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.
Meredith Ballew is running for a seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.
Ballew has served as a school liaison to CHCCS’ Special Needs Advisory Council. She moved with her family from New York to Chapel Hill in 2020. In New York, she served as the Executive Director of the Friends of the East River Esplanade, and the Co-President and Vice President of Fundraising for the PS59 PTA. She is on Twitter.
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.
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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?
As a Chapel Hill native and 1994 graduate of Chapel Hill High School, I know first-hand the unique characteristics and challenges of our wonderfully diverse community. Improving outcomes for ALL students is my number one priority. To be successful in improving the experience for all students, we must be deliberate and consistent about bridging the racial achievement gap, improving service delivery for students with disabilities, and recruiting and retaining high-quality, compassionate educators and staff. An approach steeped in equity and excellence will place a long-lasting impact on our students, schools and community by producing a diverse, well-educated citizenry for generations to come.
What are three things that you believe the school board could be doing better?
- The school system should take steps to harness the vast academic, technological, and therapeutic resources we have in this community to dramatically improve the experience of our students, particularly those with disabilities and learning challenges. As a School Board Member, I would work to forge deeper and more meaningful connections between the school system and local universities, institutes (e.g. TEACCH) and technology companies.
- I am passionate about striving for equity: we must examine and remediate the racial achievement gap that has persisted since before my time in the school system. Specifically, we must ensure that all groups of students have the opportunity to thrive, access advanced coursework and/or supports when needed, and not be disproportionately subjected to disciplinary actions.
- We cannot provide an excellent education to our students without attracting and retaining quality teachers, support staff and administrators. As a Board Member, I will make it a top priority to advocate for increased resources and benefits for our faculty and staff. We must also provide sufficient opportunities for professional development, career advancement, and staff appreciation.
What are the things you think the school board is currently doing right?
In the wake of recent anti-LGBTQIA+ bills pushed through by our state Legislature, I was heartened to note the unified and strong response by our School Board and District leadership condemning this harmful legislation and unequivocally voicing support for our LGBTQIA+ students and staff. Having a Board that publicly affirms and supports its students is paramount in fostering an inclusive, safe environment for all.
The School Board has also done a good job voicing its commitment to closing the racial achievement gap and supporting efforts to diversify district and school leadership. While our district has a long way to go in terms of closing the achievement and opportunity gap, these steps are crucial to making progress in this area and amplifying the voices of those from historically marginalized communities.
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?
I strongly believe that we cannot consider ourselves a preeminent school system with the type of persistent racial achievement gap we have in this district. Everyone benefits from an increasingly equitable and inclusive school district. Therefore, we must focus our efforts on identifying barriers to access to our gifted programs for our black and brown students, while simultaneously examining biases and circumstances that lead to their over-identification within our EC program and in disciplinary actions.
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?
In general, I believe that the School Board and District should be transparent whenever possible. Performance data can sometimes be misleading, however, so I think data should always be posted with as much context as possible and any variables affecting results should be highlighted. Transparency and clarity should always be the goal.
What specific education policies would you advance to tackle the achievement and therefore opportunity gap? Then, how would you translate policy into action to ensure that all children are having their needs met by the district?
There are a number of concrete policy changes that could positively address the racial achievement and opportunity gap in our schools. Specific recommendations I would support include advocating for:
- High-quality, universal Pre-K with age-appropriate and science-based early literacy instruction
- Increased support for comprehensive equity and anti-bias education for students, faculty and staff
- Allocation of increased instructional time for struggling students
- Universal, year-round free breakfast and lunch for all students
- Support for free and affordable early childhood programs, afterschool care and summer programming
- An equity-based framework for resource allocation, disciplinary policy and instructional methodology (including gifted student identification)
In what school district or community activities/organizations have you been involved?
In my children’s previous public school district, I served on the Executive Board of the PTA for six years, two of which were as PTA President. I also served for two years as the parent representative on the school’s “School Leadership Team,” which was a more policy-oriented role. Since returning to Chapel Hill, I have served as an active member on the Special Needs Advisory Council (“SNAC”) and as the SNAC school liaison for Scroggs Elementary School.
What changes should be made on the state and local level regarding public education?
There are many changes, particularly on the state level, that must be made to public education. First, a recent report shows that North Carolina currently ranks 34th in the nation in terms of average teacher pay and 46th in the nation in terms of starting teacher pay. These statistics underscore why our state is having trouble recruiting new teachers and retaining veteran teachers. Providing our educators with a living wage and reasonable benefits is crucial to our ability to recruit and retain excellent educators…and it’s the right thing to do.
I would also advocate for laws that protect and affirm our LGBTQIA+ students and staff, rather than those that seek to tear them down and delegitimize them. The Legislature should allocate more time and resources supporting our public schools and teachers instead of banning books and limiting the discretion of our teachers.
Finally, I would support properly funding public schools instead of giving handouts to parents who opt to send their children to private schools, particularly those who do not need the financial support. Gutting public education is not the solution to our problems and will only exacerbate existing issues in our schools.
Relative to other schools, do our public schools have trouble hiring and retaining good teachers? (Explain your answer)
Hiring and retaining good teachers (and staff) is a widespread problem, exacerbated by Covid and other economic factors. While it is not a problem exclusive to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, the recent stagnancy in terms of supplemental salary from the district, coupled with the increases in other districts, have weakened CHCCS’ relative position as one of the highest paid districts for teachers in NC. If elected, I would support efforts to increase the local supplemental income for our teachers and staff. I would also advocate for increases to salary and benefits at the state level.
What in your background leads you to believe that you would be an effective school board member?
As a native of Chapel Hill and proud graduate of Chapel Hill High School, I would be honored to utilize my skills and experience to serve the district that nurtured me, taught me to think critically and gave me the tools to succeed in higher education and in life.
I am a graduate of Vanderbilt University (BA-Spanish Literature) and hold a master’s degree (MPA-Public Policy Analysis and Non-Profit Management) from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. In addition to holding leadership positions within the YMCA of Greater New York, a post-9/11 business and cultural development organization, and a parks conservancy, I have volunteered as PTA president and as a parent member of the “School Leadership Team” of my children’s public elementary school and served as a parent liaison for Scroggs Elementary School to the Special Needs Advisory Council (“SNAC”). Through these roles, I gained valuable insight into the school budgeting process, HR matters, enrichment programming, Exceptional Children’s policy and safety/wellness protocols.
Given my background and relevant experience, my lifelong roots in Chapel Hill and the CHCCS School District, and my role as a parent of two school-aged children, I feel well-equipped to serve this community and school district. I believe I have the knowledge and level of commitment necessary to stay abreast of the many complex issues facing our district and look forward to contributing to progress in issues of equity, academic excellence for all, and teacher recruitment and retention.
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 can 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?
The lack of affordable housing in Chapel Hill and Carrboro has reached a crisis level and teachers and school staff are among those paying the price. Many have been priced out of the district for a long time now, and it does not appear that home prices are going to become more affordable anytime soon. I would be supportive of some out of the box solutions when it comes to school employee housing and think the blueprint created by Buncombe County schools would be a great place to start the conversation. I have a long professional history of bringing together diverse groups of stakeholders and community leaders to create programs and believe this skillset would come in handy in identifying local non-profit and public sector partners to make a project like this a reality.
What do you see as the primary work of the board of education?
The Board of Education should establish and abide by a thoughtful mission statement and a vision that reflects our district and community’s values of diversity, inclusion, excellence, and equity. Board Members should agree on a clear set of goals for the district and standards for the performance of all district schools. The Board is responsible for hiring and collaborating with a qualified Superintendent who can meet the district’s established standards and maintain the confidence of the community. Effective Board Members should welcome community engagement and actively work with key stakeholders to develop sound policy.
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