Heather Scott

Candidate for Wake County Board of Education - District 1

Personal Thoughts and Research

During the campaign process, I will share my thoughts and ideas about a variety of topics to do with education and their impact on our schools.

Ending Segregation In Schools - Not There Yet

 TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2018

This topic is going to push a few buttons. But, it’s honestly more important to me to be on this side of history than to be silent, especially after I listened to someone in the NCGA Senate today.
Before the NC Senate adjourned for lunch today, one of the senators, I believe Gladys Robinson, talked about the recent passing of J. Kenneth Lee - a civil rights attorney in North Carolina who sued Greensboro City Schools on the behalf of five black children seeking more equitable education. She discussed his lasting impact on civil rights, his dedication to serving his community, and his strong emotional support to her when she pursued service through politics. I softly hugged my children a little tighter, so hoping they were listening, but I found myself nodding in agreement to her words. Especially the part about equality in banking because that is one of the most important aspects of systemic segregation in our country's history over the last century.
One of my recent posts discusses the fact my mother was able to break the cycle of poverty because she had access to strong public schools in the Gary Community School Corporation. But my mother is also white and she had access to white schools (something my parents didn’t really think about at the time). It is no coincidence that black families did not have truly have the same opportunity. They didn’t attend the same schools.
I would strongly urge anyone who remotely doubts “purposeful segregation” to read “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein. This book discusses so much about limited access to home ownership, banking, education, the purposeful creation of “ghettos,” and more. The last quarter of the book is solely bibliography and author’s notes, listing case after case, document after document backing up every single barrier to true “equality.” I honestly don’t know how anyone could utter the words “fake news” after reading it.
My mother graduated high school in 1966. In the 1963 court case Bell v. School City of Gary, Indiana, the plaintiffs asked the court to determine:
**Quoted material is from Bell v. School City of Gary, Indiana, 213 F. Supp. 819 (N.D. Ind. 1963) https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/213/819/2293255/ **
3. Whether the plaintiffs and other members of the class have a constitutional right to attend racially integrated schools and the defendant has a constitutional right to provide and maintain a racially integrated school system.
I couldn’t help but feel ill when the issue of housing was discussed:
...by choice or design, the Negro population of Gary is concentrated in the so-called central area, and as a result the schools in that area are populated by Negro students. If the Negro population was proportionately scattered throughout the city, the racial percentages within the schools would be in the relative proportion of Negroes to whites...With the use of the neighborhood school districts in any school system with a large and expanding percentage of Negro population, it is almost inevitable that a racial imbalance will result in certain schools.
See “Color of Law” to learn that it was nearly impossible for people of color to buy a house in certain (most) neighborhoods through the 1960’s and even beyond. Concrete facts were noted in Bell v. School City of Gary, including teachers at black schools were often nontenure teachers receiving lower pay, schools had lower achievement test scores, lack of comparable electives, overcrowding.
The court finds no support for the plaintiffs position that the defendant has an affirmative duty to balance the races in the various schools under its jurisdiction, regardless of the residence of students involved.
And with that decision, we all lost...
In 2017, Atty. Tracy Coleman of Lewis & Associates said of Gary schools, “Today the school corporation is cash poor and land rich… If the judge had decided for Bell and told the people they had to go to school together, we might not be in this situation today with all these schools and buildings.”
Today, I renewed my hope that we can continue the work of so many civil rights activists, like J. Kenneth Lee, and make sure we provide equitable access to ALL North Carolinian children.

I Want Them to Have the Best Opportunity

THURSDAY, AUGUST 9, 2018

My husband and I really don’t watch a lot of television, but we have found a handful of series that we enjoy together and one of those has been David Letterman’s “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” I almost didn’t watch the Howard Stern interview because I’ve never cared for his radio or television shows. I thought, “I’ll turn it off if I don’t like it,” but ended up watching the entire interview. It was truly captivating to listen to his life journey and experiences with therapy and self-reflection.
Part of what really stuck with me was Stern’s description of growing up in a so-called liberal neighborhood (his family moved when he was in high school). In the late 1960’s, his white neighbors would say, “yes! Equal rights for all!” They would march, carry signs, etc. Then a black family moved into their neighborhood. The neighbors kept saying, “alright - this is great! Equal rights!” But in the night when no one was watching, the white families slowly moved out, one by one, until only his family remained. They eventually moved, too. Howard describes this as his first “really??” moment in life - hypocrisy of the so-called liberals. This experience developed into one of his professional goals - calling out hypocrites.
“I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do.” -James Baldwin
I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity in our schools lately, especially as the keynote speaker for the WCPSS Summer Leadership Conference, Christopher Emdin, discussed his book, “For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood… and the Rest of Y’all, Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education.” Our school system clearly recognizes the importance of diversity, but has struggled with implementing strategies to avoid segregated schools for a number of reasons. Busing to promote diversity was a controversial policy in the south, with a large part of criticism coming from those forced to send their children to schools far from their homes. But the data was clear - it was effective at narrowing achievement gaps across racial and SES lines. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/10/23/forced-busing-didnt-fail-desegregation-is-the-best-way-to-improve-our-schools/?utm_term=.323b2a9a542f)

WCPSS stopped its busing-for-diversity policy in 2010 in favor of neighborhood schools, but the policy has changed since then as recent boards worked to avoid segregated schools. But our schools remain more segregated than they had been (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article181096771.html ). I could cite many articles (including the aforementioned N&O) that demonstrate how difficult it is to recruit and retain teachers at “low-performing” schools. I‘d also like to point out my own observation as an educator and advocate: it’s a vicious cycle that has only seen improvement when we truly value and promote diversity.
I was recently part of a heated discussion to do with charter schools, and the bottom line from parents who choose charter schools was, “I want them to have the best opportunity.” I know charters aren’t private schools, but they are not easy to enter because of their lottery system. I would like to point out a recent study discusses sending children to private schools does not necessarily guarantee a better educational/well-being outcome (http://www.hutchnews.com/news/20180805/private-schools-arent-better-at-educating-kids-than-public-schools-study-says).

Parents - the key to your child being successful at school is the level of your involvement in their education. Choice is just that - your choice. But we must consider the collateral damage we all eventually experience when public education is underfunded because of those choices.
I would like to end with two quotes from the above-cited WaPo article:
“Our history shows that policy cannot focus on improving “failing” schools; it needs to also emphasize desegregating them.”
“Busing didn’t fail; the nation’s resolve and commitment to equal and excellent desegregated schools did.”
When we honestly value diversity, equality, and equity in education - we will have excellent schools. And we will be a truly unified community.

 

Education Support Professionals: Changing More Than Students’ Lives

MONDAY, AUGUST 20, 2018

I was 23-years-old when I started teaching band and general music in Greensburg, Indiana. Shortly after the school year began, I fell into a routine and did everything “by the book.” Each day I had lunch in the teachers' lounge at the middle school, hoping to get to know people and make friends. But, I also discovered this was where some teachers complained about students and their families. Not all of the teachers, but some of the ones who ate in the teachers‘ lounge at that time of day.
I started venting, too. I complained about how kids wouldn't listen in General Music - a required class for students who did not take chorus or band. I was determined to take NO BS whatsoever. After all, I was a first year teacher, the first woman band director in the history of this small, rural city of 13,000 people (at the time) and I was letting them know that I WAS THE BOSS OF MY CLASSES. DARN IT. Then I met Kim. Kim's daughter was in my band class. I quickly knew Kim to be the nicest person I had ever met (still true to this day). She was the librarian's assistant and she loved each and every student. She had a sweet southern Indiana drawl and would often sit next to students in the library, helping with their homework. I noticed that sometimes she actually finished their work for them. Kim was born and raised in Greensburg, married her high school sweetheart, had three kids and knew everyone. Through Kim, I eventually came to know one of the secretaries and the guidance counselor. I learned how much they cared about the kids, and how much they knew about them.
I started to listen to Kim’s responses to my complaints about the students, such as, "Matt just doesn't even pay attention to anything in my class. It's like he's asleep." Kim listened to me, then softly offered, "I don’t think he gets a lot of rest with his father's illness. They spend a lot of time working around his chemo schedule." I had no idea.
I started to spend more time with Kim and the secretary, having lunches out instead of in the teachers’ lounge. We would sometimes eat in the cafeteria with the kids where the counselor always had her lunch. I started to know these kids I taught and it changed my teaching style for the better.
Still, I had a few "challenging" students in my general music classes. One of them, Carl, was particularly difficult. He never spoke. He was a textbook passive-resistant child. He did nothing and nothing bothered him. I was frustrated and asked the guidance counselor about him because I wanted to understand. She told me that no one from his family, not one person, had ever graduated from high school. If the kids actually showed up to school, they were considered to be doing "ok." No one really expected much else.
I glanced over at Carl one particular day in November 1998. His red hair was long and covered his freckled face. He was small, bone-thin and wearing his usual fading t-shirt, ripped-up jeans, and sneakers that had worn through in spots. He sat slouched over his chair, had scribbled his name on his paper, but nothing else was marked. We had been doing worksheets of some type that day, and I asked the kids to share answers with their neighbors at their seats. I started to talk to groups of children and walked around, and eventually I made my way over to Carl. He was silent, talking to no one.

“Do you listen to music?,” I quietly asked.

“No.”

“Does anyone in your family, or at your house, listen to music?”

“Not really.”

“Is there a song or a band that you could name right now?”

Silence for a moment, followed by a muttered "Marcy Playground?"

Marcy Playground was indeed a band, mostly featured at the time on the "NOW That's What I Call Music" CDs that used to advertise on television. Regardless, he knew a band, he knew of some music. We had an answer!
That was how I initially bonded with Carl. It was one of the questions on the paper, “Who is your favorite musician?” and he wrote, "Marcy Playground." I circled two other questions on the paper, and softly said, "just finish these two, that's all I am asking you to do for today." That was the first time I really saw Carl's face, and maybe a small smile.
A few weeks later the students had a different worksheet assignment. Again, I walked around the classroom and circled just a handful of questions for Carl to complete (as I sometimes did for a few other students as required by their IEPs). It was time to go over the questions. I read the second question and waited for the students to raise their hands so I could call on someone.

Carl's hand slowly raised into the air. I called on him and he answered the question - correctly. "That's right," I said, trying to balance wanting to dance around the room with not wanting to embarrass my student. Class continued normally and ended. The students left for their next classes and I followed them out the door. I walked as fast I could down the main hallway toward the guidance counselor's office, tears burning at my eyes. I burst into her office: "DEB! DEB!!!! CARL RAISED HIS HAND IN MY CLASS!" She put her hand over her mouth, made a fist pump and gave me the biggest hug. We happily wiped away our tears for a few minutes as I described it to her.
It was the first time in his life, at the age of 12, he had ever raised his hand in a class and it forever changed my purpose and mission as a teacher. I can’t say that it changed his life, but I know he felt pride that day and several days that quarter in my class.
If I had never met a person like Kim, the library assistant - a woman whose heart had enough room for every child and then some, I might have never taken the time to reach out to students like Carl. I might have never sought out the guidance counselor’s advice on resources/accommodations. I might not have heard the secretary share the story of the student who gave her the free school picture “proof” as a Christmas gift, wrapped in a Kleenex, simply because she offered kindness and compassion each day the girl was signed in late by an angry relative.
I was taught that compassion matters by compassionate education support professionals who were able to take the time to get to know students outside the standard classroom experience at school. It changed my trajectory as a teacher and a person, and I am forever grateful for that. Even more grateful for those people.

 

Don't Tiptoe Through These Tulips

THURSDAY, AUGUST 23, 2018

I came to know the piece “Welcome to Holland” when I was quite newly pregnant with my first child. During a teacher training meeting hosted by my school’s EC (exceptional children) team, one of the EC teachers said, “parents have dreams for their child from the moment they find out they’re pregnant” and she looked right at me. I realized then - I, too, had already started thinking about “the parent I will be” and “my child will …” and acknowledged most parents do this when they’re expecting, or before they adopt.
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Welcome to Holland - Emily Perl Kingsley, 1987
Little did I know on that teacher workday how relevant “Holland” would eventually be in my own life. At that point in my career, I had participated in at least a dozen IEP/504 plan meetings as a teacher, but as the music teacher I was often acknowledged at the last minute. I was thankful for the insight and suggestions, though, because they often worked even in my sensory-rich classrooms and lessons.
A few weeks after filing for candidacy this summer, I came across this article, “Wake Schools Accused of Violating Rights of Students With Mental Health Disabilities.” Read more here: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article215526220.html#storylink=cpy
The lawsuit is to do with the education rights of students who have been suspended, and I absolutely agree these children need and deserve equitable access to education - no matter their discipline history. If a suspension is in fact the most appropriate action, we must still work to help these children maintain a forward-motion path - in fact, the law says we must.
I saw this article the very next day describing what a northern Indiana family endured with their ASD daughter in LaPorte Community School Corporation (my home state). There are no words to describe the disappointment in our system when you read this and I also have to wonder: if we fully funded our public schools (including our EC programs), and we took the steps to encourage highly-qualified teacher retention - maybe this child’s school would have had the resources to offer appropriate preventative measures. I do wonder. Link to article: https://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/parents-sue-laporte-school-district-alleging-teacher-used-homemade-chair/article_1faacafa-c279-5542-85e0-0b586c65a8b0.html
Going back to that staff meeting nine years ago, the very child growing in my belly during that staff meeting now has a 504 plan of his own. I can tell you the process of obtaining one is extremely frustrating, lengthy and intimidating - especially if you don’t know the lingo. For the most part, my child accesses education just fine. Anxiety is difficult to understand and appropriately treat in adults, let alone in children who lack maturity and are faced with unpredictable companions all day. But...
My family doesn’t even come close to experiencing what many parents/guardians process with children whose needs are more profound and who don’t gain equitable access. Some of these families aren’t happily tiptoeing through Holland’s famous tulip flowerbeds, they’re struggling to understand who can help them. I know schools are suffering with funding more than ever (no matter what some politicians might tell you - the bottom line is we aren’t fully funding our public schools), but we must serve these families. We must serve them and make it a priority.

 

All Students Means... All Students

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2018

The Vision and Mission Plan for WCPSS’s strategic plan says, “All Wake County Public School System students will be prepared to reach their full potential and lead productive lives in a complex and changing world.”
The most important word in the mission is the first word, “all.” This includes our transgender students.
I understand the topic of transgender is controversial, and I believe that is because it’s not completely understood. If you are a data-driven person, I encourage you to read this article that discusses the genetic connection: http://www.newnownext.com/dna-study-gender-identity-transgender/03/2018/. I would also encourage you to browse this website for more information: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu I recently attended an informational meeting to do with laws that directly impact transgender individuals. This is important to me on a personal level because I have a good friend who is the proud mother of three daughters, two of whom are transgender. The lack of a consistent district-wide policy to protect her youngest daughter impacts her life on a multitude of levels.
Bathroom use for trans individuals is unfortunately a controversial subject, but it’s one of many reasons we need a consistent policy in place for transgender students. If a student were to move to a different school within the district, they would likely have to petition to use the bathroom that identifies with their gender. I have no doubt the current board would support the transgender student if their requests at new schools were met with resistance, but this entire situation is traumatic to endure from the start. Transgender individuals want to lead normal lives, just like anyone else. Binary people have a certain amount of privilege in this regard, and it’s important to consider how stressful this aspect of life can be to our trans community.

In 2016, one of our school board members was quoted saying he feels the “bathroom” policy is fine the way it is. “I would highly doubt that the board would write a bathroom policy. Policy should never be narrowly focused on narrow, specific actions.” (https://goqnotes.com/41241/wake-county-schools-transgender-bathroom-policy-under-fire/)

As it stands right now, HB 142 (SL 2017-4) states:

“State agencies, boards, offices, departments, institutions, branches of government, including The University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College System, and political subdivisions of the State, including local boards of education, are preempted from regulation of access to multiple occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities, except in accordance with an act of the General Assembly… This act is effective when it becomes law. Section 3 of this act expires on December 1, 2020.”

Unfortunately, this means new bathroom regulations cannot be composed at this time.

I hope we can work to avoid some of the unnecessary stress and trauma our transgender students experience, because - as the adults and leaders in their lives - we need to break down barriers for all students. All students, indeed.

“This horrible violence, the unceasingness of it, is what keeps so many transgender people living in fear, especially those who are poor, or who are not white.” (https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-the-transgender-murder-rate-reveals-the-ugly-lie-of-acceptance-10)

 

Racism and Trauma in Our Schools

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2018

**Disclaimer: This is one of those times I want to make sure I’m on a certain side of history. I don’t want to make anyone feel excluded by sharing my thoughts, and I would value your feedback if I do.**
I came across the following on Twitter a few days ago:
 
 


It made me think about something I’d read after the passing of Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner - whose final words were “I can’t breathe,” before suffocating to death while being physically restrained by police.
Racism killed her.
Erica Garner’s exact cause of death has unofficially been listed as a heart attack brought on by an asthma episode. At age 27.
At 27 years old.
I’m not sure Erica Garner ever expected to be brought into the civil rights movement via the death of her father, but there she was and her voice was heard. Her presence is still felt. But again, those words resonated as I read that tweet.
It killed her.
A Google search with “racism and trauma” listed pages of articles, professional journals, dissertations, studies, and personal accounts all to do with the lasting effects of racism. One that stood out was to do with racism and PTSD, because the DSM-V acknowledges PTSD. Perhaps we can take racism seriously when it comes to mental health. But, especially concerning to me was recalling the words of Monika Johnson-Hostler at a WCPSS School Board meeting in July 2018. She mentioned the majority of students of color describe their first experience with racism as something that happens at school.
Support mental health in schools.
The article, “The Link Between Racism and PTSD” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201509/the-link-between-racism-and-ptsd) is a great tool when understanding the psychological link between racism and trauma.
Recently someone forwarded me an article about “trauma-informed” schools and how schools are coping (https://www.edutopia.org/article/inside-look-trauma-informed-practices). It discusses supporting students who encounter an ACE (adverse childhood experiences): “sexual or physical abuse or exposure to mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, or the incarceration of a family member. In Nashville, 60 percent of children have experienced at least one ACE.”
She was killed by racism.
A staggering “60% of children have experienced at least one ACE.” But 85% of the children at the school, according to the snapshot, are students of color. And most students of color experience racism for the first time in school.
Racism killed her.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has also acknowledged the importance of recognizing the impact of racism on children. It’s a long paper, but filled with remarkable data and suggestions from 2015:
I think we really need to acknowledge and admit the lasting and deep impact of racism, how it affects our children, and how apathy toward racism can be just as damaging. I find myself saying this again - we cannot solve a problem until we admit we have one. As a caucasian woman, I acknowledge we have a deadly problem. We must listen and work for healing until it is solved. As a person hoping to serve on school board, we are bound by law to serve all of our students. It will literally save lives.