GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Guilford County Schools are all over the ballot for the Primary Election, with the two major school construction referenda and primary races for two seats on Board of Education.

The primaries would appear to be warm-ups for what could be a hotly contested contest shaping up November, in which five of the nine seats – four districts and the at-large seat – are open in the rotating election process.

On the primary ballot in District 2 are Republicans Crissy Pratt of High Point and Marc Ridgill of Liberty, with the winner set to face Democrat Amanda Cook. Incumbent Anita Sharp is not running.

In District 6 there is a duel between Republicans Tim Andrew of High Point and Matthew R. Kuennen of Jamestown, with the winner set to take on Democratic incumbent Khem Irby.

The other candidates who have filed and will appear in the General Election are:

  • At-large: Democrat Alan Sherouse and Republican Demetria Carter, both of Greensboro, will vie for the seat being vacated by board Vice-Chari Winston McGregor.
  • District 4: Democrat Deon Clark of McLeansville and incumbent Republican Linda Welborn of Greensboro.
  • District 8: Incumbent Democrat Deena Hayes-Greene, who serves as the board’s chair, is unopposed.

Four of those candidates are working together as a slate under the collective Take Back Our Schools, a nonprofit organization that is raising money for the group in an effort to support conservative views of education. The organization also opposes the school referendums, which would provide $2 billion to replace and repair crumbling school facilities.

Carter, Pratt, Welborn and Andrew are the candidates supported by Take Back Our Schools. A fifth, Robert Millican, was listed as a candidate for District 8, but he does not show up on lists from the North Carolina Board of Elections or Ballotpedia.

In-person early voting is underway and will conclude at 3 p.m. Saturday across North Carolina. The Primary Election will be May 17. There would be no need for a run-off in either of these primaries.

Based on the list for candidates on the NC BOE’S site, WGHP sent out a short questionnaire. All four in the primary responded, as did Hayes-Greene and Amanda Cook.

Their perspectives were developed from the backgrounds of veteran educators, concerned parents and a longtime school resource officer. Here are their responses, presented in alphabetical order, lightly edited:

DISTRICT 2

Why did you decide to enter this race?

AMANDA COOK:  I decided to run for because I have always felt that a teacher’s voice has been missing on the GCS school board. Teachers are the most knowledgeable and responsive to student needs, yet rarely have the opportunity to contribute when it comes to educational policy. This lack of recognition for the work teachers do is leading to more and more teachers leaving the profession. Couple that with less and less students choosing to become teachers, and we are building up to a crisis of epic proportions. Guilford County has some of the best teacher preparation programs in the nation. We should not be running good teachers away to neighboring counties or states. 

CHRISSY PRATT: I decided to enter this race because I was frustrated with the obvious politics on the current school board as well as the dismal academic performance of our students, both pre-COVID and post-COVID.

MARC RIDGILL: I have been an advocate for Guilford County students, teachers, parents and on-site staff for the past 16 years. These are the best assets that we have in our schools, and I want to grow these assets. I want to provide a voice that always considers what is best for them as a “first priority.”  I want to eliminate the appearance of any impropriety or malfeasance.

How has your personal experience/journey positioned you – uniquely or otherwise – to serve on the school board?

AMANDA COOK: I am the only District 2 candidate with over a decade of recent public school teaching experience. I truly believe in public education. Education is too important to waste everyone’s time on personal religious discussions or pleas to return our system to the 1950s. I have been trained in restorative practice, MTSS, communication, curriculum and instruction, and SIOP. There is plenty of current research to support bringing GCS into the lead when it comes to educating the whole child and I am ready to lead the way!

CHRISSY PRATT: I am an educator who has devoted my life to serving students in one way or another, both in the classroom and in content development. I also have significant management experience, including project planning, budgeting, and personnel issues. I have led the School Improvement Committee in schools that were failing to the point that they were about to be taken over by the state (Maryland). I am committed to listening to the needs of the staff and community and to bringing transparency to GCS.

MARC RIDGILL: I served with the Greensboro Police Department for 29 years, serving the last 8 as a school resource officer. I do not need anyone to tell me what is actually happening in our schools. During that time, I began to develop a network of sources that include teachers, parents, maintenance staff, on campus administrators and others that want significant improvement in everything from reading scores to safe campus environments. They want to be included in assessing policies and their effectiveness. They want to be included in creating solutions that will raise reading and math scores, improve educational efficiency and create safe learning and working environments. I am uniquely experienced to bring those voices to the forefront and am the only primary candidate running who has actually worked in a Guilford County School. Being a veteran, 37-year experienced investigator by trade, I do not have to simply take the word of downtown administrators. I am well versed in the law. I have a perspective based in the law that no other board member possesses.

What is your wish list for the school district?

AMANDA COOK: I wish teachers could attend professional development at the state and national level without paying hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket. I wish GCS was the district everyone looked to for preparing students for the future. I wish our teachers felt that they could speak up when they see concerning practices in their schools (and be supported rather than reported). I wish our students had healthy and delicious food provided every day. I wish teachers had more choice when it comes to curriculum instead of lockstep instruction.

CHRISSY PRATT: My top wish is for GCS to be graduating students who are well prepared to enter the workforce, serve their community or attend higher learning institutions. Additional wishes would include making our classrooms safe, inclusive environments; teaching the fundamentals as well as accurate history; providing options for high school students to explore a variety of career options, and repairing, renovating and rebuilding our schools.

MARC RIDGILL: My wish is that reading scores go up substantially and that violence is eliminated. We can no longer consider it acceptable to hand diplomas to 48% of our graduates that have not passed the 10th-grade reading tests. I am not interested in any achievement goals for students set below 100%. Setting achievement goal percentages are for adult resumes, not geared toward student success. Address early childhood learning deficits that contribute to these poor reading scores. Give our teachers what they need to teach and don’t assume you know without asking them – all of them. Create a structured, consistent environment that encourages student learning, promotes self-discipline and concentrates on preparing students for life as an adult. This is what primary and secondary education was originally designed to accomplish. Beyond education, I wish for fiscal responsibility and transparency. Stop the extravagant spending and wasteful, repetitive staff training that does nothing for our students. Design and maintain buildings that are practical and functional, not designed to improve an individual’s portfolio. And yes, I could go on. 

DISTRICT 6

Why did you decide to enter this race?

TIM ANDREW: I have been privileged to know many teachers over several years and heard of their concerns and challenges. I have always tried to support my son’s educators during his years as a GCS student. I was a registered GCS volunteer for many years. The pandemic and remote learning brought more items to light. At my house, my wife became her granddaughter’s teacher for the duration of the pandemic, and I watched while working from home. I began to realize school boards have great authority and responsibilities, and I believe that having people of varied backgrounds on the board leads to better decisions.

MATTHEW R. KUENNEN: I entered this race because I noted the current dysfunction in Guilford County Schools and felt that I could do better. This feeling was predicated on the fact that I have three children in GCS and 35 years of experience in education. Politics get in the way of quality education. Discipline problems get in the way of quality education. Administrative decisions that are not in the best interest of students, parents, and taxpayers get in the way of quality education. My plan for addressing these issues includes: (1) performing my duties in a non-partisan manner, (2) ensuring GCS administrators address teachers concerns about classroom management/safety, and (3) ensuring all monies expended by GCS are directly used to provide students the opportunity to receive a sound, basic education (as required by state charter).

How has your personal experience/journey positioned you – uniquely or otherwise – to serve on the school board?

TIM ANDREW: I am a GCS parent from first grade through high school graduation. I am a retired Marine Corps officer (26 years active duty) with a maintenance management background. I have an MBA and I am a certified Project Management Professional. I hold a Demonstrated Master Logistician designation from the International Society of Logistics. I am also a first-generation American whose family instilled in me the value of education. I attended one of the highest-ranking high schools in New York City, which provides an understanding of what is possible in public education. My background lends itself very well to the oversight responsibilities of the school board.

MATTHEW R. KUENNEN: I have three uncommon skills that make me uniquely qualified for this position:

  1. I have 12 years of direct classroom teaching experience and am currently an Associate Professor in the Congdon School of Health Sciences at High Point University.
  2. In my role at HPU I also help to coordinate the budgets for two different research programs.
  3. I’m a scientist; my research line requires me to examine large data sets for incongruities that are worthy of publication.

So, in addition to understanding teachers (it takes one to know one), my budget coordination and data analysis make me uniquely suited to address some of the ongoing budgetary concerns in Guilford County Schools. But don’t just take my word for it. Please go to my campaign Facebook page (Matthew R. Kuennen for Guilford County Board of Education, District 6) to see direct evidence of my teaching, budget management, and data analysis skills. Please also learn more about why I felt compelled to run for the Board of Education by visiting (ivoterguide.com).

What is your wish list for the school district?

TIM ANDREW: I would like to see more focus on student achievement. The greatest thing that we can provide our kids is the opportunity to have them discover and rise to their true potential. I want our focus to return to the fundamentals of educating our children, empowering parents, supporting teachers and staff, ensuring student success and security, and promoting financial accountability. In essence, provide a solid educational experience for students while supporting teachers in their chosen careers and involving parents in a financially sound and safe environment for all involved.

MATTHEW R. KUENNEN: Pragmatists don’t make wishes. They identify goals and utilize fact-based inquiry to achieve them. In my review of successful school districts in North Carolina, the two most common themes were: (1) mutual respect, and (2) effective communication. Those traits were shared across all primary stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, school administrators, school board, county commissioners, and taxpayers). Although oversimplified, the basic premise is that strong administrative support allows teachers to be more effective in the classroom. In turn, this leads to better student outcomes and greater parental involvement. That success motivates greater buy-in from the community (everyone wants to back a winner), making it easier for the school board to determine the most effective allocation of taxpayer resources (and county commissioners to approve that request). Taxpayers see the return on investment and are more inclined to support bonds (and other funding initiatives). While that dynamic is not currently present in Guilford County, it could be. If elected, I promise to ensure: (1) the needs of our children are met, (2) the concerns of our parents and teachers are heard, and (3) the monies used to fund this process are disseminated in an open, honest, and transparent manner.

DISTRICT 8

Guilford County Board of Education Chair Deena Hayes-Greene (GCS BOARD PHOTO)

Why did you decide to enter this race?

DEENA HAYES-GREENE: I, as an individual, did not decide to run. The decision to file was a collective one. It included, but was not limited to, my constituents, other community leaders, and supporters from across the district.

How has your personal experience/journey positioned you – uniquely or otherwise – to serve on the school board?

DEENA HAYES-GREENE: Over the years that I have been on the board, I have gained first-hand experience that educational success is a life-impacting opportunity. As a community organizer, I know that non-academic conditions are also life-impacting and must be addressed and understood in the broader context of our students and their families lived experiences and the implications of those conditions on our personnel and their work.

What is your wish list for the school district?

DEENA HAYES-GREENE: My wish for the school district is to receive a board and a superintendent committed to working together to provide the best educational opportunity possible. Guilford County Schools is a significant employer in this city/county. We play a critical role in this community. We make decisions that could positively or negatively affect other systems like social services, law enforcement, housing, health and healthcare, and business/economics. We need leadership at all levels to understand that cross-systems and cross-party collaborations are required to solve the complex problems we are facing today.