Retired principal will fill vacant seat on Wake County school board

Kathy Hartenstine
Kathy Hartenstine Courtesy of Kathy Hartenstine

Retired educator Kathy Hartenstine was picked Thursday to become the newest member of the Wake County school board, filling the seat that’s been vacant since Zora Felton passed away in November.

The school board voted 5-3 to choose Hartenstine over attorney Mary Pollard to take the District 7 seat that covers northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and part of Cary. Hartenstine will now serve the rest of Felton’s term until December 2018, helping to lead North Carolina’s largest school system.

Felton’s death on Nov. 16, a week after winning her uncontested re-election bid, came as a shock and left a void on the board. During her three years on the board, the retired Leesville Road High School social studies teacher often talked about doing more to help teachers.

“I have a real strong commitment and passion to public education,” Hartenstine told the board during her interview Thursday. “I also have a commitment to continue the work that Zora Felton had begun. She had the heart of teachers and the heart of education, and that is where my heart is.”

Felton’s death left the school board without any members who had extensive teaching experience in the Wake school system. Two other board members with Wake experience, Tom Benton and Kevin Hill, left last year.

Before the vote, some board members talked about how they wanted Felton’s successor to have public education experience and knowledge about the history of the district.

Hartenstine appears to meet those traits, having spent 37 years working in both the Durham and Wake school systems. She came to Wake in 1987 and retired in January 2016 as principal of Baileywick Elementary School in Raleigh.

In addition to stressing her education experience, Hartenstine spoke in favor of having diverse school enrollments, saying “we do not need to have schools where everybody looks the same.”

“The real deciding factor was having an educator,” said school board Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler, who voted for Hartenstine. “While I can’t always say I agreed with the educators who were on the board previously, they definitely did bring a perspective to the board that was different.”

Hartenstine also received the votes of Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner, Roxie Cash, Jim Martin and Lindsay Mahaffey. Pollard received votes from Don Agee, Bill Fletcher and Keith Sutton.

Agee and Fletcher cited statements from Pollard such as her saying that Wake needs to make sure that magnet schools serve all their students. Pollard, whose child attended Ligon Middle School in Raleigh, said she was concerned because it seemed that some classes at the magnet school had only affluent students from the suburbs.

Pollard, executive director of N.C. Prisoner Legal Services, also expressed concerns about how growth in private schools is taking money away from the school system. She noted that she had helped attorneys in an unsuccessful legal battle to stop the state from providing voucher money for families to pay tuition to attend private schools.

A third candidate, IBM technologist Phaedra Boinodiris, was also interviewed Thursday but did not receive any votes. She had talked about the value of having someone with a technology background on the school board.

Dawn Clark initially had applied for the seat. But she withdrew her request because she would have had to resign her position as a guidance counselor at Martin Middle School in Raleigh if she had been appointed.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui