CMS school board’s District 3 draws a crowd of candidates with an unusual situation

Early voting for the Nov. 7 election starts Oct. 17.
Early voting for the Nov. 7 election starts Oct. 17.

Six people are vying for the District 3 seat on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, in an unusual race that features an incumbent but no one who has ever won an election.

Ruby Jones was appointed to the seat in 2015, after Joyce Waddell was elected a state senator and resigned from the school board. Now Jones is joining three other political novices and two people who ran in 2015, all hoping to convince voters in northeast Charlotte to put them in the post.

The district includes a mix of growth, diversity and struggling high-poverty schools. It’s the most heavily Democratic (60 percent) and black (57 percent) of the six board districts, all of which are electing representatives on Nov. 7. All of the candidates are African-American and five are Democrats (newcomer Emmitt Terrell Butts is unaffiliated).

The candidates range from new faces to longtime education activists hoping to take a seat on the board that makes policy for CMS.

Jones, a retired education professor and former K-12 educator, has been a vocal advocate for disadvantaged students and high-poverty schools during almost three years on the school board. At 69 she’s making her first run for elected office, hoping to continue work on better instruction for students and broader community partnerships to support teachers and reduce discipline disparities.

Jones is endorsed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators.

Janeen Bryant and Levester Flowers were among nine candidates who ran countywide in 2015, but both fell short of the top three spots that claimed seats on the school board.

Bryant, 34, is a CMS parent and former Teach For America teacher who has gone on to work with various education-related projects, including at the Levine Museum of the New South and a TFA-related group called Leadership for Educational Equity. She calls for building partnerships to support education and increase equity.

Flowers, a 68-year-old retired banker and substitute teacher, has been active in CMS issues since he led efforts to block school closings in 2010. Like Jones, he applied for the District 3 seat after Waddell left. He says he’d like to increase family involvement in schools, improve discipline and create more career-prep options for students.

First-time candidate Blanche Penn has been a regular speaker at school board meetings for years, voicing support for schools and talking up her programs to increase family involvement, such as the push to get men to accompany their children to school on the first day and stay engaged throughout the year. Penn, 66, is also founder of the Silver Fox Cheerleaders, who turned out in uniform when she filed to run. She’s endorsed by the Black Political Caucus.

Olivia Scott, a 25-year-old Hopewell High alum, is the youngest candidate in any of the six district races this year. As a child care director she works with CMS students and hopes to bring a fresh voice to the board.

Political newcomer Butts, a special education teacher in Cabarrus County Schools who holds national board certification, rounds out the pack. He’s the father of four CMS students and says he hopes to empower students and engage the community.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

District 3

The district

Mostly northeast Charlotte, jutting into uptown and as far west as the Long Creek area.

Just over 111,000 registered voters. 60 percent are Democrats, 28 percent unaffiliated, 11 percent Republican.

Janeen Bryant

CMS connections: Taught at Briarwood Elementary as part of Teach For America; has a daughter in CMS.

Political experience: Ran for CMS board at large in 2015.

Occupation: Consultant and founder, Facilitate Movement.

Lives in: UNC Charlotte area.

Age: 34.

Top issue: Eliminating inequity, starting with better data and reporting.


Emmitt Terrell Butts

CMS connections: Four children in CMS.

Political experience: First run for office.

Occupation: Teacher in Cabarrus County Schools.

Lives in: University area.

Age: 49.

Top issue: Transparency and community engagement.

Contact:, (704) 599-1971.

Levester Flowers

CMS connections: Former teacher, organized a group that responded to 2010 school closings.

Political experience: Ran for CMS board at large in 2015.

Occupation: Retired mortgage loan officer.

Lives in: Maplewood/University City area.

Age: 68.

Top issue: Improving the academic standards in two major CMS turnaround efforts, Project LIFT and the Beacon Initiative.


Ruby M. Jones

CMS connections: Former teacher and assistant principal; appointed member of the CMS board since 2014.

Political experience: First run for office.

Occupation: Retired educator and education professor.

Lives in: District 3.

Age: 69.

Top issue: Engaging low-performing students in meaningful learning experiences.

Contact:, (704) 579-1763.

Blanche Penn

CMS connections: CMS parent and grandparent, volunteers supporting children and encouraging family involvement.

Political experience: First run for office.

Occupation: Retired from Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department.

Lives in: District 3.

Age: 66.

Top issue: Executing the recently-approved changes to student assignment.


Olivia Scott

CMS connections: Hopewell High graduate.

Political experience: First run for office.

Occupation: Childcare director.

Lives in: First Ward.

Age: 25.

Top issue: Dealing with population growth.