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Wide range of school board priorities, concerns among District 2 candidates for WS/FCS Board of Education

From the 2022 school board race: A look at the candidates for Winston-Salem/Forsyth Board of Education series
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The main question involving the District 2 race for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is whether a lone Democratic challenger can secure one of four seats against four Republican challengers.

Although the district that encompasses the ring outside the city tends to lean Republican, there’s only one Republican incumbent on the ballot in Leah Crowley.

How successful Democrat Jennifer Castillo’s campaign is could determine whether there will be Democratic or Republican majority for the next board term. The board currently is 5-4 Democrat.

The May Republican primary had Robert Barr with the most votes at 9,215, followed by Stan Elrod at 9,062, Crowley at 7,770 and Steve Wood at 7,455.

Robert Barr

Robert Barr

Barr

Local pastor Robert Barr is attempting to get back on the school board after losing a bid for reelection in 2018.

A former teacher and curriculum coordinator in the school district, Barr ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2010, then won a term as an at-large representative in 2014.

“If I do get on the board, I’m not coming on board without any prior knowledge,” Barr said. “I’d come in with an understanding that I didn’t have the first time.”

One of his main priorities is improving student achievement, particularly among Black students.

Barr said he also feels like the district should set achievable goals. He mentioned the district’s goal of having 90% of third-graders reading at or above grade level by 2025.

“I don’t think that is achievable, so maybe we need to back that up and say, ‘By 2025, we have to have ‘X’ percentage of students reading at grade level.’

“I think we can become inspirational and aspirational, but we need to know how are we going to do this? And how do we practically support teachers in the classroom?” Barr said.

Barr has the backing of Put Children First Again, a local group that endorsed conservative school board candidates.

“I think people saw my educational credentials. They know my background. My story resonated,” said Barr, who grew up in a single-parent home in an impoverished area of Winston-Salem.

“I had a lot of people in my church family supporting me and praying for me, and I met some great parents who were concerned.”

Jennifer Castillo

Jennifer Castillo

Castillo

Jennifer Castillo listed her top priorities as protecting teacher pay, school safety and emergency preparedness, and more resources for students.

“I believe we should keep school choice because it gives parents the opportunity to choose a school that is the best fit for their child,” Castillo said.

“This is especially helpful when children are being bullied at one school, because the parents have a chance to change the environment their child is in, thus giving their child an opportunity to thrive elsewhere.”

Castillo said her advocacy effort in the local Latino community can help her serve to “finally bridge the gap between our Latino community and our schools.”

“Overall, I am a creative individual with excellent leadership skills, and I plan on combining all of my talents and strengths to make sure we govern the school board in the most effective way possible.”

Castillo said she is hopeful that whomever is elected to the school board will be willing to “work alongside eight other individuals to oversee the superintendent and govern the school system accordingly. “

“It is not the place for one to push their own personal agenda. At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to do right by our students, teachers and staff.”

Even though Castillo is the lone Democrat running in District 2, she hopes “that my run ... inspires others to do the same in the future.”

“If more Democrats don’t make a run for District 2, then it will always be the same: a majority Republican win.

“But District 2 is not a majority Republican district. The demographics have changed, and Democrats are spread out all over Forsyth County, including in Kernersville, Clemmons and Walkertown. We can’t win what we don’t fight for.”

Leah Crowley

Leah Crowley

Crowley

Leah Crowley said she thought the hard work she has put in as a school board member resonated with voters during the May primary

“I think a lot of people know the work I’ve done in the last 3½ years,” said Crowley, who was first elected in 2018. “Where we might see some changes, people weren’t ready to throw everything out.”

Crowley believes the top priority for the school and WS/FCS is improving student achievement scores for reading and math following the classroom disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have not recovered yet from the learning loss from the pandemic from scores that were already low,” Crowley said.

“I believe the school board is approving everything the superintendent needs to address that, but we need more teachers, community tutors and volunteers to get students where they need to be.”

Crowley said the school board can play a pivotal role in providing teachers with respect, as well as supplies, a safe environment, clean facilities, professional development, fewer students in each class, teachers’ assistants, and administrative support with student discipline.

“They also need to be compensated as college educated professionals,” she said.

Crowley cited the school board is waiting on the results of a facility audit “to reveal what needs we have across the entire county, from classrooms to playgrounds.”

Given the likelihood of a majority of new board members, Crowley encourages providing more training to all members.

“Sometimes, there’s a gap in understanding of what we can and can’t do, and what our role is as a board,” Crowley said. “Some people get elected thinking their job is something else.

“We’re not being hired as nine superintendents. We have a superintendent.

“Our role is to evaluate the job that the superintendent is doing and making sure we’re going in the direction that we want to, and she has what she needs to succeed.”

Crowley expressed concern that attempts at board collaboration and compromise could be derailed by board members trying to localize national school board issues that she said aren’t prevalent here.

“It’s absolutely a concern of mine, and I am saying that as a lifelong Republican,” Crowley said.

“There are things that are national issues that may happen on a case-by-case basis in any school district, but are not pervasive issues in our district.

“They are not part of our curriculum, not what our teachers have been trained how to teach certain subjects in our schools.”

Crowley said she wants parents “to be vigilant about their children’s education, but not be focused on something that happened in a school across the country and assuming that is a pervasive practice in our schools.”

“That’s a wrong assumption to make. The vast majority of teachers are doing a great job at trying to bring a nonpartisan, nonpolitical viewpoint to the school system.”

Stan Elrod

STAN ELROD

Elrod

Stan Elrod may be attempting his first term on the school board, but he’s a familiar face to the school system having served as principal at both Reagan and Reynolds high schools.

Elrod said he believes a Republican majority on the school board would be positive for the school system, parents and students, particularly considering there will be a non-incumbent majority.

As a former teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal, principal, central office employee, parent and grandparent in our school system, I feel I have the experience and first-hand knowledge of the commitment needed for a successful educational community,” Elrod said.

As such, Elrod said he believes he can serve as a conduit for reaching board compromises on thorny issues, such as school safety, teacher pay, board transparency and accountability.

“The No. 1 priority should be, and it was for me as principal, is safety,” Elrod said. “Parents have got to feel like they are sending their children to a place that they feel is safe, and parents have got to feel like they are safe and welcomed as well.

“Our job is to do everything we can to makes sure their children are safe as long as they are with us each school day,” Elrod said.

“That means enhancing the partnerships you have with local law-enforcement agencies because we all want what’s best for the community, and schools are part of the community.”

Elrod said he believes the difference between being a principal and a school board member “is that you have to look at the whole, rather than individual parts.”

“As a school board member, you have to look more holistically, trying to create the environment systemwide that you wanted for your school.

“That requires utilizing all the resources you can within the school system and out into the community.”

Elrod said he recognizes that “teachers have endured extreme challenges while navigating online learning and are now dealing with educational and social deficits.”

“We must provide teachers with support and respect, and eliminate the barriers that keep them from doing what we hired them to do.

“Ultimately, I would bring my experience, my knowledge and my passion to the board if voters choose to elect me,” Elrod said.

Steve Wood

Steve Wood

Wood

Steve Wood said he preferred to refer to his campaign website when asked about his race.

He identifies seven priorities, six of which have a local focus: academics; parental rights; school board policy and governance; citizenship and cultural literacy; fiscal responsibility; and transparency.

Wood said that “I believe parents are the first teachers. I believe every child can learn, socioeconomic and cultural background notwithstanding.”

“I believe parental choice, and not ZIP code, should prevail in student school assignment. I believe money should follow the student.”

Wood also said he would support dismantling how the school board is elected, calling the current system “antiquated, cumbersome, ineffective and inefficient.”

“I believe the WS/FCS board should consider single member board districts for the election of board members in order to enhance communication with parents, bring governance of schools closer to the taxpaying voter, and simplify the voting process.”

Wood also cited his concern of the potential for national school board issue critical race theory to creep into WS/FCS.

“I believe CRT is a pernicious ‘theory,’ and neither it nor its insidious ideological relatives should have any place in the public school classroom,” Wood said.

“Our schools should be teaching our students how to think, not what to think.”

Wood also has the backing of Put Children First Again, a local group that endorsed conservative school board candidates.

Wood also has been endorsed by the socially conservative N.C. Values Coalition, the first time the advocacy group has made school board endorsements.

“With concerns about parental rights, and politically charged and inappropriate materials being pushed in schools, we wanted to take a sampling of North Carolina counties and evaluate their school board candidates,” coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald said in a statement.

“These candidates have proven to us they will honor parental rights and protect children with their votes.”

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@rcraverWSJ

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