Keith Sutton (D)

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Age: 41
Current Occupation: Victim Advocate Liaison for the Governor’s Crime Commission

How long have you lived in Wake County?

13 years

Do you have children in the district?

One at Conn Elementa­ry, one in Johnston Coun­ty Schools.

Why have you decided to run for office?

I would like to continue to serve the citizens and families of Wake County. I think we’re in the middle of some very challenging issues with regard to reas­signment and funding and everything else. I think that I can help maintain some of the things that are in place and in other cases make some reason­able decisions, particularly around our school board policy.

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?

There are challeng­es to our budget, to hav­ing a sound budget that meets the needs of a broad, emerging system. I think reassignment is proba­bly the second, and third, achievement, not neces­sarily in that order. For achievement, I think we’re headed in the right direc­tion in some aspects, but I think making sure that we have the adequate resourc­es at each school within the classrooms, that we have quality teachers, qual­ity administration in place, that we’re using technol­ogy in the right way as a tool to aid in instruction— those are probably the key things.

With budget challenges, that one’s a tough one be­cause all we can do is ask. One thing that we may need to consider over the coming years might be tax­ing authority, the school board having taxing au­thority in order to raise necessary resources for our district.

We’ve got a new [reas­signment] plan coming up that I guess we’ll see some time in the next couple of months or so. I think we’re all open to the new direc­tion that we’re going right now with the choice op­tions, maintaining diver­sity through achievement.

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

Best: Race to the Top funding and the Renais­sance Schools plan. That was something that was developed by staff, of course, but we had to sign off and approve it.

Wo r s t : If there were one vote I could take back it would be the vote to move cen­tral offices to Cross­roads in Cary. I think the system of­fice should be in the county seat.

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

I think maintaining the quality of schools in Dis­trict 4, particularly giv­en the possibility of hav­ing several high-poverty, highly racially identifiable schools in the district. If we move to a neighbor­hood assignment plan, or any sort of plan that takes proximity as a priority of the plan, then, given the demographics of [Dis­trict 4], there are pockets or sections of the district that very easily would have high-poverty schools, and all of the schools would probably be highly racially identifiable, given the na­ture of the district.

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

I think we have to have a laser-like focus on stu­dent achievement. When previous administrations have had a focus on stu­dent achievement, like we’ve seen with Su­perinten­dent Tata, we’ve seen positive re­sults. And that’s mak­ing sure the resources are there and best prac t ice s are put in place, that we’re us­ing the best assess­ments, that we’re using teacher-helping tools.

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

I think it’s important for us to have tools and resources that our teach­ers and our administrative staff are comfortable with. I’m okay with EVAAS, but it concerns me that we use that as our only method. I think if there are oppor­tunities for other means, other methods or models to put into … then I don’t think it hurts us to have more than one.

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

I think that’s an issue that we have to continue to look at because I think how you apply that fairly across the board is a diffi­cult one.

How do you think WCPSS should attract more minority teachers?

I think the focus there should be a two-pronged approach, with a focus on getting new applicants. We could work with schools of education at both HBCUs and other institutions and look to identify early on those minority candidates who show a certain degree of promise or ability, then work with them before they graduate so there’s a commitment.

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

It certainly has a lot of promise. Most impor­tantly to me, I find it to be somewhat of a compro­mise, including two things that were most important to both sides of the fight. It allows for proximity, but also allows for some mea­sure of diversity through student achievement. I’m anxious to see how it would also allow for growth. That will be the challenge.

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

I think there’s a place for charter schools. Qual­ity charter schools pro­vide a viable alternative for parents and families who find … the public school system not as successful for their kids. Every child is different, so often the same approach does not work for every child. That’s why they have those options.

How would you address the issue of student discipline?

I think that the ap­proach that we’ve taken thus far has been dead on. I think looking at how we can reduce suspensions, re­duce expulsions, the tiering of the system so that there’s a consistency amongst in­fractions and how penal­ties are applied across the district, and doing all of that with the backdrop of trying to keep kids in school as opposed to kick them out of school.

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

It’s just a reality of the district that we’re one of the most rapidly growing counties in the country, and to maintain quality of that I think we’ll simply have to advocate for more funding.

In many states around the country, school boards have the author­ity to set tax rates—prop­erty tax, sales tax. At that point they’re able to set their budgets accordingly, whether they need to raise taxes or lower taxes.

What was your favorite subject in school?

Probably history and so­cial studies.

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