As we noted in our post about vetting school board candidates, we have sent questionnaires to each school board candidate and are publishing them in the order received. Questions were compiled by board members of both Triangle Blog Blog and Bridging the Gap, and attendees of a four-part community read and discussion series on reparations and race at the Chapel Hill Public Library. The discussion series was led by Danita Mason-Hogans and Simona Goldin, the co-charpersons of the Equity and Schools Task Force, members of the UNC Commission on History, Race, and a Way Forward and members of the Chapel Hill community.
Mariela Hernandez is running for school board in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District.
Hernandez is a family support specialist with the Orange County Health Department. She has been involved with the PTA for McDougle Elementary and Middle Schools and as a SIT parent for McDougle Middle School and Chapel Hill High School. She previously worked as a WIC administrative assistant for Carrboro Community Health. She spoke at a Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP rally at Rep. David Price’s office in 2017. She was recently interviewed by Enlace Latino about her campaign.
Make your 2023 municipal election voting plan
Beginning with the 2023 municipal elections, North Carolina voters will be required to show photo ID when they check in to vote. Voters who vote by mail will be asked to include a photocopy of an acceptable ID when returning their ballot by mail.
Check your voter registration now. You can look it up here. This is really important particularly if you’ve moved in the past year.
Make a plan to vote during early voting. This ensures that if there’s a problem, you can sort it out. Early voting runs from October 19-November 4. Here is the complete schedule of voting sites, dates, and times for Orange County.
Read about the new voter ID requirements. Every vote counts in North Carolina, and this information must be shared early and often. If you know of people who have just moved here, or students, or new neighbors, please let them know about registering and the voter ID requirements.
What is your vision for education in this community? What do you see as the major issue(s) facing the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools? Public education?
My vision is one where we care for all children and their educational needs. It is critical that we use both an equity and empathy lens for this work. We need to meet children and families where they are by considering individual and community circumstances that shape how a child learns. We may first just need to want this kind of change. I have the desire and drive to try and make it a reality. I bring a different perspective than the existing board because I have been both a parent and advocate in this school system for 20 years. My initial focus will be on retaining school staff and supporting staff, so they are able to stay for the long term.
What are three things that you believe the school board could be doing better?
Like many other community members and parents, I used to believe that our previous school boards were educated people who knew best how to manage our children’s educations. I now understand that the community’s voice has been a critical missing piece. And we need a seat at the table. People directly impacted by this education system need to have their expertise involved in the school board. I can bring my experiences as a mom of four, a community health and housing advocate, and a member of the Latinx community to create a more practical and equity-based approach to this board.
What are the things you think the school board is currently doing right?
No comment, It is no disrespect. They are great individuals and have reached out to me kindly but really have no comment at this point on the board work.
How do you feel about CHCCS’s reputation as a preeminent school system while also maintaining one of the highest achievement gaps in the country for Black and Brown students?
The achievement gap negatively affects individuals and society, as students miss out on job and career opportunities, and the rest of us miss out on the contributions we might have made if there had been no gap, especially in the Black and Brown students. By saying this, our school tends to focus too much on the gifted program and not enough on programs that can help students rise to their potential. I want to have an equal focus on gifted programs as well as programs that can help those that need that extra push and support. I am not a data person, but you don’t need data to see things like this from a community perspective.
Do you support posting school demographic performance data on the front page of the district and school websites for transparency and choice options for parents and caretakers?
Yes, I support sharing this kind of data and I support efforts to become more transparent. At the same time, not all data is easy to understand and sometimes it misrepresents the actual experiences within our communities. We need to explore options where our schools can be transparent while making this information easy to understand. Data is just a bunch of numbers unless we use it well to communicate important information.
What specific education policies would you advance to tackle the achievement and therefore opportunity gap?
We need parents’ feedback – and we need to start by wanting to actually hear from them. I do not mean just an email survey that maybe a few of us will complete. We need to start by adjusting our methods and culture on the school board before we single out any one policy measure. I want to create a pathway for regular communication and relationship-building between the decision-makers (the school board) and those we are aiming to serve (the students and their families). Their feedback is how we will begin to assess what kinds of policies are needed and how to make them actionable.
In what school district or community activities/organizations have you been involved?
I have been involved in the PTA for McDougle Elementary and Middle Schools and an SIT parent for McDougle Middle School and Chapel Hill High School. I work with other parents in the school system as a Parent Ambassador with Ms. Carla Smith where I work closely with Vicky Fornville.
We (Vicky, Lorie, and I) started at the middle school during Covid. We created a mutual aid program through a simple Google Form and called it “Parents Helping Parents.” This form allows caregivers to fill in information about a need they are experiencing, and others can see read this and respond by sharing resources and support.
In addition to my work directly within the school system, I have worked at organizations like the Family Success Alliance for 8 years where I connect families in crisis to health, education, job, and emergency aid resources. I have focused most of my career and volunteer efforts on connecting families experiencing poverty to resources that enable them to uncover their power and move towards equity and systems change.
Finally, and most importantly, as a mom I have navigated the school system with three very different but equally beautiful and deserving children. I have seen how different it is for students who thrive in academic spaces vs. those who struggle with learning disabilities. I have two children who have graduated from the CHCCS system and gone onto college plus a current high school student and a 4 year old with autism who will be coming into this school system soon. I have been and remain directly invested in the success of this school system.
What changes should be made on the state and local level regarding public education?
MORE FUNDING FOR OUR SCHOOLS STAFF
Relative to other schools, do our public schools have trouble hiring and retaining good teachers? (Explain your answer)
The cost of living in Chapel Hill and Carrboro is ridiculous as most of us already know. This obviously greatly affects who we can recruit and how easily staff and educators can work and live within this community. The shortage of affordable housing means staff and educators often have to live farther away. This creates additional burdens on our school staff by asking them to spend more time and money commuting. It also has additional costs. We gain relationships and a deeper sense of community when our school staff can live where they work. This has positive impacts on all of us and most importantly on our students. We need to work towards a community where school staff have access to affordable housing and are paid well enough to live here.
What in your background leads you to believe that you would be an effective school board member?
I have been involved in the school district since 1998 as a family member and then parent. My lived experience and my experience as a community advocate for the Black and Brown community give me valuable expertise that this board needs. I have seen the achievement gap continue for too long. We need the community’s voices to be heard, and I have 35 years of relationships and experience to help create that change.
In the past five years, housing prices in southern Chapel Hill and Carrboro have risen almost fifty percent. Homes in the CHCCS district are now selling for $600,000 and up, and two bedroom apartments rent for almost $2,000 per month. Unable to afford to live in our community, many CHCCS teachers and other school employees commute an hour or more each day just to get to work. Other than raising the salary supplement, how can CHCCS help employees afford to live in our community? Would you support building school employee housing on school-owned land, as Buncombe County Schools did in 2017?
Yes! I am open to this idea especially if we have information from other districts who have had success using this housing model. Of course, it may look a little different here than it did in Buncombe. Based on past experiences, I am concerned about the amount of pushback we will see for this kind of affordable housing action. We need to decide as a community how important equity and justice really are for us – and begin acting on it rather than just talking about it.
What do you see as the primary work of the board of education?
Getting my community expertise heard in this space even if it makes some people uncomfortable to hear honest, real experiences. I have seen a lot of decision-makers act based on ‘data-driven opinions’ but the data I am using is something I live with every day.
We sent Hernandez one additional question. In 2018, she became a U.S. citizen and registered to vote in Orange County as a Republican. She voted in the 2020 primary with a Republican ballot. She then registered to vote as a Democrat in September 2020.
We do have one additional question, which we think many in our audience would also want to know: you were a registered Republican from 2018-2020 and voted in the Republican Party primary in 2020. You’re now a registered Democrat. What attracted you to the Republican party in the past, and what factors led to you deciding to become a Democrat?
So I became a US citizen back in mid-2018 and supposedly registered as unaffiliated due to the political climate. I also renew my drives license in 2020 which I was supposed to register as Democrat but I guess it was done wrong and I publicly can say I voted for Biden/Harris maybe that can also be searched too. I was told where to go and got fixed but at this point family, work, and election are my main focus. People can just check my track record and make their own assumptions as they get to know me and hear from me.