Five years ago, Ericka Ellis-Stewart was a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parent challenging the board about campus closing plans.
Four years ago voters put her at the top of the ballot for an at-large school board seat. She was elected chairman and took over the superintendent search that led to the 2012 hiring of Heath Morrison.
Now she’s seeking a second term, as the board again faces student assignment and a superintendent search.
The past four years have brought highs and lows. Graduation rates have risen to a record high, and the school board won national honors for effectiveness in 2013.
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But Morrison’s resignation last fall – first announced as his desire to care for an ailing mother, then quickly revealed to have come in the wake of an attorney’s report questioning his performance – left many with unanswered questions. The board has said little about a search for a long-term leader, with Superintendent Ann Clark’s contract expiring next summer.
As a board member, Ellis-Stewart often presses for change in schools that continue to log low performance. She calls that her biggest achievement, “being the one who asks the hard questions for accountability.”
She has pushed for a reduction in out-of-school suspensions for the youngest elementary students and for the board to add a student adviser.
On student assignment, Ellis-Stewart calls for reducing concentrations of poverty and increasing diversity – not through 1970s-style busing, she says, but with a combination of increased magnet options and better neighborhood schools.
Ellis-Stewart, a nonprofit executive, has been active in CMS policy since her oldest child, now in college, was at Billingsville Elementary and CMS decided to move his Montessori magnet program. Now her youngest is a senior at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, a statewide magnet in Durham.
▪ Political experience: Elected to at-large seat on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in 2011.
▪ CMS connections: Two children have been CMS students. Volunteered with several schools, served on several CMS task forces, board member of Mecklenburg PTA Council.
▪ Occupation: Donor relations specialist for Mental Health America of Central Carolinas.
▪ Education: Bachelor’s degree from Queens College (now University).
▪ Quote: “I bring real-world experience in the areas of drop-out prevention, on-time graduation, gang intervention and mental health – all pressing issues within CMS.”
▪ Age: 41.