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.
Allison Willis is running for a seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools School Board.
Willis most recently served as the Deputy Superintendent of KIPP NYC, and also held administrative roles with KIPP NYC, including serving as a principal, the Dean of Teaching and Learning, and as a 6th grad nonfiction studies teacher. She has also worked with Teach for America.
Willis moved to Chapel Hill during the pandemic to be closer to extended family. She is the parent of four children, two of whom are at Frank Porter Graham.
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?
My vision for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is that the education we provide is rigorous, relevant, and revelatory.
- Rigorous: The education we provide students should equip them with the fundamental knowledge and skills that will allow them to make true choices for their future upon graduation. Our students should be avid readers, skillful writers, mathematical thinkers, and fascinated by natural phenomena, history, and the world today. We want students to solve problems using scientific reasoning, creative thinking, and current and future technology. It’s my hope that all kids are stretched to reach their potential and leave Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools with a sense of confidence and some clarity of their interests and talents to help drive their life choices.
- Relevant: We need the work students do in the school to matter and feel relevant to their day-to-day lives. Finding ways to incorporate authentic assessment, opportunities to solve real problems in our communities, and drawing connections to the interests of our kids are all ways to instill a stronger sense of relevance for them. Relevance is also connected to purpose and interests – ensuring CHCCS continues to offer a wide variety of clubs, sports, arts opportunities, and more are vital ways to help kids continue to feel a sense of belonging and relevance in the school community.
- Revelatory: K-12 schooling is the beginning of an ongoing process of self-discovery and understanding. In our schools, we want students to develop new understandings about themselves, the world, and the community in which they live. We hope they will one day help push problems further along the spectrum of solutions. For that to be true, we need to create cultures that support critical and divergent thinking, opportunities for students to explore their passions, and space to work collaboratively. We want students to feel personally and collectively responsible for improving their community and the world.
Our schools continue to be negatively impacted by politics and decision-making at a state-wide level. Considering this, a key district priority continues to be retaining the talented teachers, leaders, and support staff within our schools, supporting their growth and development, and continuing to build strong pipelines of new teachers into our district. Policies that support their longevity in the field and our classrooms are vital. An equally important priority for our district is continuing to make important progress on the opportunity gap that exists among different learners at CHCCS. We need to ensure resources and policy are aligned to accelerate growth among various student populations that are not currently receiving equal opportunity based on current student outcomes. Additional priorities include long-term facilities planning, a more inclusive EC model, increased community engagement & participation, and evaluating the recent curricular audit and determining potential next steps.
What are three things that you believe the school board could be doing better?
The past three years have been an incredibly challenging time in K-12 schools across the country, and CHCCS is no exception. Navigating the pandemic as our Board did, helping us return to classrooms safely, pop up learning centers to support students, and supporting the return to “normalcy” as many experienced last years was something I was deeply grateful for as a parent and personally understood the complexity of as a teacher, principal, and district leader.
Great policies without great implementation plans lead to mediocre outcomes. One of the strengths I bring to this Board is my experience and skill in implementing education policy across a similarly sized district. Improving implementation of good policy is one area of improvement. Another area of improvement is more transparent and inclusive decision-making and clear communication with all key stakeholders across the CHCCS team. Lastly, the Board needs to be more relentless about fewer priorities. When we lack focus, the community stops feeling our goals are important, and it becomes more challenging to hold people accountable. Our Board needs to rally our parent community to support the important work ahead for our district.
What are the things you think the school board is currently doing right?
Many things. The Board is supporting our Superintendent currently in working to add emotional and social/psychological support to our schools for children and staff. Our Board worked to generate many creative solutions last year to support the transportation challenges our district experienced due to the bus driver shortage. The Board prioritized teacher voices and teacher retention in deciding not to change the elementary school start time this past year, using their enhanced awareness of staff impact to make a final decision that support our teaching staff. Our Board is a strong, unified voice in the face of hate and bias. Our Board is also working with the future in mind, gathering data to make a long-term plan for improvements in facilities across our district. Finally, I believe our Board managed the pandemic shut-down, period of virtual learning, and return to in-person learning extremely well, all while transitioning to a new Superintendent. The district ensured all students were equipped with the tools they needed to learn from home, including continuing lunch distribution. They leveraged local health experts to inform school policy, created ample space for family feedback, and ultimately made the best decisions possible with students at the center. I would be honored to join this Board to continue to push the work they have started forward.
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’m happy that Chapel Hill is known as the best district in the state because it helps us attract teachers, leaders, resources, and many engaged community members to our school system. However, it’s deeply troubling that Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools is not the best for all students. If wealth makes it easy to be seen as the best simply because we are wealthier as a community, it’s incomplete and inaccurate. What I want to be focused on is how we can be the best school system for all children regardless of circumstance. I want Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools to be the best system for a child who is new to the United States. I want our district to be the best for students whose parents have not finished college and for those who have graduate degrees. I want our schools to be the best for children reading above grade-level and children who need extra support to read on grade-level. I want us to continue to put our collective efficacy and brilliance to work in order to make our schools the best for all our children.
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 am a strong believer in transparent data sharing, and that we should always be reviewing data disaggregated by race, gender, EC, MLL, etc. I also believe that we should be holistic in the data that we share. Reporting growth metrics, in addition to proficiency metrics, sharing school culture data, parent and family satisfaction, teacher retention, etc. helps provide a more holistic picture of the strengths and areas to grow of our individual schools and district. I think our data should be publicly available and easy to find through our website.
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?
The absolute greatest factor that will positively impact student achievement is teacher quality. Policies that support longevity, wellness, and compensation for our teaching staff (and that will also attract new teachers to our district) are vital ones to advance that will directly impact student learning. The next most supported and well-researched education policy in addressing the opportunity gap is providing public access for all families to early childhood education. The opportunity gap starts well before children step into their kindergarten classrooms at age 5. Policies that provide support for new parents, access to high-quality pre-K and childcare, health and nutrition support, and enrichment all make a tremendous difference in ensuring children show up ready to learn in kindergarten. I fully support and would strongly advocate for Universal Pre-K for all Chapel Hill-Carrboro City children. Policies that support increased instructional time for students who are struggling, free and affordable afterschool and summer programming, programs to decrease absenteeism, and increased participation and integration in honors and AP courses would all impact the opportunity gap that exists in our district. Working in concert with the many community organizations that support food insecurity, mental health, youth opportunities, mentorship, and more are also a vital part of the solution as well. The more our schools can be true community schools with full wraparound support, the more progress will make in this area.
In what school district or community activities/organizations have you been involved?
I have been a member of our school district since the 2020-2021 school year, and all four of my children now attend Frank Porter Graham Bilingue as 3rd, 1st, and pre-K students. At FPG, I am in my second year serving as a room parent, and I am a member of our school’s PTA. In our community, I coach my son’s YMCA soccer team and have been an avid YMCA sports supporter for the previous two soccer and basketball seasons while my amazing husband coaches and I chase our twins around the field/court. Through a combination of running, walking, and stroller use, our entire family has completed the 5K to support our schools the past two years. I love taking my older sons to the UNC Women’s Basketball games.
What changes should be made on the state and local level regarding public education?
We need to pay our teachers, TAs, and support staff a competitive salary. This means giving them a substantial raise above and beyond the inflation our economy has experienced the past couple of years. We know the quality of the teacher is the most influential factor in driving student learning – more so than class size, more so than curriculum. In addition to ensuring our teachers are well-compensated, we need to implement universal pre-K so all kids across Chapel Hill have access to early learning environments that support their early literacy and SEL skills. We need to be vocal advocates for what our kids and schools need to thrive at the state level. The NEA places North Carolina has 42nd in per pupil funding in the country. I agree with our governor that we are in a “state of emergency” for public education in this state. Finally, we need to create permanent connections between our university and community college system and our public schools across the state that share talent and bolster our teacher pipeline.
Relative to other schools, do our public schools have trouble hiring and retaining good teachers? (Explain your answer)
Many states and districts have given their teachers substantial raises in the past few years, and I’m extremely worried that North Carolina has fallen behind. Additionally with the cost of living, especially the cost of housing, increasing so substantially in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, other districts with lower cost of living and cheaper housing become more attractive to teachers. The NEA in their latest report puts North Carolinas has 36th for average teacher pay. We need to be strategic in ensuring we do not lose our competitive edge and increase paid family leave beyond the state’s policy, raise overall compensation, and explore creation options into affordable housing for our staff, in addition to reviving former teaching programs that funneled high quality talent in our schools.
What in your background leads you to believe that you would be an effective school board member?
Twenty years of experience as a teacher, school leader, deputy superintendent, parent to public school children, aunt to children with exceptionalities, and spouse to a current CHCCS public school elementary teacher provide me with immense perspective and lived experience in the education space and in our district. I understand the issues and how they impact different stakeholder groups, which makes me both a partner in the work and aware of what’s possible when we align and drive change together. I was a middle school principal for five years in West Harlem, and during that time, we were able to close and eventually exceed the 8th grade algebra performance of students directly north of us in Scarsdale, one of the wealthiest communities in Westchester. I have done the work personally to ensure students can meet and exceed their potential, and I want to offer that lived experience to our local community.
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?
I would support school employee housing on school-owned land depending on funding source and impact on current school communities.
One of the features of the CHCCS is its magnet schools, including the Spanish language programs at Carrboro Elementary and Frank Porter Graham Elementary, and the STEAM² program at Glenwood Elementary and LEAP. In the past, some in our community have criticized these schools for poor performance or contributing to furthering social and economic inequity. Would you support closing, consolidating, or otherwise reimagining the use of magnet schools in our district? Please explain.
As an FPGB parent, it will likely surprise no one that I am a huge supporter of our dual language programs, and it’s probably one of the reasons why my husband and I decided to stay in Chapel Hill permanently after a long stay with family during the pandemic. The opportunity to learn a second language so young is an incredible opportunity that I wish I had as a child. I believe our magnet programs offer our families some choice within the larger system and provide some customized support for those students who need them (i.e. LEAP). I would want to look more closely at the data, and with any program that we are directing significant resources to, we need to evaluate and share outcomes annually.