Wake school board election runoff profile: Heather Losurdo

Losurdo: A push for stable schools

khui@newsobserver.comNovember 6, 2011 

  • Age: 40

    Occupation: Mother and community volunteer

    Education: Graduated from Encinal High School in Alameda County, Calif., in 1989. Attended Columbia Community College, Sonora, Calif.; Enrolled at Louisiana Tech University while in U.S. Air Force. Did not earn a degree.

    Political party and experience: Republican, past president of Northern Wake Republican Club.

    Endorsements: Wake County Republican Party, Wake Schools Community Alliance.

    Civic activities and affiliations: Volunteer for various reading programs to help elementary school students; board member, Business and Professional Women; PTA board member; room mother for many years; active and involved with local, state and national politics and policy with a focus on education.

    Why should you be elected? "Although our school system is on the right track, there is still much room for improvement and innovation. I want to go to work for our children and our community to ensure that we are properly preparing our next generation for the 21st century global economy they will face the moment they graduate from our school system.

    In my vast experience in management and leadership roles in the U.S. Air Force, small business banking and many volunteer positions in PTAs, schools and as a mother of two girls, I have proven I can effectively communicate, lead and rise above the status-quo to research and implement proven models of success."

    What role, if any, should diversity play in the new student assignment plan? "Wake County is a diverse community. I believe it's time we challenge the stereotypes of race, socio-economic status and academic performance and continue implementing proven methods of educating that address the needs of each individual child. Currently, we put more emphasis on the socioeconomic makeup of each school rather than on the teaching programs and their results."

    Contact: heatherlosurdo .com , 919-438-1120

  • Tuesday's Wake County school board runoff battle between District 3 incumbent Democrat Kevin Hill and Republican challenger Heather Losurdo could mark yet another turning point in a high-profile, two-year battle over governance of the state's largest school system.

    A newly approved, choice-based student assignment plan could remain largely intact if Losurdo wins, keeping a Republican majority in place on the nine-member board.

    The plan affecting 146,000 Wake County students could change to avoid the creation of high-poverty schools if Hill should win and create a Democratic majority.

    Staff Writers Thomas Goldsmith and T. Keung Hui

Editor's note: Click here for a profile on Kevin Hill, Heather Losurdo's election opponent.

Stability is not the word Heather Losurdo would use to describe her childhood.

The product of a single-parent household, Losurdo said she lived in nine states before she turned 18. She'd pack up whenever her mom decided to move to the next place.

This lack of permanence prompted Losurdo, 40, to push for stability for her own children. She said she wants the same for the 146,000 Wake County students she wants to help serve as a member of the school board.

"I had to learn to adapt," said Losurdo, who has lived in the area for the past three years. "I want children to have the stability to go to a neighborhood school that I didn't have."

Losurdo has had to adapt throughout the campaign as she has found her personal life, political views and education credentials under a microscope from liberal advocacy groups hoping to keep her from winning office.

But Losurdo said her life experience - from dealing with a personal bankruptcy and a stint as a cocktail waitress at an upscale "gentleman's club" to serving in the U.S. Air Force and raising two children - means she can better relate to people.

"I never claimed to be perfect," said Losurdo, former president of the Northern Wake Republican Club. "But I am passionate, and I believe I can be a part of making helpful changes."

Losurdo was born near Cincinnati. She considers the Bay Area of California to be where she grew up, in part because that's where she stayed the longest - five years.

After graduating from Encinal High School in Alameda County in 1989, she bounced around.

She took engineering courses at a community college in California, and had a stint doing finance work at a car dealership. Back then, Losurdo said, she was inspired by the Rock the Vote campaign to register as a Democrat.

She also racked up thousands of dollars in credit card bills, which led to a waitressing stint in a New Orleans strip club in 1993 before she enlisted in the Air Force and later filed for bankruptcy.

"I'm not proud of all the things that I have done," Losurdo said. "But I was young."

Getting under the hood

Losurdo said she was inspired to enlist in part because of childhood stories her grandmother told about an uncle killed in action as a fighter pilot during World War II.

She credits her three years in the Air Force with giving the sense of discipline she needed. Losurdo trained to be a mechanic and worked with aerospace ground equipment. She said she could take apart and reassemble the engine on a 1963 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.

"It was an amazing experience," Losurdo said. "There are so many things that I got out of being in the Air Force."

One of the things: her husband for the past 17 years.

She met Craig Losurdo, a crew chief, while they served at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

After a three-year stint in uniform, the couple decided it would be easier to have and raise a family as civilians. They moved to Charlotte in 1996, where Losurdo found a job at First Union Bank.

By the time she left in 1998 to have her first child, Losurdo said, she was an account manager overseeing $2 billion in small business loans in the Carolinas.

Progress NC Action, a liberal advocacy group, has accused her of puffing up her résumé. But Losurdo stands by her description of the job.

Late Friday, Losurdo's former supervisor at First Union, Donald Senior, backed up Losurdo's description of her duties.

A political evolution

While in Charlotte, Losurdo became involved with schools. She volunteered to work in a bank-sponsored reading program to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg students. She said helping elementary school students learn to read convinced her of the need to set high academic expectations for students.

The family relocated in 2000 to upstate New York, where her husband has relatives. In 2005, they moved to a town near Memphis, Tenn. But they weren't comfortable with the quality of the schools, Losurdo said, and they decided to move to Raleigh in 2008 with their two children, who were in elementary school.

Losurdo said she was attracted by the academic reputation of the Wake schools. She said the reality she encountered was different, enough so that it produced the first seed that would lead three years later to her candidacy for the school board.

"My child was not getting the education that had been hyped about Wake County," she said.

Losurdo said her first encounter with board member Kevin Hill also was a factor in her decision to run.

She said she was unable to get Hill to help when she asked why a boy who brought a box cutter to school to cut up a classmate was allowed back in class after only two days.

Hill, who remembers the conversation, said he told Losurdo that under federal law he couldn't talk about another child's situation or the results of any discipline associated with school incidents.

Losurdo said the decision to challenge Hill finally came in April while she was at the beach at Emerald Isle with Donna Williams, a close friend who unsuccessfully ran for school board this year.

"I came to the decision that I could make a big difference in the lives of children," she said.

Over time, Losurdo's political views have changed. No longer a 20-something supporter of President Bill Clinton, she's now a Republican who has spoken at tea party events.

She said as she matured, she felt her views were more in line with the Republican Party.

Losurdo rapidly became involved in the Northern Wake Republican Club. She sparked a friendship with state Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Raleigh Republican, who plans to be at the polls Tuesday campaigning for Losurdo.

"She's a very committed person," Avila said. "When she gives you her word she'll do something, you know she'll get it done."

Arguments about busing

The central message of Losurdo's campaign is that she supports the new student assignment plan Hill voted against last month. She has accused Hill of wanting to promote a system of forced busing.

"My opponent seems to think the only way to educate students is to bus them around," Losurdo said. "I disagree."

Losurdo has been accused by Democrats of flip-flopping because she originally said she couldn't vote for the plan. But she now says, after further review, she realizes it was the best option on the table for promoting parental choice, stability and neighborhood schools.

Along the way, Losurdo has found herself facing opposition research from groups trying to derail her candidacy. Her bankruptcy, her speeches at tea party events and off-color statements she made on Facebook before she filed to run have been used against her.

Williams said Losurdo is "a passionate person" who may sometimes say things she'll regret.

"She really feels that the children deserve better than what they're getting," Williams said.

Losurdo also has faced questions about why she has one child at a charter school. While noting that charters are still public schools, she also notes that her other daughter is enrolled in a school in the Wake system.

"I'm a champion of public education," Losurdo said. "That's why I'm doing this."

Losurdo said she doesn't regret her decision to run.

"I knew it wasn't going to be easy," she said. "I've never lived my life like I was going to be a candidate. I didn't censor my words. I'm confident that people know the reality and trust my ability to make decisions for the education of these children."

Hui: 919-829-4534

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