Suburban Forsyth school district sees generational succession

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by Jordan Green

GOP control of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board makes a generational shift, with the daughter of the current chair part of a slate of four Republican candidates running in suburban District 2.

Lori Goins Clark traces her political involvement back to speaking before the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board as an eighth grader in 1983.

“My parents did not want me to be bused across town to a different school,” Clark recalled during a speech to a conservative luncheon at the Golden Corral at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. “They were debating whether or not whether they would make West Forsyth a four-year high school. And so I appealed that night to the school board as an eighth grader, soon to be ninth grader: ‘Please don’t bus me. Make West a four-year high school so that I can stay in my neighborhood and go to a neighborhood school — so that I can have a choice.’

“That piggybacks right on to one of the main issues that I hope to champion and that I hope to keep the same, and that is the choice-assignment plan that we have here,” added Clark, who is running for one of the four school board seats in Forsyth County’s suburban District 2.

Clark’s mother, Jane Goins, was instrumental in dismantling public-school integration, or forced busing, and replacing it with the school-choice assignment plan in the 1990s as a member of the school board. Goins currently chairs the school board, but is retiring at the end of her current term.

Clark narrowly lost a bid for one of the District 2 seats in the 2010 primary, but secured one of the four slots for the Republican nomination in this year’s primary, which saw the defeat of incumbent Irene May. If history is any indication, Clark and the other three Republicans are virtually assured victories in the November general election because no Democrat has ever won election to the district since it was created in 1992.

Although Democrats hold a 12-point advantage in voter registration in Forsyth County, they have encountered difficulty contending even for the three at-large seats on the board. Goins noted with satisfaction that the districting plan was imposed by a Democrat-controlled General Assembly in hopes that they could engineer a Democratic majority on the school board, but the Republican wave election in 1994 upended that plan.

With four school board members retiring, including her mother, Clark said she views this election as a “great opportunity for new blood.” But she complimented the current board, suggesting that the district will see a smooth transition to a new generation of GOP leadership.

On a host of issues, Goins articulated conservative positions. She said she favors charter schools as a matter of choice. She opposes the Common Core State Standards for several reasons, and favors merit pay for teachers.

The Republican slate also includes veteran school board member Jeannie Metcalf, who was elected in 1994 and has earned a reputation as one of the governing body’s most conservative voices. She’s a vocal opponent of Common Core, and led the successful effort to sever a relationship between the district and an organization that promotes so-called “systems thinking” as an instructional approach. The other two Republican candidates are Dana Jones, a former alderman on the Kernersville Town Council, and David Singletary.

The four Republican candidates share a conservative viewpoint, while advocating for increased parental and community involvement to offset the structural disparities faced by inner-city neighborhoods with a high concentration of poor students and low academic performance. They differ only in emphasis, with Metcalf interested in improving reading programs for kindergarten students and Singletary voicing concern about school safety.

Two Democrats are vying for a shot in District 2, including Deanna Kaplan, whose husband, Ted, served in the state Senate as part of the Democratic majority in Raleigh in the early 1990s.

Deanna Kaplan, a former PTA president with two children at Reynolds High School and three who have graduated from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said she wants to serve on the school board so she can help the district implement technology, address bullying and improve reading.

While Republican candidates tend to emphasize their conservative credentials, Kaplan and fellow Democratic candidate Laura Elliott are deemphasizing party affiliation.

“I think running for school board should be a nonpartisan position,” Kaplan said. “I have so many friends who are Republican who are excited about my run.”

She noted that Jill Tackabery, one of the Republicans retiring from the board, has endorsed her candidacy.

Elliott, a pastor and former nonprofit executive, downplayed party affiliation during an interview, while asserting that “the Democratic Party has traditionally been the party of public education.” Her position on vouchers aligns with her party, and she applauded a recent court decision overturning Republican legislation to provide vouchers so that low-income parents can send their children to private school.

Even if Democrats pick up one or two seats on the board, the school choice assignment plan — a signature accomplishment of the Republican majority in the past decade — is likely to remain unchallenged.

“I am not a proponent of forced busing in any way, shape or form,” Elliott said. “There are other ways to achieve diversity in schools such as magnet programs.”

Kaplan shares that view.

“I think school choice is here to stay,” she said. “Parents like school choice. I think parents should have a say in where they send their kids to school. I realize there is a huge gap in our community, and we need to bridge that gap.”

Both Democratic candidates are promoting magnet schools as a way to attack concentrations of poverty and low academic performance in the school system.

And both Democratic candidates said they feel like they have an opening with the retirement of veteran members of the board.

“I feel like this is a positive potential year for people who are moderates in both parties who are willing to look at the candidates of both parties,” Elliott said. “There are changeovers occurring regardless because incumbents aren’t running. People will be looking to see who the contenders are, so there’s greater opportunity.”