Featured photo (l-r): Alexandre Bohannon, Trevonia Brown Gaither, Chenita Barber Johnson, Ricky Johnson, Tarsha Shore
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board primaries have attracted 28 candidates, the largest field in recent history.
District 1 is the centralized core taking up the eastern part of the city, with some overlap into the northwestern portion. The voting precincts representing District 1 are primarily in majority-minority neighborhoods.
Members of the Forsyth County School Board serve 4-year terms with a total of nine members. Two are elected to District 1, four to District 2 and the remaining three members are voted at-large and serve countywide.
The primary elections start on April 28 with early voting and continue until May 17. The general election takes place on Nov. 8.
Five Democrats contend for two open seats in District 1 this year, including incumbent Alexandre Bohannon. The other incumbent, Malishai Woodbury, declined to run again, seeking instead an open seat in this year’s county commission race.
The top two vote-getters will automatically win the two seats in District 1, essentially making the primary the real election.
TCB reached out to all candidates in District 1. They are listed in alphabetical order, following the incumbent.
Alexandre Bohannon (i)
Young incumbent looks to future in re-election bid
Alexandre Bohannon unsuccessfully ran for school board in 2018, coming in third with 17 percent of the vote, behind Barbara Hanes Burke with 33 percent and Malishai Woodbury who got 24 percent. In Feb. 2021, 26-tear-old Bohannon was appointed to the school board after Burke was elected to city council, making him the youngest member ever to serve on the WS/FCS school board.
Bohannon graduated from Parkland Magnet High School in 2012 and from Elon University in 2017. Prior to being appointed to the school board, he served on a variety of committees including the Climate, Culture, and Equity Committee that drafted the School System’s Equity Plan, as well as the Facilities Advisory Committee and Strategic Planning Committee.
Asked about why he was running for re-election, he said that it’s the same reason he ran in 2018: “[T]to bring additional energy and urgency to the work of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System in providing the future of our community with an education that equips them with the tools to shake off the shackles of limitation and exceed all expectations.”
The largest issues Bohannon thinks Forsyth County schools face are a lack of funding from the state, low literacy rates and the impact of COVID-19.
Bohannon said that critical race theory isn’t taught in our school system, but “a framework developed for the purpose of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy.”
He did note the importance of representation in schools.
“I firmly believe that you can’t be what you can’t see,” he said. “It is essential that all Black and Brown children in our school system see themselves in every facet of the curriculum.”
His views on LGBTQ+ rights are similar.
“LGBTQ+ [students] are no different from any other students in our district, meaning that there is nothing about their identity that should preclude them from receiving the same quality of education,” he said. “Even though sex education is often brought up in relation to LGBTQ+ students it’s important that they receive sex education that gives them the knowledge to make informed, safe decisions as they mature into young adults.”
On the book bans that are sweeping the country, Bohannon is vocal.
“We need to be teaching children how to process and engage with material that challenges them intellectually, not banning every book that makes us uncomfortable,” he said. “We should ensure that children have access to age- appropriate material. [A]nytime governments have banned literature, the results have not been good at all.”
Bohannan is adamant about his goals.
“I would push for a focus on the delivery of high-quality instruction for every child, investments in more experiential learning, more funding from the state to address pay, and cultural infusion in the curriculum,” he said.
Former math teacher focused on student wellbeing
TCB reached out to Trevonia Brown-Gaither multiple times for this story but did not receive a response. According to her campaign website and social media accounts, Brown-Gaither taught mathematics for more than 19 years in both middle and high schools in the district including at Atkins Middle, Wiley Middle, Robert B. Glenn High and the Middle College. She is the niece of former WS/FCS board member, Geneva Brown, who served for more than 18 years.
She is a native of Winston-Salem who graduated from RJ Reynolds High and attended Spelman College and NCA&T State University.
A post on her campaign’s Facebook account states “it is imperative that we address common safety issues such as bullying, harassment, and school discipline policies. Ensuring that every school has a dedicated social worker and school resource officer will provide a layer of safety not only for our students but also staff and a safe space for dialogue and solutions.”
Her priorities, as listed on her website, include keeping schools safe, equity in the classroom, advocating for students and teachers and pushing for transparency within the school system.
Chenita Barber Johnson
A parent and student advocate critical of school choice
Chenita Barber Johnson is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University with a degree in political science/public administration with a minor in history. She has a paralegal certificate with a concentration in civil litigation. She is a cofounder of the Coalition for Equity in Public Education, which has advised policies to the school board, including the study of the 2016 school bond proposals. The goal listed on the coalition’s Facebook page is “to promote and ensure equity and anti-racism policies, curricula, cultures and environments. Asked about her background, Johnson said, “I have raised children in the WS/FCS, I have substituted in the public schools, served as PTA parent liaison, and am serving on boards that deal with the impact of poverty, education, housing, and community empowerment.”
Johnson mentioned several issues facing the school district including school choice, basic resources (books, computers, etc.), safe environments for students as well as the lack of minorities in teaching and leadership positions.
“The school system must attract high-quality educators to allow our students to achieve excellence,” she said. “This includes pay for teachers and administrators who will teach in areas where so called ‘low performing’ schools are designated.”
If elected, Barber Johnson wants to address the school choice system, noting that it is detrimental to the entire community.
School choice provides private alternatives to public schools for parents who do not wish for their children to attend the local public school to which they are assigned.
“School choice has damaged the school system financially but may have caused issues for students,” she said. “Children are constantly told in our county which schools are good or bad. That perception can make a child equate their school with their self-worth. How will that help in their education if they are considered not to be able to achieve?”
When it comes to her views on critical race theory and LGBTQ+ issues, Johnson is clear. She thinks LGBTQ+ students should be treated fairly, saying “rights for all students must occur regardless of sexual orientation.”
“Critical race theory is not taught in secondary schools,” she also said. “It is a course in graduate school of law. The term is being used to politically segregate populations rather than working together to improve our educational system.” She noted that book bans are censorship and are unconstitutional.
She is a proponent of collecting community data about racial inequities and gaps to increase reading/literacy. The continued funding of home/school parent coordinators is a necessity to her, along with increased counselors.
“It is important to encourage the community to become more involved,” she said. “Public education touches us all, as we all are stake holders.”
Ricky Johnson Jr.
Volunteer and outreach worker focused on increasing POC educators
Ricky Johnson Jr. holds a BA in psychology, a masters in adult education, a post-masters degree in community/higher education, and is working to complete his doctorate in organizational leadership. His education background consists of 10 years of volunteering and working in K-12 schools and working in higher education institutions in different federal outreach programs, used to identify and provide services to students with disadvantaged backgrounds. His volunteer work is primarily involved with minority students from poor and working-class neighborhoods.
Johnson said he wants to serve District 1 because it “needs strong and bold leaders and voices that will push the school system to provide an equal education for all students.”
Johnson said there’s no evidence that CRT is being taught within school systems and many who make the argument that it is being taught have misconstrued what it is. “When it comes to African-American history, I think that it should be mandated,” he said. “We [must] ensure that it is a part of curriculums when it comes to teaching history if we are a school system that pushes inclusiveness and equity.”
As for LGBTQ+ issues in current schools, Johnson is welcoming.
“Because we do have students that identify as LGBTQ+, we have to acknowledge that they have the same rights as any other students,” he said. “[I]f students identify as LGBTQ+ and wish to raise questions, I think we should allow them to. If we wish to teach students how to think critically, we cannot limit that because of their sexual orientation.”
Johnson’s approach to multi-pronged policy attacks is clear.
“Conflating everything people disagree with, like what history should be taught in schools, is not critical race theory,” he said. “As a school system, we have more urgent issues to address than irrelevant arguments about a theory that is not in our curriculum.”
Johnson said he would push for academic achievement and discipline.
“Both fall under the guise of inequity and should be addressed as such,” he said. “There have been recent remedies implemented by the school system, but I think we can do a better job.
He would also push for more teachers who are racially diverse.
“We have no excuse as to why we cannot recruit more Black and Brown teachers,” Johnson said. “Within an hour, we have at least seven HBCUs that graduate hundreds of Black and Brown students each year. We should take advantage of that opportunity that is right in front of us.”
Longtime educator focused on the academic achievement gap
Tarsha Shore is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University and has 30 years of experience working within the WS/FCS system. Among her many roles in education, she has worked as a teacher’s assistant, EC Assistant and has taught middle and elementary grades. She has also served on various leadership committees.
The largest issues Shore wants to address is the educational growth gap between minority and non-minority students. She also wants to look at the ways in which the pandemic has affected children.
“The other issue our children face are their social emotional needs not being met, which contribute to them not having a sense of belonging,” she said.
Shore did not speak directly about critical race theory being taught, she noted that “if you fail to learn from history, you are bound to repeat it.”
Shore described book bans as “controversial.”
Shore advocated for taking care of teachers and students alike.
“I would push for promoting highly qualified teachers, increasing supplemental pay, and training staff to become highly qualified employees,” she said.
Her aspiration to be elected is a longtime passion. “I believe all children can learn,” she said. “I want the children of Forsyth County to have a quality education with the necessary resources they need to become productive
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