Melissa Ocean, school board candidate, District 2

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1. What uniquely qualifies you to serve as a member of the Board of Education?

I have a personal interest in the Public Schools of Robeson County and strongly believe that I am skilled in the championing of accountability, openness, and transparency. As a parent of children in the Public Schools of Robeson County, I have seen firsthand how children need coaching, mentoring and high expectations communicated often. On the other hand, being a parent of school-aged children makes me especially sensitive to the concerns of all parents, guardians and families with children in the home.

As graduate of South Robeson High School and beneficiary of a PSRC education, I understand the extraordinary value of our district’s educational program and the life opportunities that it provides to our students. I am in a unique position to support open discussion of ideas and reasoned consideration of all options. I am guided by what, in the end, is the best for public education in Robeson County — strong teachers, supported students, and solid community engagement.

I have no doubt that new energy, leadership and a spirit of collaboration can ignite our community’s educational potential to forge a better, more prepared future. I will represent District 2 to the best of my ability and ensure that those in our community have a voice when educational and administrative decisions are made that affect our children.

2. As a challenger, what do you see as the No. 1 failing of the current school board in general? What would you do to try and correct that failing?

Current and future students deserve a quality education and I am running to ensure that the school district is preparing students who are college and career ready. As a member of the Board of Education, I will encourage and vigorously promote policies and programs that strive for and support high academic achievement in a balance with positive social, cultural and personal individual development. In order for the board, collectively, to function at a higher level we must: hold fellow board members, administrators, parents and students accountable in their decisions and improve board relations internally and externally. Restore trust among members to improve working relationships.

3. Safety is always a concern for our schools, but more so after the killing of 17 people at a Florida school in February. What would you recommend to make our schools more safe?

Every school needs to make sure that its students and staff are protected from the most likely potential threats — student weapons on campus, armed intruders or other unwelcome visitors. We must consider increasing the presence of school resource officers. One in each school would be ideal. They can provide threat-assessments and risk-assessments and assist while we develop improved safety procedures and teams. Schools must be responsible for developing/updating school crisis plans and participating in preparedness training.

I am realistic about school funding and know that all staff in our schools and in the district are doing more with less. New fencing, locks, cameras, and metal detectors are all options yet sometimes costly. I believe we can implement simple, yet effective safety and security measures in our schools. We can limit access to school buildings by locking and securing outside access doors. Staff in schools must check to make sure the doors haven’t been tampered with or propped open during the school day. Monitoring and supervision will go a long way with limited funding.

I think it is so important to create safe, supportive school climates that provide school-wide behavioral expectations, support services, and violence prevention programs. We can work together to recommend and implement specific actions that promote safety and prevent bullying in schools. Young people sometimes have a difficult time speaking up. Therefore, I believe there is power in anonymous reporting systems such as student hot lines and suggestion boxes.

We sometimes forget the power of school-community partnerships to enhance safety measures for students beyond school campuses. We must work with law enforcement, faith-based groups, businesses, government, community-based and youth-serving organizations, along with students, teachers, administrators and parents to make our schools safer. Everyone can come to the table and voice their concerns.

4. Our local school system is one of two in North Carolina that allows the use of corporal punishment, resulting in an embarrassing statistic, that most children who are paddled in North Carolina are minority and from Robeson County. Do you favor its use? Why or why not?

I do believe in parent choice in the home. However, I do believe paddling can lead to negative behaviors that can lead to even more serious problems. There are many non-physical forms of discipline that can be used in our schools to address and manage behavior. We must guide and teach instead of always punishing. The district currently uses PBIS to reward positive behaviors, set clear expectations and provide for greater consistency.

4. Our schools have been in short supply of textbooks in recent years,with some arguing that more books need to be purchased, and some saying that books become dated quickly, and arguing instead for greater use of E-books that stay current. What do you favor?

I favor the use of all instructional materials that meet the needs of our students in Robeson County. I think it is important to remember that formats for textbooks may be print or non-print, including hardbound books, softbound books, activity-oriented programs, classroom kits, and technology-based programs that require the use of electronic equipment in order to be used in the learning process. As long as the instructional resources and textbooks (in all formats) are accessible to our teachers, staff, principals, and students and cover the primary objectives outlined in the standard course of study for a grade or course then I’m in favor of them. Our teachers, students, and families have been very creative, as the number of textbooks provided by the district has been reduced.

We must ensure our PSRC teachers and staffs are equipped with the resources needed to educate our children; adequate resources are a must. My goals for improving the Public Schools of Robeson County include raising awareness about the need for equity in education to increase student achievement.

6. Our school system ranks next to last in the state for local funding by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, about $1,000 short of the state average. How would you work to overcome that?

My personal goals as a board member include raising awareness about the need for equity in our schools and school districts to increase student achievement. Simultaneously, I want to create a culture of collective, effective and responsible decision-making based on sound education policy, fiscal responsibility and the belief that all students should have access to a quality education.

One of the major issues in our district that I want to address with fellow board members will be building new schools. We need to work closely with county commissioners and also seek funding from other sources on the state and national levels. I also believe we need to make sure we are addressing the whole child by increasing supports for our children that address social and emotional needs. I would also say that safety measures must be assessed and strengthened. This requires funding. Using money to purchase textbooks must also be a priority. These can be digital textbooks or actual textbooks. We will always need resources in our classrooms.

7. Our school board has a reputation for micromanagement, and not staying within its jurisdiction of being a policy maker and allowing administrators to implement that policy. Do you agree with that assessment? What would you see as your role as a board member?

Supporting our educators and educational programs for the benefit of our students, in a fiscally prudent manner, is one of the most important tasks that is bestowed upon the Board of Education. However, the board members set policy. I will work with the sitting board members to create policies that will support our administration and our faculty in the use of research-based instructional strategies that meet the learning needs of all children. Our children must be in schools that afford them the opportunity to reach their full intellectual, academic and social potential. Policies must support the district improvement plan and individual school improvement plans.

8. The school system is currently without a central office. There has been much conversation about the new one, where it might be located, and shouldan existing building be used or one built from the ground up. What are your thoughts?

A central office is only as strong as the staff members who work there — not necessarily the physical building they are located in. No matter the location, our central office employees must be dedicated to working with principals to improve their instructional leadership practice and support schools. Strong central office staff will support teaching and learning in schools, directly or indirectly, despite the location of a central office.

I have not been directly involved in conversations about a new central office site but will work with other board members, listen to employees, analyze financial resources and then make the best decision for the Public Schools of Robeson County. Factual information must be presented, considered and reported to all. Choosing a site should not be politicized. The central office should be accessible to everyone in the district. Additionally, we must base our choice on the district’s future needs, not just the current situation.

9. Our school system lags far behind those across the state in every education metric except the graduation rate. Do you think this is something that can be significantly improved, and if so, how would you work to achieve that?

Current and future students deserve a quality education and I am running to ensure that the school district is preparing students who are college and career ready when they graduate. Children today must have the literacy, communication and technological skills to be productive and successful. When they go to college or go to work we want them to graduate and keep jobs.

I know without a doubt our school system can improve. Throughout my term as a board member, I will work hard to gather input from parents, teachers and other citizens about what is working and what is broken in our schools. I will be very open to input from a wide array of sources. While our district continues to face significant challenges, I personally will do my part to:

— Think out-of-the box to find and support innovative resources and ideas to help our children. These innovative and challenging new ideas established a positive, new basis and foundation on which to build. It’s time to muster our strengths, ingenuity and experience to keep our schools moving forward despite the challenges we face.

— Examine each program from the ground up and understand how every dollar is spent. Tough decisions will have to be made. We must invest in success, keep our standards high and move forward in a fiscally responsible manner.

— Focus on equity in the district to make sure each school is getting what it needs to meet the unique needs of each school. Education is not a one-size-fits-all process. All schools do not need the same fiscal or instructional resources.

— Advocate for early childhood programs. During early years, how a child learns and develops — mentally, emotionally and socially — is critical. If we maximize the support and learning opportunities for our preschoolers, then we really stand a good chance of improving outcomes for our district.

— Build new schools for our children that are safe and conducive to a quality education.

10. Question to self: Why should the constituents in District 2 vote for someone new to represent them?

Now is the time to vote for change. Now is the time for a fresh start, a new voice and a new vision. Together we can break barriers, build hope and build futures. I invite you to look closely at the data for District 2 for the past few years.

— RB Dean, Rosenwald, Southside Ashpole and Townsend were eligible for state takeover for the 2018-19 school year. Only 48 schools are on the list. Robeson County had five. Four were in District.

State releases list of 48 schools eligible for controversial charter takeover

— RB Dean, Rosenwald, Rowland Middle, South Robeson, Southside Ashpole and Townsend are all low-performing schools according to the state department of education.

— RB Dean, Rosenwald, Southside Ashpole and Townsend Middle are priority schools. A “priority school” is a school that, based on the most recent data available, has been identified as among the lowest-performing schools in the North Carolina. The Public Schools of Robeson County only has 11 priority schools. Four are in District 2.

http://www.ncpublicschools.org/program-monitoring/esea/priority/

— RB Dean, Rosenwald, Southside Ashpole, and Townsend are all F schools. Rowland Middle and South Robeson are D schools. RB Dean, South Robeson, Southside Ashpole did not meet growth standards last year.

— Fairmont Middle is the only school that is not low-performing in District 2.

The data speaks for itself…

I humbly request your consideration and thank you for your support. I promise to work hard and diligently with the sitting board members to plan and set appropriate goals that will benefit all children.

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