CHARLOTTE — As election season continues to heat up residents across Mecklenburg County will have to decide who out of 14 candidates will fill the three open seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board.
Channel 9 Education reporter Jonathan Lowe, spoke with all 14 candidates about their plans for the future, their past experience, and what separates them from their opponents.
After relocating to the Queen City from Cincinnati with her family more than ten years ago, Shamaiye Haynes has been active in the local community managing a nonprofit. Two of her four children are enrolled in CMS schools allowing her to spend a lot of time in the school system.
What will give you an advantage over 14 candidates running for three seats?
“Sheer experience, specifically in education, specifically in CMS, specifically as a parent, a community leader within the Title I Schools, and also, someone who has the experience of working with the current board, and the last board who left as well, not to say that I am an insider, but to say that I have learned how to navigate many of the processes, even from being on the inside, even from being on the outside as a community member.”
Liz Monterrey is the parent of a future Garinger High School graduate and the first-generation daughter of Cuban immigrants. She credits her tech career at a personal finance company as a way to set the district up for success.
How do you plan to set yourself and your platform apart?
“I’ll be the first Latina elected on the school board if I’m elected in November, a third of our students in CMS are of Latino descent, and I’m really excited about connecting with the Latino community and working on improving student outcomes.”
Monty Witherspoon is pastor at Steele Creek AME Zion Church in southwest Charlotte and a newcomer to the political scene. Although he doesn’t have a lot of experience in this type of leadership, he plans to use his experience leading his church to steer the school district in the right direction.
What in your skillset makes you a good fit for the school board?
“Well, obviously leadership, the school board needs strong leaders to ensure that we can turn the ship around, if you will, and go in the right direction, also the ability to analyze data and to set policy, I think I bring that skillset to the table.”
Bill Fountain, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former combat pilot. He credits his time working at the Pentagon where he worked with multiple departments and others with differing political opinions. Although Fountain was passionate about the Air Force and flying, he says he has always been called to be a teacher. He says one of his main goals if elected will be focusing on literacy in early education and helping young students reach milestones in a timely manner.
Why are you running again, and this time for an At-large seat?
“Well, the first thing, I look at the background of my leadership, working collaboratively with some pretty high, different things that I have been doing in that regard, and then having the teaching experience where I know the challenges of teaching, of school administration, and parental concerns for the safety and success of their children.”
Born and raised in the Queen City, Lenora Shipp is a graduate of West Charlotte High School and Barber-Scotia College. With three decades of education experience under her belt, in roles as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, Shipp hopes her time spent with students in the classroom can bring positive change if elected to the board.
Why do you want to run again? And what more do you think is on the horizon for the next school board?
“I want to continue to make sure every school is a good school. That concerns me that we make sure that the learning has taken place in all schools, that were look at our budgets, and make sure that budget is well aligned with what we need in terms of resources in terms of staffing.”
As a father of four and active volunteer in local youth programs, Juanrique “Ricky” Hall has strong ties to local students outside of the classroom and on the field as a high school football coach. Currently, he is an advocate volunteer with the City of Charlotte’s Alternatives to Violence Program, an outlet for youth to choose a path of success and avoid becoming a victim and slow the increase of violence among kids and teens.
What makes you different from your opponents?
“I’m different period, I’m not going to get up here and talk about bonds. And in the same thing that everybody could do, anybody can go up and read stuff and read up on things, I want to get down to the meat and bone a situation we’re dealing with, I can’t.”
Brian Kasher has been working in education for more than 30 years, specializing in safety training and even owning a school in Washington D.C. Locally, he has been in leadership roles at CMS for the last seven years, including designing a position within the district known as Manager of Environmental Safety and Health.
How will your individuality put you ahead in the race?
“I’m aware of most of the schools county-wide, I’ve worked in almost all of them. I’ve worked with the staff of most all of them,” Kasher said, “And I feel that my skills and awareness would better serve the community in an at-large role as opposed to the south Charlotte district role.”
Michael Johnson Jr.
Michael Johnson Jr. is a father, business consultant, and musician by trade. After graduating from Hampton College with a degree in music, he opened up his own business in the city. Johnson has a daughter who’s heading off to kindergarten soon and he is looking to increase not only her success but the success of all students in the city’s district.
What approach do you plan to bring to the board?
“I look at CMS, the district through the lens of a business, and the product is education. And our end users are our children. And so we have to ensure that we get back to the business of education, and educating our kids and ensuring that there are processes and policies in place that are streamlined that eliminates a lot of the red tape and a lot of the confusion a lot of our kids and parents go through.”
Omar Harris is a father, businessman, and combat veteran serving six years in the North Carolina National Guard. Originally from Petersburg, Virginia, he is a father to two boys who attend CMS schools. Harris feels that his personable demeanor will allow him to connect with the students and teachers inside the school but parents of students out in the community.
What social skill sets you apart from your opponents? How will that help you?
“I‘m just I’m a normal human being. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve done a lot of things, but I’m able to connect with people,” Harris said, “the main thing I want to do is connect the community’s parents and teachers to the school board. Because there seems to be a disconnect.”
Annette Albright, a Mount Airy native, not only has a background in education, but experience in adult correctional facilities. Her goal, if elected, is to encourage kids to follow the straight and narrow, but hold them accountable for their actions; she is also a strong, vocal advocate for school safety for all.
How do you plan to set yourself apart from the other 13 candidates?
“I believe my advocacy work in the Charlotte community sets me apart. I have continued over the last six years or since I left CMS to advocate for School Safety, to advocate for you know, better actions with Title nines and sexual assaults, better responses from students who are misbehaving in school and not getting discipline. So I have been consistent in that.”
Claire Covington is a lawyer and mother to two CMS students. According to her campaign, in addition to being the daughter of educators, she is also active in her daughter’s public school as a room parent and a member of the Parents Teachers Students Organization. If elected to the CMS board, she hopes to give every student a straight path to success no matter where they come from.
Why did you decide to run?
“I have two girls, obviously in CMS and the older one went in during the pandemic and I saw just how difficult that was on all types of families. It was something that stressed our family out greatly as you can imagine, and we had a lot of resources to be able to handle that. However, seeing the families that did not have the resources unable to enable the kids even to log on to the internet to attend Zoom classes was very disappointing.”
Tigress Sydney Acute McDaniel
Tigress Sydney Acute McDaniel has a background in education but has recently gotten her Juris Doctorate giving her another element of experience to bring to the race. She is hopeful that her diverse background and love for learning will help set her apart from her opponents.
Why are you running?
“For many reasons. So I pondered other seats, and I still have my sights set on potentially other seats. However, I have been asked repeatedly for years to run for the Board of Education. And I was very, very concerned about that approach. I believe now that I have finished law school, I believe that I am better suited for that.”
Clara Kennedy Witherspoon
Having lived in Charlotte for about five decades, Clara Kennedy Witherspoon has seen the CMS system grow and develop. While she believes public education works, she has noticed aspects of the school district that need fixing. When she is not campaigning, she runs GMP Inc., a program helping local at-risk families and youth. During the pandemic, she introduced a Teen Domestic Violence Program to GMP Inc.
How do you plan to set yourself and your platform apart from your opponents?
“First of all, I am a Charlotte teen. I have a heart for education. I have a background in education, and I have a good honest of what effective leadership looks like,” Witherspoon said, “I have a Master’s degree in Christian leadership and leadership to me as leadership. And I believe that we have to hold everybody accountable from the superintendent and that has to look a specific way.”
Peggy Capehart did not respond to our interview request.
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