Cabarrus County Board of Education: Pam Escobar | #Education

Pam Escobar

Please tell us a little about yourself (family, beliefs, career, etc.).

I’m a Mama Bear with two daughters in Cabarrus County Schools. I’ve been married for 20 years and moved to Cabarrus County for the schools and our daughters’ education. I believe education is not only a right but a gift. It’s the gift my mom gave to me when she returned to work at a school so I could go there tuition-free. It’s the gift my husband received from his parents. He was born in Puerto Rico, and they moved to the best public school district in New Jersey for his K-12 education. The careers we have are a result of our education and our commitment to being life-long learners. I earned my masters in broadcast journalism and was a TV reporter for 10 years. Journalism is a public service. My career was asking questions and holding people/institutions accountable. I now work in public information where I inform the public about the role of local government. I also host a podcast called Do Good Charlotte that highlights nonprofits and the work they do in the community. I am a product of my education, and I want to ensure education is accessible to every kid in my community.

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Why are you running for school board? How are you prepared for this role? What are your goals if you are elected?

I’m running for school board because the current school board does not have a true grasp on what is happening in our schools and are not serving our students effectively. I started actively questioning the school board during the pandemic. I wanted our children back in schools but wanted to make sure our teachers were vaccinated. It was clear during many meetings that politics was their focus, not what is best for students and educators. I value education; seeing people who do not value education leading our school district is infuriating.

The school board redistricted my neighborhood’s middle school. A group of parents including myself mobilized and provided an alternative. Through that process, I had several one-on-one interactions with school board members. I’ve been attending school board meetings for years, went to Dr. Kopicki’s Community Connections meetings, attended committee meetings, went to County Commission meetings, city of Concord, Harrisburg and Midland town council meetings. I graduated from the Institute of Political Leadership fellows program, where I learned about running a campaign and governing with people with different views. I was a member of the NCDPI’s portrait of a graduate group. I’m currently a member of the resiliency committee for the Cabarrus Health Alliance.

My goal is to focus on what is best for kids. Let’s look at the data associated with learning slides and review how the school district is using federal funds to get kids back on track. Let’s do something to address it. An experienced qualified teacher in the classroom is the best for kids. I want the school district to look at how to retain our teachers. Right now, teachers are not comfortable voicing what is really happening. They need a school board member looking out for them. Accountability/transparency are missing from the school board. As a communications professional, I know the school district can do a better job about informing the community. As a voter, you can rely on me to do my homework, to come prepared, and to listen to you.

We know that the primary purpose of testing is to assess what students know. How else should testing be used in the classroom? What percentage of instructional time should be utilized for CCS-mandated testing?

As a parent, I believe too much time has been dedicated to testing. Kids don’t learn how to be critical thinkers by taking tests. They need quality instruction time. When my daughters were in third grade, they passed the BOG. They should have stopped taking standardized tests and just had a final EOG. Instead, all students have to take multiple standardized tests. If there are kids that need help getting on reading level, give them that one-on-one instructional time. But don’t make them succumb to test after test. At that point, it is just a number not reflective of the entire person. Some students have anxiety related to testing. Teachers have shared with me that standardized tests are a measurement of something small. Students aren’t a test score, and those scores are not reflective of a student’s overall capabilities. Tests can be used as a measurement of growth. But no teacher wants to devote so much time to how to do better on a standardized test. I don’t want to eliminate standardized tests, but they should not be the main focus of each school year.

Please offer perspective on Cabarrus County Schools’ policies promoting teacher retention, including local compensation.

Human Resources has described efforts to retain new teachers by offering mentoring and getting them through those first three years. Mentoring is a great idea. You need experienced teachers to be mentors. But we are not paying teachers for mentoring. I’m not aware of retention efforts for long-term experienced teachers. That doesn’t mean efforts don’t exist, but they aren’t well publicized. We have a problem retaining experienced teachers.

At the state level, the general assembly has taken away bonuses for teachers with masters degrees and longevity pay. The general assembly needs to pay teachers better and stop putting so much funding into charter schools. Local governments are left supplementing teacher pay. The county supplement is not competitive with neighboring counties. The school board has relationships with commissioners. But the school board can only ask for an increase. However, as a school board member, I would suggest taking funds from teacher vacancies and giving it to the teachers who are taking on the extra work.

What are your views on racial equity and what does the term “racial equity” mean to you?

The first step toward racial equity is recognizing that there are disparities related to race. We need to intentionally address it. Eliminate the disparities and it improves outcomes for everyone. Rising tide, lifts all boats.

The population growth in the county currently means new schools are required in the future. At the same time, the county created our Virtual Academy. Given the options families have in the county, how do you see construction projects fitting into future capital needs versus growing our virtual options?

We have diversified learners in the county, and it is an asset to have a local Virtual Academy for students who thrive in that learning environment. That way, if students or parents need to meet with their teacher in person, a local Virtual Academy makes that possible. Currently, the school district is leaning on the Virtual Academy because there are teacher vacancies and students are in a classroom together with a virtual teacher. The majority of kids prefer in-person learning. And students who choose in-person learning should receive it.

The County Commissioners need to address the growth. Virtual is not a replacement for brick and mortar. Manage the growth and put schools where they are needed. The school district needs to understand the expectations of people moving into the community regarding virtual and in-person learning.

Please share your ideas on improving our EC and AIG programs.

EC needs more teachers and staff. The EC program has to follow federal protocols. With our current lack of EC teachers in the county, I’m concerned about the safety and learning of our EC students. We have dedicated EC teachers and have had award-winning OCS programs. Those are assets and, used correctly, could attract EC teachers to Cabarrus. I’m not sure the current school board is aware of all the issues in EC.

AIG students have the ability to learn a great deal. As a parent of an AIG student, I’m learning her brain is constantly going and requires new subjects. I’ve been happy with the program at the elementary level. Her AIG work is what she talks about the most when she comes home from school. In middle school and high school, the guidance is not there. More directed services for gifted thinkers would be better. AIG students can benefit from AP, honors and other program choice courses. Students could benefit from career guidance and targeted planning. I would like teachers in middle school and high school to have the opportunity to create dream courses to offer to AIG students and all students.

Speaking with teachers, they would like to go back to a time where they could create courses of interest, mini courses six to eight weeks. Teachers are inspired when they can spark joy and inspire students. This can happen once we attract and retain teachers we need.

With continued growth of private or for-profit charter schools in the region, CCS will continue to allocate critical state-funding for local students who choose these schools (rather than CCS). How would you use your role on the Board so we are not losing students?

I respect every parent’s right to choose where to send their students. Parents need to understand that when a kid goes to a charter school, funding is pulled from a public school, which undermines other peoples’ choices. I personally have used the program choice programs offered in the public schools.

I know parents who have pulled their students from CCS to charter schools because they weren’t happy with the decisions being approved by the school board. You have to have a county school board that is transparent and accountable. Parents appreciate it. To continue to have award-winning schools, teachers need to be retained. Cabarrus had the reputation as being a special place to work. That goes away when the school board undermines teachers at every turn. Lift teachers, focus on kids, and share what’s happening. Communicate, communicate, and communicate.

Explain your views and ideas regarding local preschool programs.

The Mary Francis Wall Center is an amazing program. The teachers are wonderful, and kids are learning and receiving valuable services. I would love for that to be available for every kid in the county.

I would like to see free pre-K in Cabarrus County. The superintendent says he would like to open two pre-K classrooms in each elementary school. Ideally, all 4 year olds in Cabarrus County could have access to a quality pre-K education.

Often the BOE becomes isolated from the views of teachers, students and families. What concrete actions will you take to ensure that does not happen?

School board members need to go to schools unannounced and without the principal or superintendent by their side. Volunteering is a great way for a school board member to meet teachers and students in their regular setting. To meet families, as a school board member I would attend open houses and curriculum nights to meet the students’ families. The school superintendent held community engagement meetings. I attended many of them; school board members were not at every meeting. The school board should lean into their community engagement committee that is led by Keshia Sandidge and hold more open forums where everyone is invited. And school board members should review data collected from surveys. It appears they rely on a synopsis of it without digging in and really reviewing what people are saying.

If someone emails or reaches out, I’ll respond.

Always have an open ear. I have friends that are teachers, and through this process I have met many more teachers. Not all teachers feel comfortable speaking out and some prefer speaking one-on-one. I think teachers have the best sense of what is really happening. Earning their trust has been an honor. I appreciate all they have shared with me. I will be a better school board member with regular teacher conversations.

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