Davenport touted as new ‘captain’ of Forsyth County school board

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by Jordan Green

Republicans look to elevate appointed African-American member to the top leadership position on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board.

Jeannie Metcalf, a 20-year veteran on the Winston-Salem/Forysth County School Board and its most senior member, wore a San Antonio Spurs basketball jersey on Monday as she introduced fellow candidate John Davenport Jr. to a lunchtime group of conservative voters at the Golden Corral at Hanes Mall on Monday.

A cohesive team wins out over star power, she argued.

“We’re gonna start a brand-new team — almost — but what we’re going to have is the centerpiece of our team, our new captain — I hope — is one day I’ll be saying, ‘I nominate this man as chairman of the school board.’ He is the real deal, folks. He has a heart for the Lord and a heart for public service. He loves what he does and pours his whole life into it. He’s a dear, dear friend. I just love him to death. I will give up my seat for him a heartbeat.”

With four Republican members retiring this year, the GOP majority is looking to build on the accomplishments of the previous cohort — most significantly adoption of the Choice student-assignment plan. Among the retirees is current chairwoman Jane Goins.

The man Metcalf hopes to nominate as chairman currently serves as vice-chairman of the board, appointed by the Republican majority to fill the unexpired term of a Democratic board member in the urban District 1. As a black Republican who lives on the east side of Winston-Salem, Davenport has little chance of winning re-election in the heavily Democratic leaning District 1. This year, he’s seeking one of three at-large seats on the board while Metcalf is vacating her at-large seat and running in the suburban and Republican-leaning District 1.

The 46-year-old Davenport praised the Choice Plan adopted by the board in the late 1990s, which some have criticized as amounting to resegregration.

“The board that I have come in and served with — the folks who put it in place — the Choice Plan is the best plan in North Carolina,” Davenport said. “There’s a lot of criticism about Choice. I’ll tell you: If we didn’t have Choice we wouldn’t have a solid school district. We’d be like a lot of the other districts [with] a lot of charter schools popping up or people going to private schools. Because you know what? Today’s generation, the ones who can choose will choose, no matter what you tell them…. Our plan allows people who can’t afford to make the choice, to make the choice. And I am very proud of that.

“You walk into a school and see majority minorities, and people say, ‘Oh, that’s horrible,’” Davenport continued. “We didn’t build the communities. We didn’t build Winston-Salem. We have to educate Winston-Salem.”

Mark Johnson and Robert Barr are also on the Republican slate for the three at-large seats. Incumbent Elisabeth Motsinger, Katherine Fansler and German Garcia are the three Democratic candidates. The top three vote-getters of either party will win the three seats in the November general election. Meanwhile, Metcalf is running along with three Republican newcomers — Lori Goins Clark, Dana Caudill Jones and David Singletary — for four District 2 seats, against Democrats Deanna Kaplan and Laura Elliott.

As a black Republican, Davenport must walk a tightrope between hewing to the conservative principles of his party’s base while also maintaining some appeal among black voters. He told the conservative voters at the Golden Corral that constituents he meets at the gas pump on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive or while working out at the Winston Lake YMCA are quick to tell him about their concerns. But Davenport’s race also gives the party an opportunity to build consensus in a county where it does not claim a majority of the voters.

More than one person at the conservative voters luncheon asked Davenport to explain why the district spends more per capita on students in the inner city than in the suburbs.

“There is inequity,” Davenport said. “It’s deliberate inequity, because this board understands that those students need smaller classrooms and need the type of attention that we as a county pay for. Now, do we have the same kind of PTAs in the inner city? No. The PTAs can raise the money and they do the type of niceties that actually do enhance the students’ experience when they’re in school.”

Metcalf said that the district once provided additional compensation to teachers assigned to high-poverty schools, but had to eliminate funding because of budget constraints.

Davenport, who owns an engineering firm in Winston-Salem, outlined conservative positions on a number of issues.

While expressing support for teachers in a general sense, he said he does not support tenure. An effort by the Republican-controlled legislature to dismantle teacher tenure has recently run into legal challenges.

“I’m not a supporter of tenure,” Davenport said. “I didn’t have tenure. I contract with the federal government. If they don’t like the job I’m going, guess what? You have to perform. We have to pay them well. That’s any job. The idea of the government guaranteeing a job, I don’t understand that.”

He said he also supports a program enacted by the state General Assembly to set aside public-education funds for limited-income students to use in private schools.

“People who have reasonable income can choose whatever they want to choose,” Davenport said. “This is about giving people who don’t have that choice, that choice. How in the world can you be opposed to that?”

The candidate emphasized his willingness to look for common ground with other elected officials who may not share all of his beliefs. The achievement gap between high-poverty schools and wealthy public schools, which tracks closely with race, might be the issue that brings Davenport and his fellow Republicans together with their Democratic colleagues on the school board.

“Do we have an achievement gap?” Davenport asked. “You betcha. Every school district in North Carolina has an achievement gap. And that’s something that’s going to continue to be a focus of mine. How do we close the gap? Because it’s the right thing to do. We’re the party of Lincoln. We did the right thing then; we’re going to do the right thing now. And the right thing is to make sure all the kids get good education.”