Two women with deep roots in West Charlotte and extensive history with public education are competing to represent District 2 on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.
Thelma Byers-Bailey, a retired lawyer, is seeking a second term representing the district that spans west and southwest Charlotte. Lenora Shipp, a political newcomer and retired CMS principal, is challenging her.
Both are graduates of West Charlotte High, a landmark in the historically black Beatties Ford Road corridor and a symbol of the district’s struggle to build academic excellence in resegregated, high-poverty schools. The contest centers less on issues than on whose qualities and experiences would make them the best voice for an area that often feels overlooked.
The district also encompasses a growing number of newcomers, with huge new developments opening and planned for the southwest. The district will see major investment in new schools and renovations if the $922 million school bond referendum passes.
Voters will weigh in on the bonds and choose the school board’s six district representatives on Nov. 7. Early voting starts Oct. 19. Three at-large seats will be up for election in 2019.
Byers-Bailey is the daughter of two prominent local educators; Walter G. Byers School is named for her father. She was active in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood association when the area was rocked by school closings in 2010. That led to her successful 2013 run for school board.
Much of Byers-Bailey’s four-year term has been consumed by leadership turmoil – one superintendent resigned under pressure and Clayton Wilcox was recently hired after a prolonged search – and a controversial student assignment review. The board also approved the 2017 bond package, with Byers-Bailey making the successful motion to move replacement schools for West Charlotte High and Bruns Academy up the list.
Byers-Bailey has been endorsed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators and the Black Political Caucus.
Both Shipp and Byers-Bailey say they support the mix of neighborhood schools and magnets that emerged from the assignment review, while both say there’s still room for improvement. Both want to focus on making sure disadvantaged students get extra help, fair discipline and equal opportunities.
Shipp says her experience in high-poverty westside schools gives her better insight into those schools’ needs. She was principal at Nations Ford Elementary when she retired in 2014. Her 33 years with CMS included time at diverse and high-poverty schools, magnet and neighborhood schools. Since her retirement she has continued some part-time work in schools, she said.
“I know the struggles of District 2, from the west side to the southwest side,” Shipp said.
Covers west and southwest Charlotte.
More than 124,000 registered voters. 57 percent are Democrats, 27 percent unaffiliated, 15 percent Republican.
CMS connections: West Charlotte High alum and volunteer math tutor.
Political experience: Serving first term as District 2 representative on the CMS board.
Occupation: Retired lawyer.
Lives in: Lincoln Heights neighborhood.
Top issue: Eliminating academic performance gaps among students of different ethnicities.
CMS connections: West Charlotte High alum who spent 33 years working for CMS as a teacher and administrator. Parent of a CMS graduate.
Political experience: First run for office.
Occupation: Retired principal.
Lives in: Steele Creek community.
Top issue: Making all students ready for careers, college and productive citizenship.