Felton challenges Prickett in Wake school board race

sbarr@newsobserver.comSeptember 30, 2013 

  • Meet the District 7 candidates Zora Felton

    Town of residence: Raleigh

    Age: 62

    Occupation: Retired teacher with 25 years in Wake Schools.

    Education: A bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in education from N.C. State University.

    Family: Three adult children.

    Website: zoraforschoolboard.com

    Deborah Prickett

    Town of residence: Raleigh

    Age: 59

    Occupation: Program administrator at N.C. Department of Public Instruction, former guidance counselor and teacher.

    Education: master’s degree in counseling from N.C. Central University, bachelor’s degree in English Education from N.C. State University.

    Family: married, one son.

    Website: prickettforwakeschools.com

— Deborah Prickett won a seat on the Wake County school board in 2009, part of a Republican sweep that shifted power on the board. Now she’s the only member of the GOP group elected four years ago to seek a second term.

Prickett faces a challenge from political newcomer and retired educator Zora Felton to represent District 7, which includes northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and part of Cary.

Prickett is running on her record, touting changes she pushed in the district, such as switching Leesville Road elementary and middle schools to the traditional calendar, converting Hilburn Elementary into an academy for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and establishing theme schools.

“I understand this area and have put in the time and the effort to get to know the community and know the community needs,” she said, “and not only do I know the needs, I did something.”

Felton, a Democrat who retired from her job as a Wake county teacher in July, said political battles on the school board have hurt the school system’s reputation as a leading academic system.

“I think we need to get politics out of the boardroom,” Felton said.

Prickett was elected in 2009 along with Debra Goldman, Chris Malone and John Tedesco. That Republican majority on the board nixed the former student-assignment plan based on socioeconomic factors and put in place a choice-based assignment plan.

Malone left the school board last year when he was elected to the state House of Representatives. Goldman resigned her post early this year to take a job as a leader of a Wilkes County nonprofit. Tedesco, who lost his bid last year to became the state superintendent of schools, decided not to run for re-election.

Felton said the choice-based assignment plan put in place by Republicans was “not well-thought-out.”

The school board is moving toward an assignment plan that seeks to minimize concentrations of low-performing students and students from low-income families.

In keeping with the most recent efforts, Felton said, student assignment should be based on factors such as student achievement, program availability and proximity. Student choice is important, but policies that promote it must be carefully crafted, she said.

Prickett said parents know what’s best for their children and should be able to make decisions about their schooling. She said she worries a further change in assignment policy will unbalance the system, especially if it’s unclear how student achievement will be measured.

“People are getting a little nervous,” Prickett said. “They don’t want to start this reassignment again.”

But Prickett and Felton agree on one thing: the need for the proposed $810million school-construction bond issue that will be on the ballot Oct. 8. The bond would pay for most of a $940million construction program that includes 16 new schools and six major school renovations.

Prickett even spoke to the executive committee of the Wake County Republican Party in August to try to convince members not to oppose the bond. The group ultimately narrowly voted to come out against the measure.

Among the bond renovation and construction projects is a new middle school for District 7. Both Felton and Prickett said they would support designating it a year-round school.

In the meantime, Prickett is emphasizing her experience, citing her position at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction working with budgets. She also has relationships with schools’ parent-teacher associations and with county commissioners and state legislators, she said.

Felton said her experiences as a teacher would help inform her decision-making if elected to the board. She said it’s critical that teachers have the resources they need and the respect they deserve if the county wants students to be successful – not just academically but as future workers and voters.

Teachers are “at the heart of our economy, and at the heart of our citizenry,” she said.

T.Keung Hui contributed to this story.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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