IN PRINT — News: New faces but same philosophy in suburban school board race

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by Jordan Green

Five Republican candidates, four seats in suburban District 2 on Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board.

The Republican primary for the four District 2 seats on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board essentially looks like a game of musical chairs, with voters pulling the seat from under the least popular candidate come the primary election on May 6.

Jeannie MetcalfDistrict 2 leans Republican and has consistently elected GOP candidates since at least 1998. In addition to Kernersville, Lewisville, Clemmons, Tobaccoville and rural parts of the county, the district carves out parts of Winston-Salem roughly west of Reynolda Road and Hawthorne Road. With four out of nine seats on the board, the district effectively holds the balance of power on the politically conservative board.

Republicans Jeannie Metcalf and Irene May currently serve at large on the school board, Lori Goins Clark, Dana Jones and David Singletary, the three other Republican candidates in District 2, are all mostly familiar names in Republican circles, having either served in elective office or run for office in the past. Democrats Laura Elliott, who ran unsuccessfully for Winston-Salem City Council last year, and Deanna Kaplan will contend on the general election ballot in November, but face an uphill battle to claim any of the four seats.

A stalwart conservative from Winston-Salem, Metcalf goes into the election as the candidate with the longest record of service, having first been elected in 1994.

“I still feel like there’s unfinished business,” Metcalf said. “I have a grandchild starting school next year, and so it’s as though I’ve come full circle.”

Lori Goins ClarkClark, a Lewisville resident with a 10-year-old son in the school system and experience as a substitute teacher, is making her second attempt for school board. Running at large in 2010, Clark fell short by 293 votes. In late 2012, she sought appointment to fill the vacancy left when board member Donny Lambeth won election to the state House, but the Republican-controlled Forsyth County Commission passed her over in favor of Irene May. Clark’s mother, Chair Jane Goins, is part of the cohort of four Republicans that is retiring.

May, who occupies the conservative end of the Republican spectrum with Metcalf, won her party’s support to fill Lambeth’s vacancy on the school board largely based on her opposition to systems thinking, a major preoccupation of party activists in late 2012. Since May joined the board, the district has discontinued the curriculum. May would be the first to say that there’s a learning curve for someone coming on.

“The biggest thing I learned is just how immense the job of serving these kids — 54,000 kids — all the parents and teachers, and making it work as well as it does. It’s not just teaching kids. It’s buildings and grounds, feeding children, federal and state grants. It’s a big school system, and it’s amazing we pull it off every day pretty well.”

Dana JonesJones served on the Kernersville Board of Aldermen for 10 years. She said she decided not to run for reelection because she believes in term limits.

“The reason I’m running [for school board] is I believe education should be of top concern to all of the citizens, whether you have a child in the system, as I do, or you’re a business owner, which I also am,” she said.

Singletary, like Clark, was passed over for appointment in late 2012 and early 2013. He counts himself as the underdog in this race. Singletary, who has no children of his own, said his initial interest in school governance came about because of a concern about public safety.

“One of my nephews was physically assaulted,” Singletary said. “He was in first grade. It wasn’t handled well. He was taken out and home-schooled.

David Singletary“We need to create a new environment where parents are not pitted against each other,” he added.

All five Republican candidates support the district’s School Choice student-assignment plan, which was implemented in the 1990s. Republicans and Democrats on the board have praised the plan as creating ample choice so parents feel that their children’s educational needs can be met without transferring them into private schools. But some critics, mostly Democrats, have argued that the arrangement results in students fleeing high-poverty, low-performing schools in the inner city and has effectively resegregated the system.

The Republican candidates in District 2 expressed sensitivity to the plight of low-performing schools in urban District 1, offering a variety of solutions.

“There have to be adequate resources for the poor schools,” Singletary said. “Principals work for the school system and they get paid handsomely for what they do. If you have a principal doing a good job at Reynolds High School, we might need that principal at Carver High School.”

Metcalf said she is interested in developing a program to help kindergarten students who are struggling with reading, and suggested piloting it in some of the struggling inner-city schools where parents often work two jobs and lack time to read to their children.

Irene MayMay, Clark and Jones have all suggested approaching the challenge by encouraging parental involvement — an idea that also resonates with some Democratic candidates in District 1.

“We have a huge amount of resources in our community,” Jones said. “It may be in our churches and civic clubs. It may be our seniors. It might not be a study buddy; it could be a mentor or someone who plants a garden with [a student].”

Goins highlighted an effort to engage Latino parents by providing an interpreter for an evening outreach event that she said met with success. She also said the district should consider forming non-traditional parent-teacher associations for struggling schools.

“How can we form a PTA, not that you’re necessarily going to get it with mom and dad, but whether it’s a church or a business in the area or grandparents? That has to be part of the discussion.”