In the crowded school board race, three incumbents advance | Education
Three incumbents, two former principals and a candidate highly critical of the operation of local schools during the COVID pandemic were among the big winners in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education primary election on Tuesday.
The terms of the nine school board members will end this year.
Five board members, Dana Caudill Jones, Andrea Bramer, Elisabeth Motsinger, Marilyn Parker and Malishai Woodbury decided not to run, leaving this race of 28 candidates wide open. There are currently five Democrats and four Republicans on the board.
Three of the remaining board members, Democrats Deanna Kaplan and Alex Bohannon and Republican Leah Crowley garnered enough votes to qualify for the general election. Bohannon, who was appointed to the board in 2021, is expected to retain his seat. There was no Republican primary in District 1, which covers the district’s urban core. The fourth incumbent, Republican Lida-Calvert Hayes, seeking a second full term on the board, was thwarted in District 2 by Steve Wood, a former member of the North Carolina House of Representatives .
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Here’s how the election went in the three constituencies.
Of the five Democrats running, Bohannon and Trevonia Brown-Gaither garnered the most votes. Barring a written campaign in November, the two are likely to sit on the board. Brown-Gaither will fill the seat of Woodbury, who pulled out to run in what was ultimately a successful campaign for Forsyth County Commissioner. Brown-Gaither is a retired teacher and the niece of Geneva Brown, who served on the school board for 18 years.
In comprehensive but unofficial results, Brown-Gaither received 3,091 votes; followed by Bohannon with 3,053; Chenita Barber Johnson with 2,850; Tarsha Shore with 1,467 and Ricky Johnson with 1,342.
Republicans Robert Barr (9,215), Stan Elrod (9,062), Crowley (7,770) and Wood (7,455) qualified for the general election.
District 2, which covers the area outside of District 1, has four council seats. Republicans will face Democrat Jennifer Castillo in the general election.
Wood edged out Calvert-Hayes, the school board’s vice chair, who was appointed to the board in 2015 to serve outgoing Jeannie Metcalf’s term. Calvert-Hayes went on to win in 2018. Calvert-Hayes finished with 6,750 followed by Susan Miller at 6,213, Holly Pegram at 5,765, Jimmie Boyd at 4,317, Jason Lucero at 4,623 and Yvonne Williams at 2,572.
Barr, a former teacher and school program coordinator, was elected to the school board in 2014 and then lost in 2018. He ran as an overall candidate in that election.
Barr and Wood had the backing of Put Children First Again, a local group that backed Conservative school board candidates. The group had full-page ads in the Kernersville News and the Clemmons Courier endorsing the candidates while asking people if they were for education or indoctrination and teachers or unions.
Barr said he spent most of the evening at home with his phone turned off. He was surprised to learn that he was the top voter in his race.
“I think people have seen my diplomas. They know my background. My story resonated,” said Barr, who grew up in a single-parent home in a poor neighborhood of Winston-Salem. “I had a lot of people in my church family supporting me and praying for me, and I met some wonderful parents who were concerned.”
Crowley said she believes the hard work she has done as a school board member has resonated with voters.
“I think a lot of people know the work I’ve done over the last three and a half years,” said Crowley, who was first elected in 2018. “And where we might see change, people weren’t ready to throw it all away. I asked several people to come to the polls and say, ‘I know who you are’. You’re the only one who answered me when I sent an email.
Elrod is the former principal of Reynolds and Reagan high schools.
The school board has three at-large members currently represented by Kaplan and the departures Motsinger and Bramer.
In the Democratic race, Kaplan with 14,443 votes followed by Richard Watts with 13,867 and Sabrina Coone-Godfrey with 11,775 qualified for the general election. Kim Stone finished with 9,405 votes.
Watts is the former principal of Kimberley Park and Gibson Elementary Schools and Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy.
“I believe voters saw the experience of a teacher and a school administrator and that experience made a difference,” Watts said. “I want my voice to be heard that I am truly an advocate for public education. I want to support teachers, parents and students and make school a better place.
In the Republican primary, Sarah Absher with 9,837 votes, Michael Hardman with 9,702 and Allen Daniel with 7,482 will advance to the general election. They beat Robert Capizzi with 7,183 votes, Carolyn Albright with 6,487, Tabitha Hackett with 5,356 and Millie Williams with 3,248.
Absher has won endorsements from Put Children First Again and Education First Alliance, which markets itself as an organization “fighting for parental rights and against schools that radicalize and sexualize our children.”
In campaign materials, Absher criticized the masking and keeping children out of school during the pandemic. She also compared social emotional learning to Marxism. School systems across the country, including the local district, teach an educational approach known as social-emotional learning to teach children how to develop social skills, manage emotions and find support systems. It has become a target among some conservative groups.
“Social emotional learning is a vehicle for Marxism,” Absher said in a video.