District 2 school board candidate Carlene Lucas recently sat down with News Editor Paul Tambasco to discuss why she is running, the role of politics in the race and how being a parent provides her insight into improving local schools.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself and why you’re running.
A: I was born in Charlotte, but I was raised in and have spent most of my life in Raleigh or South Carolina. We moved around quite a bit. We have been in Garner since about 1992. All three of my kids have gone to school here.
I’m running because I don’t think all children are receiving an equal opportunity. Here in [District 2], eight of [the schools] have [more than 40 percent free and reduced lunch students]. Out of that eight, five of those schools are failing. To me, the other ones are not that far behind because they say only 60 percent are making a three or four on their [end-of-grade] tests. Sixty percent to me is not acceptable. To me, that’s not passing. We need at least 90 percent of our students passing.
We have some [people] that are against diversity, but I think when we don’t have it, that’s when we are creating more unequal opportunities because it is hard to attract and retain high-quality teachers [at schools with a high percentage of poor students]. Those students are not held to high standards, and the curriculum is not as rigorous as it is for other schools.
Q: As a parent, what is your overall impression of Wake’s public schools? What is working? What is not?
A: We’ve got some great schools and some excellent teachers. But as far as the forced busing, I don’t agree with that. I think there is a better plan. Other large cities use another plan. In some places, it is called controlled choice. It gives parents the opportunity to choose a school, but it also promotes socio-economic diversity within the schools. In it, we would create geographic zones. The parents would then choose any school within their zone for their child to attend. The schools would have a limited number of seats so there would be a number of seats available for free and reduced lunch students … so we can improve the diversity in schools.
If the parents’ first choice is unavailable, they go to the next choice. If there are no seats available at any of those schools, then they are placed on a waiting list for their choice, and they are assigned to a school. Massachusetts does it, in Cambridge. In three years, they had only 10 percent of students being assigned. It’s worked well for them. I know they are smaller than us, but it has worked there. Boston uses choice too.
Q: The school system offers some choices to parents; is it enough?
A: When you create those zones, you’ve got to have equal opportunities in each zone. You have to make sure that the schools are offering different things. Choice alone won’t do you any good if you’re not providing different curriculums, quality programs and high standards. When you let parents choose, you are forcing the schools to compete, and that’s going to make them bring in better curriculum, hire the best teachers.
If those schools are not chosen, then we talk with parents, teachers and administrators about how to improve it. I’m not saying it is going to be 60 percent to 40 percent [free and reduced lunch students] in every school … but I think that would work a lot better than forcing parents to bus their children away from home.
Q: The schools here continue to have a negative reputation as a whole outside of the town. What has been your experience with the Garner schools and your students?
A: My oldest son … was offered things that challenged him. My youngest child … there were things for her too. I think our schools have a reputation because a lot of parents do look at that free and reduced lunch ratio and that deters them … and when they see that our schools are failing, that too doesn’t bring them in.
Q: What is working well in Wake schools right now?
A: I think the career academies; we need lots more of those — that would take more funding. If the schools had educational foundations, that would be an excellent way to raise money in addition to state and county funding. Broughton High and Lacy Elementary already have ones. They are able to raise money to provide after-school programs. I think we need that [here in District 2] because not every parent can put their child in an after-school program.
It can also be used for teacher workshops to train our teachers. I think they need training so that they know about the different cultures … how to address different behavior problems. The schools are not child-care, but we have to think about how we are hindering parents by sending [kids] home early.
Q: Last month, you stopped actively campaigning before changing your mind. What went into that decision?
A: Part of it was funding. I wasn’t receiving any funding. Mainly, my supporters don’t have the money to give. I also didn’t realize that politics and special interest groups play a large part in it. I’m running for school board for our children, not to push agendas for anything.
Q: Since making the announcement, have you received support? If so, who is backing you?
A: It’s coming from individuals, not special interest groups. It is nowhere near what the others have raised … not even in the same ball park. I haven’t even reached a thousand dollars. The politics and special interest groups … there were some nasty things that have been said about me. I should have expected that.
Q: Things were said about you?
A: Yes. But I am not going to do that to anyone else. As a mother and a Christian, I’m not going to step on my values. I also teach my kids: “You can do anything,” and they threw that back up in my face [after I stopped my campaign].
Q: Do you think that pausing the campaign hurt? Do you believe you still have a viable candidacy?
A: I think I do. I have been going door-to-door, trying to make it personal by hearing their concerns and letting them know where I stand. I’m attending the forums … though I’m a horrible public speaker. I don’t do well in front of crowds. … I lose all train of thought. I’ve got to have those note cards.
We’ve got to make sure that every child is reached. I have been called naïve for saying that, but I don’t think I’m naïve; I think there is a way to reach every child. If you dedicate the time and the hard work, you can find a way.
Q: How has your work experience as a children’s coordinator at Garner United Methodist, a tutor and a part-time instructor at Wake Tech prepared you for the responsibilities of being a school board member?
A: It showed me that you have to reach different learning styles in the classroom. We have to get our faith-based groups more involved in the schools; in Garner several already are.
Q: Being a school board member requires a lot of time. Do you have the flexibility needed to do it?
A: I do. I’m currently unemployed; and, if elected, I wouldn’t look for another job. I would like to dedicate all my time to that.
Q: You are familiar with the three other candidates [Horace Tart, John Tedesco and Cathy Truitt] who are actively campaigning. If you weren’t in this race, whom would you vote for?
A: I do like them all. Probably Cathy.
A: Because Cathy seems to be a very strong woman, and she has a strong background. I agree with some of the things she says about as diversity in our schools … that it doesn’t go away but that it should be improved. Cathy wants [more] magnet schools. I agree with magnet schools, but a school doesn’t need to be called a magnet to offer quality programs. Every school needs to have specialized programs for itself and offer unique things because choice isn’t any good if we don’t offer different things.
Q: Finally, what would you bring to the school board that the other candidates or current school board members do not?
A: I’m a parent who can relate to other parents. I’m not one that is going to take no for an answer. I think there is always a way. We need someone who can relate not only to our higher-income families but to our lower-income families as well. We don’t have anyone on the board right now that can do that.