OP Live Candidate Forum 2018: School Board

The 2018 OrangePolitics live online candidate forum for Orange County School Board took place on Sunday, April 15, 2018. The candidates are:

  • Hawkeye Aguilar
  • Jessica Aguilar
  • Will Atherton
  • Hillary MacKenzie
  • Sarah Smylie
  • Brenda Stephens

Editor's Note: We, like you, noticed there's a storm headed this way this evening. Should any candidate or our moderator lose power or internet connectivity during tonight's forum, we'll do our best to accommodate, depending on the severity of the situation.

Safety should be everyone's highest priority.

Good Evening  Everyone, I am Latarndra Strong. It is my pleasure to join you tonight.  

In full disclosure I would like to share that I am the founder of Hate Free Schools Coalition.  Two of our candidates worked closely with our organization. Sarah Smylie and Hillary Mackenzie both participated in HFSC action over the past years.  Hillary MacKenzie is on the core team of Hate Free Schools.

Having said that, schools are near and dear to me so I am excited to moderate tonight. 

Thank you to each of our candidates for volunteering to serve our amazing community. I genuinely appreciate each of you and the contributions you will make to the OCS.

Let's start with our first question.

All elected candidates should have an idea who make up their base. How would you describe your base?  What are the needs of your base? How will you address the needs of those outside your base?

Greetings, everyone! First I’d like to say a big thank you to Orange Politics for hosting a forum tonight and also to LaTarndra Strong for moderating.

I’m running for a seat on the Orange County Board of Education because our kids deserve to have energetic and engaged leaders nurturing our public schools.  I’m dreaming of a school board that fights hard for justice and shows our students, families and teachers they are safe in our system through our words, actions and policies. I’m dreaming of high school curriculum that is lead by student passion. I’m dreaming of a district that nurtures our students and teaches them to be kind, decent citizens of Orange County. As a parent and lifelong resident, I am deeply invested in our public schools.

Prior to having my own family, I worked in the foster care system, volunteering as a Guardian ad Litem in Orange County. My experience with foster children taught me the importance of attending to the individual needs of each child through complicated situations.

More recently, I have served as one of the core team members of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, which seeks a physically and emotionally safe environment for all students. A central goal for my work in Orange County Schools will be to continue my efforts to make our schools safe, particularly for students who are part of traditionally underserved communities.

All of this being said, my “base” is democratic voters who are interested in seeing a focus on equity and safety from OCS leadership. I believe that a candidate’s “base” is the voter group that will be most interested in each of our passions in running for school board.

However, with both of my kids in Orange County Schools, it is at the forefront of my mission for each child to receive an excellent education. And I believe that begins with listening to everyone’s needs carefully. So I will do my best to advocate for all families and students, regardless of political or religious beliefs, socioeconomic or citizenship status, gender identity, race or belief system. I am in this for our students and what serves kids best is seeing adults get along and work together for the common good.

Hello! Thanks to Latarndra for moderating, and to Orange Politics for hosting us!

I’m running because we need people on the board who will champion the voices of our students and their families, who know what it’s like to lead a classroom, and who are deeply committed to ensuring our district becomes a place where every single child receives a world-class education.  As a parent with two kids in our schools, as a former teacher, and as someone who’s devoted a nearly 20-year career to expanding educational equity and excellence, I’ve got perspective the board needs to successfully tackle the complex challenges faced by our schools right now. Despite the challenges, I am an optimist, and I am all in.

So given that, I'd guess my base is probably made up of: 1) fellow parents who want the perspective that a parent can bring to the board (since there are very few on the board right now), 2) fellow Democrats (as a simple fact, although this is a non-partisan election, and I deeply believe that education should and can be non-political!), and 3) voters who are interested in seeing quicker progress towards the day where your race or income doesn't predict your educational experience or outcomes. That said, I've had great conversations with lots of people who don't fall into these three groups, and I honestly think there's more similarity in what people want to see from our schools than what many people might think: A world-class education for every child - the kind of education that sets you up to thrive in college/career and life. For every child to be known and valued for who they are, and challenged to be their best. Safe schools. Schools connected to their communities. Etc.  So as I've experienced it so far, addressing the core issues of my base is also the pathway to addressing the core issues of many other voters...

I would not say I have a specific base, but I would say that being in the school system for 13 years and having kids in our school system, that I have learned a lot about from teacher, staff, and children in the schools.

I believe meeting with different community organizations is a great way to understand concerns and issues and get feedback and ideas.

What experience do you have with complicated budgets?  When you are given the detailed budget for the district, what will be your to process to determine if it is a good budget for the system?  What are your thoughts on the way funds are allocated currently? 

I've taken graduate coursework in public budgeting and public finance, which will be relevant to this position, and I've managed multimillion dollar budgets in my professional life. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that budgets are a bit different in the private vs. public sector.  In our budget, I'm interested in understanding how the investment choices align with district priorities, and the extent to which the data suggests that those investments are a value-add vs. the other things we could be spending the same money on. (As an example from the time before the state started micromanaging local decisions: deciding whether to invest in smaller class sizes vs. additional teacher's assistants.)  There are a few areas where I'd like to see some different investments (for example, we need some solutions for translation, given home languages of our families), and other areas where I simply don't have enough information to understand how dollars are spent. I'm really interested in two things related to our budget: 1) Making it easier for EVERYONE to understand our budget (there are some great examples out there of what this could look like) - this sets everyone up to be a better advocate, and to demonstrate that we're stewarding every dollar well, and 2) Figuring out a long-term plan for our capital needs. We have major school facility needs, which unfortunately the 2016 school bond only begins to address, and we also face financial pressures given inadequate funding at the state level and competing priorities in Orange County. The county commissioners have always supported our schools, but I expect these pressures only to grow. We’ve got to work together with the county commissioners to make sure we’ve got adequate, sustainable funding, and that we’ve got a long-term plan for what to do with our older school buildings. I'm not sure yet whether that means building it into our district budget in a different way, or incorporating it differently into the county funding process, but one way or another we've got to dig into this. I want to make sure we're being transparent with everyone about the real costs, and not deferring decisions here.

From my work background I have a lot of experience in very large complex budgets (multi-million dollar) that stretch international boundaries.


First – Insure we (School Board) agree on the guiding principles for the budget and priorities

Second – Insure we are meeting the needs for all children in the county

Third – Insure that we don’t removes some key positions to save money because they are not class room facing.  Such as a social worker – that deals with home life issues, depression, bullying.

Currently the budget is put into very large “buckets” to make it easier for people to see. The issue is you must get into the details and understand what is really in those buckets.   How does this break down into education for the child and what are the legal requirements?  What is critical now and what are the growth areas for the long-term.  What items can be pushed out without effecting supporting a child.

As the previous Operations Manager of an advertising company, Salesperson, and Collections agent at different times in my life, I have worked with budgets in my career, but this is the area that will have the biggest learning curve for me as a board member. Luckily, I’m a great student! (I think it is important for candidates and board members to be transparent about the issues that they need to learn more about.)

To learn more about the budget, I will study and work closely with Rhonda Rath, OCS Chief Financial Officer, and ask lots of questions! 

To determine if it is a good budget for the system, we will have to prioritize what will serve our students best in each given year. We will have to take into consideration factors such as capital improvements and student safety. We must creatively and transparently deal with our limited funding and bring innovation to our classrooms. Additionally we must market our public schools to be the community’s first choice in education so that we are not losing so many students to charter schools, thus decreasing our per pupil funding.

I think given that our funds are stretched very thin, that the district has done a decent job allocating funds. I would like to see funding set aside for thorough equity training as well as strengthening our Career Technical Education programs in the county.

The state has decreased funding, the schools have greater needs like mental health, capital facilities, and a growing teacher shortage. That coupled with the recent mandates for class size restrictions has really strained our school budgets. What would you share with members of our community who are concerned about budget deficits/shortfalls?

There is always a need for creativity when it comes to school funding. I was talking to an elementary school teacher recently, and she mentioned how she is so grateful for the iPads in her classroom but that there aren’t enough for every child to use at one time. This sentiment has been echoed to me many times, and our amazing teachers always find a way to make it work for the kids. This mentality must be true for school board members as well. When there is a budget crunch as there is now, we must look at the big picture, prioritize, communicate transparently within the community and arrive at the solutions that serve our students best. 

This also raises the importance of relationship building in our community. The Boards of Education in our district create budgets and our County Commissioners do their best to meet the request. Nurturing trust and open lines of communication with town and county boards is a high priority for me, as well as advocating for state and federal funding as necessary. I also believe that creating partnerships with community organizations, community centers, local businesses and faith congregations could bring positive changes and support to Orange County Schools.

That's what I'd share. Our school budgets ARE strained. Our schools DO have significant needs. And there are competing priorities in the county's budget. This is part of why I feel so strongly about being clear and transparent about the budget and our needs - because we actually need the public to be advocates along with us - advocates with the BOCC, and advocates at the state level.  What I can promise as a board member is to be a responsible steward of our taxpayers' dollars, and to fight hard for what our schools need in order to provide the kind of excellent educational experiences our students deserve.

One of my priorities is building more/stronger community partnerships - which is rooted in this idea of taking advantage of the other incredible resources that exist in Orange County. In a time of budget challenges, this is more important than ever.

I will also say that, at the end of the day, I'm an optimist. We have got to look budget challenges straight in the eye and proactively, but I truly believe that the most "valuable assets" in this district are our PEOPLE - our teachers and school personnel and administrators - and that they can accomplish incredible things and provide excellent educational experiences despite the budget challenges. They and our students deserve a school board which will fight hard to fund our schools according to the needs of our students and the high-quality opportunities we aim to create. 

I would say that everyone should be concerned as the majority members of the state legislature have put us in the situation.
We must insure that County and Town planning boards support the schools, by lobbying large developments to donate land to the schools to accommodate growth.
Until we are able to fix at a state level we will need to look at creative ways such as leveraging resources from the sheriffs department, country and community to guarantee we get the services children need on a day to day basis.

Although we strive to be the first choice for schools, there are indications that goals fall flat. Why do you think there are long waiting lists for the charter schools the district.

Around 10% of the students who are districted for OCS attend charters instead. Families with more resources are typically the ones who are able to send their children to charter schools, as charters do not usually provide transportation or free/reduced meals. The county is then liable for funding students at charters, and this reduces the per pupil budget for our public schools. Additionally, because families with more resources are the ones leaving public schools, OCS ends up with fewer resources in the form of family contributions to fundraisers and fewer parent volunteer hours.

I believe we have an important opportunity at this time to show members of the community how special Orange County Schools are and highlight the great things each school, and the district as a whole, can offer students. It is easy to understand why some families like the idea of “more options” when they are able to provide the necessary resources to send their kids wherever they would like. However, with additional information about the benefits of public education, I am optimistic we can shift the trend back to neighborhood schools.

What do you mean by neighborhood schools?


This has been one of my questions! I’d like to see OCS learn more about what’s causing families to choose charters locally. Are they drawn by a particular pedagogical approach? By particular enrichment activities? Did they encounter a challenge in OCS that wasn’t addressed adequately? Asking families about those decisions would give a really interesting lens on what our schools are offering and how to refine our own approaches. I'd like to see us do a survey.

The people I know who are at the charter schools got there through one of two routes: 1) Their children entered the charter in kindergarten (this is the route for most students) - the families I know mostly see the charters as just another option to explore at that point (as Hillsborough Elem is) - and in one way or another an appealing one (drawn to STEM, project based learning, etc) - in some cases being unaware of the very cool things in these spaces happening in OCS schools, or 2) They left OCS because the schools weren't adequately addressing an issue for their child. This is a smaller group of all charter students, but of the people I've spoken to in this category, they left because of concerns like: unaddressed social needs (bullying or other interpersonal issues for example)l; unaddressed academic needs (advanced students who needed additional challenge/differentiation and weren't getting it). In all of the cases I know of, the family first tried to get the school to address the issue, and felt like the response fell short. 

If these cases I'm familiar with are trends, I think there are some very important lessons in there for the district! If we want to be the first choice for families, we've got to adopt a learning stance about this, vs. a defensive posture, or marketing only the shiniest successes. There are lots of great things happening in OCS - let's give families an authentic welcome into the district and exposure to those things well before kindergarten orientation - and when a family experiences something not great, let's keep working to meet those needs.

I really love what you're saying about taking a learning stance here. Spot on.

Families are choosing charter schools for many different reasons (about 12% of students enrolled in charter schools from Orange County).  Some for smaller class sizes, some for more of a Montessori type school environment.  While some families feel charter schools provide a better learning environment, test scores remain similar, based on last year’s scores.  We need to encourage families to examine the benefits that Orange County Schools provide.


We must be able to compete in this new educational paradigm by providing and disseminating the great programs we offer, and better market our schools so that parents and children want to be in Orange County Schools - as their “First Choice for Families.”

Over the last year as I have become closely involved with OCS, I have noticed a fear around openness among teachers, students, and parents, in many ways alienating the community instead of building relationships. How will you address concerns and foster open dialogue?

I think that this is a really important question for Orange County as a whole, especially as our country is so divided by politics at this time. As a board member, I plan to be present in our schools and regularly attend a variety of community events that will make me available to diverse groups of families in the district. I will be a good listener and help guide families and community members to the appropriate person or group to handle the specific situation.

I find it troubling that the current school board voted to limit public comment last year. The school board should welcome input from the community and encourage family involvement. If it is impossible to accommodate so many public comments during regular meetings around a controversial issue, the board should invite the public in for a discussion in a different setting, where everyone can voice their opinions, including the board members. When I am on the school board, I will always prioritize transparency and open communication, and encourage students, their families, and our community to use their voices to change our schools for better.

I would really like to see the culture in OCS shift to one of trust. As a board member, I would welcome honest feedback from all of the stakeholders in education from adminitstrators to teachers to parents and students. We will not grow as a district if we don't hear honest feedback and move forward together.


I’ve noticed the same thing. Building relationships is absolutely necessary to us making progress together - which is why I’ve named this as one of my biggest priorities.The truth is that we can’t solve any of our biggest challenges as a district - and can’t reach the heights we could - unless we’re collaborating effectively. Lack of trust seems to be at the root of this, for many people I've talked to. We have got to recognize the reasons trust may be low, and work to rebuild it. We can’t retain teachers if they don’t fully trust the district they work for; I hope that some of the steps the board has taken, like reaffirming teachers’ First Amendment rights in a resolution last year, are a start, if just a start. And I hope that the future efforts to prioritize equity, via whatever comes from the equity task force, can be the initial steps for building stronger relationships with communities of color.  But we have got to understand the history of what’s happened over years/decades (centuries in some cases!) to make the current climate the reality, and accept that it’s not something that’s quickly and easily “fixed.” Talk won’t fix much in situations where trust is low. As a district, we need to show through our ACTIONS that we mean to be an inclusive school system where our teachers are respected professional leaders in their classrooms, and where all students and their families are deeply valued as equal members of this community.

Here’s a couple parts of what rebuilding trust will look like from me as a school board member:

1) Be present. Attend community meetings/gatherings. Actually build personal relationships with lots of people.

2) As a result of that, I’m going to be able to be a more informed board member - and as an informed board member, I’ll be able to advocate for the work in the district which will start demonstrating through our actions that we are intent on being an inclusive and empowering school system.

Those are a couple of ideas, but I’m really interested in hearing what the readers of this think, too - I’ve built so much of my understanding of these dynamics already by talking to people who are having different experiences than I am. 

Some specific things I think the board should consider:

  • I would advocate for adding public comment in to work sessions. I haven’t yet been able to distinguish between the topics that have come up at work sessions and those that come up at public meetings. I was disturbed that the board eliminated half of public comment opportunities last year, following a period of heavy usage of public comment. I think it sends the wrong message.
  • I would like to see if we can have board meetings in a larger space like the Whitted Building.
  • We should also be televising these meetings. The board is reviewing a recommendation on this tomorrow night, actually! Hopefully this will move forward soon.

I know from talking to parents over the years, there is concern about their child facing pressure or being out cast if they, or their parents, bring up an issue and they are publicly identified. 

Language is a barrier as well.  In families where English is not the first language, concerns can be difficult to express making it difficult to address their child’s needs.

Teachers face similar issues, as they worry about appearing negative. 

We need to come up with a system that lets Teachers, Parents and Staff, report concerns, so we understand the issues and try to address them

As a board member, part of the school system and an active community member, I will continue to seek out an understanding of the issues and concerns as sometimes we need to have respectful, but difficult and uncomfortable conversations, when issues arise and need to be addressed.

There is an opinion expressed that our schools should focus on education and not race relations. Many who have this concern feel the focus on race divides our community. Your thoughts?  Additional comments about racial equity?

To this I would say that race relations are a fundamental part of education. I would also say that there have been inequities between races since the inception of our country, and there has been far too little done to educate our students about disparate outcomes in housing, banking, employment, criminal justice, healthcare, and yes, education in our country. Look no further than graduation rates, test scores and suspension rates in Orange County Schools for an example. 

We need a multi-faceted approach to equity that looks at each child holistically in OCS so that we can improve the graduation rate of all students, and particularly students of color that graduate at a lower rate. Several indicators I would like to monitor as we strive to increase the graduation rate are the following:

  1. Hiring, supporting and retaining teachers and administrators of color, and those who are fluent in Spanish, within our district. 
  2. Continuing to enhance the district's plan that ensures students are encouraged to participate in advanced classes. The students in these classes should at least represent the racial make-up of the student body and should include students whose parents did not attend college.
  3. Decrease disparities in suspensions and criminalization between white students and students of color. Teachers and administrators should be comprehensively trained in restorative practices. Schools that use these practices decrease overall suspensions, which actually boost graduation rates.

Look, you can’t talk about improving education in the United States of America and ignore race. The fact is that right now you can predict the kind of education children are likely to receive in this country by their race. That’s unacceptable. It is unacceptable that black and Latinx children in Orange County (and yes, other counties too!) are underrepresented in AIG programs and AP classes, and overrepresented in suspensions. It’s the job of our public school systems to do something about this. (And yes, if you break out the data by economic status, you still see trends by race.) Orange County Schools are providing really good school experiences for many kids - and believe me, I am so happy with our decision to send our girls to Orange County Schools - but this cannot be a great school system until it is great for everybody.

This question itself underlines one of the big challenges here, though - we’ve been taught, our generations, not to talk about race. If you’re 56 years old and grew up in Orange County, you went to segregated schools. OCS was only fully integrated 50 years ago, forceably, by order of the federal government. We have got to get better about talking about how racism showed up and shows up (in structural ways, in totally unconscious ways - heck, sometimes in conscious ways!) if our generations are going to make things any better for the next generations of students. The research is incredibly extensive that it does. Doesn’t make it easy to talk about, but personally I try. And I welcome the chance to try talking to anybody who still has a lot of questions or doubts about that.

So how are we going to move towards racial equity in educational experiences/outcomes in Orange County?  In order to make progress, you’ve got to first of all know your history. Parents have been asking for and working for improvements in racial equity for DECADES. There’s been the Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap report. The Northern Orange Education Task Force. Etc. And the district has been working on it for decades. And there have been some small places where they’ve seen some improvements, and some places where they’ve seen things get worse. So what needs to change? What’s going to be different this time? I think you need (at least!) two things: structures to create accountability, and the culture that’s going to give the work its own momentum. Each is crucial.

  • We need a really strong, concrete plan, with concrete goals, and we need to be looking at our successes and challenges against that plan, and looking at the data, in a public way, on a regular basis. I would start from the recommendations forthcoming from the equity task force, and would also learn from other districts who’ve pursued equity plans. (Our neighbors in CHCCS are pursuing an equity plan, too - how can we partner, learn together, etc?)
  • But ultimately any plan, even one which is concrete, public, and ambitious, is going to fall short unless you have teams of people passionate about equity working to do things differently at the school level, with the support of the district. We should make sure we have exceptional instructional and cultural leaders in every building who are deeply committed to equity and have the necessary skills to build that culture and skillset on their teams. And we need to make sure that each school has the teachers, the resources, and the support to do that work.
  • I was talking with a colleague who’d worked to execute on Portland Public Schools equity plan - and they saw some major successes in all of the same kinds of areas we’re talking about (graduation rates, AP enrollment, discipline, etc). And then the superintendent who’d championed this plan turned over, and priorities shifted, and some of that work started coming un-done. Principals and school boards come and go, so we need the fire living in the people in every school in the district. We need to build teams of people who are so passionate about figuring out how to create equity that it won’t matter who the superintendent is, or who the board is.
  • The biggest successes we see in the country in terms of equity are at the school level. So if it were up to me, I’d focus school-by-school on how we build a culture that sees excellence as equity, and that is fiercely devoted to bringing equity to life. We’ve got only 13 schools in this district - this is do-able!

Being on the Board of Education means representing all of the students of Orange County Schools, and providing them with the opportunities to succeed regardless of socioeconomics, race, disability or gender.


I do feel we need to have a more diverse teaching staff.  Classroom diversity will promote student growth and gives children access to teachers of different backgrounds and races who can serve as mentors, trusted advisors, confidants, role models and heroes.


I feel we do need focus on minorities to help them address their needs and help them succeed in the classroom.  Promoting early intervention for at-risk children, starting in the pre-K programs, will assist in developing planning tools to guide these students into successful school careers.  Programs focused on early intervention are proven to promote a love of learning.  These programs also focus on areas of improvement for these students by providing speech therapy, occupational and social therapy and guided teaching plan.

Have you attended school board meetings?  Share your thoughts on how the agenda is set, meetings are organized and what you would suggest to improve transparency?


In the past 18 months, I have attended the majority of OCS Board of Education Meetings. My understanding is that the Chair of the Board sets the agenda, for both the private and public portions of the meetings. For typical meetings, a closed session precedes the public session so that the board can discuss confidential matters such a personnel or specific students. I would like to see there be a shift so that any board member can add an item to the agenda to be discussed. On one occasion, I witnessed a board member try to add something he felt was important to the agenda, but as it did not pass a vote, the entire issue was passed over that evening. If something is critical to a board member, I believe that it deserves the entire board’s attention at meetings.

To improve transparency, I would like to see communication increased from the board to the community. Perhaps a monthly newsletter, in English and Spanish, could be sent home to families with each student and submitted to local newspapers. Furthermore, board members should be available for individual meetings, present at community events and generally accessible to the community they serve.

I've gone to meetings for the past year and a half. It's helped me build a great understanding of the issues in front of the board in this moment! There are a few things I'd be interested in exploring/having happen differently:

  • Mentioned this in an answer above - I think eliminating one of the public comment periods was a loss. I'd bring it back. Also see the other things I mentioned up there re: livestreaming, potentially a different location.
  • I'd like to look at the balance of board meeting time and understand how it aligns to the district's priorities. Are we spending the most time on the highest priorities? My back-of-the-envelope estimate right now is that we're probably spending more time discussing operational topics than core curricular/instructional topics. 
  • I find it so curious that there's little discussion or questioning by board members at the board meetings. I'd imagine personally asking deeper questions and generating a bit more of a discussion - so that the decision-making and debate over issues is happening in full public view. 
  • I'd like board agendas to come out more like a week in advance. When they're published online on a Friday afternoon, it's hard as a member of the public to plan ahead to attend the board meeting. In general I'd love to have more of the public attending more meetings! (When I was about to file for this seat, I met with several board members. They'd all guessed that I was running for the board - because I was showing up at their meetings. I think this is sort of a sad testament to low attendance, and would love to change that dynamic.)


I have attended many board meetings over the years and read through the meeting minutes.

The agenda is set by chair of the Orange County Board of Education with the superintendent.  Board members can also request items on the agenda.  The superintendent then gathers the data and insures the staff that is needed prepare the data and be present if needed.

The board receives a substantial amount of background information leading into the meetings.  The data that is shared with the public, through the meeting minutes, does not contain the level of information provided to the board, making the context of the data difficult to understand.  There needs to be a process that is transparent, making the supporting data released to the public in some format, and the context of that information, easier to comprehend. 

Also, the meeting minutes are a summary of the actions not the detailed discussion or context of the data when presented, again leading to an issue of transparency. 

I feel the information should be in an electronic format (the full meeting) and the meetings should be available to the public that are unable to attend or would like to understand the details of the meeting.

  I think we need to use our communications systems, like PTA(s) to inform parents, teachers, staff and extended family of agenda items and topics on which we need input.  This would include using the OCS phone system to notify parents, teachers, staff and extended family of upcoming discussions and decision.

What can we do to improve the percentage of students who are prepared for careers and college as they leave OCS?

This is our last question this evening. We will close comments at 9:15pm. Please wrap up any answers. We appreciate your answers. 

Before going into this last one, thank you so much to Latarndra Strong for these rigorous, important questions, and to Orange Politics for offering this unique format - and to everyone who’s read our responses to inform themselves as voters!

I would appreciate one of your four votes for the Board of Education, and the chance to be a champion of our incredible students as a board member. As I hope came through in my rapid-fire :) responses tonight, as a board member I will be committed to deep partnership with families and community partners, and to rigorous learning to find solutions to our challenges; to operating transparently and communicating proactively, so you know what's going on; and to centering every decision, every day, on what will best serve the students in our charge.

I want every single child in OCS to graduate ready to thrive in college, career, and life. Every child. And there truly is no magic bullet answer to how to get there. And so BECAUSE there is no magic bullet, the only answer is to set clear goals, try new things, continuously ask what’s working, and adapt. We’ve also got to find and keep great educators, and support them to lead in their classrooms, and create school cultures of excellence for all. As a board member, I will help the conversation stay focused on these highest priorities. I will ask questions to understand what the data is telling us and how the superintendent’s team is acting upon it, and I will encourage us to make additional connections to other districts working on the same issues - especially those who’ve seen successes. 


Short version: Believe it's possible, build a great team, learn from everywhere successes are happening (in our district and in others), keep learning, keep learning, keep learning again, and keep our eyes on the prize. 


Thanks everyone - can't wait to go read these other responses. Good night!

As mentioned above, addressing equity in our system and decreasing suspensions will improve our graduation rate as a whole. I think that we also need to take a look at high school curriculum to see if there are ways to insure that is led by student interests. When students are able to focus on subjects that ignite their passions, they are more likely to stay in school and improve their test scores overall.

I would advocate for a resolution urging Congress and the NC General Assembly to protect DACA recipients and affirming support for all students, regardless of citizen status and immigration status. I would like to create a culture of support and safety to our immigrant families. The bottom line is that when students feel safe, they are better able to focus on academics.

Additionally, if we can expand the Pre-K program and early interventions in our district, we will have higher success and graduation rates at the high school level and everywhere in between.

Advocating for our teachers is another huge priority for me. Our teachers are not paid nearly what they deserve, and I will advocate for increased pay. I would like topass maternity and dental coverage for our teachers and administrators as part of their health care plans, as well as creating designated areas that are clean and comfortable for nursing teachers to pump. I believe that our students will benefit by supporting teachers in any way we can.

Finally, supporting and expanding our CTE programs will strengthen career readiness for students who wish to pursue technical careers after graduation. Our community needs these employees!

As an active community member, I have been advocating for equity, single-payer health care, common sense gun regulation, school safety and other causes for a long time. I will bring a passion for coalition building, my love for children, and a commitment to breaking down systems of injustice to the Orange County Board of Education.

Please check out my website at www.mackenzie4ocs.com or call me anytime at 919.619.0833 if you have additional questions.

Thanks again to Orange Politics and LaTarndra for hosting and moderating this forum for us this evening. I really appreciate having a place to share my thoughts with all of you.

Strengthening college and vocational pathways for students, such that those interested in pursuing continued academic studies and those interested in technical and career pathways can successfully and competitively enter the workforce with appropriate skills.


Currently our district graduation rates overall are 89.1% for 2016-2017.  There is a strong push on students as early as middle school to prepare for college.   I strongly feel that students need time to understand their own talents, interests and strengths first – and then further explore possible career pathways. Also, we need to establish a program to work with local businesses that would provide students with opportunities for work experiences, and likely could serve as an incentive to stay in school: you commit to us, we will commit to you.  I have spoken to multiple local small business owners that would be interested in collaborating in an internship or journeyman type of program for high school students.

Please check out www.WillforSchools.com for more informations.


Thank you Orange Politics and LaTarndra for hosting!


Thanks to Latarndra and to all of our candidates for your participation tonight!

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