A bouquet of pink flowers marked the empty seat Tuesday of Wake County school board member Kathy Hartenstine, whose unexpected death less than two weeks ago shocked the community.
Hartenstine, 68, died Sept. 23 from what her family says were complications due to the flu. At Tuesday’s school board meeting, board members fondly recalled Hartenstine, who had worked in the Wake school system for nearly 30 years before joining the board in January 2017.
“She was about finishing well and she has done that,” said board member Roxie Cash, a longtime friend of Hartenstine. “She’s finished well and the pink flowers are there to help us remember, but it won’t take anything in the future for us to remember what Kathy has done for us.”
Hartenstine brought 37 years of education experience into her position helping to lead North Carolina’s largest school system. She had joined Wake in 1987 and retired in January 2016 as principal of Baileywick Elementary School in Raleigh.
Hartentine was chosen by her colleagues to fill the seat held by board member Zora Felton, who died in November 2016.
“Her experience as a principal was invaluable,” board vice chairman Jim Martin said of Hartenstine. “Her shoes will be very difficult to fill, and she will be deeply missed. It was an honor to know and work with her.“
Hartenstine’s death comes as the school system is working on a student enrollment plan for the 2019-20 school year. Hartenstine represented District 7, a fast-growing area that includes northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and part of Cary that would be impacted by the proposal.
Hartenstine was running unopposed on the Nov. 6 ballot. With Election Day so close, board members plan to fill the vacancy after the election.
School board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler reminded the packed room of parents at Tuesday’s meeting that the remaining eight board members are committed to representing them.
“I appreciate you allowing us this time as we both grieve but also celebrate the legacy she left,” Johnson-Hostler told parents.
Several speakers acknowledged the somber mood as they expressed their condolences to Hartenstine’s family and board members while continuing to lobby for changes to the assignment proposal. A revised version of the plan is scheduled to be presented Oct. 16.
“We hope that our continued efforts to have draft two changed does not come across as disrespectful during this time of mourning, but rather as a demonstration how motivated we are to advocate on behalf of those we love the most: our children,” Cary parent Krissy Campbell told the board.