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CMS board veteran Ericka Ellis-Stewart, newcomer Janeen Bryant join race

Ericka Ellis-Stewart filed for a second term as an at-large CMS board member.
Ericka Ellis-Stewart filed for a second term as an at-large CMS board member. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Ericka Ellis-Stewart, the top finisher in the last at-large race, and Janeen Bryant, a first-time candidate, filed Friday to run for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board. Halfway through filing, that brings the field to seven candidates (read about the others here and here) seeking three at-large seats.

Bryant is the first surprise of the season. I don’t know her from my time on the beat and Andrew Dunn, who covered education for the past year, hadn’t reported on her candidacy.

Bryant was part of the Teach For America corps in CMS, working at Briarwood Elementary for three years. She spent eight years working for the Levine Museum of the New South, most of it as vice president for education.

In February, Bryant became regional director for Leadership for Educational Equity, a group that promotes leadership in TFA alums. In 2012 she did a school board fellowship with that group, shadowing board member Tom Tate to learn more about what the board does.

Bryant has a daughter at Irwin Academic Center. Her campaign website isn’t up yet.

Both Bryant and Ellis-Stewart are both Democrats from northeast Charlotte.

Ellis-Stewart entered the 2015 race with the intensity that took her to the top spot in 2011, her first run for public office. She sent a detailed press release – twice – announcing precisely when she planned to file. Her web site, www.ericka4cmsboard.com, includes such endorsements as former CMS board chairman Arthur Griffin, Bishop George Battle Jr. and civil rights attorney James Ferguson.

Ellis-Stewart chaired the board for her first year in office, taking over the search that culminated with a unanimous vote to hire Superintendent Heath Morrison. It remains to be seen whether his messy departure last last year will hurt Ellis-Stewart with the voters this time around.

The board is now embarking on a review of magnets and student assignment, which is likely to define the district as it moves forward. In a June 23 meeting, board members struggled to define how deep that examination would go (you can watch the video here, with the student assignment discussion starting at the one-hour mark).

One hotly debated question was whether the board would consider alternatives to the current system of assigning students to nearby home schools. “I’m definitely interested,” Ellis-Stewart said, noting that some students are assigned to low-performing schools that aren’t improving fast enough.

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