Wake Ed

Christine Kushner’s term ending as Wake County school board chair

Christine Kushner, Chair of the Wake County Board of Education reads a resolution by the School Board calling for the Legislature to support equitable teacher pay at a professional level for Wake County teachers during a press conference on Tuesday March 4, 2014 at the Board headquarters in Cary, N.C.
Christine Kushner, Chair of the Wake County Board of Education reads a resolution by the School Board calling for the Legislature to support equitable teacher pay at a professional level for Wake County teachers during a press conference on Tuesday March 4, 2014 at the Board headquarters in Cary, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Christine Kushner is drawing praise from supporters as her tenure as Wake County school board chairwoman nears its end.

Kushner, who was first elected chair in December 2013 when Keith Sutton was deposed, will end her two-year run at Tuesday’s meeting. She will remain on the board through at least the end of 2016 when her term of office expires.

Kushner received applause at this week’s student assignment forum sponsored by the Great Schools in Wake Coalition. She has attended all three forums held since September as the group works on a vision statement and action steps for helping promote diverse schools through means other than busing for diversity.

“We’ve already seen some remarkable things come from our school system under the leadership for two years of Christine Kushner, which has been amazing,” Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake, said at Monday’s meeting. “She’s getting ready to finish up as the chairwoman. She’s been remarkable and she’s been courageous.”

Brannon proceeded to mention the speech that Kushner gave at an alumni forum to fellow UNC-Chapel Hill Morehead-Cain scholars about balancing choice and community in public education.

In the speech, Kushner warned that “we have lost sight of the core values of public schools because community is being overshadowed by exclusivity and individual choice.”

“We need to push against the growing segmentation of exclusive schooling — whether through vouchers or charter schools or segregated schools — which undermines that balance between the individual and community,” Kushner also said in the speech.

Education NC has since resposted Kushner’s speech.

“If you didn’t get a chance to see her article about the importance of our school system and how school systems should operate to be fair, to offer diversity and to advocate matters and to care about every child and every school,” Brannon said Monday of Kushner’s speech. “So she’s been living and walking that walk.”

But Kushner’s remarks have drawn crticism from those who’ve pointed to how her children attended magnet schools and her son graduated from the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, a statewide public boarding school in Durham for gifted high school students.

“Nothing exclusive and self-interested at all here,” conservative activist Joey Stansbury posted on his Great Students in Wake Facebook page, which was created to mock Great Schools in Wake. “Just another part of the Great Hypocrites in Wake Coalition.”

On her My 3 Minutes blog, Allison Backhouse calls Kushner “a patronizing hypocrite.”

“She made an ‘individual choice’ for her child's education,” Backhouse writes. “A choice that was made, I would assume, based on what was best her family and her child – because I don't see how sending her child to a limited enrollment high school with a highly competitive admission process that is fully funded by the state (including tuition, room and board) helps the rest of us.”

In an interview Wednesday, Kushner said sending her children to magnet schools and the School of Science and Math did balance choice and community. Her daughter now attends the School of Science and Math.

Kushner said Wake’s magnet programs serve the community by having intentional purposes such as reducing concentrations of poverty while offering something different academically for students.

Kushner noted how the School of Science and Math is charged with helping advance public education in North Carolina. In addition to educating its students, Kushner also noted other services the school provides such as training teachers and offering virtual courses for students at other schools.

“It’s very competitive process,” Kushner said of getting into the School of Science and Math. “ It’s hard to get into that school. The other thing I like about the school is that its mission is to improve public education across North Carolina.”

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