By Carissa Joines
Editor’s Note: After multiple request from CCD readers for a report from inside the room when the recent school board appointment was made. this is the blow by blow of what occurred. For an analysis and opinion on the decision please read HERE.
On Tuesday evening, the Board of Education met in a specially called meeting in order to select a replacement for Jeannie Metcalf, who resigned suddenly in September. After conducting interviews with four candidates, and two rounds of voting which were separated by a period of discussion, Lida Calvert-Hayes was finally selected as the appointee. How the meeting occurred, and how the process unfolded is a unique opportunity to watch the inner workings of the personalities and politicians on our board.
The meeting lasted for about an hour and a half, with the majority of that time spent interviewing the four individuals who had been selected by the board after reviewing informational packets provided by the candidates. Those interviewed included Jason “Jay” Davenport, Associate Vice President, Campaign Director at Wake Forest University; Tina Heelan, a former attorney and PTA president; Michelle Craun, current PTA president at Vienna Elementary who also has a background in finance; and Calvert-Hayes, who owns S&L Painting and Decorating.
All of the candidates are registered Republicans who reside in school board District Two which covers the outlying areas of Winston-Salem and the rest of Forsyth County. Interestingly, all four candidates live within a mile and a half of each other, in the northwest area of Winston-Salem, near Mt Tabor High School. In 2013 the Northwest Ward saw almost double the turnout of all other wards in the most recent City Council election, which Calvert-Hayes lost to Democrat Jeff MacIntosh.
Each candidate was allotted 20 minutes for their interview, which was conducted by the full board in the presence of about 20 school system staff and community members. Failed politician and Forsyth County Republican Party chairman Mark Baker (He is also the secondary principal of a local private church school) sat behind several board members and listened intently.
The interviews consisted of 6 questions, presented to the candidates by Chairwoman Dana Caudill Jones, and then an opportunity for sitting board members to ask any followup questions they desired. Candidates waited in another room prior to their interview, a timer kept for each candidate, and every question asked of each person.
The first question required candidates to provide some background on themselves personally.
Mr. Davenport, the first interviewee, delivered a concise, prepared briefing of his family (3 sons and a wife of 20 years) which included his grandparent’s roles on another school board, as a teacher and then university professor. He also touted his personal experience as a “president of a high school” and receipt of a Master’s in Higher Education.
Ms. Heelan stated that she has three children (ages 20-25) who all attended WSFCS, and that after 6 years of practicing law, she became a stay-at-home mom. She is a moderate Republican who openly supported City Councilman Jeff MacIntosh in his campaign against Lida Calvert-Hayes.
Ms. Craun spoke of her ties to the area, having grown up in Greensboro and attending Salem College before settling in Winston-Salem, where she has two girls in WSFCS.
Ms. Calvert-Hayes spent 15 minutes of her time on the first question, speaking about raising 3 children (12 years of which she did as a single mom) her years as a substitute teacher in Davie County Schools, and starting her own business. Calvert-Hayes spent additional time talking about how she is “a big, big fan of minority and underprivileged children,” the Girls Inc. program, and her experiences working with children with learning disabilities.
The second question was related to the time commitment required of Board members, which includes about 5 meetings a month, outside reading and research, and communication with staff and board members.
Davenport stated that should he be appointed, he would resign from 3 other boards on which he serves in order to allocate that time to the school board. Heelan, who umpires field hockey and has not otherwise entered the workforce, would be able to make the school board her “top priority”. Craun felt she would easily be able to fit the time commitment into her schedule, and would prioritize it as a job. Calvert-Hayes said that although she is a busy lady, she doesn’t have to ask anyone if she can leave her job because “I’m the boss”.
The third question concerned the candidates’ involvement with WSFCS.
Davenport admitted that only one of his three children is in public school, but spun the conversation toward teachers who impacted him and how his family taught him to “always give back more than you take from society.”
Heelan stated that all three of her children attended WSFCS, and spoke of how she had been both Vice President and President of the PTA at Jefferson Elementary, had children attend Brunson, Hanes, and Jefferson Middle, and then of her involvement as co-president of the Academics board at Mt. Tabor. Heelan stated that she was “less a bring cookies to the classroom” kind of mom, and more a big picture person who sought “to address the whole school community” with her service.
Craun, while addressing her “heavy involvement in schools daily,” with her children, and role as PTA leader seemed to be most aware of the school board’s role in impacting schools, speaking to her understanding of how their decisions regarding bell times, testing, calendars, and teacher development as well as the burden borne by teachers in low performing schools are all things she sees first hand in her time in the schools.
Calvert-Hayes said that while she did not have direct experience in WSFCS, she had experience in the Davie County schools, has some of her grandchildren in public schools, and when her kids were in school she was “the cupcake lady” and “brought in a Christmas tree” among other numerous things to help the schools.
The fourth question asked candidates how they would manage a situation in which their vote was different from the majority vote, and would that impact their ability to function as a board.
Davenport stated that he would come to the vote without a predetermined position, but would research the issue and use facts to form his opinion. He said that he would adamantly defend and debate his position from those facts, but if he failed, “then so be it.”
Heelan said that she would approach a vote by bringing in facts and ideas, and would not be afraid to advocate for positions not in the majority, but felt strongly that the board should speak as one group and should communicate as such to the community. Heelan declared her commitment to the community, saying that she felt it was important that the board be “open and transparent” and that it was important to be able to gain the respect of the community by convincing them by communicating that “we’ve considered everything and made an informed, rational and reasonable decision.” The transparency or openness of the school board have been concerns for many parents and community members.
Craun said that the board had to be able to function as a whole, and that if a decision was made by the majority of the board, she would accept that and move on.
Calvert-Hayes said that should she find herself not in line with the majority, she would go back and revisit her decision, to “see how I was wrong,” and ask herself if she needed to look at it a different way.
The fifth question contained two parts: if appointed, would the candidate seek election in the next race in 2018 and did the candidate consider running in the recent election, and if not, why?
Davenport said that he would run for election, and that he had considered running before, but after attending a meeting where (former board member) John Davenport and (current board members) David Singletary and Robert Barr spoke about their campaigns, he was confident in those candidates and did not see the need to enter the race.
Heelan said that she would run for election, and that she did not last time because of the transitions in the lives of her children, and because the actual process of running for election was not something she was particularly excited about.
Craun’s answer was also that of a non-politician, saying that she would have to address that with her family in two years, as that was not a decision she could make without consulting the impact it would have on her husband and children. She said that she had considered running last time, and had even gone to the Board of Elections with paperwork to file to run, but that after praying about it repeatedly, did not feel that she had an answer, so she did not enter the race.
Calvert-Hayes spoke first about having an unsuccessful bid for City Council and her understanding of the process of running for office, but eventually said that she would run for election. In response to why she did not run before, she said that she had a discussion with the head of the Republican party to that end, and that she looked at all the candidates, and “they were all great” so she “saw no reason to run when there was no [Republican] running for City Council.”
Although Calvert-Hayes could be referring to a tactical decision on her part, choosing to not engage in back-to-back races, the City Council race was in 2013, and the school board race was a year later, in 2014.
The final question asked the candidates to recall a recent board decision and evaluate how they would balance community concerns, student needs, staff considerations, state and federal laws and their own personal values and beliefs when faced with that, or a similar, decision.
Davenport referred ahead, focusing on the impending bond decision. He stated that “in general, I am not a proponent of governments using bonds to go into debt,” but continued that he felt that for infrastructure uses, it could be alright. “The vitality we experience through economic growth begins at the schools,” Davenport said, and he felt the bond package “could set us up for the next 15 years” and as such was an important investment in our future as a community.
Heelan cited the Hanes/Lowrance contamination issue. She said that she felt that the board sought to evaluate the scientific evidence they were presented and consider how to be responsive to parents. She recognized that perception became reality and that the board had to recognize the concerns of the parents and the long-term impact of the program and make a realistic choice in light of those realities.
Craun paused when the question was presented to her, but it seems that was more to consider how her answer would be perceived than whether or not she could think of a decision to address. She cited the board’s decision about calendar days, and stated that she would not have gone against the parent surveys and would have accepted the vote of the public as her vote. She was the only candidate under consideration who challenged the board on an unpopular decision.
After writing down the question, Calvert-Hayes also chose the Hanes/Lowrance decision, saying that she felt strongly about that, based on what she had read in the media. She was not sure of the end result on the students, or “how we are gonna pay for that” and then brought up her own experiences in dealing with hazardous waste (paint). She said “first thing, what kind of contamination is it? Is it real? Then ask the staff – how do you feel? Then of course the parents become involved, it is also a decision the parents have.” Calvert-Hayes said it was important what federal or state laws apply and whose responsibility it is. Bringing it full circle, she ended with “But in the long run, you do what is best for the students.”
In the follow-up period, board member David Singletary asked each candidate the same question in reference to the Bond proposal for funding renovations, technology, and new buildings within the system. “It is apparent to the board that there are significant needs, but it may not be so apparent to the public,” said Singletary. He then asked how the candidate would support the bond and assist in educating the public about the needs behind the proposal.
Davenport had essentially answered the question within his response to the recent board decision question.
Heelan said that she has lived in the community since 1985 and has supported every bond proposal since that time, stating that it is important to protect our investments and be good stewards of the money. She felt it was important to build and renovate where the greatest needs are, lamenting the fact that the board would not be able to access the “$550 million the district had identified” as needs.
Craun stated that she had reviewed all of the information on the bonds that the board had made public and felt that bonds are necessary to get big jobs done in a quick timeframe. She cited the aging buildings all across our district as visible evidence of the need.
Calvert-Hayes answered first with a standard Republican talking point: “First you need to look at wasteful spending and cut out as much as possible.” Is she for the bond? Yes. She continued that “people who don’t have children in school don’t understand, but that’s our job – to educate the public.” Calvert-Hayes touted her “experience as a contractor” as a bonus, because she’ll “know when we’re being taken advantage of,” and spoke about 10 schools she’s had painting contracts on and her ability to give suggestions on specs and construction. (In reality, however, once contracts have been bid out, the school board has no oversight of the work itself, that is accomplished by a specific contractor, usually an outside construction management group, and some school system staff.) The 20 minute timer went off on Calvert-Hayes, the only one to use the full time, and the interview portion was concluded.
The board was then faced with making their decision. Chairwoman Jones asked that the discussion stay positive, focusing on the statements which candidates agreed with or felt were impactful. The process necessary for the decision included reaching a consensus (majority vote) on a candidate through a secret ballot, and then making a motion that the candidate be appointed, then a vote on the appointment via show of hands. She said that the board could either have some discussion and then take a ballot vote, or just vote and see if there was consensus, and if not, discussion would occur.
Board member Robert Barr suggested that they begin with the secret ballot vote. 5 votes were needed to be determined have consensus, since that would be a majority of the 8 sitting board members. The ballots were distributed and the board members voted just after 7:45pm. Jones and the school attorney, Ally Tomberlin, tallied the votes, and found that there was not enough consensus to make a motion. Jones then asked for discussion, requesting that board members share why they picked their choice. The room was silent for a couple of minutes as members looked everywhere but at one another.
David Singletary broke the silence, saying “personally, I chose to support Lida.” He cited her activity in the community, her unique perspective as an entrepreneur and a single mother and her impact on a social level as reasons for his choice. He said that she may not have been on PTAs, and was a “cupcake lady” but that “her knowledge of building and construction” would be helpful.
Elisabeth Motsinger said that she had chosen Jay Davenport. While she didn’t agree with some of his answers, she said that she had respect for a strategic thinker and valued his higher education perspective.
Vic Johnson said that he has also selected Davenport, because he was a man. “We have to deal with boys that we have a problem with,” said Johnson, “We need more men to come in and talk to our boys, and need leadership from our men.” This is not the first time Johnson has put his foot in his mouth recently. He was pushed off of the WSSU Board of Trustees in 2014 after he refused to resign over an alleged breach of confidentiality during the school’s search for a new chancellor. According to sources, another factor was that Johnson, on the record, told a student journalist at WSSU that he was “a stand up ni**er.”
Lori Clark thanked the candidates for coming in, and said she could empathize with them since she herself had been in their position when she was interviewed to replace Donny Lambeth. Clark came in undecided, but said that she had selected Davenport after hearing his statements, citing his knowledge of issues and the detail and expansion he provided in his answers.
Deanna Taylor also offered empathy, having been a candidate for appointment to replace Geneva Brown. She, however, supported Calvert-Hayes. Taylor cited the “huge, diverse district” that the board serves, and appreciated Calvert-Hayes’ advocacy for “minorities” and girls.
Robert Barr echoed those sentiments, stating that he also chose Calvert-Hayes for her support of minorities. “I was listening for those words,” said Barr, and Calvert-Hayes statements about “underprivileged and disabled students” also contained buzz words he had been listening for. He also liked that she had been a single mom and was business minded.
At this point the split was 3-3 Calvert-Hayes/Davenport, and rather than make Mark Johnson or herself have to declare the split 4-4 or show that they weren’t on the same page as any other board members, Jones closed the discussion, asking if the group was ready for a vote again.
They took up the secret ballots a second time, and Jones returned to state that the board had reached consensus. She then made a motion, based on that consensus, that Lida Calvert-Hayes be selected for appointment to the board. David Singletary seconded the motion. The motion was put to a vote, at which time some members raised their hands and others spoke their vote. Ally Tomberlin asked for a show of hands so that she could record the vote accurately, at which point all members raised their hands, and the vote was recorded as unanimous.
Calvert-Hayes is set to be sworn in at the next board meeting, scheduled for October 27th.