WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) – Two weeks ago, Susan Miller was not on the ballot for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education. As of Tuesday, she has a seat at the table.
Miller, the Republican Party’s ballot replacement for the late Stan Elrod, earned 20.3% of the vote and one of four seats serving District 2 on the board. She trailed only incumbent Republican Leah H. Crowley, who got 21.9% – or about 4,513 more votes than Miller.
Two more Republicans, Robert Barr (20.2%) and Steve Wood (19.6%), also will represent the district, beating out Jennifer Castillo (18%) by about 4,531 votes. Results were for all precincts reporting, but they are neither official nor final.
Elrod, who died unexpectedly on Oct. 25, just four days after early in-person voting had begun across North Carolina, was replaced by Miller, a former educator who had lost in the primary in May, in a vote by the county Republican party. Miller, 68, served as a teacher and in other roles with the school district. In the primary election on May 17, Miller had finished in sixth place.
“Being very passionate about our students, parents, educators, and community at large, I want to focus on increasing our reading scores, and that will be my highest priority,” Miller said last week. “My experience and expertise with the WS/FCS … is in literacy, and I know firsthand how it improves the quality of life for our students and their futures.”
All nine spots on the board were chosen Tuesday to help her with those efforts. And six of those elected are new.
Incumbent Alex B. Bohannon (D-Winston-Salem) and Trevonia “BG” Brown-Gaither (D-Winston-Salem) took the two seats in District 1 without opposition.
And in the race for three at-large seats, incumbent Deanna Kaplan (D-Winston-Salem) led the way, with 18% of the roughly 133,270 votes cast countywide. She was followed by Sabrina Coone-Godfrey (D-Winston-Salem), with 17.6%, and Richard Watts (D-Winston-Salem), with 17.58% – or about 65 fewer votes – in the 7-person field.
Sarah Absher (R-Winston-Salem) was fourth, but with 15.2% she trailed watts by about 8,886 votes.
The cause of Elrod’s passing is unclear. He was a longtime principal and athletics director in the county.
“We are very, very saddened by this,” Ken Raymond, the chair of the Forsyth County Republican Party, told the Winston-Salem Journal. “We feel sorry for his family (members) for their loss.”
Like most school districts in the country, this school board is dealing with the learning loss after the coronavirus pandemic and trying to spend its money wisely. Some 28 people had filed to run for the 9-person board.
“The post-pandemic fallout is significant,” Wood said before the election. “We must have all hands on deck to recover from the fallout, recapture the love for learning and facilitate a future educational journey for our students that will prepare them for the future in academic pursuits or vocational training.”
Watts said the community “supports public education with funding, non-profit initiatives, volunteers and resources. There are committed school staff who go extra the mile to support students and parents. Despite the negativity and the current climate around public schools, WSFC schools provide opportunities for ALL students to reach their fullest potential.”
One of those who worked to help the schools is Coone-Godfrey.
“I have been an active volunteer in the district for a decade,” she said. “My service, advocacy and support of students, educators and staff is what led me to run for the school board.
“Our district has had an achievement gap that pre-dates the pandemic. Closing or eliminating this achievement gap must continue to be a priority.”
Wood said that “liberty’s only sure defense is an educated citizenry. I believe our schools should nurture and nourish an informed patriotism among our young. I want to learn to love freedom and this great country we call America.”
Said Coone-Godfrey: WS/FCS offers all children an opportunity to attend school and not just receive an excellent education but to find their strengths and passions. … We have made great strides within the district but there is still much work to be done.”