Here's a recap of the interviews of Tom Benton and Don Mial for the District 1 vacancy on the Wake County school board.
Benton was the most direct and explicit of all the applicants so far on his views on diversity, student assignment and magnet schools. His familiarity with those issues from having spent most of his 32 years in education in Wake showed.
Benton said he supported using student assignment to promote diverse schools and also supports the magnet school program. But at the same time he said they need to balance the concerns from parents about reassignment, including low-income students who are being moved.
On a related issue, Benton said there's a difference between giving equal and fair resources and that some schools need more than others. He said the goal should be equal academic achievement.
Benton said they need to find a balance between healthy schools and stability for families. He called assignment one of the most powerful tools that the district has to put students in situations where success will be more likely.
But Benton said there are limits to how far and how often they can move students. He repeatedly talked about the need to convince parents that their kids will get a good education no matter where they go to school so that they can reduce the sting of some necessary movements.
“Some of the bad feelings about student assignment will go away if we can convince parents wherever they live and go to school their children will get a high quality education," Benton said.
Benton said he's a supporter of magnet schools.
Benton said that when magnets first started he was teaching at Sanderson High and didn't like them because the thought they'd pull kids away to Enloe High. But over time, he changed his mind and sees that magnets are a way to provide choices for families.
But Benton said they also need to remember what happens when students are moved out of magnets to free up more application seats.
Benton brought up the time he attended a student assignment hearing and heard a parent question being reassigned to Durant Road Middle School, where he was principal. The parent asked if her child would have the same resource at Durant.
Benton said he was surprised until he realized the parent was leaving a Title I school where the child was getting extra support. But Durant Road at the time didn't have a Title I program.
Benton said they need to consider the needs of the low-income students who are reassigned and not just give a negative message that they should like the new school because there will be fewer children like them.
Benton also brought up the case of a parent who questioned why her side of the street was reassigned but not the other side. He said they need to make assignment understandable to parents.
Benton said they need to give the student assignment office firm guidance on the principles they're using and hopefully those principles and beliefs will be accepted by the public.
Mial's answers on the issues were a lot shorter and less detailed, finishing his interview more than 10 minutes early.
Mial said that they must have a balanced approach to assignment. He said Policy 6200 does a lot toward meeting that goal. He also said meeting with families is crucial.
Mial said he's very supportive of magnet schools, saying how pleased he was with his youngest daughter graduating from Southeast Raleigh High. He said Eastern Wake High, where another daughter graduated from, has a STEM program and that it's helping children compete globally.
Mial said magnets are crucial for helping keep inner-city schools from deteriorating and for giving students opportunities to compete on the global stage.