More than 10 candidates will be facing each other for the three open seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board, but as election day approaches, they’re looking for more ways to set themselves apart from the competition.
Channel 9 education reporter Jonathan Lowe, spoke with all of the candidates fighting for the few open seats.
Shamaiye Haynes, Liz Monterrey, Monty Witherspoon, and Bill Fountain were able to speak with Lowe first at the Community at Classroom Central, a place that works to ensure both teachers and students have the materials needed to be successful.
Haynes, a Cinncinati native, relocated to the Queen City in 2012 to raise her family. Currently, two of her four children attend CMS schools, and when she’s not running her nonprofit she spends a lot of time in the school system. She told Lowe that even with overflowing support CMS is still not reaching its goals, which only motivated her to become more involved.
“Even with the infusion of resources, even with all of the corporate support and non-profit support, to kind of question why we weren’t meeting our goals at that time, that fueled a series of actions and experiences that really made me believe that I should get more involved in the education system,” Haynes said.
Liz Monterrey also has a child in the CMS system and is a first-generation daughter of Cuban immigrants. She plans to use her experience working in technology in a personal finance company if she’s elected.
“It’s really important that our students are educated and prepared for the future, we have a big disruption coming with AI and so we need to have people on the school board that know about AI and that can advocate bring in resources,” Monterrey said.
Former school teacher Bill Fountain is hoping his second time running will help him secure a seat. If elected, he is hoping to bring back what he calls traditional classroom learning and credits his teaching experience as a skill that sets him apart from the competition.
“I know the challenges of teaching, of school administration, and parental concerns for the safety and success of their children,” Fountain said, “I think that we’ve lost focus of the reading, writing, and arithmetic, there’s other things that are coming into the curriculum that is not online with what we used to do or traditional way of teaching.”
Monty Witherspoon, a pastor at Steele Creek AME Zion Church, is a new face on the political scene and is not nervous about facing veterans crediting his leadership skills in the church. If he wins one of the few open seats, Witherspoon hopes to create a nurturing, supportive environment to help prepare students for the future.
“I know firsthand that students can succeed if they are given the necessary support as well they’re met with high expectations in the classroom, but I also want to ensure student achievement is our laser focus I want to ensure that we have safe learning environments,” Witherspoon said.
Lenora Shipp, Juanrique Hall, Brian Kasher, and Michael Johnson shared insight with Lowe about bonds and changes they’re hoping to make within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.
The only incumbent among the 14 candidates is Shipp. She has spent a career in education spanning three decades, taking on different roles from teacher to principal. After spending so much time in CMS, one of the things Shipp is looking for throughout all schools is consistency.
“I want to continue to make sure every school is a good school; that concerns me that we make sure that the learning is taking place in all schools, that we’re looking at our budgets, and that that budget is well aligned to what we need in terms of resources, in terms of staffing in every school,” Shipp said.
Juanrique Hall, a father to four and a youth advocate volunteer with the city of Charlotte, has worked with a diverse group of kids in our community. While Hall doesn’t have much experience in the political ring, he told Lowe he’ll be focusing on human interest issues and the inclusivity of the school system.
“I want to get down to the meat and bones of situations dealing with our kids,” Hall said. “They need to improve on being transparent with parents and let him know what’s going on with teachers messing with kids, and they need to be more sympathetic to the LGBT community and people with autism.”
Shipp isn’t the only candidate in the crowded race, crediting her time working the school system. Brian Kasher, an environmental scientist focusing on education, spent seven years with CMS as a manager of environmental safety and health. Kasher told Lowe he is hoping to bring efficiency to the board to make change happen faster.
“On the school board agenda, I don’t believe five-hour meetings are necessary for follow-up after staff has made recommendations on border lines,” Kasher said. “I think that we can make quicker decisions, more efficiently, and focus more on what’s really important, measured academic progress.”
Candidate Michael Johnson is a business consultant with a specialization in strategic management; by trade, he is a musician and plays more than 15 instruments. He told Lowe he is hoping to bring a unique approach to the board but is dedicated to meeting the needs of students.
“I think there are capital improvements that are needed; I do. I think that we have to ensure that our students are in an environment that is safe, that they feel comfortable, and that they have an environment where they can learn without hindrance,” Johnson said.
Omar Harris, Claire Covington, Annette Albright, Clara Kennedy Witherspoon, and Tigress Sydney Acute McDaniel made up the final group of candidates to share their vision in the crowded CMS At-Large race.
Harris is a supply chain manager and dad to two kids in CMS. He told Lowe he is confident in his ability to stand apart from his competitors by focusing on deepening the connection between schools and the community.
“The main thing I want to do is connect the communities, parents, and teachers to the school board,” Harris said. “There seems to be a disconnect, and I’m not pointing anything out; I’m not pointing fingers, but that’s what I want to do.”
Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Clarie Covington relocated to Charlotte a decade ago. To help her chances on the crowded ballot, Covington has decided to run in a slate with two other candidates, hoping to take the three open seats on the board.
“Well, I think our platform is really simple; I am running as part of a slate with Rev. Michael Johnson and with Annette Albright, and I think that we have three very clear goals, and those goals are to innovate, educate, and elevate,” Covington said.
Annette Albright, running on the slate with Johnson and Covington, spent 14 years as an adult corrections officer. She told Lowe that the main focus of her campaign is ensuring the safety of both students and educators on every CMS campus.
“I believe my advocacy work in the Charlotte community, one, sets me apart,” Albright said. “I have continued over the last six years or since I left CMS to advocate for school safety, to advocate for better action with Title 9s and sexual assaults, better responses for students who are misbehaving in school and not getting disciplined.”
Clara Kennedy Witherspoon has thrown her hat in the ring again for the school board position, just a year after losing her bid for a district seat. Kennedy has a background in the education system, working as a counselor and a multi-tiered support specialist in CMS schools.
“When I thought about running at large, I knew that’s a huge undertaking,” Witherspoon said, “but I think if we do the work for all children, it just really won’t matter, and if we focus on every school being a good school, an effective school, and educating every child that enters that door, that won’t be a hard job.”
Tigress Sydney Acute McDaniel joins Witherspoon in making another run for elected office. In the past, she has run for Charlotte mayor and the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners; this time around, she has a law degree, something she believes has changed the way she plans to serve on the school board.
“I believe now that I have finished law school that I am better suited for that arena than I was before, but with that under my tool belt, I have explained to a lot of my beautiful supporters that the law degree is definitely a game changer,” McDaniel said.
>>Tune in to The Political Beat on Sunday at 12:35 pm and 11:35 pm on Ch. 9 and 10:35 pm on TV64 as the candidates share their plans for the city’s school system.
(WATCH BELOW: CMS bond referendum could provide much-needed improvements to schools if passed)