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School board candidates face public

School board candidates face public
April 12
06:00 2018

With the May 8 Primary just a few weeks away, the Big 4 Alumni Association and the New South Community Coalition invited candidates for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education to an open forum earlier this week.

The forum, held at the Central Library on Monday, April 9, was widely attended by voters from throughout Forsyth County, many looking to meet the candidates for the first time.

Before the start of the event, city native Joseph Blackwell said he decided to attend after hearing all the candidates would be in attendance.

“I thought it was a great idea to bring all the candidates together. I don’t know if anybody has done this before but I thinks it’s a great,” said Blackwell while looking for a seat. “I’m looking forward to meeting all the candidates personally.”

The incumbent candidates in District 1 are not running for re-election. Blackwell said he was still excited to see all the new faces vying for candidacy in the two major districts.

Candidates looking to secure the two seats up for grabs in District 1 in attendance were: Alex Bohannon, Barbara Hanes Burke, Eunice Campbell, Chenita Barber Johnson and Malishai Woodbury. All are Democrats.

Bohannon, a program assistant at Ken Carlson Boys & Girls Club, says he is a proud product of the WS/FCS system and will bring energy and urgency to the board. A 2017 graduate of Elon University, when asked what his vision for the future of the district, Bohannon said his first order of business would be to focus intensely on diversity, equity and inclusion. He went on to recommend the establishment of a diversity department that ensures students, teachers and faculty members feel valued and included.

“A lot of times diversity isn’t just about race and ethnicity it also includes ability, gender and all these other identities,” Bohannon continued. “With the ability piece we have to ensure students who learn differently from the majority have as much opportunity to be successful as other children.”

When asked the same question, Barbara Hanes Burke, who currently serves as an assistant principal at Carver High School, said her plan over the next five to 10 years will be to close the achievement gap, create career and community connections, and increase career opportunities for students after high school.

“My vision is for us to close the achievement gap. Make sure all of our students are literate and college and career ready by the time they graduate,” Hanes Burke said. “Another vision is that we create safe and secure learning and work environments for the students and for all faculty members.”

District 1 candidate and president of the Gibson Elementary PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association), Campbell said her vision for WS/FCS begins with “social-emotional learning.” She said, “Teaching that throughout our school district will be an answer to a lot of the issues we have with creating safe environments for our schools.”
Campbell also stressed the importance of accountability. She said now is the time we start making sure everyone is held accountable, from teachers to district employees and school board members.

A product of WS/FCS and graduate of Winston-Salem State University, Barber Johnson said she would like to see the school system represent our community by diversifying inner city schools. She said, “I would like for our school system to truly implement the spirit” of Brown vs the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas.

“I think that if we have our schools look like our communities, that would help our children and their expectations across the board with educators. Brown says that schools are supposed to look like your communities,” continued Barber Johnson. “Winston-Salem Forsyth County is a district according to the state of North Carolina so our schools need to look like we look.”

Woodbury, a 1992 graduate of Carver High School and current project coordinator for Guilford County Schools said her five-year plan is centered on making policy changes. She said one of her education priorities would be to change policies that have caused a spike in suspensions and discipline referrals among African American males.

“As a school board member what I’m going to do has to relate to policy,” Woodbury continued. “… Anybody who works in education will tell you when the objectives arevague you can’t get to the solution so we have to be very specific.”

As the forum continued several candidates for District 1 gave their thoughts on a number of topics, including the mold at Ashley Elementary, School Choice, and failing Title I schools in the community. The crowd of more than 75 enthusiastic people let candidates know how they felt by applauding. Several times candidates received standing ovations from portions of the crowd.

Although none of the incumbent candidates that will be on the May 8 ballot for District 2 attended the forum, Leah Crowley took advantage of the opportunity to introduce herself to voters.

A mother of four, all currently attending schools in the WS/FCS district, Crowley, who is a Republican, said she would like to see the school system work more collaboratively with public and private partnerships to make education more engaging for students. She also stressed the importance of reaching all students.

Crowley said, “These classrooms need more equipment and supplies to make educating children more interesting so the kids want to be there and teachers want to be there.”

Democrats Marilynn Baker and Rebecca Nussbaum who will be on the ballot in November for District 2 were on hand during the forum as well to connect with voters.

Baker, who is a graduate of East Forsyth High School and former educator at Forsyth Tech and UNC Greensboro said if elected she would be dedicated to ensuring the district has a strong Pre-K program that prepares students for kindergarten and beyond. She also emphasized the dire need for teacher’s assistance.

“In order for us to achieve great schools here in Winston-Salem Forsyth County we need to lay a very great foundation. And learning begins at an early age we need strong Pre-K programs and very strong elementary schools,” Baker continued. “… Yes it is great for us to have smaller schools but we also need for our teacher to have more one-on-one time to build that foundation.”

As a mother of two and a long-time resident of District 2, Nussbaum said says she has issues with how students are being accessed, and the amount of time it takes to prepare for EOC’s and EOG’s. She mentioned that all the time spent preparing for the “big test” at the end of the year adds up to about six weeks of learning time.

“When I think 10 years out I would actually love to see our students be engaged and curious learners. I think if you’re curious and if you’re engaged in learning you will be successful,” Nussbaum said. “… We should look widely at models of excellence and see what we can replicate. I think if we’re going to have equity in our schools we need to look deeply at how to make every school excellent.”

Following the event several attendees said they enjoyed the conversations that were sparked during the forum and the candidates’ thoughts on what needs to change in our schools. As she made her way to her vehicle, one voter said, “They all made a lot of good points. It’s going to be interesting to see who wins especially in District One. I think it’s going to be a close race.”

Below is a list of election forums and a meet-and-greet made known to The Chronicle by press time:

April 12 – Forsyth County Democratic Party Candidates Forum
On Thursday, April 12, 6 p.m. the forum will be held at Mazie Woodruff Center, 4905 Lansing Drive. Featured will be Forsyth County School Board, District 1 candidates Alex Bohannon, Barbara Hanes Burke, Eunice Campbell, Chenita Barber Johnson and Malishai Woodberry.

April 14 –Meet and Greet Candidates Forum
The Phi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. presents a “Meet and Greet” Candidates Forum on April 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Union Baptist Church, 1200 Trade Street NW. This event is free and open to the public. Meet the local, state and national candidates, hear their platforms. For more info, please contact Co-Chairman Barbara Puryear – (336) 722-2095 or Co-Chairman Vicki Miller – (336) 727-1061 or Alma Flood – (336) 393-0195.

April 16 – School Board Candidates Forum
The County Council of PTAs is sponsoring a District 1 candidates forum at 6 p.m. on April 16 at Exodus United Baptist Church, 2000 Wilbur St., Winston-Salem. Candidates will share opening & closing statements and will respond to questions from a moderator and the audience.

April 18 – Forsyth County Democratic Party Candidates Forum
On Wednesday, April 18, 6 p.m. the forum will be held at Forsyth County Central Library, 660 W. 5th St. Featured will be Forsyth County Sheriff Candidates Cliff Kilby, Bobby Kimbrough Jr. and Tim Wooten. Featured will be County Commissioner, District A candidates Tony Burton, Fleming El-Amin, Tonya McDaniel and Everette Witherspoon.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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