Mike Lee said he, his wife and three young children made up his campaign team that raised only $35 for the District 1 seat on the Durham Public Schools Board of Education.
Now he finds himself elected after upsetting incumbent Omega Curtis Parker. The seven-member school board will have a near makeover when the next school calendar year starts in July.
Four seats in Districts 1-4 were up for grabs, with two incumbents, Parker and Natalie Beyer (District 4) running for re-election.
But instead of the two new faces some expected, there will be three. Challenger Lee, a product manager for local databases Credit Suisse, won 3,412 votes to Parker’s 1,822.
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The former media coordinator in Durham Public Schools for 40 years, Parker, had been a board member since 2006.
Beyer ran unopposed and will keep her seat in District 4. Matt Sears, director of school services for NC New Schools, a public school innovation agency that provides talent development solutions for educators, won in District 3. Sendolo Diaminah, a community organizer, won in District 2.
The three newly elected board members will join the board in July.
Lee said he thinks the key to winning was gaining some of the endorsements Parker once had. Endorsements from Independent Weekly and Friends of Durham, a community group that focuses on improving the city.
“I wouldn’t say it was an extreme surprise that I won, because I was very confident in where I stood and that’s what I talked about,” Lee said. “I have nothing negative to say about Ms. Parker.
“But I think there comes a time where it’s time to hand the torch over for someone to step up on what you’ve been doing and take it even further.”
Throughout his campaign Lee talked about the importance of technology in advancing student achievement.
“We need to figure out what’s wrong and what’s right, and try to tweak things,” Lee said. “The board, we produce a product and that’s education. Students consume that product and use it to pave their futures. We have to be accountable for that product and be everything that those students need to move to the next level.”
Addressing disproportionate suspensions
Among the major concerns of the district are the disproportionate suspensions of black students, charter schools and their effect on traditional public schools and also the lack of diversity in the district.
In District 3, Diaminah said he once encountered a boy, who kept getting into fights. When he asked the boy why he fought, the boy said his dad promised to take him fishing but never showed up.
“There is a deep longing for connection that is at the root of many issues,” Diaminah said. “We have to stop looking at children, especially black boys, as problems and we must give teachers support services to address children’s unmet needs.”
In District 4, Sears, a former “Teacher of the Year” at Hillside High School, said the district needs to provide counselors more time and space to do counseling.
“My experience as a DPS teacher was that counselors were not provided sufficient time to support students through counseling,” he said. “I also feel that our community should look at investing in social and emotional learning.”