James Martin (D)

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Age: 47
Occupation: Chemistry Professor at North Carolina
State University
Website: www.jimmartin4schools.com

How long have you lived in Wake County?

17 years

Do you have children in the district?

Two children, one at En­loe High and one at Car­nage Middle.

Why have you decided to run for office?

I’ve been civically en­gaged all of my adult life in various capacities. I am very passionate about edu­cation both from the per­spective of a teacher and also from the perspective of recognizing that educa­tion really is the founda­tion for democracy.

What are the three biggest issues you think the Wake County Public School System faces? In 30 seconds or less, how would you address those issues?

The biggest issue that I see right now is a need for nonpartisan, educa­tion-focused governance. We’ve seen, with the cur­rent school board, partisan ideology trumping an edu­cation focus, and I think it’s very important that we get away from that to be nonpartisan, education-focused. Simply, we need people who know how to govern, which we haven’t had.

I think we need to better focus on an understanding of evaluating educational quality and achievement. We have allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of de­fining quality based on reading and math end-of-grade test scores. That’s a very narrow and limited perspective of education.

The third thing that I will highlight is you’ve got to get a much better handle on fiscal matters. We need to make sure that we raise enough money to run our schools. When I talk to parents and PTA members at various schools, they’ll show me rusted out parts of the building that have not been able to be main­tained. We build and for­get instead of build and maintain.

What do you think are the best and worst decisions the current school board has made?

Best: The best work that this school board has done has been the work to im­prove the discipline poli­cies. We had far too much suspension, far too much one-size-fits-all discipline. I commend the school board for looking into those issues, working to modify the policy. I don’t think it’s gone quite as far as I would like it to.

Worst: The biggest neg­ative in my mind is their decision to govern in a h a p h a z ­ard fashion rather than f o l l o w ­ing their own poli­cies. Pol­icy 1005: Responsi­bilities of a Board M e m ­ber. And I quote, “It is impor­tant that a board member is nonpartisan in dealing with school matters and that he/she not subordi­nate the education of chil­dren and youth to any par­tisan principle.” Sadly, I do not have a sense that this board has followed that policy.

What do you think is the most important issue facing your district, and how do you plan to address it?

Issues that we’re facing are much more county­wide than local to a dis­trict. If there’s one group that needs attention, I be­lieve that it is the middle schools. They have been more overbooked histori­cally than our other.

What do you think WCPSS should do to address the achievement gap?

The achievement gap is something that we know how to address. We know that it takes early interven­tion. We know that it takes small class size. We know that it takes both hands-on and book learning. We know all of these things. The problem is that we as a society have not been will­ing to pay and invest for them. We really across the board need to invest our time and our resources.

What are your ideas for measuring and improving teacher and student effectiveness in WCPSS?

There is no simple yard­stick for measuring effec­tiveness. While that objec­tive number may work well for very narrow kinds of assessment, it doesn’t assess creativity. It doesn’t assess independent thinking.

Do you support merit pay for teachers? Why or why not?

When I hear people talking about merit pay, too often it boils down to, again, student perfor­mance on end-of-grade tests. That’s an incredibly poor measure. Teacher pay is pitifully low. If you want to institute merit pay, you need to dramatically increase the base, and then you can have some margin for merit.

How do you think WCPSS should attract more minority teachers?

To attract minority teachers you’ve got to cre­ate a culture that makes sure that they won’t be to­ken, that they are respect­ed for their credentials, for who they are. Too often we have not recruited minori­ties because we have not opened our eyes to see that in fact here is a talent pool that we need to look at.

How do you feel about the new student assignment plan that’s shaping up?

I don’t see a lot of shape yet. I’m not convinced the community is going to be pleased in the long run with a lot of this discussion about a choice plan. There’s still far too much mystery, that wizard behind the curtain who is involved in the selection process in our choice.

I vote none of the above on almost all of the assign­ment plan details that I’ve heard.

How do charter schools fit in to your concept of a healthy school district?

Charter schools are not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. My perspective is actually very similar to what I’ve heard Superintendent Tata say, and that is my goal is as he stated was his: To make our public school system so strong that privates and charters are noncompeti­tive. I do recognize that charters can at times deal with a special niche of stu­dents whose needs are not being met in more tradi­tional settings.

How would you address the issue of student discipline?

From a mechanics per­spective, it would be wise for us to have discipline policies where there was more of a gradation. Let’s say K through 3 has one set of guidelines, maybe 3 through 5, and basical­ly have more age-specific discipline policies. May­be we need to have ser­vice to clean up the school grounds. Maybe we need to [have students] do some work in helping prepare for courses. I think if we did a better job at comprehen­sive education, we would have less discipline prob­lems as well.

What would you do to ensure that WCPSS has the funding to educate its students adequately?

Dr. McLaurin was ab­solutely correct in offer­ing her motion this year that we should have asked the county for constant per capita funding. By ask­ing for constant dollars we actually asked for a cut in funding. Just from a logical perspective, if we have peo­ple moving to the county, revenue should be coming with that move.

What was your favorite subject in school?

It probably was a lot of my shop classes through high school, then probably a lot of my science classes when I was in college.

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