GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – With $2 billion in bonds to build and replace its facilities, pressure to regain lost learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new superintendent in place, the Guilford County School Board has significant issues to confront.

And in this election cycle, the board is going to gain at least two new members and perhaps as many as four.

The only position on this year’s ballot that won’t change is the board’s current chair, Deena A. Hayes, who is running unopposed in District 8 and will have another four years.

But two longtime board members, at-large member and vice chair Winston McGregor and Anita Sharpe in District 2, are not seeking re-election.

District 1 representative T. Dianne Bellamy Small (D-Greensboro), Pat Tillman (R-Greensboro) in District 3, Deborah Napper (U-Summerfield) in District 5 and Bettye T. Jenkins (D-Greensboro) in District 7 serve until 2024, although Tillman is running the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.

That leaves four races on the ballot this year:

  • At-large: Demetria Carter (R-Greensboro) and Alan Sherouse (D-Greensboro).
  • District 2: Amanda Cook (D-High Point) and Crissy Pratt (R-High Point).
  • District 4: Deon Clark (D-McLeansville) and incumbent Linda Welborn (R- Greensboro).
  • District 6: Tim Andrew (R-High Point) and incumbent Khem D. Irby (D-Greensboro).

Early in-person voting in North Carolina has been underway since Oct. 20 and continues through 3 p.m. Saturday at various locations, with the General Election on Tuesday.

Through Nov. 3, more than 1.7 million votes had been collected either by mail or in person, with nearly 87,000 of those in Guilford County.

Consortium of candidates

“Take Back Our Schools,” a nonprofit that is involved in educational issues in Guilford County, has endorsed four of the candidates – Carter, Pratt, Welborn and Andrew – helping to promote them through social media and advertising.

Take Back Our Schools says on its website that it is part of a “movement taking place” nationally and espouses 13 beliefs that are couched in vague language but appear to be consistent with values pursued by GCS.

On its Facebook page, however, this group shares and discusses controversial material similar to the kind that has turned school board meetings elsewhere into shouting matches and even sparked death threats.

In responding to questions submitted by WGHP, only Carter espoused views that might be aligned with some of the topics causing outrage, including “critical race theory,” a graduate-level college curriculum that is not taught in GCS, and “indoctrination.”

The candidates speak

WGHP asked each candidate the same three questions, but not all of them responded. Those words of those who did are presented here as submitted, lightly edited and formatted, with the candidates listed in alphabetical order. Incumbents are noted.

At-large

Why are you running for the board and what are your priorities for serving? 

Demetria Carter

Demetria Carter (R-Greensboro)

I am running because I am concerned about the quality of education that our students are being given. A significant number of Black and brown students are failing; that is, they are low performing and have been for years. Fifty percent of graded GCS schools are failing, up from 30% in 2019. The state of North Carolina has graded GCS a failing school district. In addition, I strongly believe the current school board has allowed critical race theory to be introduced and many of its tenets taught in GCS, such as a white oppressor class and a Black oppressed class, whereby neither group can ever change their status. I also believe this school board has allowed teachers to become gender identity activists, thereby allowing them to discuss a student’s sexuality, as well as allowing sexually explicit books and material to be shown to children. All of this is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue. The current school board seems incapable or unwilling to turn things around.

I am running on four pillars:

  • Ensure parents are involved in the education of their child. This means parents are allowed to see curricula, lesson plans, training materials and books that each teacher will use in classroom preparation and delivery. This means teachers, the school administration and the board will be transparent and open with parents at all times and seek their input on school policies and procedures. This means that there will be a parent/community advisory council within each school district, if possible, and at the school board level, for this specific purpose. This also could mean, with the right number of votes, moving school board meetings from its administrative offices in downtown Greensboro (with a 15-seat limitation) to a school or community center in each school district on a rotating basis.
  • Every child can learn. This means any and all programs that are not aimed at ensuring every child is learning and progressing through each grade level at a proficient level will be jettisoned and eliminated. This means ensuring there is academic rigor appropriate for the grade level and for the child. This may also mean taking a closer look at the structuring and content of pre-K programs to ensure every child “is truly ready” for the next level of their education.
  • Politics have no place within a school. This means schools are neutral territory when it comes to political discourse, except in civics classes. This means no teacher may disparage the politics of any political party. This means no flags within a classroom except for the American flag and that of the state of North Carolina. This also means that all “isms” are off-limit discussions by teachers except what may be appropriate within civics classes. Gender ideology and transgenderism are never appropriate discussion topics between a teacher and a student. It is appropriate only between a parent and his/her child.
  • Safety and security of everyone are very important. Girls are fighting girls. Boys are fighting boys. Teachers are afraid of their students. Teachers are afraid of their administrators. Violence is never an answer. Neither is bullying or harassing behavior appropriate. Yet, I believe discipline is rarely given in the appropriate measure, thereby leaving everyone frustrated and angry. We must identify those triggers that underly violent behavior, as well as identify strategies that get to the bottom of fights and put a stop to violence. Teachers as well as students must be protected. This may mean more school resource officers. It may mean other resources will need to be identified, such as inviting more male and female role models into our schools to mentor and buddy with at-risk GCS students.
Alan Sherouse

Alan Sherouse (D-Greensboro)

I am an invested community member, who loves Guilford County and the home it has been for my family for nearly 10 years. I am a faith leader and pastor who believes our deepest convictions should overflow into meaningful contributions to our community. I am a father of four students in Guilford County Schools (Grades 1,2, 5 and 7). I am the son of a public school teacher and indebted to my K-12 public education. In every intersecting identity of my life, I believe in public education as a community good and opportunity for broad collective impact. I am running because I want to work not only for what is right for my four children, but for what is just and fair for all 70,000 of our children. I am also running because I see the goodness and possibility of public education threatened by a regressive political movement that targets our schools. Some politicians and movements — such as “Take Back Our Schools” locally — seek to turn our district into a cultural battleground, which is bad for our community socially, culturally, economically and at every level. It erodes trust in our schools. It portrays relationships between parents and teachers as adversarial and uncooperative. It depicts efforts to ensure the basic rights of students as a nefarious agenda. It sees danger and deficiency at every turn in our schools. It minimizes the values of equity, diversity and inclusion that are core to our community. And it ultimately undermines the tremendous good we can accomplish through public education.

I want us to move forward, not back. I want us to focus on what we can accomplish together, so that Guilford County Schools can serve as a model district within our great state and its heritage of excellent education. My top priorities are:

  • To fulfill our promise to all of our students, working for equity and continuing to close the gap in student outcomes between white students and Black students and other students of color.
  • To effectively execute the first five years of the plan for facilities made possible by the SMART bond and our community’s belief in our schools, particularly with attention to maximum safety for our students and educators.
  • To trust, empower, and fairly compensate our teachers, educators and staff, improving quality of work, offering opportunity for advancement, and retaining the best and most needed talent in our district.
  • To advocate for full funding of our schools, reminding that public schools are not underperforming, but underfunded.

What are the biggest pros and cons about GCS? 

CARTER: First, I believe GCS parents want the best for their children and are willing to sacrifice to make this happen. They want to be involved in their children’s education, and they are willing to work for the betterment of GCS schools. Second, GCS has an operating budget of more than $1 billion a year. It, therefore, has the financial ability to eliminate failing programs and to add ones that would be more successful in educating students. GCS has the financial wherewithal to become the top school district within the state of North Carolina. Cons: First, GCS has a large number of administrative offices and staff dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. What this means is that lots of dollars are being used — not to educate our students — but to indoctrinate them with such divisive and harmful theories as “white privilege” rather than the privilege of being able to live and work in this uniquely formed country, “equality of outcome” rather than “equality of opportunity” and “this country has been and always will be a racist country.”  I can tell you, it is not a racist country! Second, as I have stated before, GCS is a failing or low-performance school district. Too many of its students are failing and the current school board does not have any answers as to why this is happening.

SHEROUSE: Our Guilford County Schools have numerous assets and strengths. Foremost in my mind is our educators, who work with skill, talent, and passion, and who are worthy of our best efforts to empower and support them. Additionally, our district is full of invested parents and trusted adults partnering with our schools to shape and support our students. Guilford County Schools knows the value of partnership with parents, caregivers and influential adults in the lives of our students. Third, our district has a generational opportunity in the passage of the SMART bond, reflecting our community’s belief and investment in our schools. Some politicians on the ballot worked against the bond, but our community supported it, reminded us of what we value, and have provided an opportunity to improve the environments where students learn and teachers work. Additionally, our district displays a stated commitment to equity and inclusion in its strategic direction, setting a course that we can continue to follow so that we fulfill our promise to all children. And finally, our county is full of strong leaders, including our new superintendent, as well as a Board of County Commissioners and a Board of Education that in recent years have displayed an ability to align and work together for the common good of our students. Our greatest challenge — and my greatest concern — relates to the persistent racial and socio-economic gaps in student outcomes. While this challenge is not unique to our district, I do think we are uniquely poised with our staff leadership, strategic direction, and community assets to see continued advances in student proficiency. Additionally, the opportunity of the new SMART bond also demonstrates the challenge of school facilities that are not currently the safe and effective learning environments we know our students and educators deserve.

What steps can the board take to improve public education? 

CARTER: I have listed several, but the most important is to develop curricula, lesson plans and training materials that instill academic rigor in every subject and that hold teachers and students accountable for their performances. Without academic rigor and accountability, there will be no progress.

SHEROUSE: First, continuing to hold equity as our primary objective and work towards it in all possible ways. Every child is owed opportunity, so we must ensure that all students have equal access not only to classrooms and teachers but also to social capital, supportive services, intervention programs and the support professionals critical to their health and thriving. We must also make structural decisions with the most vulnerable students in mind. And we must advocate for investment in high-quality schooling, including funding of the Leandro Plan and the access to “sound, basic” education that all children are promised under our state constitution. Second, we must work for safe and supportive learning environments. This includes maximizing the physical safety of our buildings. It also includes GCS’s commitment to provide increased mental health supports for students, helping to normalize and dignify the anxiety and mental health challenges that so often accompany adolescence. We must also work to ensure our most vulnerable students are supported through continued anti-bullying practices, and efforts to promote inclusion and affirmation of all of our students. Third, we can prioritize our educators, making sure they are treated with trust, support and fairness. We can offer meaningful opportunities for advancement, which are so much more valuable than any teacher appreciation. We can invite them to the tables where decisions are made. And we can both prioritize them in our own budgeting while advocating for the full funding that makes possible compensation befitting their excellence. Fourth, we can partner with parents and trusted adults in the lives of our students, modeling open communication and listening to both the concerns and affirmations of the adults that entrust their children to GCS. Finally, we can be a voice that instills confidence and pride in our schools. I like to quote my children, who, when driving around our community and passing by a current or former school, are fond of shouting from the back of the minivan, “That’s our school.” I love the pride they demonstrate, and I want all of us to have it. I want this, especially at a time when some politicians are attempting to undermine our schools and erode trust in our district. That’s not who we are in Guilford County. We need leaders who will work with our superintendent and leadership, not against them. We need people who will support our teachers, not create tension. We need board members who will work for communities of equity and inclusion, not reduce such community values to “agenda.” We need to move forward, not see our district become a front line for the culture wars prevailing in our country. “Those are our schools,” and we need to support them with the best of our energies and resources. That’s what I’m committed to do.

District 2

Why are you running for the board and what are your priorities for serving? 

Amanda Cook

Amanda Cook (D-High Point)

I am running for school board in order to bring a collaborative, teacher’s voice to our board. I have seen first-hand how the policies affect the daily lives of students and staff and would like to add that perspective to the conversations and votes. My priorities are to make sure that basic needs are met: food, water, rest and safety then to work toward better outcomes for our students. I would like to reduce (or eliminate) standardized testing until all students are equitably resourced.

Crissy Pratt

Crissy Pratt (R-High Point)

I am running for the board because I feel that my unique background of education and leadership would serve the students and staff of GCS well. I have been in the education world for the past 20+ years – as a classroom teacher, as a school leader, as a curriculum developer, and in director-level roles in curriculum and instructional design for online schools. I understand the challenges of the public school system and want to use my experience to provide the best possible education for all of our students. My priorities are to improve academics, increase transparency, make our schools safer, and to promote financial responsibility and transparency in spending.

What are the biggest pros and cons about GCS? 

COOK: The size and the size. The amount of resources, in people, power, and opportunities are more abundant with a large school district. However, the proximity to power seems to break up the resources unequally. Now that we have the bond money to address some of the inequality, I want to make sure that we are moving as quickly as possible while maintaining quality and a focus on the students and teachers who will use these new facilities.

 PRATT: Pros: The people. We have amazing staff and amazing students. Cons: The lack of transparency and the lack of focus on academics and on our amazing people. 

What steps can the board take to improve public education? 

COOK: Communication, community and courage. By stepping into the 21st century, we can begin to address the disparate connections to the school system. We can engage the private sector and the state government in advocacy projects and collaborations to address the needs of GCS. And by taking courageous stances against overtesting our students, feeding them poor-quality meals and creatively solving the transportation needs in our county, we will be seen as a national leader in education outcomes. We must utilize the creativity and talent working within our system to address these issues.

PRATT: We need transparency with the community – in how our tax dollars are being spent and on what is actually happening in our schools (both the good and the bad). We need to ensure that we are laser-focused on providing the best possible education for every single one of our students and all efforts of the board should keep this in mind at all times.

District 4

Why are you running for the board and what are your priorities for serving? 

Linda Welborn

Linda Welborn (R-Greensboro)

My reason for running for school board over nine years ago and now is I believe in public education and want all children to reach their highest academic potential. I have built relationships and trust with parents and educators. Over the years I have had parents, teachers and administrators from all over the county reach out to me. I treat everyone respectfully, sometimes they simply need someone to listen, and sometimes they need someone to assist them in getting to the right individuals that can help them. We are elected officials; we should be accessible and provide a voice to our constituents.

What are the biggest pros and cons about GCS? 

WELBORN: Guilford has strong career technical programs, and the Guilford Apprenticeship Partnership has been amazingly successful. College is not for every student, and the cost of college has reached an unaffordable level. Career technical offers an opportunity to learn high-demand trades that pay well and with no out-of-pocket cost or minimal cost. GCS needs to continue building business partnerships to enhance the learning process as well as build relationships and mentors for our students. I would like to see young students exposed to a multitude of careers and learn some level of depth about what people in different careers actually do and the level of education required for the different professions. Building interest in different careers and making the connection that strong reading and math skills are essential in every career reemphasizes the importance of education. GCS needs a strong collaborative transparent management team that listens to all stakeholders to develop real solutions to learning loss and improving behavior in our schools. Regarding the $2 billion bond, we need strong project management to assure taxpayers their hard earn dollars are being spent effectively and efficiently.

What steps can the board take to improve public education? 

WELBORN: Developing and retaining strong educators in our buildings is crucial. Over the years the education system has continued to place more responsibilities on our teachers with the expectation that teachers can deal with challenging behavior in the classroom and the social and mental needs of our students. The bureaucracy of the education system is overwhelming, especially with individual education plans. The number of students that have IEPs continues to grow. Adhering to administrative guidelines and working with students to meet their needs has become an ever-increasing challenge for teachers. Teachers need assistance with the ever-expanding demands placed on them. There is an ever-continual change in curriculum and teacher training to the point that our teachers barely get started with one program before another one is rolled out. Let’s figure out what works and stick with it. Over the last five years student instructional days have gone from 180 to 173, and GCS has increased testing hours/days while decreasing student instructional hours. GCS needs to go back to 180 days and reduce testing, so approximating 9 instructional days are taken up with testing. How do you address learning loss from COVID with fewer instructional hours? Our resources and full focus should be on addressing the learning loss. Behavior in our schools and safety are major concerns and need to be addressed. Teachers cannot teach with chaos in the classroom and students, teachers and staff need to feel safe.

District 6

Why are you running for the board and what are your priorities for serving? 

Tim Andrew

Tim Andrew (R-High Point)

I believe that my experience as a Marine Corps officer, formal project management training and logistics management bring a unique skill set to the board’s oversight responsibilities. I want to be on the board to do the work of providing all of our children with the high-quality education they deserve, while always being mindful of the equally important task of being a good steward of public finances. 

Khem D. Irby (D-Greensboro), incumbent

Khem Irby

I’m running for re-election to continue supporting our new superintendent [Whitney Oakley], see the breaking ground for the Katherine Johnson STEM K-8 in North High Point, continue advocating for full funding to address learning loss, keep staff and students safe and meet the goal of bringing teacher pay to the national average.

What are the biggest pros and cons about GCS?

ANDREW: PRO: Career technical education efforts tailored to today’s workforce are a great benefit to our students and our economy. Dedicated, hard-working teachers and staff. CON: Execution of ideas and plans need improvement. 

IRBY: GCS is a district with educational options such as magnet, 21st Century CTE pathways, IB, Montessori, Early College, apprenticeships and performing and visual arts opportunities. We have leadership advancement partnerships with local universities. Our schools are staffed with experienced educators, and at least 10 schools have 100% graduation. GCS has 25 years of clean financial audits, recently recognized for our best use of ESSER federal dollars, and all principal salaries are now on par with the national average. We now have a parallel CTE initiative that parents can take advantage of. We must recruit and retain highly trained teachers and staff, continue developing district mental health support for staff and students, communicate new initiatives better to parents and community, increase business/school partnerships that provide mentoring services and continue tackling transportation deficits.

What steps can the board take to improve public education?

ANDREW: Focus the board’s efforts on student outcomes and the fundamentals of education; look for efficiencies in the budget to allow for better teacher pay and retention; give more time to teachers for planning.

IRBY: The board has taken steps by working with the county commissioners to increase teacher supplements, tutoring and learning hubs are available to every student. We must continue supporting our superintendent and follow our strategic plan for literacy, math, career pathways, safety and remaining committed to the priorities of the capital projects of the two bond referendums. 

Who didn’t respond?

Although we sent our questions to all persons on the ballot and follow with a reminder, sometimes candidates don’t respond, not even to say they did not want to participate in answering questions that might inform the electorate. Deon Clark (D-McLeansville) in District 4 did not participate in this survey.