CARY — The differences between the two candidates vying to represent western Wake County on the school board can take some searching.
Bill Fletcher and Nancy Caggia are both registered Republicans. They both support the proposed $810 million school construction bond referendum on the ballot and the state Common Core curriculum standards.
And both have years of experience in public education: Fletcher previously spent 12 years on the Wake school board and in March was appointed to fill a vacant seat; Caggia has served on various education committees at the state and local level.
Similarities aside, Caggia casts the race as “fresh ideas vs. status quo.”
She says the school system has lost positive momentum, citing stagnant academic growth among high-achieving students as a key example. She points to recent data that show high-achieving middle school students who aren’t in Academically Gifted programs have shown no academic growth since 2009.
“That’s my main concern,” Caggia said. “We need to make sure all kids are growing.”
Caggia said she’s better equipped than Fletcher to address the issue because of her three years as a board member for the N.C. Association for the Gifted and Talented.
“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Bill’s ‘old school,’” she said. “I have fresh ideas, but I’m not new to the scene.”
Fletcher, who was appointed to the board to replace Debra Goldman, said Wake has allowed students at the bottom and at the top of the achievement scale “to collapse toward the middle” in recent years.
But he said the trend began under a different board, and he balked at the idea that the school board’s well of ideas is dry.
“Kids will soon be able to bring their own (mobile) device to school,” Fletcher said. “We’ve got a constriction in access to technology at the moment. And we’re working on fixing that.”
He also cautioned against investing too much time targeting subgroups of students.
“My approach is to look at the system of schools. We can’t just focus on the AIG kids and forget the rest of the county,” Fletcher said.
“You have to recognize that there are another 90 percent of students in the system. We have 35 to 40 percent of kids who aren’t reading at grade level,” he added.
Caggia uses Fletcher’s platform of improving literacy rates to further separate herself: “We can’t stop at grade level,” she said. “We need to make sure kids are doing better.”
Caggia also takes a slight turn from Fletcher on student assignment.
Fletcher, who was endorsed by the Wake County Chapter of the state Association of Educators, said he supports the current student assignment policy as long as it includes “reasonable proximity” to schools as a key ingredient. The policy includes as a goal keeping schools from having too many low-income and low-performing students.
Caggia, who was endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party, said the school board should do a “longitudinal study” that measures student achievement under the current policy.
“I’m not convinced busing helps students succeed in Wake County,” she said.
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht