Tell us a little about yourself, why you are running for office, why you are qualified, and why you are the best candidate.
I’m a musician, piano teacher, service-industry worker, and community advocate who walks, bikes, and rides the bus here in Asheville. I understand so many of us are struggling to make ends meet on stagnant wages and fixed incomes as the cost of living rises, while the tourism industry strains our natural resources and infrastructure. The work we must do to ensure a resilient community with a just transition from the intertwined emergencies of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic instability, systemic racism, and climate change includes urgent action to take better care of the planet and each other. Our students are watching, ready to join us in the work, and as I invite accountability from them and their peers, I am going to have them swear me in on my honor and our future. I’m endorsed by Councilwoman Smith, Councilman Haynes, Rev. Amy Cantrell, the WNC Central Labor Council, EqualityNC, and our youth of Sunrise Movement AVL.
Tell us about your experience advocating for public education either as an elected official or in other capacities.
In my home studio, I have 21 years experience teaching piano and am currently working with more than 40 students from over a dozen schools in Asheville and Buncombe County. I’m a volunteer with Asheville City Schools, and have seen the tension of testing as a proctor. Just this year, I witnessed 18 of my current and former students graduate from AHS/SILSA that I’ve known and worked with since elementary school. I have years of experience in joyful celebration as a support system for my students and their families, but moments of a reality check hit home when I hear students say, “this city has no love for me.” No affordable housing, not enough good-paying jobs, and rapid gentrification, so they say it’s time to leave. From my own childhood, I have experience with housing and food insecurity as the oldest of 8 kids, raised in poverty in the rural South. With the opportunity gap coupled with skyrocketing cost of living, I’m worried we’re not going to retain or see a return of our youth. They’re already holding us accountable, so I started showing up for our community. I’ve made myself the understudy of Council, attending Council meetings for more than 5 years and attending 12-15 board and commission meetings every month, reporting back to the community through 103.3. AshevilleFM as Station Manager and producer of the AFM News Hour, and through JMpro and AVL Community Report Back. I’ve served on Asheville’s Multimodal Transportation Commission and Transit Committee; volunteered with Asheville City Schools, Bountiful Cities, BeLoved Community, Greenworks, CoThinkk, and Just Economics; served as the Chair of my neighborhood association; and advocated at the City, County, and State levels for my students, their families, their teachers, and our community.
How would you approach the disciplinary gap between our students of color and their white peers? What is the appropriate role for SROs in our schools?
I hear and acknowledge that the disciplinary gap is an outcome of systemic racism and implicit bias. Research is clear that punitive school discipline, including exclusionary practices—ISS, OSS, and expulsion—are indicators of school drop out as early as 3d grade, linking to the school to prison pipeline. Restorative practices offer a meaningful alternative to exclusionary practices and bring communities together to problem-solve. The school systems have committed and should meet the expectation to follow through on Racial Equity Institute (REI) training, implicit bias training, and training in culturally-relevant teaching with a trauma-informed approach, including culturally relevant pedagogy and curriculum. Some teachers have used their experience and training with successful outcomes in their work, which is evident in the relationships established with students. They should be identified as model references to share their approach through peer training.
School Resource Officers (SRO’s) have no place in schools, and SRO ‘s are not preventing school shooters and violence. The intention of neighbors pursuing the role doesn’t outweigh the damage and destruction to individuals and community caused by the school to prison pipeline. We need to reimagine public safety and restorative justice models which means including trauma-informed councilors in a team effort as we invest in long-term health & well-being for our students.
How do you see the role of your potential office in supporting families of marginalized populations, particularly in the areas of racial and social justice?
When I saw the news about our achievement/opportunity gap in Asheville City Schools, I was among so many that were ashamed we have allowed this to happen. I acknowledge the data from studies like the State of Black Asheville which shows that we have been headed in this direction on purpose for a long time. Our community is overdue for shame to be met with truth and reconciliation as part of the work for reparation. As a community, we are woven together, and need each other to be committed to ending white supremacy and systemic racism in the work for racial healing.
I stand in solidarity with Black AVL demands and intergenerational BIPOC leadership calling for investment in long-term safety strategies, which includes eliminating the racial opportunity gap in Asheville City Schools. Some ideas I am bringing to the conversation include partnering in a community that serves a student in every part of their life, including
Focus on development of deeply-affordable housing through creative and cooperative solutions like BeLoved Community, Poder Emma, and the Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust;
Expanded evening and weekend hours for community centers for exercise, play, community building, and tutoring as suggested by community leaders including Libby Kyles;
Partnering for continued listening sessions and mentorship programs including Word on the Street/La Voz de Las Jovenes, My Sistah Taught Me That/My Daddy Taught Me That, YTL, Hood Huggers, and more;
Ending food deserts as part of climate justice for resilient neighborhoods;
Implementation of participatory budgeting to engage our community in funding capital improvement projects including students starting in middle school; and
Advancing the work of Family Friendly Affordable Buncombe.
Our students show a significant disparity in standardized test scores between Black and White students. How will you work in the legislature to address this disparity, and similar disparities in other school districts?
Standardized testing is inherently biased. We want all students to prosper, but the metric should not be a standardized test. By noting the disparity in standardized test scores, we’re saying Black students are somehow at fault instead of looking at how systemic racism has initiated and perpetuated this gap as an outcome. We need to build coalition across the state for our shared needs, especially increased teacher pay with hiring bonuses for BIPOC educators. We also need to look at accountability measures and consider what an elected school board will mean, especially if voting districts return to Asheville City Council elections since not all districts would be served by the ACS school system.
How do you view the importance of special classes, such as PE, art, music, language and media?
As a music teacher in my private studio, I have studied the role of these classes in exercising creativity, which strengthens skills for empathy, problem solving, and communications. Many of my students continue their education in band, chorus, and media classes in their school curriculum. This is part of structuring a balanced education that invigorates mind and body!
How do you view the role of Education Support Professionals in our classrooms and what is your priority in funding them?
Education Support Professionals (Instructional Assistants in ACS) play a vital role in public education. They support a wide array of needs within our classrooms, including: direct student supports, both academic and social/emotional; providing small group instruction; substitute teaching; doubling as bus drivers; and supporting teachers with management of materials and information. Funding will require coordinated effort with Buncombe County and a serious effort to lobby the General Assembly through statewide coalition.
Do you support or oppose the use of tax credits, vouchers, and/or any use of public money for private K-12 schools and why?
I oppose the use because of the impact on public education funding as an invaluable community investment. Additionally, it’s not just about losing the students and teachers, it means leaking the family and community support for our public schools as well.
What are your thoughts about the role of charter schools in public education? Should charter schools be required to serve the same demographic as traditional charter schools?
I understand the benefit of public charter schools with a mission-driven focus, but also how equitable representation and tokenism in the classroom becomes an even greater challenge. One issue that I see is when public funds are being used to essentially fund a private school. An exemption to this would be if the charter were to laser-focused on education equity for BIPOC students, like the new PEAK academy. Otherwise charter funding with public tax dollars should be serving the community at large.
How would you characterize the current state of public education in North Carolina right now? Please include your personal experiences with our public schools.
As someone who picks up the phone because my students need emotional support, I see students under so much stress as inequities are amplified during the pandemic. Many students are dealing with incredible loneliness and anxiety. As we all struggle through the disconnection of staying home to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have witnessed some brilliant educators and mentors finding ways to reach out and keep momentum going by maintaining connection. They will be the reason our students are seen through this.
I’m looking forward to being able to continue volunteering through Asheville City Schools! I support my students in their family time and free time, and I’m working with them to find ways we can engage their experience for long-term solutions.
What will you do as a public official to ensure that public education is a budget priority and local government provides adequate funding for high-quality public schools for all children? Discuss your top priorities.
As a I community member, I have followed carefully and provided input for 6 cycles of the Housing & Community Development (HCD) sub-committee process to distribute strategic partnership grants. I support the leadership of Councilwoman Sheneika Smith on HCD. As a City Councilperson, this process will be a key partnership to fund solutions to address the opportunity gap. The new process this year for fund negotiation was coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic closures in City Hall, so we didn’t have the typical, invaluable engagement with our community partners. If we’re going to give the new grant process a serious chance, we will have to run at least another cycle to review the process and outcomes. We are also overdue for a coordinated effort with the community, City, County and State. We need an all-hands on deck approach to funding because our schools are imperative to our mutual success, economic development, and a resilient community.
Please explain how, as a public official, you would specifically build respect for the education profession in order to help attract and retain the highest quality educators?
I hear my students complaining that we’re losing great teachers because they can’t afford to live in our community on a teacher’s salary. The role of Council is to coordinate efforts with the County to address affordability, which includes the cost of housing, transportation, and childcare. These are the 3 tenants of Family Friendly Affordable Buncombe, as I have already mentioned. We also must close the opportunity gap in our schools if we are going to attract and retain teachers and their families.
How do you expect to keep the safety of our students and staff as a priority in light of the health crisis we face with COVID 19?
I’m grateful for the decision to delay reopening of in person learning because it will lessen the short and long-term impacts of mass spread of COVID-19. However, I do understand that there are amplified inequities because students with access to more resources can afford more support like access to wifi, private pods, and tutoring. As a music teacher, I am continuing virtual learning until the health experts and governmental advisement match up, and will continue to rally the public if state or local guidance doesn’t match evidence to ensure safety for our students and teachers. There are additional hardships for essential workers relying on schools for childcare, which is why it must be a community effort to ensure a just recovery through the pandemic.
What is your position on the funding of local supplements for teachers, administrators, and education support professionals (ESPs)?
This goes back to coalition building across the state and working with the County to ensure our Education Support Professionals and Instructional Assistants are funded and have what they need. I am running for my students and a resilient community, so funding advocacy will continue to be a top priority.
As a public official, how would you engage with BCAE, its leadership, and educators about education policy issues and using their expertise to inform your decisions if elected? How can we expect to hear from you in response to our concerns and questions?
I will look to BCAE and ACAE for guidance, though I find that proactive leadership requires knowing decisions are upcoming before the last minute. I plan to host regular office hours and listening sessions for direct public engagement, and will invite direct accountability.
What do you see as the role and reputation of BCAE in advocating for our students, schools and staff?
There is power in collective organizing! I am endorsed by the Western NC Central Labor Council, and as a worker making ends meet on stagnant wages in a tourism-driven economy, I understand the risks of organizing in a right to work state. Thanks to our educators who have shown a strong organizing effort, such as walkouts demanding dignified wages. Relationships and wins are invaluable in advocating for budgets, plans, and policies for a hopeful future. I will continue with you whether we’re marching in the streets or drafting policy changes in City Hall!
Do you have any other thoughts about public education that have not been addressed in this questionnaire?
My husband and I made Asheville our home in 2006, once the home of my great grandmother and great-great Aunt Faye, both educators. In 2008 we donated our car in an attempt to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, so I know first-hand the impact of inadequate transit service because it’s personal to me. I understand that transit is at the intersection of equitable access, economic mobility, and environmental stewardship. We have support and need to follow up on regional transit as part of Family Friendly Affordable Buncombe, the Transit Master Plan, and long-term planning and funding strategies with our regional French-Broad MPO. This can be part of a safe route to school strategy that increases accessibility for students and families to participate in additional tutoring, enrichment, and after-school activities. More immediately, we need to get all of our Asheville transit routes running until 10pm since 30% of the routes end at or before 8pm. This is part of connection to long-term economic development, connecting workers to quality jobs with dignified wages and benefits, and for the health and well-being of our entire community.
Thank you for the work you do advocating for our students, families, teachers, staff, and community, and thank you for the opportunity to be considered for endorsement!