Insider and outsider compete for school board seat

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No matter who wins the District 3 race for Guilford County School Board, a fresh face will be representing the area that reaches diagonally from the county’s northwest corner nearly into the center of Greensboro.

Angelo Kidd’s greatest selling point may be his extensive experience working in Guilford County Schools as a teacher, principal and regional superintendent, but his opponent Pat Tillman suggests part of Kidd’s resume could be a liability.

Kidd points out that it’s possible that if he wins this race for Guilford County School Board, he could become the only person on the body who’s actually worked in the school system. But Tillman said voters need to ask themselves whether they want someone representing them who came so directly out of central office, someone who might need to make tough decisions about people he had worked with and potentially considers friends.

Kidd retired as the western region superintendent last year, after 46 years of working in schools, more than half of them in this county. Kidd spent more than a dozen years as a high school principal at three schools including Northwest Guilford and 21 years before that teaching English and coaching sports, as well as several years as an assistant principal at Southeast Guilford High and a brief stint as an elementary school principal. While applauding anyone who goes into teaching or working in education and calling Kidd’s experience “admirable,” Tillman said he thinks a fresh start from someone with leadership experience and who is independent of the school system’s central office would be preferable.

Either Kidd or Tillman, who face each other in the November general election to represent Guilford County School Board’s District 3, would be a newcomer to elected office, though Tillman ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat on the board in the preceding election and has served as chair of the Guilford County GOP. It’s a partisan race this time around, with redrawn districts and only nine seats going forward instead of the current 11. Tillman, the Republican, won the party primary against Brian Pearce in March while Kidd is the lone Democrat who filed for the seat. But Kidd said he hopes people don’t vote for him based on party affiliation, instead supporting his experience and positions.

“I hate that we have to politicize education,” Kidd said in a recent interview, sitting in Caribou Coffee not far from his home. But he emphasized that he wouldn’t be using the position as a stepping stone to higher office, and he hasn’t been involved in party politics either, he said.

Some of Kidd and Tillman’s positions line up predictably by party, like when it comes to charter schools, though it would be misleading to say that either tows a party line. There’s less space between them when it comes to talking about preparing students with real-world skills and not assuming every student belongs at a four-year college. And Tillman’s thoughtful and impassioned arguments that the school system needs to focus its attention on early literacy, pointing out that it’s a social justice issue, doesn’t sound like what some would expect from a former county Republican party chair.

“When these kids can’t read, they’re on a pathway to the criminal-justice system,” Tillman said in an interview on Monday. “We’ve got to intercede in that cycle, for sure, because that’s the only way we’re going to give our kids the life skills they need.”

Literacy is Tillman’s top issue, and not just because he’s running against a Democrat now; it’s the first thing he raised during an interview with Triad City Beat before his Republican primary earlier this year. It stems in part from the fact that both his parents were educators, and that he has three kids in the school system.

Tillman also said during the primary that he was concerned that money is being wasted on regional superintendents, so it isn’t surprising to hear his misgivings about someone who served in the role for more than five years ending in 2015.

But most of Kidd’s time was in the classroom, teaching English at various levels, followed by nearly 20 years as a principal or assistant principal locally. That boots-on-the-ground knowledge is indispensible, Kidd said, and could help the board better understand the needs of its students and how to make a difference. Plus, Kidd said, the school system’s administration is actually pretty lean, but if there are areas the board can identify to save or better spend money, Kidd said he’s all for it.

Kidd’s top priority if elected would be addressing mental health, starting early with elementary schoolers. He’s hopeful that wrap-around services planned by Say Yes Guilford will make a difference on that front, but said he needs to do more research on the organization’s track record and added that more needs to be done to address students’ mental health early on.

Kidd and Tillman differ when it comes to addressing racism or implicit bias, with Kidd saying that addressing teachers’ low expectations can be part of a daily effort to turn around implicit biases. Tillman said that focusing on literacy would alleviate some elements of the achievement gap, adding that diversity and implicit bias are “valuable and important subjects, but they’re down the list as far as I’m concerned” because literacy comes first, and arguing that the school board lurches around to different issues without focus or accomplishing much.

In the primary, Tillman called the current left-leaning school board “stagnant,” adding that members spend too much time blaming Raleigh instead of being proactive. Kidd said that for the most part the current board is trying its hardest, though he wishes that some members didn’t bash teachers or staff without offering a solid plan, and suggested all board members should possibly be required to spend a week substitute teaching to better understand students’ needs.

While Tillman hasn’t worked in the schools, he emphasized his leadership in the Marines and as a school volunteer, adding that his wife is an active volunteer in the school system, too. Kidd’s wife, Linda Kidd, is the principal at the Early College at Guilford, and while his children are older, Kidd said experience as a parent or volunteer in the school system can’t rival experience in the classroom.

The winner of the District 3 race will be one of at least four newcomers joining the board of nine. Only two incumbents are running unopposed, meaning at most Tillman or Kidd could be one of seven new board members. It is unclear how the newly-partisan nature of the race, during a presidential election no less, will affect the outcome of the District 3 contest, but in this race it would be a mistake for voters from either party to assume that the candidate’s affiliation told the whole story.

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