New Wake County school board member Kathy Hartenstine shared her views on a wide range of topics, including student assignment, magnet schools and diversity, in what was essentially her job interview Thursday.
School board members interviewed Hartenstine for 40 minutes on Thursday before choosing her to replace the late Zora Felton for the District 7 school board seat that covers northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and part of Cary. The board members who backed Hartenstine in the 5-3 vote wanted a retired educator with 37 years of education experience to join their ranks.
“You will find that if you choose to work with me, I will always come from a place of children first,” Hartenstine said Thursday. “Not teachers first, not principals first, not parents first. I will always come from what is best for children.”
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Here are excerpts from Thursday’s interview.
Student assignment and diversity
Hartenstine was asked to share her thoughts on current and future student assignment goals for Wake County. Assignment has long been a controversial issue in Wake with families fighting to avoid having their children change schools.
The school board has dialed back efforts in recent years to use student assignment to balance the demographics at individual schools.
Hartenstine said one of the most difficult challenges the board faces is balancing the four goals in the student assignment policy: stability, proximity, operational efficiency and achievement.
While people get attached to schools, the retired Baileywick Road Elementary School principal said sometimes Wake just needs to reassign students when a new school opens..
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is, whereas adults we may not want to move, children are pretty resilient, particularly when you treat them well and you explain things to them and model for them good behavior,” Hartenstine said. “Children are resilient.
“But looking at having to move people, it is difficult. And I think we try as a board to do as little of that as possible.”
Hartenstine said she would try to balance District 7’s needs and the school district’s needs.
“I think it’s really important to keep healthy schools and diverse schools,” she said. “Our children deserve that. We do not need to have schools where everybody looks the same. We need diversity.”
Haves and Have-nots
Hartenstine’s support for diversity and not having haves and have-nots also came up when she was asked to give an example of a situation where she had to resolve a dispute.
When Hartenstine became Baileywick’s principal in 2008, the Raleigh school had a tradition of holding an end-of-the-year fifth-grade graduation ceremony. Hartenstine said the ceremony included speakers and people dressed in their Sunday finest.
After the ceremony, Hartenstine said some parents checked their children out for the day and took them to lunch. But Hartenstine said that produced haves and have-nots because there was a group of children whose parents couldn’t check them out for lunch so they remained in school for the rest of the day.
Hartenstine said she replaced the graduation ceremony with a fifth-grade celebration designed to honor all the great work the students had done during their years at Baileywick. She said the celebration included a special lunch for every fifth-grader with all of them wearing a fifth-grade t-shirt they had designed.
Hartenstine said students came to eagerly look forward to the new celebration that was continued even after she retired from Baileywick in January 2016.
“I had conflicting points,” she said. “I made the decision and I think y’all can identify with this.
“There are still some people that would probably sit here today and say that was the wrong decision. But it was very interesting seeing the transformation in the children.”
Hartenstine was asked to give her opinion on school choice and magnet schools. Since 1982, Wake has offered unique academic programs at magnet schools such as advanced arts courses to try to fill and diversify under-enrolled schools.
“Magnet schools are what I would call awesome choices,” said Hartenstine, who sent one of her two children to a Wake magnet school. “It’s about choice. We have families today who want choice in their school and there’s no reason that they have to leave the public school arena to have choice.”
Hartenstine related how her 33-year-old daughter, who graduated from Southeast Raleigh High School, had told her Monday that she would not have seen what diversity really looked like if she had stayed in her base school.
But Hartenstine also related what it was like being a principal of Baileywick as it lost students to magnet schools and the seven private schools and charter schools located near the campus.
“I’m a great proponent of magnet schools, and I’m also a great proponent of base schools,” she said.
Hartenstine said Wake should give base schools the tools they need so if they’re not attractive they can be made attractive. Hartenstine said she doesn’t believe every school that’s struggling needs to be made a magnet school to solve the issue.
Growth for every child
Hartenstine was asked what strategies the school board can undertake to promote effective learning. Hartenstine said policies need to be broad-based enough to allow for creative instruction to meet the needs of all of Wake’s 159,549 students.
“I believe our expectation is every child in Wake County Public Schools is entitled and deserves to have whatever support it takes to make academic growth,” she said. “You’ll find I’m not a big proponent of test scores and proficiency numbers.
“I care more about the growth of children and where did they start at the beginning of the year. I believe every educator has a responsibility to every student that they will show a year’s worth of growth.”
Hartenstine added that it also means that if a high school freshman can read college-level texts then the student should be reading them.
Hartenstine was asked to identify one or two top budget priorities. Aside from working with the Wake County Board of Commissioners and state legislators on getting more funding, she said the school board needs to look at whether it’s adequately funding its core values.
Hartenstine said fair doesn’t always mean providing equal resources. It can be a touchy topic redistributing money from affluent schools to help high-needs schools.
“What is fair in a classroom is not always equal because when it’s time to teach reading, I may be with one child able to teach them in two 30-minute sessions a week,” she said. “Another child may need to have me sit with them every single day for 30 minutes.
“That is fair, but it’s not exactly equal. They’re getting different amounts but it depends on the learner.”