Chapel Hill News

NAACP leader questions school board priorities

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board swore in its new member Thursday night, but not without more criticism over its commitment to minority students.

The board appointed research scientist David Saussy this month to replace Mia Burroughs, following her election as county commissioner. The process involved no public deliberation by the board. County Commissioner Mark Dorosin, in a Dec. 17 Chapel Hill News guest column, said the process created “frustration, suspicion and mistrust.”

“The chosen candidate may well have been the best choice, but we have no way of knowing that, because our elected officials refused to tell us anything about why they made their decision,” Dorosin wrote.

Dorosin supported candidate Jennifer Marsh, WCHL reported. She is the director of Research, Community Services & Student Programs at UNC’s School of Law and a former analyst with the NC NAACP, according to the law school’s website.

Dorosin cited the school board’s repeated claims that one of its top priorities is addressing the achievement and disciplinary gaps between majority and minority students. Whether or how this board member will help the district to reduce those disparities is not made clear by the selection process, he said.

During Thursday’s meeting, NC NAACP executive director Michelle Laws scolded the board for a lack of transparency and the district’s longstanding achievement gap and disciplinarity disparities.

“I’ve been to many school board meetings, with many school boards, going back to the 1990s,” Laws said. “When are you going to put in place an accountability program to weed out bad teachers, attract good teachers and change this outcome?”

In 1992, newly promoted Superintendent Neil Pedersen appointed a task force to study the achievement gap and make recommendations to close it. In his first major initiative, Pedersen announced that the district would dis-aggregate its performance data by race, putting the gap on full display.

Laws told the board she wants to see that practice return. “It’s very disturbing to the community I represent,” she said. “You are not addressing the needs of under-performing African American students.”

Laws said board members focus too much on how to continue challenging high-achieving students. “By the time you figure that out, they'll be at Harvard or some other Ivy League school sending you information on how to figure that out.”

As for the selection process, Mike Kelley, the new board chairman, said members discussed how they wanted to replace Burroughs and conducted the candidate interviews in public, according to WCHL. Board members could have discussed the candidates but chose not to.