Help save the good in
Orange County, NC schools.
July 20, 2022
OCS Librarians and Media Specialists,
In recent months, our community has been having a high profile debate regarding school and library books, and what is appropriate in our public schools. Some groups (especially district leaders and teacher associations), have implied that parents are attacking librarians, their judgement, and their professionalism.
While this conclusion sounds intuitive, it is not accurate.
We recognize that librarians and school committees have input on whether or not challenged books stay in school. However, the final decision lies with the school board. This is a good system. Elected officials have the final judgement, and, unlike librarians, elected officials are accountable to the general public.
We have no desire to change who is in charge of choosing books, to take over that authority ourselves, or to subvert the processes that are in place. For this reason, we do not hold librarians responsible for books we feel are inappropriate, which remain in school after the challenge process concludes.
Parents have exercised their right to challenge books, as well as their constitutional right to share what is in the books with other parents in our community. Exercising these rights is not intended to be an attack on anyone. School boards can be held accountable, and that is our only intention.
Our feelings about teachers apply to librarians, as well. We admire them, we respect them, and we are grateful they have chosen to dedicate themselves to our children.
Like I hope for teachers, I hope you'll be open to considering that our purpose is exactly what we communicate on face value: to help our district become one where our students, and our teachers (including librarians!), are supported, successful, and afforded all the opportunities they deserve.
July 20, 2022
I know by now you've probably heard about, or seen, the work our group is doing. I realize that what we've done can seem highly presumptuous. While I do not contest that notion, I recognize that there are teachers who have needs, viewpoints, purposes, and aspirations that span diverse personal, political, social, and sociological spectrums. I don't presume to stand for, or even understand, each of your perspectives.
At the same time, there are some critical needs that I believe every teacher has. These are the needs I believe must be absolutely solved in order to sustain our schools. If we achieve these things, we can build anything we want on that foundation. But we need to start with the basics:
Our teachers must be the highest paid.
What does this mean? Simple: It means, relative to the cost of living, when prospective educators consider working for OCS, they must classify OCS in the group of possible employers that pay the highest. Not “fairly” or “average”. The highest.
If your School Board, or your administrators, or your Board of Commissioners, are telling you this is not possible, they have given up on working towards your best interest. If they have the will to do it, our leaders can make it happen. I'm not suggesting it's easy, or something that can be done overnight. But just like our community wants to passionately work to close the education gap, we should be working passionately to close the educator pay gap.
Teacher time must be respected and effectively protected. Likewise, teachers cannot be overburdened with too many students, or with work that is outside of their purview.
For teachers, this probably doesn't need much explanation. The way I've seen teachers spread far too thin across too much time and responsibility in our district is nothing short of disgraceful.
Not only should teacher time be protected by policy, but the reality of that protection should be measured, reported, and enforced at every turn. We cannot expect teachers to pick up the slack for irresponsible management that results in too much work and too few people available to do the work.
We must also unburden our teachers from sundry programs and initiatives that fulfill the needs and agendas of administrators, but which have little or nothing to do with the work of serving students and their needs in the classroom.
Every teacher must feel empowered to pour themselves into serving the students they love.
What this really boils down to is: trust. Teachers are people who have dedicated their lives to serving our children. We have a responsibility to substantiate our claim, that we revere our teachers, by offering them deep support and genuine autonomy.
Teachers and staff of OCS, I have no expectation that you would agree with me, or anyone else, on matters that are beyond the scope of what I mentioned above. I recognize there are exceptions to every rule, and that some teachers at OCS are happy with how the school district is run. But the evidence (first-hand accounts, surveys, employment records, attrition rates, etc) leads to a different conclusion for most: Unless you work for the central office, things are likely not great for you at OCS.
We don't have to agree on everything in order to solve the fundamentals. I feel bad that, in some respects, teachers have been put in the middle of this challenge. I think if you look closely, there is not a lot of evidence that parents are unhappy with teachers, nor is there evidence that parents blame teachers for poor student outcomes. My perspective is that parental ire is largely focused on the previous School Board and the current district leadership.
I would challenge you to ask yourself honestly: Do you see a lot of evidence that parents have a problem with teachers? Or, do you see a lot of evidence that parents see that our district is in trouble? Those are not one in the same. I'm not sure I would trust any group or individual who tells you that, parents challenging what's happening in our district, is the same as parents attacking teachers.
I, and other parents who are passionate about this work, will continue forward. When the question comes up, I hope you'll be open to considering that our purpose is exactly what we communicate on face value: to help our district become one where our students, and our teachers, are supported, successful, and afforded all the opportunities they deserve.
July 20, 2022
Orange County Families and Citizens,
In the spring, parents across our community banded together to raise awareness about the challenges our schools are facing. It was a time for courage and action. It was a time to confront problems head on. It was a time to raise our voices and work to enact change.
Last week, our community saw the recently elected school board members sworn in. It was a small ceremony that only lasted a few minutes. But, I can tell you, there was an unmistakable feeling of positive change in the air.
This morning I published an open letter to the new school board in the local paper. I hope you'll check it out, and consider joining me in embracing this moment as the start of something new.
We had an election. The people were free to share with each other, challenge the status quo, and raise their voices in support, or criticism, of ideas and issues. Finally, each of us was free to participate through our vote.
I hope each school board member is honored to have our trust. Not because they owe it to us, but because they recognize the solemnity of their job.
I know there are some skeptics out there. And that's ok. But I also know that when individual members are added and removed, even if it's a small number, significant dynamics can change on a board.
I challenge every parent that may be skeptical, to consider affording some trust and good will; to look at a fresh start as an opportunity to band together, to support, to build up, and to give this new iteration of our school board a chance to answer the deep and critical needs that our children and our teachers have.
When you have a moment, please take a look at the letter. Consider exchanging (at least, for now) the courage to act and confront, with the courage to trust and be patient. Both are virtues of good citizens. Both are critically needed for progress to occur.
If you agree, I'm sure the school board would love to hear that you support them. You can let them know by sending them an email, expressing your own support.
I, for one, am optimistic and excited to see where things go from here.
July 20, 2022
To the New School Board,
It’s exciting to welcome the new board members who will contribute to the leadership of our public schools. While the turmoil in our district has felt daunting, there are many in our community that see an opportunity for positive change.
For students, this means transforming our district into one where:
For teachers, this means transforming our district into one where:
No school board can wave a magic wand to make these transformations come true. Across political and social spectrums, there are many perspectives on how methodologies should be selected and prioritized to achieve the outcomes our students and teachers deserve. A few examples include:
The list goes on and on. Implementing the right combination of programs, initiatives and policies is a difficult challenge. A change in the board means an opportunity to take stock, evaluate conditions, and devise strategies that incorporate fresh voices and a new mix of perspectives.
To every board member: We have entrusted you with the most important and cherished elements of our community. Indeed, thousands of families and educators put great faith in you, that you will navigate challenging waters towards a realized future where families from every background can boast of our community:
Our children achieve the highest performance and graduate with the most confidence and opportunities. And proudly, our teachers go to work every day, feeling truly happy and supported in their jobs.
While I can only speak for myself, my sense is that our community wants this for our students and teachers. Not as a wish that is always out of reach, but as a reality that reflects the authentic character of Orange County.
With hope, and a pledge of genuine support, I welcome the new Orange County Schools Board of Education.