Crowded CMS board District 1 race draws challengers hoping to provide a new voice

CHARLOTTE — Five candidates are jockeying to distinguish themselves and earn a seat on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Board of Education representing north Mecklenburg County.

Voters in north Charlotte, Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville have their work cut out for them wading through the District 1 race. Incumbent Rhonda Cheek is challenged by Melissa Easley, Hamani Fisher, Bill Fountain and Ro Lawsin.

Channel 9′s education reporter Jonathan Lowe interviewed all the candidates on why they stand out from the crowded field.

After originally expressing doubt about a run for reelection, Cheek jumped back in the District 4 race after receiving a clean bill of health.

“I was undergoing some health issues in May, completely stressed out. They started earlier, some severe pain, (I) had no diagnosis and (I) had no idea what was coming in front of me,” Cheek told Channel 9. “I had major surgery in July, blood transfusions and ended up like the Energizer Bunny. … I feel great, my health is a hundred percent now, I’m healthier than I’ve been in two years.”

The change-of-mind didn’t sit well with some of Cheek’s opponents in the race.

“I was disappointed,” Lawsin said. “I think this district, the school board and CMS needs someone that’s going to stick by their word and do what they say they’re going to do.”

“If you think of doing the same thing and think you’re going to get a different result, I’ve heard that’s the definition of insanity,” Fisher said. “She’s been here since 2009, she’s had her run.”

Among the field is Easley, a former CMS teacher, who wants to ensure more educators have their voices heard.

“While (the board members) have the best intentions, very few of them have seen the inside of a K-12 classroom,” she said. “While the policies that they make may be great on paper, they don’t always execute in real life.”

Fountain is also a retired teacher. He said social issues are taking priority in the district over student outcomes.

“For over a year, I’ve been speaking at the CMS School Board and that’s when I realized that things are almost at a critical point, we got to do something and that spurred me to jump into the race,” Fountain said. “They closed the schools during the COVID, they required masks, they didn’t ask parent approval for the pornographic books people were finding, mandating gender identity, which was not good.”

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In the full District 1 field, Fisher isn’t worried about standing out. A pastor and business owner, he says partnerships in the community are where CMS needs to dig in.

“I think the community has lost trust in the system, that’s why you’ve seen 6,000 students leave CMS, because there’s no trust, so we have some work to do to build trust,” he said.

Lawsin, a former PTSA president and Air Force veteran, says the district is lacking leadership that he believe he can bring. His run for the role was sparked by the rise in weapons found at CMS schools.

“Having a daughter at Hough High School, a young adult, scared me,” Lawsin said. “Instead of complaining, sitting on the sidelines, I felt it was time for me to go ahead and do my part to try to effect some change.”

Slumping student outcomes is at the forefront of Lawsin’s pitch, a criticism that the incumbent says doesn’t reflect her time on the board.

“Kids did lose a lot, they didn’t just lose, but they didn’t gain either, so we just saw a tremendous assault on their education, on their mental health with those decisions, but I’m proud to say I wasn’t part of those decisions,” she said.

>> In the video at the top of this story Channel 9′s full interview with each of the candidates contending to represent CMS District 1.

(WATCH BELOW: National report card shows decline in CMS students’ reading, math levels)

Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.