Two of the Republican candidates are incumbents; one is seeking elected office for the first time.
Lisa Estep, incumbent, seeking second term
Jeannette Nichols, incumbent, seeking fifth term
David Wortman, seeking first term
Rachel Lewis Hilburn: We begin with Lisa Estep who is running for her second term on the New Hanover County Board of Education. Lisa Estep, welcome to CoastLine.
Lisa Estep: Thank you for having me.
RLH: As a mother of five, some of whom have fledged and some are still at home, why do you want to serve on the school board for another term?
Lisa Estep: The reason why I decided to run four years ago was based off of the experiences my own children had in the school system. I felt like I could make a difference. Originally, it was because of the difference I thought I could make in special education, but I had to determine that I had enough interest in all of the other areas because you can’t go in on one issue. That might be the driving force, but you have to be interested in all areas because you have to deal with all areas. Once I gave that enough thought, I decided that, yes, I did have enough passion. Because you need passion to do this. I ran, and I was elected.
RLH: But as you said, there’s one area where you carry a particular— There’s a soft spot. You have a lot of passion for kids with special needs.
Lisa Estep: I do.
RLH: First of all, how do you define kids with special needs? What does that mean?
Lisa Estep: Anyone under the special needs or special education umbrella can be somebody who identifies as gifted, it can be somebody who is identified as having a learning disability, it can be somebody who is identified autistic, so it covers a very wide range and a wide umbrella. That is certainly one of the areas that I’m interested in is making the outcomes for those students better. The employment outcomes, when you’re thinking ahead for these students when they graduate, the employment outcomes for young adults with disabilities is very grim. The unemployment rate for that group is between 65% and 70%, which is fairly staggering. So that is one reason why I went into this.
Another passion of mine is CTE, which is career and technical education. I really wanted to help start a CTE high school in this area, and that is something that we are in the process of doing, I’m excited to say. We are on target for starting a high school next fall in partnership with Cape Fear Community College and Pender County. We will be one of two regional high schools in the state, and our program will be the first of its kind in the country, so it’s an extremely exciting thing to be a part of. To help start it and to co-chair the group that’s bringing this to New Hanover County is really amazing.
RLH: So if I’m a student choosing to go to this new career and technical education high school, what are the potential outcomes for me? What can I hope to get from this high school?
Lisa Estep: The very first thing is you will get your high school diploma, but you can also walk out with several credentials, which means that you will be work-ready. You could also walk out with these credentials and go on to a four-year university if you choose. You could walk out and go on to continue to layer those credentials with other credentials at the community college. You’ll walk out with internships and apprenticeships already under your belt. You will have job shadowing that you will have already down. You will have done career exploration, a lot of things that aren’t available to students now. What we are hoping to do is kind of reach back into the middle schools—which again, is also not possible—and start students thinking about their career path in middle school. And again, none of this is set in stone. You can start this career exploration in sixth and seventh grade, start thinking about that, explore all you want in high school and do it for free, rather than doing it in community college or college when you’re paying for it.
RLH: Right, right, so you’re saying kids will come out with a high school diploma and some sort of credentialing.
Lisa Estep: Exactly.
RLH: Now, how will you ensure that this new CTE school doesn’t just become a dumping ground for kids who aren’t cutting it academically?
Lisa Estep: What we are proposing to do is— We’re going to match the curriculum to the student. We’re going to be using blended curriculums. Your English class won’t just be English. It’ll be English wrapped with Microsoft Office. So you’ll be getting English 1, and you’ll be getting credentialed in Office. Your pathway will be tailored to you, and we’ll be keeping tabs on the student a lot more closely than we can in a regular high school because the class sizes will be smaller and the counseling potential will be greater than in a regular high school. Again, what we’re hoping to do is really tailor the programming to the needs of the student. That’s what’s so exciting about this because it’s something that’s also been at the forefront of what I would like to do.
RLH: About a month ago, the Star News published portions of a memo written by Superintendent Tim Markley about the negative impacts of neighborhood schools on high-poverty, minority populations, which are, generally speaking, the same thing here in New Hanover County. And one of the statistics from that memo, 37.4% of black third graders in the district passed their reading end-of-grade tests. That means, essentially, if you’re a student of color here in New Hanover County, the deck is stacked against you. You probably won’t succeed, statistically. What does that mean to you, as a member of the school board?
Lisa Estep: Well, it’s very disappointing. We’ve done a lot of different things to try to help our students succeed, and to see that statistic and to know those numbers—and some of the numbers, we see before they’re able to be released to the public—it’s a problem that doesn’t have one answer, and it’s something that we deal with on a daily basis. Some of the schools are doing a better job than others, and it’s something, like I said, that we’re all struggling with to try to come up with an answer.
RLH: And when you and I spoke six months ago and I asked you about neighborhood schools, you said you can understand why there’s opposition to that idea, but in practice, the construct itself, changing that construct would not, in your opinion, solve the problem or it would create other problems. Do you still feel that way about neighborhood schools? Because that’s what Superintendent Tim Markley was essentially saying in his memo, that this segregation impact is because of neighborhood schools, it’s a direct result of that.
Lisa Estep: Well, I don’t think that he was saying that he wants to bus students all over the county because I don’t think anyone thinks that’s going to be a way to solve this problem. I think you can tweak the lines, which is something that we’re going to have to look at doing in four years once all of the schools are done being built so that any one school is not all high-poverty. Because it doesn’t seem like that’s a very successful model.
Now, having said that, we’ve tried something at Gregory where we’ve incorporated Spanish and Mandarin immersion programs at what was a high-poverty school. That’s kind of a test program that we may be able to take into our other schools, where you have voluntary desegregation. So far, in the first few weeks of school, we’ve had very positive feedback on that program, and I’m very excited about it.
Way back, eighteen or nineteen years ago, when they were looking at redistricting, we had a school board member come out to Pine Valley where I was. I was pregnant with my youngest at the time. And I remember the attitude that the school member had when she very cavalierly and condescendingly said, “Well, we can redistrict you because you’ll follow your student, we know that you’ll volunteer.” She really dismissed how difficult it would be for the parents in the neighborhood to go all the way across town to volunteer. I had three young children at the time, and I was getting ready to have two more, and it bothered me that anyone would so dismiss how difficult it would be for any parent to continue to be active in a child’s school when I had made the sacrifice to do what I was doing. I didn’t ever want to do that. I want to be fair and hear and understand what parents want and to recognize the sacrifice they make to come into the childrens’ school and be a part of the school day. It makes an impact.
RLH: So then, if you are a member of the school board during this next round of redistricting, what will you tell your constituents about how you will approach that process?
Lisa Estep: That I’m listening to them, that we’re going to take everything we hear into consideration, and we’re going to make the best decision possible for all the students that we can. It is a very difficult process. We’ve done little slices of redistricting. We do it every year, whether people realize it or not. And it’s tough, even the little ones. This next round, the big round is going to be traumatic, but it has to be done. As best we can, if I’m on the school board, we’re going to try to keep the kids as close to home as we can, we’re going to try to offer the best programs that we can as close to home as we can because I think that’s in the best interests of the students. We can’t always do that, but as best we can, that’s what we’re going to try to do.
Ms. Smiles (email): Our community’s continued economic vitality depends on how we invest today for tomorrow. What is your birth-to-eight early learning plan?
RLH: We’ve had lots of questions from listeners about early learning, different configurations of this question. This is a source of real concern.
Lisa Estep: A few years ago, New Hanover County took on some of our pre-K programming, and we do have two pre-K centers now. We have a limited number of slots, we have a waiting list for those slots. What we do is we take kids who are traditionally from high-poverty, high-need families—three- and four-year-olds—and we try to get them school-ready. Those numbers are small, between 200 and 300 students. We’re making an impact with those students. The data is new, we’re only in our second year. Hopefully the data will show that we’re making a difference once those kids reach school and they go on to the tested grades. I think that what the data has shown is that a good pre-K program—and we also have those pre-K programs in private centers as well—a good pre-K program for some of these kids who don’t have maybe even a single book at home makes a huge difference and it makes a huge difference to their school readiness. It’s crucial to have those programs and to get even more state-funding for these kids who don’t have the help at home.
David (email): Why are the school board positions partisan? Does this not cloud the objectives and add unnecessary conflict to the board? Can’t we put the children first and forget politics for a change?
Lisa Estep: I’d be fine with taking the partisanship out of it. It’s not my call. It’s, I think, up to the state— Trust me, we get into plenty of arguments, even though everyone on the Board is Republican. It really has no bearing as to whether or not we have the same opinion. When we disagree, we disagree wholeheartedly.
RLH: Can you think of an example where you’ve disagreed with the majority of the Board on a particular issue?
Lisa Estep: Every single day.
RLH: Is there one that stands out to you that you think, you know, “I went to the mat on this issue.”
Lisa Estep: Oh goodness, you’re putting me on the spot. I’d probably have to come back to that. I would say that I’m probably in the minority on most everything when it comes to Board issues.
RLH: Jeannette Nichols, a retired teacher from Alderman Elementary in New Hanover County, is seeking a fifth four-year term. She has served as Vice Chair of the Board for fourteen of her sixteen years. Jeannette Nichols, welcome to CoastLine.
Jeannette Nichols: Thank you, Rachel. And thank you to the listeners who are supporting our children in this county.
RLH: Neighborhood schools have recently gotten a lot of attention, including acknowledgement from Superintendent Tim Markley that the schools in poorer neighborhoods are not serving those kids adequately. When we spoke about six months ago before the primary this year, you said you understood the arguments against neighborhood schools but that changing that construct wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem. Has your thinking changed about neighborhood schools at all now? How do you feel about this emerging link between the segregation in the school district and the performance of these schools?
Jeannette Nichols: I still believe in the neighborhood schools concept. The majority of the parents from all the communities want their children close to home. Since we did the major redistricting and went back to neighborhood schools, we have provided many opportunities for parents who choose to have a different pathway for their child, and we’ll continue to find ways to do this. But we need that security. The parents and grandparents who came sometimes said, “I can’t get to my child across town. I want to know where my child is going to school.”
RLH: You’re talking specifically about the grandparent of a child who goes to a high-poverty school.
Jeannette Nichols: Yes, yes, and so they want their children close-by. The schools are able to reach to those communities and work with the parents. We’ve seen some improvement. And yes, I understand we have some low-performing schools. But if we disperse these children, they may not have the same services that they have today because in many of the schools, we have smaller class sizes. We have additional teacher assistance. We have programs with reading coaches to help them and more social and emotional support through social services. So if they were to be dispersed, they may not have the same opportunity that we’re providing right now because we could not have that many services throughout the county. I believe that we have to look at all of our schools and see, “Are we doing what is best or as much as we can for all the children?”
RLH: Well, are we doing our best? We have these low-performing, failing schools that are mostly student populations of color.
Jeannette Nichols: It’s not a black and white issue for me. It is the fact that we had busing before. When I first came back to Wilmington, we had busing.
RLH: And you’re talking about in the 1970s.
Jeannette Nichols: In the 1970s, 1980s, we received children maybe every three years, so there was turnover and you could not get to know the child or the families. So yes, maybe it looked like we were having low-performing schools, but the numbers were still there of children who were not passing, and of course, we didn’t have the testing that we have today. But there are a lot of issues that we have to address with many of these children.
Kelly (caller): The schools that were built in Castle Hayne, to my understanding, were passed not in the most recent bond, but the previous one, but they specifically were supposed to include a new high school. When that didn’t happen, then this second bond came around. I voted for this bond, and I know it doesn’t include a high school, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about why a high school wasn’t built the first time around when the elementary and middle school were built. I think everybody agrees that we desperately need a new high school.
Jeannette Nichols: When we thought we were able to build the three schools, including the high school, we did not have the funding, and it would cost over sixty million dollars or more to build a school at this time, but there’s no land, and the state requires a great deal of land and there’s nothing available. That’s one reason we hope that the career and technical high school will accommodate many of these children. It will serve their needs. We are trying to get funding in time to move the children from Laney into the Trask facility and the Trask children would go to the new Sidbury Road facility that we have acquired. I know it’s an issue. It’d be wonderful if we did have the space and money. We definitely need another high school.
RLH: As the school district embarks upon a new round of redistricting, which is going to happen in the next four years, is that right?
Jeannette Nichols: Yes, when the Porters Neck Elementary school becomes available. When it’s open next year, it’ll be a swing school for several years.
RLH: What would you say to your constituents about how you will approach that [redistricting] process?
Jeannette Nichols: Well, it will upset a great deal of families because we have overcrowded situations right now, and a lot of children will have to be moved. We’ll certainly have forums. We’ll have opportunities for discussion and input. It will take a long study of what we have right now, as far as the needs of all of our students. But as long as I’m on the board, I would assure them that we will not constantly move them for numbers.
Eden (caller): Would the school board be willing to consider implementing ABA therapy for autistic children in schools here in Wilmington? I have a child with autism, and I would like for him to be able to receive this therapy in school.
Jeannette Nichols: That’s a tremendous need for many of our children in our system. We are doing everything we can, following the law, following the funding that we have, and working with these parents. Certainly we need a lot more training for our teachers, but yes, our job is to educate all of the children, so I would say we need to work as quickly as we can to fund programs and accommodations and the right person to work with these children.
Dr. Reid (email): The first two thousand days of a child’s life is the time of most significant brain development. Therefore, many children already have significant delays by the time they begin school at five years old. This means the school system invests money and resources to catch these students up, often unsuccessfully. What is your plan to support children in the first five years of life?
Jeannette Nichols: Two years ago, we applied to take over the Head Start program, and we were able to. So, we’ve seen a tremendous improvement there with assisting families with their children. We have federal funding coming in, and we also developed a curriculum that’s aligned with the state curriculum, which the children did not have before. Unfortunately, we have a waiting list. There are so many children that need to be in this program, so there is a qualifying approach, but we have pre-K and other centers with waiting lists. We need more space, and we need more funding. But we’re working very closely with these families, and they are a priority. We want to make sure that we reach those children who have the greatest need, and we’re making tremendous strides.
RLH: One source of that funding— is it a federal grant for magnet schools? There’s a plan that goes along with that grant for increasing diversity in those schools?
Jeannette Nichols: This grant is for the Head Start program. Now, we are seeking other grants for the magnet schools. We have received— for Snipes, for instance, we had over a million-dollar grant. That was used to add additional resources: staff, as well as supplies and staff training. That’s important. We’re constantly looking for grants as well as programs that will meet the needs. We have such diverse needs among our children.
RLH: It was May 16th when Don Hayes, Chair of the School Board, signed a memo pledging to increase diversity in the schools. Redistricting might be part of that, and we’re looking down the barrel of four years for redistricting, but before that happens, are there plans to desegregate New Hanover County schools in any way? Are there any initiatives in place or programs?
Jeannette Nichols: One thing we did, with our year-round schools, the first two year-round schools, was that we looked at zip codes because you cannot assign children by race. We made that a priority for those families who were in some of the lower-performing schools. They would have priority for that lottery. We had very few parents who chose that. There was a misunderstanding about what year-round meant or it was a childcare issue, but when we reached out, we found that they were not really interested in moving. We had a few who applied, and we certainly accommodated them. With the year-round schools that we have now—Sunset, Rachel Freeman, Virgo, and Snipes—I think that’s going to help a great deal with these children because they’ll have a remediation session, as well as enrichment session. But we have open-choice for many of the parents. One of the issues is the transportation, but with the year-round, we do provide it, and with the magnet schools, we provide transportation. That was one of the reasons that I wanted to move the language immersion program to Gregory because it is a magnet school, and it provides transportation. When those children were assigned to Forest Hills, you had to provide your transportation, so we were limiting many children throughout the whole county from having this opportunity.
RLH: When we spoke about six months ago, you said you were most frustrated when it came to closing the gap, and I’m assuming this is a gap in performance, the high-poverty schools and high-minority schools, which are essentially the same thing in New Hanover County. When you look at that gap now, how do you feel about how the school board is doing in terms of closing that gap and what do you think still needs to be done?
Jeannette Nichols: Well, we like to say that we’re making progress. That’s what is misleading is the way the children are tested and the way the results are displayed. We have to look at the child’s growth—where they started and where they are at the end of the school year. As you pointed out, when they come to us so far behind, it takes a while to get them caught up.
But we also have to look at how they are emotionally. We have many children who come—unfortunately, the term that’s used is “with a lot of baggage.” When I talk to teachers about the expectation that we have—and sometimes I think we don’t have the expectation of these children that we should have—they’ll say, “But they have so many problems, and I spend most of the day with them with their problems.” And I say, but if you’re teaching them for where they are and showing them what they can learn and where you want to take them, they may reflect more on that and their achievement rather than— Let’s have empathy, not sympathy because we’re never going to get them where they should be. But we have some wonderful children that come to us that have issues and problems at school or at home and they are truly capable. Sometimes though, within a particular setting, we do have to look at how we assign them so they can move on, even within that school.
RLH: What’s the one thing you bring to the school board that you think no one else does?
Jeannette Nichols: I have been the chair of the policy committee since 2005. We have looked at those policies. We have revised the manual. They have to be something that works. Just to have a policy that no one follows is not— so, this was my biggest thing.
RLH: Joining us now is David Wortman, an attorney whose Brunswick County office works in residential real estate, criminal, and family law. A graduate of New Hanover High School, he is soon to have his own children entering the New Hanover County school system. David Wortman, welcome to CoastLine.
David Wortman: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
RLH: David, you are not retired. You are working. You have two very small children. How in the world would you find time to serve on the school board?
David Wortman: It’s one of those things that it’s that important to make the time. I have a three-year-old and a two-year-old, as you previously mentioned, and their education is the most important thing in my life and my wife’s life, making sure they get the appropriate education. It’s one of those things that we’ve talked about, my wife and I, and it’s that important.
RLH: When we spoke six months ago, you told me that you didn’t feel there was good or effective communication between members of the school board and their constituents. Can you give us an example of that failed communication and then what you would do to improve it?
David Wortman: I think that it’s important to have members on the school board who can relate with a lot of decisions that they’re making. In this situation, as I said, I have younger children, my friends have younger children who are in the public schools, whether it be in the Spanish immersion program that was in Forest Hills and was ultimately moved to Gregory. It’s one of those things that, I don’t believe the parents had a lot of say in what was going on when that program was actually moved to Gregory. There were reasons why it was moved to Gregory, but the parents wanted to voice their concerns, and I believe, instead of listening to those parents, decisions were made really without considering their opinions. I believe that I can bring to the Board a lot of those opinions and issues that those parents are really living with day to day.
RLH: When you consider how that Spanish immersion program move was handled, and there were a lot of things that came out of that, do you agree with that? In addition, we had well-respected, internationally-renowned author Clyde Edgerton—who also happens to be a Thomas Kenan Distinguished Professor at UNCW—banned from the campus of Forest Hills by superintendent Tim Markley. Two of his own children were going to the school at that time. What do you think about how that situation was handled? Had you been on the Board, how would it have been different? What would the outcome have been?
David Wortman: It’s not necessarily what the outcome would have been. It’s providing a voice for the parents of New Hanover County. The Board of Education has a specific goal. It’s to make sure that the children of New Hanover County are getting the best education that they possibly can get—whether it be at the Spanish immersion program, whether it be at Gregory, whether it be downtown Wilmington, or whether it be at the outskirts of Wilmington. It’s providing a voice for those parents. Because a lot of times, there’s going to be decisions that are made that parents don’t necessary agree with. But when those decisions are made without the parents’ input, without giving those parents the chance to have their voices heard, it’s almost like those parents weren’t involved in the process. So allowing them to be involved in that process and explaining to them why you’re doing things that you’re doing is important. A lot of those parents, for the Spanish immersion program especially, were instrumental in bringing that program to Wilmington. They had a vested interest. They had children in the Spanish immersion program. They put their hours outside of work into that program, and for people to make decisions about that program without getting their input, I think that’s what really frustrated some of the parents.
Dr. Reid (email): New Hanover County Schools fall reliably along racial lines with regard to failing versus high-performing schools. The high-performing schools have majority white students, while the failing schools have majority African American students. What is your plan to ensure the greater success of all of our schools?
David Wortman: I think it’s important that we recognize the problems. When we look at some of the lower-performing areas and the reasons why those children are not performing as well as maybe some of the other children are, we really need to look at early childhood development, when you have the two- and three-year-olds reading books, doing puzzles, getting out there and educating them and getting the stimulus into their brains during early development. When a child shows up to kindergarten and is already two or three years behind, it’s going to be hard for that teacher to focus on that child because she’s also going to have children that are where they need to be. Not addressing those issues at an early time really does a disservice to those children. I think that’s one of the most important things that I see in terms of those lower-performing areas and getting in there. And then you also have some of these schools— You look at Douglass Academy, which is on North 6th Street, that has, I believe, a 95-98% African American student population and look at some of the things that they’re doing. I believe they have over 50% rate above the standardized testing for their children. The children that are there for three years are in a 75% passage rate for that. Use some of those programs they’re doing. Take those ideas into some of these lower-income areas, the schools in the lower-income areas and let’s develop some appropriate teaching so we can ensure that those kids are succeeding.
RLH: Do you think the segregation of the school system plays any role in keeping minority students in low-performing schools? In other words, is there any value in trying to integrate the schools?
David Wortman: Integration is an interesting issue, and I think that it is important, and I think there’s a lot of opportunities for parents that have been coming out, that we’ve been doing—whether it be these charter schools, whether it be these year-round schools, whether it be some of the open enrollment. So there certainly are areas for integration. People say lower-income areas breed lower-income schools. If you can get those schools performing right, it changes the entire area. You get these people that come back—the mentors, the people that graduate from high school, graduate from college come back to those communities. It’s a process, but you actually can change the entire dynamic of an area, and when you change that entire dynamic of the area, it helps everyone. Not only does it help the lower-income schools but it helps all the kids because you’re able to use additional resources in different ways.
RLH: As the school district looks down the barrel of another round of redistricting in a few years, what would you say to your potential constituents about how you would approach that process?
David Wortman: As you know, I’m for neighborhood schools. I believe that when Boards in the past have put schools in certain areas, they looked at the children in the area and where the need for schools are. You look at the Porters Neck school that’s going to opening up in the next several years, and there’s a need for a school out there. I think that when we get into the neighborhood schools argument—with proponents and opponents, and I’m obviously a proponent for neighborhood schools—the lower-income areas and the students that are struggling get even further lost in the shuffle because we’re focusing on busing children around. Children may be getting up at 5, 5:30 in the morning, they’re showing up at school, and by 11 o’clock, they’re tired, and for the next fours, they’re not learning. What we’re doing is we’re not addressing the actual problem of why these children in these lower-income areas are not prepared to go into the school when they go into pre-K or kindergarten, and it’s just a way to kind of mask that problem.
RLH: And so you’re saying the answer to that is—?
David Wortman: The answer is to get in there early, early childhood development. Work with our local community organizations, work with businesses. We have some great opportunities here in New Hanover County. Everyone wants to live here. The climate is great, although it’s obviously been hot this summer, but we have the beach. We have people who want to raise their families here. We have businesses that are opening up offices here and calling Wilmington their home. They have a vested interest in making sure the education system is good. So it’s about getting out there and speaking with the businesses, speaking with the community organizations and really addressing those problems. Having Parent/Child Nights in some of these lower-income areas—
RLH: What role do businesses play in the school system?
David Wortman: I think they play an absolutely important role. As I said, businesses have a vested interest because the better education you have in an area, you’re going to draw more qualified professionals or jobs.
RLH: Are you talking about some of these businesses funding programs?
David Wortman: Absolutely. For example, Live Oak Bank just made, I think, a $25,000 donation to the Children’s Museum, a matching donation to the Children’s Museum. Those are important. They’re willing to give. They want to give. They have a vested interest in the community. It’s just a matter of getting out there and speaking to those organizations and really explaining what you’re going to do with their money.
Tracy (email): By 2020, 67% of jobs in North Carolina will require some post-secondary education. Yet the majority of North Carolina’s fourth graders are not proficient in a key predictor of future academic success: reading. If elected, how will you use your position to address the needs of these children?
David Wortman: It really gets back to teaching the kids and being interactive with the kids—having the teachers and community interact with the kids. It’s been a process for the last fifteen or twenty years. Things have changes a lot, whether it be the schools or the curriculum, but it’s really about getting back to the basics: making sure that the children, when they enter into kindergarten or pre-kindergarten are not too far behind; having those children succeed; continuing to make sure they’re following the appropriate curriculum. But it’s certainly something that we need to address and look at a lot of different areas. I think a lot of things have been tried, but I don’t think anyone has all the answers. I think we need to try a bunch of things to figure out what works.
Tiffany (caller): What does performance mean to this candidate, when he’s talking about “making these schools perform”? What does that mean to him? Is it standardized testing or some other measure? Also, how do you take into account the home life of students that are coming to these high-poverty schools without a safe place to live or food in their bellies—a lot of issues that are beyond the scope of what they can provide for at the school?
David Wortman: Let me take the first part of your question, in terms of performing. We have to figure out a way to better evaluate how our children are performing. It’s too late when someone becomes twenty to thirty years old to determine whether or not they got an appropriate education when they were in grade school. I don’t know if it’s through standardized testing or some form of standardized testing or personal evaluations for children, but it’s certainly something that we need to take a look at and determine how kids are doing and how they’re progressing through school, and that’s something that we absolutely need to look at different areas.
RLH: And then, the second part of her question: How do you account for a home life that maybe isn’t all it needs to be for that child?
David Wortman: Absolutely, and if you look in some of these lower-income areas, they may not have the traditional family structure. And that’s where I think that it is extremely important for community leaders and organizations to get in there and provide resources, whether it be a pizza night for children where we read books for thirty minutes after that. But getting people in there, because they may not have the appropriate structure, but at least introducing those children to some of those early education things.
Jan (caller): My son is a student at New Hanover. He’s in the athletic program there. The football practice field is on the corner of 13th and Anne, and there’s a lot of known drug and gang activity in that neighborhood. How do you provide for their safety there?
David Wortman: I went to New Hanover High School, and we played soccer on the corner of 13th and Anne in the old field house. After school, we would walk from New Hanover to the ball fields. Security is obviously an issue. It’s something that we need to address, whether it be to have more patrols in that area. But again, it’s all a circular process: educating these areas, having people come back to these areas, and ultimately cleaning up these areas. Security is a huge issue and making sure that you have adequate security, especially in those places because you have the football, baseball, and soccer team practicing there, and we need to make sure that those areas are secure.
RLH: Do you believe there should be term limits for school board members?
David Wortman: I believe that it’s important to have young people on the school board. This isn’t something that I plan to do for the rest of my life. I believe that after these four or eight years, however long I’m going to be on the Board of Education, there’s going to be people who have different ideas, that understand the technology has changed. As I grow, the technology is going to change, and when I’m fifty, I may not understand what the technology is, and I believe it absolutely is important to have a shelf life when you’re on the Board of Education.
RLH: So is that a yes? You think there should be term limits?
David Wortman: I don’t think there ever will be term limits, but I think at some point, when you look at the composition of our Board, we have board members who have done a good job, but they’ve been there for 20+ years. I believe that you need some younger representatives on the school board.
RLH: And what role do you think charter schools should play within the public school system?
David Wortman: I think charter schools are extremely important, going back to the Douglass Academy and what they’ve done with students in low-income areas and seeing the success they’ve had with those kids. We really can get in there and use some of those educational opportunities in some of our lower-income area schools.