Durham News: Opinion

Gaspo: School board chair really likes her job

Heidi Carter is tall, in a tall sort of way. She’s kind of a loner. Likes room to do her thing. The Durham Public Schools Board of Education chairwoman also drinks a lot of water, laughs readily, and looks unswervingly in your eyes when talking with you.

When we met the other day, for the first 14 minutes or so I couldn’t get a question in edgewise. She allegedly wanted to know more about me. Foolishly, I told her.

Then I signaled for a time out, consulted with Coach K (not true), and finally got control of the thing at 15 minutes in. We forged ahead with the Gaspo interview.

Carter’s answers have been edited for length.

Let’s get the hard question out of the way. Are you always this pleasant?

(A long pause when there shouldn’t have been.)

Carter: “You might want to ask my husband.”

Eric Becoats. As a superintendent, was he a mistake, an unmitigated disaster, a great decision, or fair-to-middling?

Carter: “The board and Dr. Becoats agreed not to talk disparagingly about each other.”

OK, what about the folks that control the General Assembly in North Carolina these days?

Carter: “Well, there are people out there whose policies suggest they don’t believe in public education, are trying to undermine public schools, and don’t really care what teachers are paid.”

I’ve visited the Durham public schools many times. I saw and met heroes all over the place.

Carter: “Teachers are heroes. They watch over and lead our most precious resources.”

You’re named after the book, “Heidi”, by Johannes Spyri. Heidi Lynn, and you’re the oldest child. Your sisters are Holly Leigh, Heather Lou, and Hannah Lisanne. What’s up with that?

Carter: “We were the 4-H club growing up. It’s my mother’s doing.”

Your mother was a primary care physician…and director of clinical services in Forsyth County, where you grew up. You almost followed in her footsteps.

Carter: “Yes, I almost did. I do have an M.A. in Maternal and Child Health, though. And I think the health of children is absolutely critical to learning at school.”

What about the family’s health?

Carter: “Families under stress lead to children under stress. It’s so hard to focus in school when so many kids feel toxic stress in their lives.”

Why in the heck would someone ever run to be on a school board?

Carter: “Because someone kept asking me to.”

There can be so much controversy, ugliness at times.

Carter: “I ran on a platform of harmony. I like to find ways to get people talking and to find answers. We’ve made so much progress.”

There’s that being pleasant thing again.

Carter: “Well, I have faith in humanity. I want to add: during the really tough times after I was elected, I credit fellow board member Minnie Forte-Brown for getting everybody through it and on to a better place. She and I often joke that being on the board is like going from the Titanic to “The Love Boat” and back.

Did you watch “The Love Boat”?

Carter: “I could still sing the song.”

(At one point, I mentioned something about “Mad Men.”)

Carter: “What is that?

You’re not serious, are you?

Carter: “Don’t know it.”

Hmm. What about “The Sopranos?”

Carter shook her head. I shook my head.

I asked Carter what she liked doing besides not watching TV, working, and spending time with her husband and four grown children.

Carter: I love the outdoors. I run six or so miles a day, alone. About 5:15 a.m., under moonlight, mostly. My thinking time.”

Please give me five somewhat unpredictable adjectives to describe what you want to see in the next superintendent.

Carter: “Integrous. Steadfast. Charismatically earnest. Articulate. Collaborative.”

(Integrous is a borderline word, but the Urban Dictionary says, not surprisingly, that it means: “full of integrity.”)

What’s your biggest goal?

Carter: “To find a way to break the powerful link between socioeconomic conditions and the performance and progress of children in school.”

Everybody wants to do that. It’s a forever problem.

Carter: “True. But schools are the vibrancy of a community, so we better stay with it.”

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.