Featured image: L-R: Demetria Carter, Alan Sherouse, Amanda Cook, Crissy Pratt, Linda Welborn, Deon Clark, Khem Irby, Tim Andrew

This year’s general election takes place on Nov. 8. Early voting will start on Oct. 20 and runs through Nov. 5. For more information on voting, including how to register, vote by mail and more, visit the Guilford County Board of Elections website here.

As far as elections go, school board races tend to be overlooked by voters, a sort of afterthought at the bottom of the ballot. But in the aftermath of the 2020 election and the rise of book bannings, pushback against critical race theory, critical infrastructure needs in public schools and teacher shortages, this year’s school board race in Guilford County has all the makings of a twisty political drama.

The school board is made up of nine members who are elected in staggered partisan elections every four years. Board members establish policies that govern the school system, including its curriculum, facilities, financial resources and personnel.

For this year’s Guilford County school board races, we’ve got two candidates (one Republican and one Democrat each) running for at-large, District 2, District 4 and District 6. District 8 has only one candidate, incumbent Deena Hayes-Greene running unopposed.

Guilford County School Board Districts

It should be noted that all of the Republican candidates are running under a united umbrella, backed by a conservative organization known as Take Back Our Schools. In the past, members of TBOS have protested critical race theory and masking at school board meetings and threatened the past school superintendent. The group is also backed by and supports Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican who has become synonymous with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and anti-critical race theory efforts at the state level.

For the purposes of this article, Triad City Beat reached out to all of the candidates running for office and asked them the same questions. We’ve condensed their answers for the piece but full answers by each candidate are linked at the bottom of their section.

Candidates are listed alphabetically by last name with incumbents listed first.

AT-LARGE

The at-large board member represents the entire county as opposed to representing a specific district like other members.

Demetria Carter (R)

Anti-CRT candidate who says country is no longer racist

Republican candidate Demetria Carter has made fighting against critical race theory a central part of her platform. As TCB has reported on previously, CRT is not taught in public schools and is not part of the curriculum within Guilford County Schools. However, Carter said in a statement that “the current Board has allowed critical race theory, gender identity, transgenderism and politics to be addressed, discussed within schools and promoted to students without knowledge or approval of parents.” If elected, she said she would make sure parents have more involvement in the classrooms by creating “parents’ councils” “to ensure parents are kept informed and to obtain their input/concerns when the Board makes decisions affecting their children.”

Carter told TCB that she does not have a background in education but has experience working for various government agencies. She worked as a typist with the Department of Transportation before making the move to the Department of Commerce. She also worked for the Department of Health and Human Services. She has a business degree from George Mason University and a juris doctorate from Duke University School of Law.

As a Black woman, Carter said that she believes that critical race theory — which is a platform acknowledging that racism is systemic, institutional and pervades virtually every aspect of American society — is a fraud.

“I am the anti-CRT candidate,” she said. “I am against any teaching theory, practice or methodology that pits students in one ethnic group against students in another ethnic group. Our schools should never become breeding grounds for radical activism. I am the anti-anti-racism candidate.”

During a candidate forum at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Greensboro, Carter said that she lived through segregation and Jim Crow but that in today’s society, racism is no longer an issue.

“Racism was rampant, but when I look around today having grown up in this country and seen all of the progress that we’ve made, I am aghast at hearing people say, ‘We still live in a racist society,’” Carter said. “No, we don’t. CRT is a pernicious fraud and I want to say that outright, and if you don’t like what I’ve said, please don’t vote for me.”

However, Carter did say that she supports teaching African-American history and even applauded the “Advance Placement African American Studies” program created by the College board that will be an interdisciplinary course that provides a comprehensive view of the African-American experience.

When it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, Carter was much more narrow in her response. At least twice, Carter clarified that LGBTQ+ students should have the respect and dignity for “simply behind a human being” but noted that the same respect shouldn’t be extended to pedophiles, seemingly equating the two.

When it comes to the issue of book banning, Carter rejected the notion and said that “there have been no books ‘banned’ within this country or within Guilford County.” This is not the case. According to data collected by PEN America, more than 2,500 books have been banned in the US just in the last year. However, Carter said that book banning and restricting access are not the same thing and that “no school board should want a book that is sexually, racially, or otherwise inappropriate for students of a young and certain age to read or see.”

Earlier this year, a small group of parents tried unsuccessfully to ban Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward from Northern Guilford High School. 

Other priorities for Carter include making up for learning loss from the pandemic, increasing academic performances of Black and Brown students and turning the low-performing schools in the district around.

Carter’s full responses can be downloaded here.

Alan Sherouse (D)

Progressive faith leader supportive of teaching honest history 

Alan Sherouse attended graduate divinity school at Wake Forest University and currently works as senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Greensboro. On his website, Sherouse mentions narrowing the graduation gap between Black and white students in Guilford County, advocating for teachers, working with parents, improving school facilities, supporting LGBTQ+ students and ensuring that school curriculums present “an honest account of history” as his priorities.

In his responses to TCB, Sherouse said that his biggest concerns facing GCS are the inequitable outcomes, empowering and trusting teachers and using money from the latest bond to renovate and construct school facilities.

Sherouse has also been endorsed by the Guilford County Association of Educators, which has become the political mirror of Take Back Our Schools in terms of platform and areas of focus.

“I believe that our public schools provide us with the very best collective opportunity to work for justice and for the common good for every one of our students,” Sherouse said during the candidate forum at Mount Zion Baptist. “I believe in promoting equity and continuing to make positive gains and closing the gaps between white students and Black students and other students of color….”

Sherouse has also been endorsed by Winston McGregor, the current at-large board member who is not running for election.

He supports anti-bullying practices in schools and the hiring of more school counselors to decrease violence.

In response to the teaching of critical race theory, Sherouse said that he supports the teaching of all history, particularly the most difficult.

“There is, I think a reflex, to push away the hard parts of our history, and we don’t have to do that,” Sherouse said. “We can learn from it so we will never repeat it and furthermore, we can absolutely trust our outstanding educators to do this with our children.”

Additionally, Sherouse said that CRT has been “used as a rallying cry to energize opposition” and that “understanding the difficult parts of our history, especially around racism and racial injustice, is part of how we ensure we do not repeat it.”

When asked about book bannings, Sherouse said he supports increasing access to “developmentally-appropriate” books, stating that “our students themselves can make decisions about their elective reading.”

Sherouse’s full responses can be downloaded here.

DISTRICT 2

District 2 covers the southernmost portion of Guilford County including High Point and Jamestown.

Amanda Cook (D)

Experienced educator passionate about advocating for teachers

Along with her opponent, Crissy Pratt, Amanda Cook is the only candidate with an education background running for school board. From 2008-17, she taught in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools as a dance educator and also monitored in-school suspension. During her tenure, she was nominated for Teacher of the Year, and was recognized for equity in teaching. From 2017-21, she taught dance at Southwest High School and was recognized for racial equity and growth-mindset teaching. She has completed more than 50 sub jobs in Guilford County Schools and worked in 11 of the 17 schools in District 2.

According to Cook, the biggest issues facing the school district are the staffing crisis, school nutrition and disjointed communication between parents, staff, students and the school board. For the staffing issue, Cook said she would empower teachers by listening to them and making sure they are involved in decision making processes.

“When the teachers who are on the ground, equipped with the knowledge of their students and communities are not empowered to teach responsively, we are going to continue to fail,” she said. “No teacher should be silenced when it comes to providing a safe and rigorous education.”

During the Mt. Zion candidate forum, Cook said that “there are great things happening in all of our schools,” but that teachers need community support.

“We have to have a community that surrounds our education system and inputs love and inputs support and encouragement for every stakeholder,” she said. “I can tell you as a teacher, we haven’t been feeling that from the community. We haven’t been feeling it from some of the people who are on stage tonight. We’ve been feeling dragged through the mud, we’ve been feeling like our time is not important, our talent is not important, and that all we do is fail. But I can tell you if you were to walk into any school tomorrow morning and look around, you would not find failures. You would find people who are very passionate about the wellbeing of children who are not their own and they continue to show up despite every reason not to.”

Like Sherouse, Cook is also endorsed by the Guilford County Association of Educators.

Cook told TCB that she acknowledges that racism exists in society, including within the education system. She supports teaching African-American history in schools and said that students should be allowed to think critically about the world that candidate forum. “[I] support people learning CRT. I think that it should be age appropriate but I think everyone benefits when we learn about the systems that we live in…. I’m not afraid to say that I support reparations, I support all children.”

Cook’s full responses can be downloaded here.

Crissy Pratt (R)

Measured Republican with years of educational experience

Crissy Pratt, another candidate endorsed by Take Back Our Schools, has years of experience working in education. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a masters in instructional technology. She has worked in Title I schools in Washington, DC, and helped develop a financial literacy curriculum for Johns Hopkins University.

Some of Pratt’s primary focuses if elected are the lack of consequences for disruptive students and poor academic performance.

“Our discipline policy is not being enforced consistently and students are allowed to disrupt classrooms and disrespect teachers daily,” she said. “This impacts how much instruction can happen in the classroom-instruction that is critically needed with the learning loss of the past few years.”

As a solution, Pratt said she would push for a “revision of discipline policy.”

Pratt also said she would keep a close eye on how the school bond is spent if elected.

“With rising construction costs and inflation, it is not possible to complete all of the desired improvements,” she said. “The Board will need to work hard to ensure that this taxpayer money is spent in the most effective way possible.”

Unlike some of the Republican candidates, Pratt acknowledged that critical race theory is not being taught in Guilford County Schools. She supports teaching “an accurate version of history that reflects our country’s painful reality, which should include African-American history, Native American history, and all of the history of our country. Our history has many ugly sides and we should teach it honestly.”

On the topic of book bannings, Pratt said echoed Welborn’s assertion that “there are books in some school libraries which cross a line in their depiction of explicit sexual acts.”

She called for parental consent for some books.

Additionally, Pratt said she supports reduction of standardized testing, a return to a 180-day school calendar and a focus on early reading intervention.

Like some other candidates, Pratt expressed dismay at the partisan nature of school board elections.

“I also do not believe that the school board should be partisan,” she said. “Board members should be working for the benefits of the students and staff, not a political party.”

Pratt’s full responses can be downloaded here.

DISTRICT 4

District 4 is the largest district in terms of geographic makeup, covering all of the eastern half of Guilford County.

Linda Welborn (R, i)

Longtime incumbent with conservative track record

Incumbent Linda Welborn has been on the school board since 2012. Welborn, who is also supported by Take Back Our Schools, has been one of the most critical board members when it comes to masking in schools and former Superintendent Sharon Contreras’ leadership.

In August 2021, Welborn told Dr. Iulia Vann, Guilford County’s public health director, that masks were associated with germs and questioned evidence showing that masks prevented the spread of COVID-19. In 2021 Welborn and her Republican colleagues repeatedly made claims that Contreras had overstepped her authority, causing Take Back Our Schools to make threats against the superintendent.

In 2019, Welborn voted against appeals for short-terms suspensions which disproportionately affect Black and Brown students. The measure ultimately passed with Welborn and her Republican colleagues voting against.

If elected to another term, Welborn said she would focus on teacher retention by hiring more teacher assistants, social workers and counselors to lighten the load of educators. She would also work to modify the calendar to get testing done before Christmas break and stop “continual changes in curriculum.”

When it comes to the issue of critical race theory, Welborn said that it is “demoralizing” to children because it “focuses on oppression identities.” While she didn’t explicitly argue whether or not CRT is taught in public schools, Welborn stated that “K-12 students do not have the skills to evaluate such a complex theory.”

Welborn said she agrees with that “factual history on African-American, Holocaust, Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, and other major events in history should be taught.”

On book bannings, Welborn said that parents should get to decide what is appropriate for their kids and argued that there is too much sexual content in schools these days.

“The level of sexual content has expanded to a level, I feel is inappropriate for children that believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Clause, etc. and do not understand sexuality,” she said. “Even in high school, I question the value of sexually explicit detail in a book which leaves nothing unsaid.”

While Welborn did not explicitly state what she was referring to, in May, a group of parents attempted to ban Salvage the Bones because of a sex scene in the book that they called “pornographic.”

“The school systems’ level of what is considered appropriate for school aged children is not in sync with a large number of parents, who have a right to raise their children and do not want their children exposed to X rated sexual content,” Welborn said.”

Welborns’ full responses can be downloaded here.

Deon Clark (D)

Pastor with experience volunteering in school system

Like Alan Sherouse, Democrat Deon Clark also comes from a faith background. He is currently pastor of Equation Church in Greensboro and has a history volunteering in the school system: He has served as president and vice president of local PTAs and most recently served on Guilford County’s reopening of schools task force.

In responses to TCB, Clark said that he’s running for District 2 to tackle learning loss, teacher and staff shortages, safety concerns and mental health challenges.

When it comes to differences between him and his opponent, Clark pointed to Welborn’s track record of not supporting school bonds and advocating for book-bannings as examples.

“Book-banning efforts are scare tactics that politicians and extremist groups are using to create division in our communities,” Clark said. “Our public schools should not be about politics but about our children and their future.”

Similarly, Clark stated that politicians are using critical race theory to sow division.

“We must continue our longstanding tradition of learning from our past (the good and the bad), so that future generations will be better versions of us,” he said. “Some politicians will use scare tactics to try and divide us along racial lines. Schools should be a place where we come together.”

His top priorities include continuing to support tutoring and summer enrichment programs and using the $1.7 billion school bond to improve facilities. He would also look into expanding the career and technical education programs in the county.

Like many of the other Democratic candidates, Clark is also endorsed by the Guilford County Association of Educators and states on his website that he would “plan to advocate along GCAE to support public education.”

Clark’s full responses can be downloaded here.

DISTRICT 6

District 6 covers the midwestern portion of Guilford County and includes Colfax Elementary, Southwest Elementary, Middle and High Schools and Western Middle and High School.

Khem Irby (D, i)

Incumbent focused on closing wealth, education gaps

Democrat Khem Irby has been on the school board since first being elected in 2018. During her tenure, she has pushed back against Take Back Our Schools and supported the short-term suspension appeals process.

Prior to joining the school board in 2018, Irby worked for four years as an After-School Care Enrichment Services teacher at Pearce Elementary as well as a substitute teacher.

If re-elected, Irby said she would support new Superintendent Whitney Oakley and collaborate with local and state government partners to address inequities in education. When asked about the controversies around critical race theory and book bannings of the last few years, Irby said she was perplexed.

“I have always been interested in why we would exert energy in these efforts,” she said. “[B]ook-banning shows a lack of tolerance for other thoughts that you may not agree with. As parents we must guide our children in partnership with educators. Lifelong learners, college and career ready students will not ban books.”

On critical race theory, she said she doesn’t engage with the controversy.

“I do not subscribe to the political rhetoric which has co-opted Culturally Responsive Teaching which teaches respect for all cultures which reaffirms students in who they are,” she said.

Irby responded clearly that support for the LGBTQ+ community exists and should continue to exist within the school system.

“The LGBTQ+ community cannot continue to be targeted by those who cannot expand their human understanding,” she said. “Students and families who identify must be protected and be able to be in their dignity.”

Additionally, Irby repeatedly stated the need to close the gaps within the community.

“We cannot ignore the enormous wealth opportunity gaps amongst us,” she said. “We must make a conscious decision to care enough and let’s vote for people who share this vision and not political rhetoric that will continue to leave many in poverty. The educational system is only one factor, so ending the pipeline must become a priority.”

Irby’s full responses can be downloaded here.

Tim Andrew (R)

Project manager focused on practical solutions

While Tim Andrew is not an educator by trade, he said that he believes in supporting education. For the past two decades, Andrew has worked in logistics and project management, skillsets he said would be useful on the school board.

“I am a project-management professional formally trained in seeing projects through to completion within budget, time and scope,” he said. “[G]uilford County Schools is one of the largest employers in Guilford County, and my business background will be useful in maximizing the taxpayer’s investment in public education.”

His priorities if elected include increasing test scores and the quality of education and addressing staffing shortages.

“During my reading I have learned that effective school boards stay focused on student achievement, govern together as a team with a common focus, govern in a transparent and open manner, maintain a high standard of integrity, and make high-quality decisions based on evidence and data,” he said.

As a Black, first-generation American, Andrew said that African-American history is American history and that “we need to teach history with a view that we all live in this country together.”

He said that critical race theory means different things to different people and said that if “critical race theory is simply teaching the uglier parts of American history, then [he] will agree with you that history should be taught.”

One of the other priorities for Andrew includes clarifying and enhancing the school board’s responsibilities versus the superintendent’s responsibilities.

“During the July 2018 board retreat it was recommended that the board should devote significant time at each of its public meetings monitoring student achievement progress,” he said. “I would push to spend more board time on student outcomes and tracking student progress.”

Andrew’s full responses can be downloaded here.

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