Redistricting opens competition for school board seat to two cities

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by Jordan Green

The Democratic primary for the newly drawn District 1 on Guilford County School Board pits Keith McCullough, a graduate of Andrews High School, against Dianne Bellamy-Small, a former member of Greensboro City Council.

High Point traditionally had two districts on the Guilford County School Board, but starting with this year’s election one of them will also include parts of Jamestown and Greensboro.

Dianne Bellamy-Small
Dianne Bellamy-Small

The reconfiguration resulted from legislation passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and filed by Sen. Trudy Wade in 2013 that reduces the number of seats on the school board from 11 to 9, eliminating one at-large seat and one district seat, and changing the election from nonpartisan to partisan. The new lines mirror a redistricting plan imposed on the county commission in 2011 that succeeded in its mission to give Republicans an electoral advantage.

The Democratic primary on March 15, which will determine the representation of District 1, pits incumbent Keith McCullough, a High Point resident, against Dianne Bellamy-Small, a former member of Greensboro City Council.

McCullough, a program specialist in the Office of Sponsored Programs at Winston-Salem State University, was appointed to the board six months ago at the culmination of a mishap-laden process involving the appointment of two candidates who turned out to live outside the district. The train of errors was set in motion by former member Carlvena Foster’s election to Guilford County Commission, creating a vacancy in District 1. Christopher Gillespie, the first appointee, resigned in March 2015 after learning that his home address was not in the boundaries of the district. He publicly apologized, saying that he assumed that because he lived in the Andrews High School attendance area, he also lived in District 1. The school board next appointed Edward Squires to fill the vacancy, but he withdrew his name from consideration after residency documents revealed that he also lived outside of the district.

District 1 includes Andrews High School and Penn-Griffin School for the Arts in High Point, and Ragsdale High School in Jamestown. The majority of the district’s elementary schools — Montlieu, Parkview, Fairview, Triangle Lake Montessori and Union Hill — are in High Point, while two — Frazier and Sedgefield — are in southwest Greensboro. The three middle schools in the district are spread across the three municipalities: Welborn in High Point, Allen in Greensboro and Jamestown Middle School.

“I want to continue to advocate for our youth and make sure there’s a voice in High Point that represents High Point,” McCullough said. “I’m a product of what at that time was High Point City Schools. I know there’s an opportunity for our schools to do well. I want to make sure those opportunities are presented in a fair and equitable way.”

McCullough emphasized the needs of Andrews High School, where he graduated, and Welborn Middle School during an interview.

“I want to lift up that under the School Choice plan, students of any background who would usually go to Andrews and Welborn are not able to go because those schools are tainted with the unfair reputation of not being good schools, and that’s not the case at all,” he said. “The student population is going to other schools. Historically, students in District 1 have gone to Andrews and Welborn. There’s also the issue of lack of resources that’s causing a big issue in terms of student retention and being able to offer students the support they need. We’re fighting a battle that’s difficult to win without proper resources.”

McCullough said he’s the best candidate because he knows the community in High Point, and people there know him, adding that he has volunteered extensively through professional networks and his church.

Bellamy-Small and McCullough agreed that it’s not ideal for the new district to straddle the two cities, but Bellamy-Small insisted that if elected she would capably represent all the children in the district.

“I spent seven years working in the old High Point school system,” she said. “I was a home-school coordinator. For 30 years I have maintained good relationships with people in High Point. Good representation is good representation. I can provide that for High Point, Greensboro and Guilford County. I want people in High Point to understand that I’ve been in most of their schools. I’ve subbed in their schools. I’m going to bring that to the table. I think I can bring High Point certainly a voice. Wherever I am, I’m going to try to bring information, empowerment and engagement.”

Bellamy-Small served on Greensboro City Council from 2003 to 2013, but lost in an upset to Sharon Hightower. She ran unsuccessfully against Foster in the Democratic primary for the District 1 seat on the county commission in 2014, and then went down in defeat in a rematch with Hightower for the District 1 seat on Greensboro City Council just two months ago.

Bellamy-Small notes in her campaign literature that she opposed a downtown teen curfew passed by Greensboro City Council in 2013, arguing that it was unfair to punish all teenagers for the actions of some.

“It was significant that you were going to ban all kids between 12 and 17 for one incident,” Bellamy-Small said. “I had to insist on community meetings to figure out what do the kids want. I’m really pleased with the Saturday Night Lights program that came out of my advocacy.”

In addition to going to bat for young people as a member of city council, Bellamy-Small said she has a wide range of experience in the educational arena, from parenting a child in the school system to training teachers, teaching GED classes and working for an agency that promoted parent advocacy.

“Do we question when someone has been a classroom teacher and they go back to school to be a principal?” Bellamy-Small asked. “Do we say that person should stick to being a teacher? Maybe that person has decided that ‘now that I know how to be a classroom teacher, maybe I can move to another level.’ I want to be of service, and to me that’s not about going to chicken dinners. Why can’t people just trust that that’s my motivation?’”

Keith McCullough
Keith McCullough

Both McCullough and Bellamy-Small emphasized closing the achievement gap as a priority.

“It’s important that we keep an eye on the disparity that we have,” McCullough said. “There are numerous reports that show that our black kids are being left behind simply because of the way things are being presented currently. The way things are being done, black kids are missing the mark. Making sure all students excel is the ultimate goal.”

Bellamy-Small sounded a similar theme.

“Even though Guilford County Schools has improved their overall graduation rate, as they say, the devil’s in the details. A lot of those students are graduating with a 2.0, but a lot of colleges won’t even look at you unless you have a 2.5,” Bellamy-Small said. “But you’re allowed to play athletics with a 2.0. You’ve got an African-American male whooping it up on the basketball court, but they’re not prepared for college. That’s not fair to that kid.”

Bellamy-Small said a recent study showed that predominantly white schools in the district offer three times as many advanced-placement courses on average as their predominantly non-white counterparts.

“My feeling is that system-wide that all high schools should be offering the same courses and then when you say that Dudley [High School]’s students aren’t ready to take the courses, let’s address that. The statistic that I heard that was the most disturbing is that minority kids graduate four grades behind white kids. If you say those kids aren’t as intelligent, then why are you letting them graduate with an eight grade level of education and they can’t get into college?”