CMS school board will have at least 2 new faces with only one incumbent on the ballot

With early voting underway, voters will find a crowded field of 13 candidates on the ballot for three seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.
With early voting underway, voters will find a crowded field of 13 candidates on the ballot for three seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board. Charlotte

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2019 election coverage

Mecklenburg County voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect local officials and school board members — and decide whether to raise their taxes.

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With early voting underway, voters will find a crowded field of 13 candidates on the ballot for three seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.

CMS is one of the country’s largest districts, with nearly 149,000 students and 19,000 staff members. This fall’s race will be for the board’s three at-large seats representing the district as a whole, balancing the needs of the city of Charlotte as well as the suburban towns.

Board chair Mary McCray and Ericka Ellis-Stewart are not running, leaving two open seats on the board. Both have served on the board since 2011. McCray said she will be retiring, and Ellis-Stewart says she is leaving to pursue other community advocacy.

That leaves current vice chair Elyse Dashew as the only incumbent in the race.

New board members will tackle a variety of issues almost immediately. Each spring, the board must pass the school district’s budget. In addition to approving what spending will look like in the the 2020-2021 school year, the final version of the year’s $1.6 billion operating budget remains in flux as legislators in Raleigh continue to work on a state budget deal.

Other issues that have come up during the campaign include school safety, student assignment, overcrowding and equity of student outcomes.

The election comes three months after former superintendent Clayton Wilcox resigned following his suspension for unspecified reasons. The school board named former district ombudsman Earnest Winston as superintendent.

The large field of candidates spans a diverse set of experiences, from former teachers in CMS to business owners. They include Charlotte natives, long-time residents and newcomers to the city.

Here are the candidates for school board.

Annette Albright has worked for CMS as a substitute teacher, tutor and behavior modification technician. Albright says she thinks the board needs to focus on regaining the trust of the community in addition to closing the achievement gap. This is her second time running, after an unsuccessful bid for the District 1 seat in 2017.

She previously sued the district after being attacked by a student at Harding High School in 2016. The lawsuit has since been settled.

Elyse Dashew is the only incumbent in the race. She has served on the school board since 2015, but has been involved in advocacy for public schools since 2009. She is a current parent of a CMS student.

Dashew says the top challenges facing the board include capital needs to match the district’s growth, in addition to addressing structural obstacles to equity for students in CMS.

Jennifer De La Jara oversees literacy partnerships with CMS schools at International House. For five years, she was a K-5 ESL teacher in Cabarrus County.

De La Jara has emphasized her work with immigrants through International House as valuable experience she would bring to CMS, which has a fast-growing immigrant population enrolling in schools, many of whom are learning English as a second language.

Gregory Denlea has lived in Charlotte for 16 years and has taught at the University of Phoenix for 15 years. He has positioned himself as a voice for the suburbs, criticizing the 2018 Municipal Concerns Act and saying he will fight to direct capital funding to the towns.

At a recent forum, Denlea was the only candidate present to say that he thought all students in CMS had equal opportunity and access to education.

Jenna Moorehead recently moved to Charlotte. She served as president of a school board in Pennsylvania, and said at an information session for board candidates that she will bring that experience to CMS if elected.

Donna Parker-Tate worked in CMS for over 40 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. She said she wants to focus on uplifting underperforming schools, regardless of location, and make advanced classes available to all students.

Parker-Tate also said she wants to boost community engagement as well as provide a well-rounded education for children that combines academics, enrichment, social and emotional learning.

Jordan Pineda is an alum of Teach for America, where he taught high school English at West Mecklenburg High School for three years. He is currently a first-year teacher coach with TFA.

Pineda says the most important issues for CMS include reducing school segregation, improving K-3 literacy, meeting the needs of Latinx students and making sure students leave CMS ready for either college or a career.

Olivia Scott ran for school board unsuccessfully in 2017 in District 3. She told WFAE that she is no longer actively campaigning this year.

Lenora Sanders Shipp worked in CMS for over 30 years, including as a teacher, teacher trainer and principal. She is a graduate of West Charlotte High School.

She says her knowledge of how schools work, drawing from her experience as an educator within the district, will serve her well on the board. Shipp said her experience working with diverse students and improving performance in her schools when she was principal will shape her work as a board member.

Stephanie Sneed serves on the board of the Thomasboro foundation and works with the CLT Westside Education Think Tank. She ran for the District 4 seat in 2017, and is a former trial attorney for child protective services.

Sneed says that while long-term, big picture goals like equity will guide her work, the board should also focus on immediate, attainable changes that will improve conditions for students in the short term.

Duncan St. Clair is a Charlotte native. He is a graduate of West Charlotte High School and now runs a local coffee business. St. Clair’s platform is wide-ranging, and includes issues such as climate change, renewable energy and school beautification in addition to more common themes of equity and student outcomes.

Queen Thompson is retired from CMS, where she worked in monitoring federal compliance and services for students with special needs. She ran for county commissioner in 2018 and for the school board in 2017, for the District 4 seat.

Monty Witherspoon is a Charlotte native, a pastor at Steele Creeke AME Zion Church, and a former substitute teacher in New York City. Witherspoon says he wants to focus on student assignment, community engagement and equal access to advanced classes to ensure students are not limited by their zip code.

Anna Pogarcic contributed to this report.

Annie Ma covers education for the Charlotte Observer. She previously worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, Chalkbeat New York, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Oregonian. She grew up in Florida and graduated from Dartmouth College.