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.

Barbara Fedders is running for a seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.

Fedders is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she directs the Youth Justice Clinic. She is a contributor to Excellence With Equity: The Schools Our Children Deserve, a report of the Campaign for Racial Equity in Our Schools; the author of articles on student privacy, discipline, LGBTQ+ youth, and school policing and chairs the Carrboro Community Safety Task Force.

She also has volunteered at Carrboro and McDougle Elementary, McDougle Middle, and Chapel Hill High School. She was recently endorsed by Equality NC and is on Facebook and Twitter.

Fedders was recently interviewed by Chapelboro about her decision to run. You can see her voting history in primaries and municipal elections here.

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.

Read all of Triangle Blog Blog’s 2023 election coverage

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 for education is safe schools that nurture intellectual exploration, an appreciation for diversity, and a desire to give back to the community. Young people contend with big issues: a rapidly changing job market; climate crisis; economic and racial inequality; and artificial intelligence, which poses novel ethical challenges. Our schools in turn must develop problem-solvers who can read, write, and reason effectively; access an array of career and technical skills; challenge conventional wisdom; and display empathy. The CHCCS district is comprised of students of different backgrounds. Our schools can teach students to collaborate across race, class, ability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Strong public schools, uniquely, build community cohesion and enthusiasm for civic engagement.

-I believe the major issue facing CHCCS is Republican leadership in Raleigh. The GOP benefits from an uneducated citizenry where people stay in sectarian siloes and view each other with fear and suspicion. That’s why Republican legislators for nearly thirty years have refused to comply with the holding in Leandro. Instead, they underfund our schools, underpay our staff, and pass discriminatory laws that harm students and staff. 

North Carolina ranks near the bottom nationwide in public school financing. Our state’s cost-adjusted, per-pupil funding is $10,791 — $4,695 below the national average, making us 48th out of 50th. Our state ranks 36th in teacher pay. Adding to the lack of funding is Republicans’ continued push to expand vouchers and charter schools, further draining resources from CHCCS and public schools throughout the state. 

Another GOP attack on public education occurred in the most recent legislative session when Republicans enacted the so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights.” This law promotes censorship, discriminates against trans and queer kids, and adds unworkable administrative burdens to teachers. It bans all sex education and instruction on gender identity in the first five grades. This move is likely to  encourage removal of books from school libraries. This provision is also so broad that educators can’t possibly know what is and isn’t forbidden. After all, everyone has a gender identity, not just trans and queer kids. So which books can a teacher read to their students?

Another provision of the law requires schools to notify parents any time a student asks to use a different name or pronoun. This provision, too, is mean-spirited and unworkable. It requires outing of queer and trans students by schools to families who may be unsupportive or worse. It also places impossible demands on teachers, given that their notification obligation is triggered every time any child asks to be called any name other than what’s on their registration documents. 

-The combination of low pay, attacks on teachers’ professionalism, and ever more burdensome administrative requirements creates an environment in which recruitment and retention of staff is an ongoing challenge. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, teaching is hard. Some students are academically behind, struggle behaviorally, and suffer emotionally. Promoting staff wellness and longevity is therefore a second major issue facing CHCCS.

-A third major issue facing our schools, and public education generally, is that the democratic promise of public education has never been fulfilled. For Black students, students with disabilities and multi-lingual learners, major opportunity gaps remain. So, while students of different backgrounds are in the same building, too often they occupy separate spaces, especially as they move up in grades. When schools primarily sort and stratify rather than find ways to bring students together, the benefits of diversity are lost.

What are three things that you believe the school board could be doing better?

I have found our school board members to be caring, responsive, and competent. Still, even a good board can be better.

  1. Board members should make sure that CHCCS is integrated into the policymaking of both Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Our bus driver shortage doesn’t show any sign of abating in the near term. Partnering with town officials could help maximize public transportation options to get kids to and from school. Similarly, zoning decisions in both towns affect housing affordability, which in turn shapes the ability of staff to afford to live here. Board members should ensure that our district has a voice as the two towns make housing policy.
  2. I’d like to see our Board taking a leadership role in the state in pushing for a legislative agenda in support of public education. We are comparatively well resourced with a commitment to progressive values. I’d like for our board to help organize school boards around the state to raise a collective voice on behalf of our students and staff.
  3. We should be a leader in sustainable practices. We need to investigate solarization possibilities for CHCCS facilities. Our district should prioritize decreasing food waste, composting the food that is wasted, and expanding school gardens. In addition, we should promote walking and biking to school, while disincentivizing driving. To get there, we should study other school districts around the country that are exemplary in addressing the climate crisis. Being integrated into the planning structures of both towns and the county will help in this regard. 

What are the things you think the school board is currently doing right?

  1. The school board got us through COVID, navigating competing demands, responding to community concerns, and prioritizing the right issues. 
  2. They hired a good superintendent. 
  3. They created a detailed strategic plan to help guide planning.
  4. The Board is committed to addressing racial inequities. Some key personnel losses in the central office have been remedied, and we now have very good, committed folks at the helm of our racial equity efforts. 
  5. The Board has shown an awareness of barriers to participation in school district decision-making and the need to make meetings more accessible. 

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? 

So long as a student’s race, ability, or socioeconomic status predict their achievement, CHCCS isn’t a preeminent school system. But framing these issues as an “achievement gap” is problematic. First, it emphasizes what the students aren’t doing as opposed to what the schools aren’t providing. Second, the way we measure “achievement” is often overly narrow and focused too much on test scores. Students with certain disabilities, for example, frequently struggle with the format of state-mandated, multiple-choice tests. That doesn’t mean they aren’t brilliant. 

Finding a variety of ways to measure intelligence and academic success will help every student. A more holistic view of intelligence and success might facilitate more inquiry- and project-based teaching, which in turn will develop a broader array of abilities. We have an environment in which many students are overly focused on their grades. This focus can discourage students from taking courses outside their comfort zone; moreover, it is often to the  detriment of their mental health

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?

I don’t see how posting this information helps ensure success for all students. “Performance data” presumably means test scores, which aren’t a meaningful reflection of either student achievement or the quality of teaching. In addition, we don’t need more choice options in our district. Allowing parents to decide where their child will attend school will compound our significant transportation challenges. Worse, school choice nearly always leads to more segregation.

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?

We should work to expand high-quality pre-K in the district. It should be universally available, likely on a sliding scale. Currently, we don’t provide transportation to the students in the program. Finding a way to do that would help enormously. 

We need to continue to prioritize and fundraise for the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate Program, which finds mentors for students of color beginning in middle school. 

We should explore ways to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

CHCCS needs more teachers of color. Research shows clear benefits for students of color – more engagement in school, more academic success, decreased likelihood of experiencing exclusionary discipline.

Along with these shifts in policy, there are programmatic things we can do: 

First, we need to have information available and delivered in many different formats. E-mail may not work for some families who either don’t have computers or don’t have the ability to regularly check their email accounts. We need to expand our use of apps. We also need to deliver information not only in writing, but also visually. I’m encouraged that the superintendent is adopting video story-telling to supplement her weekly emails.  

Second, we need to fix the transportation issue. The bus challenges fall hardest on those whose parents can’t drive them to school, perhaps because they do shift work, or perhaps because they don’t own a car. They also disproportionately burden students in the Newcomer program at Carrboro High School, who live all over the district. If you’re not in school on time, you are at a disadvantage.

Third, we need to encourage students of color to take Honors and AP classes. Rich curriculum delivered with high expectations yields better academic outcomes than when students of color are confined to standard or remedial classes. But the lack of Black and Brown students in these classes can deter other students from enrolling because they don’t want to feel isolated. 

Even as we seek to integrate AP and Honors classes, we need to ensure that all courses are rigorous, so students are prepared for college or meaningful, sustaining work no matter the course of study they undertake.

Education policy, no matter how well-intentioned, can’t alone fix opportunity gaps. Too many of our students have food insecurity, insufficient access to transportation, unstable housing, a lack of health care, and no after-school or summer opportunities. Students need services that can be best provided by schools working in conjunction with community-based programs. The fact that addressing gaps means working on local, county, and state issues only highlights the need to have school leaders present in planning and policy-making outside the school.

Focusing on policies to remedy inequity will help all children. Teacher and student diversity, for example, promotes improved critical thinking and creativity for all students. Exposure to racially and socioeconomically diverse environments helps all students acquire the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly globalized workplace

In what school district or community activities/organizations have you been involved?

  1. I’ve contributed to Excellence With Equity: The Schools Our Children Deserve, a report of the Campaign for Racial Equity in Our Schools;
  2. I’ve authored articles on student privacy, discipline, LGBTQ+ youth, and school policing; 
  3. I’m the winner of the Distinguished Scholarship Award from the Education Law Association and UNC Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Award; 
  4. I’ve been a classroom and school-wide volunteer at Carrboro and McDougle Elementary, McDougle Middle, and Chapel Hill High;
  5. I chair the Carrboro Community Safety Task Force, which engages local residents not often at the policy-making table to develop new approaches to public safety beyond policing; and 
  6. I’ve been a board member of the Reintegration Support Network, which empowers youth and emerging adults who need support navigating challenges from court involvement and substance use.

What changes should be made on the state and local level regarding public education?

  1. As stated above, Republican elected officials in Raleigh are working to destroy public education. The Orange County legislative delegation is already supportive of our schools. All of us who care passionately about CHCCS public schools need to do what we can to shift the politics by working across the state to elect new leaders. 
  2. Push to reinstate the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, which recruited top high school students to enter the teaching profession but was eliminated by the Republican-dominated General Assembly.
  3. At the local level – we need to find ways to recruit, retain, and diversify our teaching staff. Short of a legislative shift at the state level, we are limited in what we can do in terms of salary, other than the special district tax rate. We need to do what we can to support affordable housing options in Chapel Hill and Carrboro so staff can afford to live here. We need to preserve the ability of staff to send their kids to our schools no matter where they live. We need to involve teachers more in the governance of the schools; big organizational changes shouldn’t be made without a teacher voice. I support us doing everything we can to find a permanent cohort of high-quality substitute teachers and then implement well-being days that staff can take. We also need to be sure we are protecting staff planning time and lunch time. 

What in your background leads you to believe that you would be an effective school board member?

I’m the parent of two daughters, each of whom has attended CHCCS since kindergarten. I have fifteen years of experience as a child advocate, attorney, and educator. As an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, I’ve been honored to direct the Youth Justice Clinic. My law students and I serve as advocates for court-involved youth, helping them access the supports they need to thrive. I’ve learned how to navigate big bureaucracies and fight for resources. I can ask hard questions, insist on accountability from those with power, and collaborate to reach consensus and compromise. I also believe that my experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community would add a missing perspective to the school board. I’m a good listener, don’t get defensive, and can consider all views. 

Like many school districts, CHCCS has had difficulty hiring and retaining school bus drivers. Last year, our problems were so acute that many students were routinely late to school, or spent two hours or more each day on the bus. This past spring, CHCCS took some small steps toward addressing this problem. Do you agree with their policy approach? If problems continue, what do you recommend that the CHCCS do next? Would you support CHCCS hiring a transportation planner, as the Durham County schools did in 2022?

This is an obstacle that could be an opportunity for a shift to more sustainable ways of getting to school. We need to look for every way possible to have the broadest possible walk zones. We should, as mentioned above, do our transportation planning in conjunction with the towns to enable as many secondary students as possible to take free town public transportation. We should prioritize parking spaces at the high school for students who are carpooling. We may not necessarily need a dedicated transportation planner. We just need to expand how we think about transportation. 

What do you see as the primary work of the board of education?

The CHCCS Board of Education is entrusted with providing leadership and direction through formulating goals and objectives; creating, implementing, and ensuring compliance with policies that ensure accountability with those goals and objectives; holding hearings where necessary on personnel and student discipline issues; reviewing and approving the superintendent’s budget; hiring and holding accountable both the superintendent and the Board’s attorney; and advocating for the interests of staff and students at every level of government.

The Board’s role in overseeing the budget process is especially important. The district receives significant taxpayer dollars, and I take seriously the obligation to ensure it is wisely spent. I’ve been concerned over the years when it has seemed like the Board wasn’t doing enough to scrutinize purchases of curricular and technological products. I would make sure that the District is adhering to all relevant competitive-bidding requirements.

I also believe, as explained above, that we need to regularly collaborate with town, county, and state elected officials and staff on areas of mutual concern.

Finally, I’d like for the Board to initiate participatory budgeting (PB). Students, parents, and staff should be able collectively to decide how to spend some portion of the district budget. Participatory budgeting develops students’ leadership skills, elevates community voices, and involves a whole school district community in meaningful civic experience.

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