by Eric Ginsburg
Republicans Brian Pearce and Pat Tillman both hope to represent Guilford County School Board District 3, but only one of them will make it beyond the March 15 primary and face Democrat Angelo Kidd in the general election.
Luckily for voters, the two Republicans facing each other in the primary for Guilford County School Board’s District 3 present clearly distinguishable priorities and perspectives.
Residents who live in northwest Guilford County — picture a pie wedge starting in west-central Greensboro and radiating towards the county’s northwest corner — who select a Republican ballot in this month’s primary contest will have the chance to choose between two men with kids at the same school with varying experience and positions. The winner will move on to the general election this fall.
Here are the two candidates, in alphabetical order.
With a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, Brian Pearce will have kids in the Guilford County Schools system for the foreseeable future. So when he felt like school administrators weren’t willing to listen to his concerns as a parent, Pearce said it motivated him to be the change he wanted to see.
Pearce, a product of public schools in three states including this one, moved to Greensboro after graduating from law school at Wake Forest University in 2003. He now works as a real estate litigator and commercial real estate transactions lawyer at Nexsen Pruet.
Pearce said his professional experience would benefit the school board on various issues including school construction, and area he said the board has struggled. The school board should consider leasing schools and including a maintenance provision rather than building structures, which regularly leads to cost overruns, Pearce said. While he would be conflicted out, he added that he knows several developers who would be interested in the proposition, and claimed it could save money for Guilford County Schools.
Pearce cited other experience as relevant too, including his past service as chair of the Greensboro Board of Adjustment, on the steering committee for the Greensboro Future Fund and the board of the Greensboro Jaycees. But before any of that, in person and on his website Pearce raises his experience as a father of a child on the autism spectrum as well as a typically developing kid.
His 5-year-old at Sternberger Elementary — where Tillman is also a parent — is on the autism spectrum, and the experience defines his understanding of the school system in a few ways. School administrators sometimes “put up a brick wall” to parents who are trying to be engaged, he said, when the school system should be doing everything it can to encourage more parental involvement.
“Let’s encourage a teamwork mentality,” Pearce said.
Pearce, like his opponent and Republicans running in other district races, is concerned about administrative bloat, pointing to the salaries of regional superintendents as an area that may be ripe for cuts. That money could be redirected to teachers, possibly paying them to spend more time after school meeting with parents, he said.
Though his kid is high functioning, it’s still been a struggle and has given him “a whole new level of empathy” for other parents, Pearce said. He rejects the notion that poor or overworked parents care less about their kids, and he’s seen the stereotype disproved.
“All parents care,” he said. It’s up to the school board to find better ways to engage more parents.
He’s lobbied at the state General Assembly for insurance reforms to cover advanced behavioral analysis for kids who might be on the spectrum, earning him Autism Speaks’ National Parent Advocate of the Year award, Pearce said.
Given the success of Say Yes to Education, he wonders if there are more opportunities to raise money from or partner with private entities. He suggests building on existing programs to address the high child hunger rate in the county.
On school resource officers and charter schools, Pearce counseled pragmatism, saying both are here to stay and that the school board should focus on improving training for officers or finding ways to avoid introducing students to the legal system when possible and look for ways for charters and typical schools to learn from each other respectively.
Growing up with parents who are both educators will do something to your understanding of school systems, just like being a parent to three kids in public schools will add to your knowledge. And if one of those kids used to struggle with behavioral issues, it only deepens your perception.
That’s how Pat Tillman begins his introduction of who he is and why he is running for Guilford County School Board. Tillman, the former chair of the Guilford County GOP and a Marine, ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat on the board last time around. The principles behind his run are the same, and similar issues persist, but now he said it’s easier to run a grassroots, door-to-door sort of campaign.
Tillman’s top priority is literacy, and he argues that while district officials tout a rising graduation rate, there is a disconnect because far fewer students are reading at grade level.
“We’re losing a lot of kids, and that’s frustrating,” he said, adding that the school system leaves students behind, even if those student are being promoted in grade level, Tillman said. And all too often, students wind up in remedial college classes, wasting time, money and possibly burning out on things that should’ve been tackled sooner, he said.
Like his primary opponent, Tillman said he is concerned that there’s money being wasted on regional superintendents and that officials are not doing enough to champion parents’ concerns. Both said that the focus has shifted from the classroom and that the school board and administrators need to be better at listening to teachers and equipping them. Both candidates also criticized the current board for laying too much blame in Raleigh and not being proactive and realistic.
“I think the board’s become stagnant,” Tillman said.
The school board could do more to encourage parent involvement, he said, including nurturing initiatives like a dads’ group at Lindley Elementary that’s forming. Over the weekend, he went with a group of volunteers to prep bathrooms at Kaiser Middle to be painted, and the board could draw in more community support for such efforts, Tillman said.
Like his opponent, Tillman supports more public-private partnerships, suggesting opportunities for programs such as reading boot camps to improve literacy rates.
Increasing literacy rates could involve hiring more staff, specifically specialists, and teachers assistants are also a significant need, he said. Say Yes to Education found millions in school funds that could be better spent, he said, though organization spokesperson Donnie Turlington could not confirm an exact figure before press time as he is out of town.
Tillman is also concerned about the maintenance of schools, particularly the older ones, saying that a safe, functional environment is crucial to learning. He’d like to elevate the importance of vocational training and said the school system can do more to train school resource officers and build connections between the officers and parents, adding that the officers are “an asset” to the county school system.
Two years ago, Tillman said, he was charged with driving under the influence, an incident that he deeply regrets and said does not define him. He said that just like “one act of kindness does not make you a saint,” this mistake that he isn’t proud of doesn’t overshadow “a lifetime of service.”
There is plenty of service on his record to point to, most notably his time in the Marine Corps. He is on the board at the Servant Center, following his passion to help disabled veterans, as well as the board of Friends Homes where he said he derives pleasure from being a good steward.
“We should be giving back all the time to the extent that we can,” he said, adding that he will take the same passion he’s had throughout his life to “help the weakest among us” to the board if elected.