Likeminded first-time candidates face each other in the District 7 race for Guilford County School Board, but priorities and experience delineate options for voters.
Bettye Jenkins and Byron Gladden may be the most closely aligned candidates anywhere on Guilford County ballots this election, likely because they’re both members of the same political party.
Jenkins, a recently retired Guilford County Schools employee, filed to run for school board after the deadline, forcing her to collect more than 1,600 signatures in the district to appear on the ballot. Having exceeded the mark, Jenkins appears on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate even though she describes herself as a lifelong Democrat.
Her opponent, activist Byron Gladden, is running as the Democrat in the race, and there is no Republican candidate.
District 7 looks like a lumpy blanket covering eastern Greensboro and stretching into parts of Guilford County, a majority-minority district that favors Democrats. The redrawn Guilford County School Board map takes effect with this election alongside several other changes to the board, including making races partisan and shrinking the number of positions. Jenkins or Gladden will join a body full of newcomers like them. At least three of the other eight board members will be new, representing Districts 1, 3 and 6, where no incumbent is running. Only two incumbents — Democrat Deena Hayes-Greene and Republican Linda Welborn — face no challengers.
Here’s a look at the two District 7 candidates, presented in alphabetical order by last name.
The 31-year old, who was born in Greensboro but raised in Randolph County, is arguably most well known for his activism, frequently speaking at community meetings on a plethora of subjects including, of course, the school system. In addition to founding a group called Greensboro Call to Action and participating in groups such as Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, Gladden received the endorsement of the pro-LGBT Replacements Limited PAC, the Simkins PAC and notably the Guilford County Association of Educators, Gladden said.
Gladden, who works in the healthcare industry in High Point, said his top three issues are the long-term infrastructure improvement needs of the county’s schools, disproportionate suspensions of students of color and increasing wages for employees such as bus drivers. Guilford County Schools should consider more restorative justice approaches and address inconsistent enforcement with school suspensions, embracing policies that protect and nurture students of color in particular who are currently marginalized, Gladden said.
Like his opponent, Gladden stressed the need to address the racial achievement gap, dropout rate and school-to-prison pipeline. He also emphasized his opposition to charter schools, which he said constitute “a systemic attack” on traditional public schools.
Gladden argued that he would bring a community-oriented approach to the school board, saying that he hasn’t waited to be elected to push for needed change, showing up at school board meetings and forums to raise questions pertaining to racial justice, among other issues. Gladden believes in “empowering people with information,” he said, adding that he would regularly engage with advocates, activists and school employees to better understand where stakeholders stood on various issues that come before the school board.
Acknowledging and commending his opponent’s long-term employment within the school system, Gladden characterized his decision to run as “intentional” and “not an afterthought,” pointing out Jenkins’ late filing for the seat.
Gladden, who has some college credit to his name, hopes to enroll at NC A&T University in 2018 to pursue a degree in education. He’s waiting until he’s finished paying for his mother’s degree — Gladden said he financially supported his mother and sister’s schooling as they obtained graduate degrees, adding that his mom is now a teacher in Randolph County.
When Bettye Jenkins retired in July, she had 23 years of experience in Guilford County Schools under her belt, and eight more working in the education field, including for Thomasville City Schools. Jenkins, who received her bachelors and masters in social work from NC A&T, worked as a teacher’s assistant, school social worker and community service works coordinator for Guilford County Schools.
In addition to highlighting her resume, Jenkins’ campaign material emphasizes that she is a lifelong Democrat despite being listed as unaffiliated on the ballot.
Jenkins said she filed late because she wanted to secure her family’s support first, making sure her siblings could be there for her elderly mother should the need arise before committing to run for the time-consuming post. After talking with her family around Christmas 2015, Jenkins decided to file, she said.
Easily her biggest concern, Jenkins said the school board needs to do more to tackle the academic achievement gap “so all children can be successful.” If elected, she’d push for assessments and finding out from principals what they need, adding that the solution may vary by school. In some cases, ordering new books might be a priority while at other schools there may be a greater need to train parents and grandparents how to use tablets in order to help kids complete homework assignments, she said.
There are considerable obstacles, Jenkins said, including a lack of home access to internet for many students of color that makes it difficult to keep up with schoolwork.
Addressing the racial achievement gap would alleviate other issues too, Jenkins said, such as the dropout rate and attendance issues. Early intervention, especially around literacy, can be vitally important too, she said.
Jenkins also said that more could be done to engage parents, staying in more regular contact so that they aren’t only hearing from the school system if there is bad news to report. During her tenure, she participated in community events where school employees went out into neighborhoods with food to meet parents during a report-card pickup, and events like that are one way to increase parental involvement and build relationships, she said.
Jenkins said she has received endorsements from the Triad Central Labor Council, Greensboro Regional Realtors Association and the Guilford County Community PAC, in addition to several local elected officials.