Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board: Elyse Dashew on the issues

Name: Elyse Dashew

Hometown: Charlotte

Neighborhood: Stonehaven

Family: daughter (age 17), son (age 12)

CMS connections: Parent of current CMS students at South Mecklenburg High and McClintock Middle. PTA and SLT member. Past PTA officer and SLT chair. Co-chair Bond Oversight Committee. Member College & Career Readiness Task Force. Revision committee, CMS Gifted Education Plan.

Education: Brown University

Occupation: educational advocate

Political experience: Ran for school board at-large 2011 (came in 4th). Steering committee numerous campaigns including Vote Yes for Bonds and Together 4 Meck campaign

Community service: Co-Founder MeckFuture, Co-Leader Public School Friends: Broad-based coalitions to support public school funding. Executive Committee, Parents Advocating for School Health: Fought successfully for full-time nurse in every school. Board of Directors, GenerationNation. Co-chair, Mayors Youth Press Corps. Past USO volunteer.

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign contact info: DashewForSchoolBoard.com, dashewforschoolboard@gmail.com

Why are you running for school board?

I am running for a seat on the CMS School Board because I know that in order for us to have a better life here in Mecklenburg County, we need our schools to be as strong as possible, and we need all children to have access to good schools. I have spent years advocating for CMS students and employees. I have a passion to do more. I believe I can help more if I’m serving on the school board.

What are your top priorities for the district?

1. We must invest wisely so that we can improve teacher pay and strengthen the pipeline, build new schools to relieve overcrowding and prepare for growth, and address deferred maintenance of aging facilities

2. We must follow the evidence when we make policies, including those on student assignment, curriculum and testing.

3. We must communicate clearly with our community partners and CMS students, teachers, staff and families so that we can advocate effectively for all children and work collaboratively to do what is best for all students.

What are your thoughts on hiring a superintendent?

CMS faces a lot of challenges and needs a strong superintendent. We also need to build coalitions in the community to help make sure that superintendent can do what needs to be done.

I’ll be looking for a leader who:

• Has the demonstrated nuts-and-bolts skill set to lead a large urban-suburban district.

• Has a track record of increasing student achievement, improving graduation rates and narrowing achievement gaps within an efficient budget.

• Inspires loyalty and trust in employees and colleagues.

• Has a solid understanding of Mecklenburg County and statewide politics.

• Has an aptitude for engaging, inspiring, and interacting with the citizens of Mecklenburg County as active participants in the process of improving educational opportunity for all children.

• Can find common ground and build strong coalitions with business, faith, and community partners, regardless of party lines, to advocate for public schools.

• Will lead us to being efficient and responsive in harnessing the support offered by nonprofit and community partners to our schools.

What are your goals for student assignment?

We must follow sound evidence to develop policies that will lead to academic success for all CMS students.

Research tells us that diverse schools bring academic and non-academic benefits to students of all backgrounds who attend them. Those benefits include increased academic performance, improved critical thinking skills, higher graduation rates, increased success in college, higher career aspirations and attainment, increased civic engagement, access to broader social and professional networks, and graduates more likely to work and live in integrated environments.

The question is, how do we achieve diversity in an environment where neighborhoods and schools are economically and racially segregated; where funds are restricted and charters uncapped; where we bus more children than ever before, on roads that are more crowded?

We have models of local success to build upon. Talk to families at Shamrock Gardens and Rama Road elementary schools, and they’ll show you a model where their children are thriving. These schools have diverse attendance zones, where previously the student populations reflected highly concentrated poverty. The schools have become more diverse, and the students and our community are reaping the benefits. I’d like to look at certain neighborhoods – that are already diverse or becoming more diverse – where we could work with CMS to intentionally replicate these models to allow more students to benefit from a diverse classroom.

I have a track record of building coalitions that create common sense solutions. I look forward to working with the most creative, courageous, open-minded and open-hearted thinkers in our schools, city and county government, and neighborhoods to craft a solution.

What should CMS do to address persistently low performance by large numbers of students at many schools?

Persistently low performance, especially in our high-poverty schools, is an enormous and urgent challenge that we must work together as a community to address. Supporting child development from prenatal to age 5 has been proven to be one of the most effective remedies; this is best handled by community partners. CMS remedies include (but are not limited to): doing a better job of attracting and retaining the most talented educators; better coaching and professional development for teachers; lessening the testing burden to allow more time for teaching and learning, and ensuring that test scores are used to diagnose and guide along the way; increasing pre-K seats; consistent, well-trained, one-on-one tutoring; breaking up concentrations of poverty; and increasing programs (magnet or otherwise) that have been shown to increase student performance.

What should CMS do to attract, motivate and keep strong teachers?

CMS must rally for better pay, more respect, and more professional development and coaching opportunities for teachers and principals. Improved career pathway opportunities will also help retain the brightest teachers: for example, the “Opportunity Culture” coaching positions pioneered by the Project L.I.F.T. initiative and the Belk Foundation.

CMS needs to work more effectively with community partners to advocate for better pay and policy to recruit and retain the strongest teachers. I can and will help with this. I have been in the trenches of this fight for a long time; I believe that from the school board I can be more helpful and make a greater difference.

I am fortunate to count strong teachers as policy advisors and campaign supporters. For more on this, please see my blog post: http://elysedashew.com/teacher-voice/

What is the district's biggest challenge, and how would you address it?

In addition to the challenges discussed above, one of the district’s biggest challenges is overcrowding. People don’t realize the scale of our overcrowding – most of our schools (116) are at or over capacity, and our region has one of the fastest-growing populations in the country. I am working to raise awareness so that constituents will support their county commissioners in issuing an appropriate-sized bond referendum to build new schools. I am uniquely qualified to take this on. I served on the steering committee of the 2013 bond referendum that passed by record numbers, and I co-chair the CMS Bond Oversight Committee.

For more details, please see my blog post: http://elysedashew.com/how-crowded-are-our-schools/

What is the best thing about CMS?

Despite significant challenges in our schools, I feel fortunate to live in the community where CMS is our school district. My children are receiving a great education, superior in many ways to my own K-12 years. I am especially proud of the innovative programs we offer, like the language immersion program. I am glad that many of our high schools offer a wide range of AP, IB, and now Cambridge classes, as well as CTE classes, and innovative apprenticeship and internship programs. I am pleased that we are increasing most of our test scores (although not fast enough) and the graduation rate.

I think the drive, shared by many CMS employees and supporters, to find solutions for student success is probably the best thing about our system. We realize we have big challenges to address, but there’s a genuine desire to find the best solutions for our students. In my experience with the school system, I’ve found that when someone has a good idea and figures out how to share it, CMS is open to changing, improving, and trying new paths. And the district is large enough that when a new approach is successful, it can be noticed and sometimes adopted by districts nationwide, creating education policy ripple effects that benefit children across the country.

What else should voters know about you?

I have a long history of tenaciously and often successfully advocating for our children, our educators and our schools. Over the years I’ve poured my heart, soul, and brainpower into fighting for better funding, smarter policies, improved pay for CMS employees, bonds to relieve overcrowding, and a full-time nurse in every school.

My campaign for school board has been bolstered by the support of dedicated and award winning teachers, caring and engaged parents, grandparents, people without children, business owners, and faith leaders, all whom share a belief that securing a sound education for ALL of the children in Mecklenburg County is vital to the success of our community. I invite you to join us.

I ask for your vote on November 3 – and for your support and partnership thereafter.