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CoastLine Candidate Interviews: New Hanover County Board of Education - Democrats

New Hanover County’s Board of Education has three open seats this year.   On September 7th, we met the Republicans.  On this edition of CoastLine, we meet the Democrats vying for those spots – which carry four-year terms.  All three are seeking first terms on what is currently an all-Republican Board.


Sandra Leigh, seeking first term

Emma Saunders, seeking first term

Kevin Spears, seeking first term


Segment 1: Sandra Leigh

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Sandra Leigh is a retired teacher and principal who has worked in San Francisco, New Orleans, and Hoke County, North Carolina. Sandra Leigh, welcome to CoastLine.

Sandra Leigh: Good morning, and thank you for inviting us.

RLH: About a month ago, the Star News published portions of a memo written by superintendent Tim Markley about the negative impacts that neighborhood schools, which is our current construct in New Hanover County, have on high-poverty, high-minority populations, which are, generally speaking, the same thing here in New Hanover County. One of the statistics from that memo: 37.4% of black third graders in the district passed their reading end-of-grade tests. That means, essentially, if you’re a student of color in New Hanover County, the deck is stacked against you. You probably won’t succeed. What does that mean to you as someone who is seeking a seat on this board?

Sandra Leigh: That means change. We have to change the way schools are assigned, and we have to change what happens in third grade. As a third grade teacher, I can tell you that the decisions that happen in third grade affect you for the rest of your life as far as North Carolina is concerned. That’s where the testing becomes most dramatic and the outcomes of the testing become most dramatic. I don’t think any child should be stigmatized by their third grade test scores, but they are, and I also don’t feel any child should be stigmatized and forced into a school that is low-performing or under-performing based on their zip code or their neighborhood. If you have segregated neighborhoods, you’re going to have segregated schools. New Hanover is a very small city. You can go to any school at 2:30pm or 2:45pm and see the buses lined up and the cars lined up. People transport their children to where they want them to go if they have the means and the ability to do so. I think we can fix this, and I think we can fix it relatively quickly.

RLH: What is the fix then?

Sandra Leigh: First of all, the fix has to be diversity in all schools.

RLH: How do you do that?

Sandra Leigh: You can’t set up schools by race and say, “You can only have a certain percentage of one or another race.” But you can set up criteria about poverty and zip codes and short bus distances. There are twenty-five elementary schools that are bused in this city with four or five different buses. The bus lines go all across the city, so that’s not the issue. The issue really is accepting and having a will to make schools better based on diversity and attendance areas. There are many other issues. Diversity, busing, and changing the attendance areas is not going to change the entire curriculum or the achievement gap, but I think it’s a start.

RLH: And of course, opponents of busing say things like, “That’s hard on the child because they have to get up much earlier to take a long trip. It’s hard on families who don’t have easy access to their own transportation.” We heard yesterday from a candidate who said grandparents have specifically said to her, “I don’t want my grandchild going to the other side of town because I’m in charge of them, and I can’t reach them over there.” What do you say to people like that?

Sandra Leigh: Anybody who can look at a map and construct the areas around the schools knows that there’s going to be an attendance area that’s near the school, and there’s also going to be an attendance area that’s sort of near the school. You’re not talking about busing from Castle Hayne to Kure Beach. You’re talking about near and close and not so far away. The original maps of 2008 had a criteria of 50% free and reduced lunch or 50% socioeconomic driven and nobody on the bus more than two miles. I think you don’t have that right now. I think you have kids on the bus longer than two miles, and it’s because they’re attending desirable schools and there are longer lines for those schools and what’s desirable to one is a school that has diversity but programs and parent involvement, and everyone should have access to good schools.

RLH: What would you tell your constituents, if you were elected, about how you would approach this next process of redistricting?

Sandra Leigh: It’s the right thing to do. There’s a population in the city that is unconscionably left behind, and that’s not right. We have to change that. We have to change the attendance area of our schools. Then we have to address what happens inside the schools one by one. We can do it. And we can do it without a great deal of pain, discomfort, and disruption, but we have to have the will to do it. We cannot leave those six schools languishing behind and say we’re a progressive city that wants to attract families and businesses to Wilmington and New Hanover County. We can’t do it.  

RLH: Multiple listeners have emailed us with various configurations of the same question about how candidates will treat early childhood education and development.

Dr. Reid (email): The first two thousand days of a child’s life is the time of most significant brain development. Therefore, many children already have significant delays by the time they begin school at five years old. This means the school system invests money and resources to catch these students up, often unsuccessfully. What is your plan to support children in the first five years of life?

Sandra Leigh: What I’d really like to see is universal preschool. I believe that children attend school with and without certain areas of expertise. One of the biggest areas that affects learning and reading and school success is language. When children are not exposed to and have a significant vocabulary system in place, which comes from being exposed to books, being exposed to conversations about topics that are relevant and current. It comes from field trips. It comes from exposure to things outside one’s own life. When you get to science and you’re reading science books and you’re decoding, it’s harder to decode a word that you’ve never heard before. Even in first and second grade, you get that kind of vocabulary. I think it’s absolutely critical not just to further school success but immediate school success. Reading and social studies and science need to be part of what’s taught right away. And in a successful and positive preschool setting, you bring in those topics. You talk about what you’re doing. It’s very tactile, very language-oriented. Every child should have that before they go to school.

Foster (email): My three-year-old son is autistic and in two months of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, he’s gone from speaking words to actual sentences. We recently decided not to send him to preschool in New Hanover County schools because the Special Education Department refused to allow him to receive ABA therapy at school. Do you support creating a policy to allow my son and other children on the autism spectrum to receive ABA therapy at school?

Sandra Leigh: Absolutely. I taught special needs children for twenty years. I’m a firm believer that every child in our society, from cradle to grave, has the right to the access to whatever he or she needs to develop and become productive and vital people within our society, to the extent that they can. It’s up to the school system and the social system and the counties and the services that are out there to provide that for every single child. Absolutely, I totally agree with that.

Carol (caller): When talking about redistricting, are we just shifting at-risk students to other schools when there are other factors (parent involvement, the community)? What is being done to help the community when the student is not in school?

Sandra Leigh: Well, I don’t think a lot is being done right now to help the community and to help the parent-involvement. I have strongly urged and participated and developed parent involvement in every school I’ve been in.

RLH: How do you develop parent involvement when it’s not there to begin with?

Sandra Leigh: First of all, you have to make a school environment inviting. You have to welcome people when they walk in the door. You can’t always just have a connection with parents that’s negative, when you call home and say, “Your child is in trouble. Come pick them up.” There has to be newsletters. There has to be people who welcome people. There has to be events that are oriented towards parents, and you can’t always make it in the school. You have to do outreach to parents where they are, to family members where they are. Not every child lives with a parent. Sometimes they live with foster care or grandparents or aunts and uncles. But there is always an adult that cares about that child. Sometimes you have to seek in the community to find that. And there are people in the community—organizations and volunteers—that can be brought in the school to help do that. I think every school needs an active PTO, PTA organization—

RLH: Well, give us an example of the kind of event that you’re talking about, that wouldn’t necessarily be on school grounds but would appeal to people?

Sandra Leigh: Donuts for Dads, Muffins for Moms held in a neighborhood community center. Parent conferences, which are mandated to be held at least twice a year, don’t have to be in the classroom or in the school. Parent conferences can be in community centers. They can be in homes. I personally visited the home of every child I taught in Hoke County. It wasn’t completely encouraged, but I did because I wanted to see where they lived and how they lived and who their family was that they lived with. It was very, very inviting once I made those visits.

Juanita (email): Is there any plan to have the year-round school use four tracks (as it is designed) instead of one so the school will house 25% more students? And has the school system tried to have the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, etc. provide after-school and track-out programs. Wake County has been very successful with year-round due to using four tracks and track-out programs.

Sandra Leigh: I’m familiar with it, but I don’t necessarily agree that that’s the way year-round schools were designed or the way they should be used. It stacks up use of the school itself—custodial and cafeteria. Overuse is not always the best thing, and a teacher doesn’t have possession of his or her classroom under those kind of circumstances. Year-round school is to do away with the summer slump and to do away with the fact that teaching is lost significantly in those three months. I’m a proponent of year-round schools. Yes, YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club and Martin Luther King Center and all the agencies that deal with summer school under other circumstances are organizing actively right now to make those services available to the year-round school setting. My grandchildren attend a year-round school in Fayetteville, and I love it. It’s the best time of the year to have them is the spring and the fall, when they get those extra breaks. They go back to school in the middle of July, unlike other kids, but they are taught year-round, and it’s much better, in my opinion, for a lot of kids to have that kind of setting.

RLH: What do you think is the best way to communicate with your constituents—in this case, if you were elected, parents and the tax payers of New Hanover County? What do you believe would be the extent of your responsibility to them as a school board member?

Sandra Leigh: They’re the people who I serve. They’re the people who elect me. Elected or not, I serve all of the New Hanover County parents and students and the community at large—business community and tourist industry—because if Wilmington is an inviting city, you’ll know by going to its schools. Yes, I serve everybody. I believe that the way I would encourage our Board, which is very closed right now. Going to a school board meeting is deadly. You don’t get to speak until 10:30 at night if you have the opportunity to speak and get on the list. So, I think we need to open that up and have meetings that are available at different times. We have to reach out to the community, hold community input, and get input. What do parents want to see as changes in their schools?

RLH: The career and technical education high school is becoming a reality soon. What challenges is this new high school going to face? It is providing an alternative career track for some kids who wouldn’t go to traditional continuing education. But what challenges will it face, and how will you prevent it from becoming a dumping ground for kids who just aren’t cutting it academically?

Sandra Leigh: I think the struggle is not going to be avoiding it becoming a dumping ground. I think the struggle is going to be making sure it is open as an opportunity to all students. There’s only going to be 14 to 16 students the first year, and I think who gets into that school is going to be who is tracking it, and who is watching it. Not every child who doesn’t go to college is from a low socioeconomic background or needs an alternative career. There’s a lot of kids from all over the society who aren’t interested in college, and it’s going to be competitive. I also feel that it should be open to the kids from J.C. Roe [Suspension Center].

Segment 2: Emma Saunders

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Emma Saunders retired from teaching after a thirty-year career in New Hanover County public schools. She now trains senior citizens to assist teachers in the classroom, and she serves on the board of the Child Development Center in Wilmington. She is seeking her first term. Emma Saunders, welcome to CoastLine.

Emma Saunders: Thank you for having me.

RLH: And do you have a correction to that?

Emma Saunders: Yes, I do. I have been with the senior training center—Foster Grandparents in the name of it—for about eighteen years now. And I have actually been in education more than thirty years.

RLH: More than thirty years, okay. You are seeking your first term though on the New Hanover County school board.

Emma Saunders: No, this is my third time around, third time through the rodeo.

RLH: Running or serving on the Board?

Emma Saunders: No, running as a candidate. This is my third time as a candidate.

RLH: Third time as a candidate, so you haven’t yet served on—

Emma Saunders: I have not served. The last time, I lost by one percent.

RLH: One percent? That’s a hair. Okay, I think we’re clear now. Now, neighborhood schools have recently gotten a lot of attention, including acknowledgement from superintendent Tim Markley that the schools in poorer neighborhoods, which are also largely minority student populations, are not serving the children adequately. Some candidates say doing away with the neighborhood schools construct would create more problems than it would solve. How do you view this approach to districting?

Emma Saunders: Well, I think back to when this first occurred, which I believe was in 2007 or so. If you have the opportunity to go back and visit the scores when children were being bused to the scores that we now have, I think that question will really answer itself. There’s just a huge difference.

RLH: And what do you say to people who say, “When you’re making a kid travel from one end of the district to the other, he or she has to get up earlier. It’s harder on the child. It’s harder on the parent or guardian of that child who may or may not have transportation.” What do you think about that?

Emma Saunders: I think the bottom line is that we are interested in the success of the children. We are all—at least I am—about children and them being educationally equipped, academically equipped, and sometimes we have to do things differently because it’s not about me. It’s about them. They’re not going away. These children must be educated to get out there and face their future. We’re responsible because we will see them again.

RLH: So then as the school district embarks on the next round of redistricting, what would you say to your potential constituents about how you’ll approach this? And what would you say to the parents who purchased a home in a particular neighborhood so their kid would go to that school?

Emma Saunders: Well, parents send their children to us, and they send the best that they have, so it might not mean that you’re always going to get what you want. We have well-qualified educators, and I think if we sit around, put our heads together— One of the things that comes to mind immediately is what Dr. Markley is doing right now, and that’s the breakfast that he’s doing in different locations to hear from people. I think that we should never attempt to do anything until we hear the voice of the people.

Ms. Smiles (email): Our community’s continued economic vitality depends on how we invest today for tomorrow. What is your birth-to-eight early learning plan?

Emma Saunders: Oh gosh, we have to do that. I mean, there’s no way we can begin to plan anything without including pre-K. If we continue to wait for a third grader to make major decisions, we have missed the mark. We missed it. I believe in universal pre-K, and data proves that that is what we need. They stay in school. They become homeowners. They don’t tend to drop out. We’ve got to go at the beginning. We start at the beginning. We have to. My example is this: If you plant anything—let’s just say a tree—and you wait five years to attend to it, it can go in any direction. But if you attend to that tree from the very beginning, it’s going to grow straight because you’re attending to it early and you’re not leaving it out there for five years, unattended. We’ve got to get to the beginning.

RLH: What do you think is the best way to communicate with your constituents—in this case, the parents or the guardians, the New Hanover County tax payers? What do you believe is the extent of your responsibility to those people?

Emma Saunders: Oh gosh, it’s total responsibility. That’s the reason they put you in the position as a school board member, to make educated decisions. It’s not that we’re just doing stuff haphazardly. As a board member, you have to make really concrete, good decision, but I think as a board member, we also need to stay in touch with the people that we’re serving. This is a service job. You’re serving them, and you have to stay in touch. If you don’t stay in touch, you’re missing the mark.

RLH: On May 16th of this year, school board chair Don Hayes signed a resolution promising to increase diversity in the schools. Specific actions mentioned in this document include opening the new career and technical education high school and developing a student diversity plan. How would you like to see that plan develop, and what would you add to the plan?

Emma Saunders: I wish it were open now. I wish that it addressed directly those children who will be at J.C. Roe Center. think we need to offer them first another opportunity because of what’s happening. JC Row is a suspension center. So, we’ve got to find a way to prevent children from being suspended. There are other areas out there. There are other opportunities out there. I had the chance—Well, I took the chance to go and visit Teen ChalleNGe. There’s one in Salemburg. There’s one in Stanly County. I have searched out and found on my own these and other opportunities. I just think J.C. Roe should be a last resort. Don’t put it out there because we know what is happening. I think they said about 80% of the suspended children in there have been African American, low socioeconomics. We’ve got to find a way to get around that. These are children. These are children that we are responsible for training, and they’re not going anywhere. And we either pay for it now or we will certainly pay for it later.

RLH: How will we pay for it later?

Emma Saunders: Well, we all know the answer to that one. If they’re not successful— And they already know. You know, you can’t fool children. Even a preschooler, you cannot fool. If we’re not promoting success at this point, where will they end up? They talked about the pipeline. Where will they end up? And that’s more expensive.

Chass (caller): I'm an educator working in low-performing schools. The problems are created outside of the classroom, and the teachers aren't equipped. Is it possible to restructure the school day to address these issues? I propose increasing the class day for an hour and a half to incorporate a study hall. Friday could be a teacher planning day, with the option of tutoring.

Emma Saunders: I’m not opposed to what Chas is saying, but what I will say is that there has to be another way. We are going to have to put our heads together and come up with a solution to what’s going on. We have to. As I said earlier, if you go back to 2007 and the scores, this was not an issue.

RLH: You’re saying the school district was not as segregated as it is now—

Emma Saunders: Absolutely.

RLH: And people of color were not suffering for that segregation?

Emma Saunders: And test scores were better. Much better.

Ron (caller): An important issue confronting us lately has been the implication of HB2 on the school system—bathrooms in particular—and I’ve heard no comment about it. Is this going to be addressed?

Emma Saunders: As you’re well-aware of, we have lost quite a bit of revenue because of that bill. Revenue is, of course, important, but we think of the grants and the potential to receive grants that would be affected by the bill, and my interpretation is we need to respect everyone. Everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a wheelchair or if you— It just doesn’t matter. Each person needs to be respected. One of the things we all know is that education is primary. It’s important, and respect needs to be in place and we need to provide provisions for all children.

RLH: What does the school board do with that? As it stands now, this is a state law.

Emma Saunders: I’m not sure, but I believe in the past, if you were in that category, there was another bathroom or— I’m not sure.

RLH: If you’re a person who is transgender, you’re saying there were—

Emma Saunders: Right, but I’m not sure, so I’m going to retract on that. I’m not sure how New Hanover County systems handle it, but I think they use the teacher’s bathroom or nurse’s bathroom, but I’m not sure.

RLH: The career and technical education high school is slated to open next academic school year. It’s a program that will allow students to learn job skills, take a non-traditional path, get professional credentialing, learn a trade, along with getting a high school diploma at the end of all of that. What are the challenges you think New Hanover County schools will face with this high school?

Emma Saunders: My question is this: Is this another high school or is this a school that will incorporate and work with the high schools we have now, especially J.C. Roe?

RLH: And so what would you do? If you were elected to the school board, what would be your first—

Emma Saunders: The first thing I’d have to do is clear it up in my head, how it’s going to be handled. Because I don’t believe in just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. I think we need to get to J.C. Roe and give them the opportunity to have those job skills when they finish high school. They need to have the diploma, but I think that’s where the job skills are most important.

Jane (email): By 2020, 67% of jobs in North Carolina will require some post-secondary education. Yet the majority of North Carolina’s fourth graders are not proficient in a key predictor of future academic success: reading. If elected, how will you use your position to address the needs of young children?

Emma Saunders: Again, I go back to the beginning. I believe in universal pre-K so that we can work on getting our children at the same level when they come into school. That’s the only way it’s going to happen. We have got to get to the pre-K students. We have to. And presently, all of our students don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of pre-K.

RLH: What is the role of charter schools in the public school system?

Emma Saunders: Charter schools play many roles, and I’m not against charter schools. I went to GLOW to visit their open house, and I was very impressed. I have been to the other charter school in Wilmington, and I was impressed with them. Charter schools offer parents another alternative, but I honestly believe that public schools can offer the same thing, I really do.

Segment 3: Kevin Spears

RLH: Kevin Spears is the president of Peace for the Port, which is a motivational group that aims to improve local communities. He’s also the chairman of the MLK Recreation Association, a nonprofit which offers recreational and educational programs for local inner-city youth. Kevin Spears, welcome to CoastLine.

Kevin Spears: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

RLH: Kevin Spears, neighborhood schools have been in the news a lot lately, including a memo by superintendent Tim Markley, published in the Star News about a month ago, which acknowledged that schools in poorer neighborhoods, which are also largely minority student populations, are not serving kids adequately. Some candidates say doing away with this neighborhood schools construct would create more problems than it would solve. How do you view this approach to districting?  

Kevin Spears: I agree with Dr. Markley. The lines need to be redrawn. I totally disagree with anyone who says that, by doing that, we’ll create more of a problem. I went to school here in New Hanover County. It seems like a long time ago, but I think I received a quality education here, and it was pretty diverse then. Twenty or thirty years later, I still have friends from those educational opportunities, from being bused not extremely far but away from my comfort zone, where we were able to meet and make friendships and learn, most importantly. So I think we need to get back to that.

RLH: What would you say to a parent who purchased a home in a particular neighborhood because they wanted their child to go to that school and suddenly you’re coming along and saying, “Well, it might not work that way.”?

Kevin Spears: Well, I guess there’s only one way to say it. It’s an elitist type of ideology, where you just want your children in that neighborhood, in that particular school. There are benefits to being around different types of people. That’s beneficial for children. If we’re only accustomed to seeing particular things, we don’t know what else is there to offer. We say the same thing about the world. People who only live in Wilmington, they don’t know what it is like in California. We don’t know how much better or worse things could be. You’ve got to take the opportunity.

James (caller): I’m from Wilmington. I went to Gregory Elementary, Williston, and then New Hanover High School. My question is that a lot of the topics that I’ve been listening to are about black kids being disproportionately suspended. I just think back to so many kids. All of the black kids who excelled academically were ragged on by all the other kids for being called Urkle, Oreo, acting white. My question is, is there any way to address that underlying culture?

RLH: So kids are supported for excelling academically rather than being ridiculed?

James (caller): Yeah, I mean, they were actively teased and bullied by other kids to the point where, there are some kids that I went to school with for twelve years straight that you could tell didn’t want to stand out for being a smart kid because they’d be teased.

Kevin Spears: I think I may have been one of those kids in either category, but when you look back, in hindsight, and they say hindsight is 20/20, I was telling a young man this the other day, I work at a community college, and he was saying he didn’t agree with certain people because he was ragged on early on for not going with the crowd, and in hindsight, if you look back, you know, not saying to thumb your nose up at people or stick your tongue out, but those qualities that you followed early on in life probably have you better prepared for life versus the people who didn’t closely pay attention to it or thought it was nerdy to get your work done or to try and excel. You can get a free education for just being studious. So, I think it’s important to put this education first. It’s not necessary to go with the crowd. We should be about that business early on. And I have a sixteen-year-old son, and I tell this to him often, “You’re more concerned with being popular, and I’m more concerned with you getting an education.”

RLH: So your sixteen-year-old son has the support of his father?

Kevin Spears: Most definitely.

RLH: 37.4% of black third graders in the New Hanover County school district passed their reading end-of-grade test. And this is from superintendent Tim Markley’s memo, recently published in the Star News. That means, if you are a student of color in New Hanover County, the deck is stacked against you. You probably won’t succeed. What does that mean to you now, Kevin Spears, especially if you’re elected to the school board? What do you do about that?

Kevin Spears: That means we have a lot of work to do, but it also means that we need to basically pull the top back and see what’s going on, you know, open up the hood and see what’s happening underneath. Why are 63% of third grade African Americans not proficient?

RLH: Why do you think that is?

Kevin Spears: I don’t know if they’re equipped with the resources. I don’t know if we truly understand. I think we spend a lot of time trying to cover material instead of being thorough in what we’re teaching. I just graduated from UNCW in the spring and I think—

RLH: Congratulations.

Kevin Spears: That was one of the issues. My professors were so concerned with getting from A to B, and B to C, not if we thoroughly knew the information they presented to us. I think that’s the problem we have in elementary schools, where we’re more concerned with covering things versus whether the students thoroughly understand and are getting the repetition to understand. That’s how you learn, through repetition.

Rene (email): I am concerned that universal preschool would result in even more pushing down of curriculum. As a kindergarten teacher, I am distressed by the inappropriate expectations being forced on kindergarten children.

Kevin Spears: I think right now, there’s so much stress put upon us, whether we are right or wrong. No one really wants to be wrong. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. We try to sugarcoat it, give partial credit, but it’s okay to be wrong. You go back to the drawing board, you study, you practice. Like I said, I was in school a long time ago, especially preschool, but we’re just putting so much emphasis on not being preschoolers. My nephew is five years old, he knows the password to your laptop. He can get in, even if it’s capitalized or whatever. We’re taking the enjoyment out, and we’re putting too much stress on children at this age, and it’s creating a problem.

William (caller): Mr. Spears, I know you grew up in New Hanover County. Many schools, like Hoggard, are increasing their facilities, like changing their gyms. What would you do as a school board member to add facilities that would keep young men and women interested in school?

Kevin Spears: Thank you, and go Vikings! Are you talking about school facilities or just facilities in general in the area?

William (caller): They’re adding a new gymnasium there because they know it’s a full education that a student has, so they need those facilities.

Kevin Spears: Right, well, I think New Hanover County has always been competitive in athletics. When I graduated from Hoggard in 1994, it was a school of excellence, I always say that. We have to put emphasis on both. We want adequate facilities and resources, whether it be athletics or academics. So if there is a school that is not up to par, I would want to look into that. But honestly speaking, my emphasis is academics. I am so geared on academics. So if you’re playing sports, that’s great, but your academics need to be up to par to even participate. So, I want the facilities. I want everything to be up to par.

David (email): Why are the school board positions partisan? Does this not cloud the objectives and add unnecessary conflict to the board? Can’t we put the children first and forget politics for a change?

RLH: The fact is, Kevin Spears, this is a partisan race, and if you were elected to the Board, you would have to communicate with your constituents, people who don’t necessarily share your views. How will you communicate with people who don’t share your views, with whom you come into pretty deep conflict?

Kevin Spears: It’s not really that deep. It’s no different than what we should practice every day as citizens. We all don’t see eye-to-eye, but there has to be a middle ground, and I am willing and capable to go to that middle ground for the sake of the children. It is unfortunate that the Board is partisan, but I mean, if you look at the situation that we have now, there is no fair representation of a Democrat on the Board. We have seven Republicans, and I’m not throwing any shade at the Republicans right now. I’m just saying that some diversity on that Board would be beneficial for the children and the school system.

RLH: Let’s say you’re elected to the Board. We’ve reached the end of your first four-year term. What has changed in the school system? Where are we now?

Kevin Spears: Everything has changed. I hope it’s not me being too far in the clouds, but we don’t have any low-performing schools. We’ve taken the stigma off of those six schools. I’ll be honest, I have such a problem with hearing “impoverished schools” and “impoverished neighborhoods.” That thoroughly disturbs me. That’s part of the reason why people don’t want to send their children to those schools. Even impoverished people don’t want to send their children to an impoverished school if that’s what you’re calling it. Who would want to go there? No one.

RLH: You mentioned busing as one of the solutions to that. What else would you do? Is there a way to attract white, affluent students to some of these low-performing schools?

Kevin Spears: I think it was done. For instance, Gregory around maybe 2000.

RLH: And how was that done?

Kevin Spears: My two younger siblings went to Gregory, and I think that’s when they first introduced the magnet schools, and everybody was going to Gregory. Gregory was a powerhouse, and those kids really got a great education at that time. This is not some fly-by-night thing that we’re trying to introduce. It’s worked here.

RLH: What do you think the role of charter schools is in the public school system?

Kevin Spears: Just last week, I was at the ribbon cutting ceremony for GLOW. It seemed like a prosperous thing where people were concerned with education and wanted to see some changes. They’ve done that. I think that’s what you’re getting with some charter schools. I know there’s some conflict about charter schools and where the money goes, but you know. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.