School board race low-key

Six candidates similar in view

Staff WriterNovember 1, 2009 

— In contrast to Wake County's contentious school board race and the sweeping change it promises for North Carolina's largest district, the contest for three Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board seats comes off as quiet and quaint.

Instead of pushing radical change or a staunch defense of the status quo, the candidates in this contest seem ideologically in sync. They differ mainly in the programs and priorities they choose to emphasize in one of the state's highest-performing school districts.

"I may have my favorite, but they all seem to be agreeing on most issues," said Jennifer Thompson, a Chapel Hill mother, at a recent candidate forum. "Each has an area they care about more, but other than that they're not so different."

Six candidates are vying for three seats on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board in Tuesday's election. Greg McElveen is the only incumbent, running for a seat to which he was appointed last year.

The three winners will serve on a seven-member board that oversees more than 11,000 students in 18 schools. With slashed budgets expected for the next two years, pressure is on the district to continue to raise achievement despite limited resources.

In his first year, McElveen, an independent market researcher, has been vocal about district oversight and offering more teacher support services. He said he isn't troubled by budget cuts - quality programming now means lower costs later.

"If you pull from the right set of resources and provide teachers with support they need, you can be successful even with limited funding," McElveen said.

Michelle Brownstein, a retired surgeon who has served on district-level committees for exceptional children and student health, said it's important for school officials to reach out to families who may mistrust the school district.

"There are parents that have been through this school system that have been failed by this school system. It's an added challenge for them to be sending their children here when they don't believe the system is going to work for them," Brownstein said at the forum.

Joe Green, director of UNC-Chapel Hill's Upward Bound college prep program for low-income students, is the only educator on the ballot. Green has been a teacher and school administrator for 17 years.

McElveen, Brownstein and Green picked up endorsements from the Anderson-Thorpe Breakfast Club, a group of NAACP supporters and members.

Candidate Susana Dancy, a real estate developer, entered the race after successfully lobbying for the construction of an arts wing at the Carrboro High School. Making sure students have equal access to quality programs and facilities at every school is one of her goals.

Candidates Christine Lee, an ophthalmologist, and MaryAnne Gucciardi, a business entrepreneur, have experience with bilingual schools. Lee served on the board of the Chapel Hill/Durham Korean School for six years.

Gucciardi operated a bilingual Mandarin school while she lived in Hong Kong. She is an advocate for language learning, teaching life skills in the classroom, and teaching with technology students already use for fun.

The six candidates, all parents, come from different backgrounds and specialize in different fields but said they were glad to hear from the community and interact with their competitors.

"Don't get me wrong - I want to win," Green laughed. "But I think we all really just want to see people voting."

sadia.latifi@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2002

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