Pineville resident the Rev. Amelia Stinson-Wesley stepped onto the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education scene amid high tension and with a critical task: help choose the district's new superintendent.
In early January, Stinson-Wesley, a Democrat, was selected by the majority-Democrat board to replace Republican Tim Morgan, who vacated his District 6 seat when he was elected to an at-large seat last November.
Many south Charlotteans and the board's two Republicans cried foul, saying Stinson-Wesley's politics don't match those of the largely conservative region.
But Stinson-Wesley would like people to know there's more to her than politics.
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A native of High Point, Stinson-Wesley graduated from Meredith College in Raleigh and earned a Masters of Divinity from Duke University.
She, her husband and two children - both Pineville Elementary students - have lived in Mecklenburg County since 2006.
In 1998, she founded the nonprofit World Connections for Women, which offers consulting to national and overseas nonprofits, educates about violence against women and children and provides micro-finance loans to women.
South Charlotte News talked with Stinson-Wesley to discuss her work experience, her response to critics and her plans as she serves the remaining two years of Morgan's term.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Talk about your top priorities for your new position:
Stinson-Wesley : My priority right now is to listen. I'll be listening to schools, municipalities, civic groups, church groups, people in District 6. I don't want to step forth a huge agenda until I have listened more. I have concerns myself, but anything that I do from here on out, I want to be what I hear from parents in my district. It's important for me to listen to them.
Q. What have you been hearing from parents?
Stinson-Wesley: I hear grave concern about the bell schedule. I hear concerns about teacher morale. I hear concerns, in some communities, about needing a new school building - Bain Elementary, for example. (Their problems) are beyond what anybody should have to deal with, and yet those are some of our highest-performing students. We have so much to be proud of in District 6. I really do want to keep listening to people. I have meetings scheduled with all kinds of folks for the next few weeks.
Q. Talk about yourself and your background:
Stinson-Wesley: I have two children in elementary school. I'm a United Methodist minister. I have lived and worked in several other countries, Cambodia for a few months, and also Australia. I really appreciate other cultures and living in other countries has taught me to appreciate the privileges we have here in the United States. I'm proud to be an American, and I am grateful for what I've been afforded here in this country.
Q. What did you do in Cambodia?
Stinson-Wesley: The first time we (she and her husband) were there, we worked with democracy education, teaching people how to vote in a democracy in a country that hadn't had but one set of free and fair elections. They were writing their constitution while we were there. It was a very exciting time to be in the country. I worked with women, in particular, (teaching them) how to run a campaign through sessions in the provinces. I felt very pleased with the way those elections went. I was really happy to have been a part of that.
Q. And what did you do in Australia?
Stinson-Wesley: I was with the United Church in Australia. I was doing consulting work for the church about violence against women and inclusion for women in worship participation. We had several parishes that we pastored within that system.
Q. What does your husband do?
Stinson-Wesley: He's also a United Methodist minister. They call us a clergy couple. He pastors a church in Pineville, Pineville United Methodist Church, and I attend that one frequently. I'm just absolutely in love with Pineville. We (Pineville residents) think of ourselves as one of the hidden jewels in CMS. It has that small-town atmosphere. Everybody knows everybody.
Q. When did you decide to apply for the open school board seat?
Stinson-Wesley: In December I took a workshop, Women on Board, with the North Carolina Center for Women in Public Service. That's when it first began to cross my mind that it would be a really exciting opportunity to be on a board in the county, and I knew that the school board had an open position.
Q. What qualities are you looking for in the next superintendent?
Stinson-Wesley: I have been poring over the data and the information. I want to see someone with deep background in education. I want to see someone who is willing to be a community leader with a clear vision for education in our community.
Q. What do you want to say to your critics?
Stinson-Wesley: I very strongly believe in the nonpartisan aspect of the school board. I believe it's nonpartisan for a reason, and I want to honor that. I would also say my political party affiliation is not the whole of who I am.
Q. Talk about your experience with CMS:
Stinson-Wesley: I've been a PTA president (at Pineville Elementary). I think it gives me a really good foundation. I'd like to build on that by talking to parents and teachers in the rest of the schools across the district. It's overwhelming with the amount of information to process as well as all the people I really want to talk to. I'm absolutely having the time of my life. This is such an amazing experience and I really do enjoy it.
Q. How do you work with people who have differing views?
Stinson-Wesley: I believe that we listen to one another and we intentionally seek our common ground. I believe we all have the well-being of children at our hearts, and that's a wonderful place to start.