Name: Ericka Ellis-Stewart
Neighborhood: University City
Family: I am married to Marcus Stewart. We have two children. One who is a junior in college and another who is a high school senior.
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CMS connections: As a non-profit executive, education advocate and former CMS parent, I have spent the last 20 years working to improve the lives of children and families in Charlotte. Prior to being elected, I had extensive involvement with CMS as a parent and education advocate. Below is summary of my community involvement: Community Leadership & Civic Memberships School Leadership Team Chairman – Harding University HS, Founding Member – MECKFUTURE (a group that lobbied the County Commission to provide $55M in school funding), PTSA Scholarship Committee Chairman - Harding University HS, School Leadership Team Member – Piedmont IB Middle School & Phillip O. Berry Academy, PTSA Legislative Affairs Committee Chair – Billingsville Montessori, PTSA Member – Highland Mill Montessori, Mentor – Phillip O. Berry Academy & Performance Learning Center (CMS High School), Title I Mentor – Merry Oaks Elementary School, Committee Member - Inaugural CMS Character Education Task Force Task Force, Member (two terms) - CMS Long-Range Facilities Master Plan Citizen Advisory Committee, Facilitator - Citizen’s Task Force on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Governance & Management, Mecklenburg County PTA Council – Board Member 2011
Education: I hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Queens College (now Queens University). I majored in History and minored in Organizational Communications. I am also a Six Sigma Green Belt. Below is a summary of other educational opportunities I have taken part in over the years. Education & Certifications Business Essential Certification, WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY – Charlotte, NC Campus Clifton Strength Finder Coach Certification, GALLUP ORGANIZATION - Gallup University Principles & Practices, Budgeting/Fiscal Management and Volunteerism, YMCA OF THE USA Entrepreneurship Series, INSTITUTE FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP – CENTRAL PIEDMONT COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Occupation: I currently work for a local nonprofit, Mental Health America of Central Carolinas as a Donor Relations Specialist.
Political experience: I currently serve as an At-Large Member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. I have held this position for the last four years. I am currently a member of the board’s Policy Committee and Inter-Governmental Relationships (Legislative) Committee. In 2012, I served as the Chair of the School Board. In 2013, I was elected to serve a three-year term on the National Steering Committee of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE), a group that represents over 100 urban school districts from the U.S., Virgin Islands, and Canada. I am a graduate of NC Women in Public Service – Women in Office Institute Graduate - 2010
Community service: In 2011, I joined the board of directors of Clean Air Carolinas, a state-wide environmental/public health advocacy organization. I am currently the Vice-Chair of the Clean Air Carolina board. I also serve as the NC School Board Association’s Representative on the board of the NC Scholastic Activities Association. Here is a summary of my past community service: Facilitator, Lee Institute & CMPD Racial Profiling Community Focus Group, Education Advocate - “Achieve Together” Community Circle, Former Camp ANYTOWN Director & Green Circle Program Coordinator, Committee Member - Inaugural Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance, Public Engagement Committee Member - Charlotte Mecklenburg Advocates for Public Education, Former Director, Camp R.E.S.O.L.V.E (Reaching & Educating Student on Life & Violence Prevention Education), a gang prevention camp, Crown Jewels Chapter of the LINKS, Inc. - Marketing Committee & National Trends & Service Facet, United Way of Central Carolinas African-American Leadership Initiative (AALI), NC Women in Public Service – Women in Office Institute Graduate, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Catawba Lands Conservancy – Board Member, Leadership America North Carolina (Class of 2005), Leadership North Carolina Alumni (Class VI), Focus On Leadership (Class X) – Class Project Co-Chair, Youth Programming Consultant, Mecklenburg County Crime & Justice Task Force - Member
Party affiliation: Registered Democrat
Why are you running for school board?
I am running for re-election to this office because public education is facing a number of challenges that require experience, commitment and great leadership on the board of education. As a non-profit executive, education advocate and former CMS parent, I have spent the last 20 years working to improve the lives of children and families in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. I have served within our schools working to improve student achievement and rallying parents to get engaged in educational issues. Professionally, I bring real world experience in the areas of drop-out prevention, on-time graduation, gang intervention and mental health – all pressing issues within CMS. I come to you with the knowledge, expertise and passion to do this work effectively. As an At-Large member of the School board, I will continue to offer innovative and viable solutions that are in the best interest of all children. I will also continue to have high expectations and seek accountability at all levels.
I am clear about the need to close the achievement gap and my top priority is to ensure that all students have access to a quality education that prepares them to become productive citizens. My desire to run for school board is an extension of my continued desire to serve this community. I am committed to improving the quality of our public school system and realize that serving as a policy maker is one of the most direct ways to make a difference.
What are your top priorities for the district?
The number one issue facing our system is consistently providing each child with a quality education that prepares them to: 1) become productive citizens, 2) pursue higher education (if desired), and 3) compete within the increasingly global marketplace. I believe that a strong focus on closing the achievement gap is a high priority that must be continued. My work will focus on ensuring that students are prepared to enter the workplace/military or pursue higher education. Each student must have critical thinking skills, a strong literacy foundation and solid STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiences to compete.
Second, I plan to work with my colleagues and district staff to create and implement an agenda that provides students with more academic choices and improved school climate/culture this includes more targeted Career/Technical Education (CTE) programming, increased funding for social/emotional supports (i.e., school psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors, etc.), additional magnet school offerings, improved school safety, the elimination of shuttle stops, and smaller classroom sizes.
Lastly, I would continue to advocate on behalf of educators and work with our funding partners in the General Assembly and on the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners to increase teacher pay to the national average, at a minimum.
What are your thoughts on hiring a superintendent?
CMS is one of the largest districts in the country and will require a superintendent who is credentialed and has a solid background in K-12 education. I believe their top priority must be increasing student achievement and closing the achievement gap. Our next Superintendent must show tangible prior results in educating children at all levels, be able to build consensus among teachers and garner their respect in the wake of low teacher pay in the State of NC.
The new superintendent will have to balance all of this with the business acumen needed to run a large urban/suburban district in these challenging economic times. Additionally, the next leader of our district should create and implement an agenda that includes vocational education programming, improving school safety and providing smaller classroom sizes. He or she will need to be extremely politically savvy as them will serve as the district’s chief lobbyist to the NC General Assembly. Lastly, this community needs someone who can help rebuild/regain trust in our school system. Going forward, we require a leader that exhibits a care and concern for this community and all of its various constituencies (i.e., geographical, socio-economic, faith community, business, etc.).
What are your goals for student assignment?
In my opinion, a well thought out student assignment plan should be comprised of at a minimum each of these suggested elements, if not more. It will seek to create or maintain stability for students and their families while keeping costs in line. It will focus on offering guaranteed seats in schools relatively close to home, while simultaneously strengthening choice and providing families with a myriad of magnet options. It will work to reduce the number of schools with high concentrations of poverty and increase diversity at all schools. Diversity is important and our schools should reflect the diversity of this community. In order for our district to thrive, we must work to prevent the creation of schools with high concentrations of poverty. CMS data and other benchmarks from across the country show a direct correlation between low-performing schools and high concentrations of poverty.
In addition to these elements, the Board of Education must also consider how our schools are staffed to ensure that there are well-qualified teachers in all classrooms and strong leadership teams in every school. We must also work in partnership with the Mecklenburg County Commissioners to develop a plan to fund the capital needs identified by the school board in its capital needs assessment. We must realize that student assignment is not just a discussion based in school board policy and the individual and collective philosophy of its members. It is also tied to having a successful, timely and well-funded brick and mortar program.
What should CMS do to address persistently low performance by large numbers of students at many schools?
There are inconsistencies across the district in terms of the level of rigor students are exposed to, the quality of teachers placed in front of students, the types of classes that are available to students, parental involvement, and the level of expectation placed on students. To address this issue, we must first admit that it exist. Secondly, we must focus on providing an instructional program that gives each student a strong literacy foundation, solid STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) experiences and critical thinking skills starting in elementary school.
As a board member, there are four things I can do to ensure that all students reach their highest academic standards:
• Provide prepared and engaged school administrators (i.e., principals, assistant principals and deans of students) who are able to successfully lead a school by bonding with teachers through collaboration, engaging parents to become actively involved in their child’s educational success and challenges and being visible to students and the communities that they serve.
• Work with the Superintendent to attract and retain effective classroom teachers and support staff that possess the wherewithal to produce tangible results and show not just gains via test scores but the evidence of true learning and knowledge transfer.
• Identify and take solid steps to prevent the creation of schools with high concentrations of poverty. CMS data and other benchmarks across the country show a direct correlation between low-performing schools and high concentrations of poverty.
• To the extent possible create intentional opportunities for parents to become more engaged/involved in the educational process and the education of their children.
What should CMS do to attract, motivate and keep strong teachers?
I believe that CMS should use the following strategies to stabilize recruitment and retention of effective teachers:
• Continued advocacy for a competitive and livable wage for teachers
• Progressive, intentional and ongoing professional development opportunities and tracks
• Mentoring program (consider triage approach which can be manned by retired educators,
school administrators, parents, business leaders, etc.)
• Regular opportunities to give and receive feedback on issues in the classroom, district, etc.
• Additional public/private partnerships to ensure that teachers have the necessary tools
• Regular evaluation (peer review, 360, student feedback, etc.)
• Annual planning retreats and regular planning time during the school day
• Early Release Days for professional development
• Ample opportunities to work in teams with other educators (curriculum content work team,
Inter-disciplinary teams, etc.)
• Provide clear paths for promotion
• Homeownership Assistance Programs similar to the ones offered to police officers and fire fighters
What is the district's biggest challenge, and how would you address it?
STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT is the most pressing priority for me to address. Ensuring that as a school district, we are providing each child with a quality education that prepares them to become productive citizens who graduate on time and are prepared to successfully pursue higher education or compete in the global marketplace. To do this, we must focus on exposing students to rigorous coursework and instruction while maintaining high expectations for all students, no matter their background or circumstances. We must ensure that each classroom has a well-trained, highly effective teacher and that every school has a team of prepared and engaged administrators (i.e. principal, assistant principal, counselors, etc.) to ensure that students exceed proficiency and growth expectations. Lastly, we must focus on equity to ensure that every school within CMS is equipped to be a school of excellence that is desirable to students and parents regardless of its location.
What is the best thing about CMS?
Overall, CMS is a well-run urban/suburban school district. CMS has worked hard to be on the cutting edge with quality instruction and interventions for students. The district is currently implementing a number of initiatives designed to improve literacy K-12. In the last two budget cycles, the district has made a solid commitment to increase the number of school-based guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists. This focus on student’s social/emotional well-being will pay dividends towards ensuring that students have fewer impediments to coming to school ready and able to learn.
What else should voters know about you?
I am 41 years old. I enjoy travel, reading, and yoga. Last August, I was featured in Essence Magazine’s education issue as an Advocate for Education.
I would like to share two items that I have been advocating for during the last year. I have a concern that suspensions for students in PreK-2nd grade are not getting enough attention. During the last school year, there were over 1,200 suspensions among PreK-2nd grade students. Given the young age of these students it seems that we could find alternatives to suspensions. As a result, I have asked the members of the CMS Policy Committee to consider a moratorium on suspensions for this age group. This would allow us to study the issue for root causes and determine what alternate interventions and best practices could be applied instead of suspension. Data is clear that once a child is suspended they are three times more likely to be suspended again and two times as likely to become at-risk for dropping out of school and/or becoming involved in the criminal justice system later in life.
Also, I believe wholeheartedly in the inclusion of student voice and have proposed that the CMS board include a student member based on the model that has been in place for over 20 years on the Montgomery County Maryland School board. I have worked with the Superintendent and GenerationNation to create a job description that could be used to have a student leader serve in this capacity in the future. Here is a link that outlines how this currently work in Montgomery County. MD:
Link #1: http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/uploadedFiles/departments/student-leadership/smob/SMOBElectionProtocols2015.pdf
Link #2: http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/student-leadership/smob/candidates.aspx