Six community members are vying for seats on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education in the Nov. 2 election: George Griffin, Ryan Jackson, Riza Jenkins, Meredith Pruitt, Mike Sharp and Tim Sookram.
Three current board members did not file for reelection, leaving their seats open for newcomers.
Griffin has worked in education for over 40 years in roles such as special education teacher, high school principal and professor at N.C. Central University. He currently works as an accreditor with AdvancEd. He said serving on the school board would be a natural fit for him, and he hopes to give back to the public school system.
“Public education is literally the bedrock of our democracy,” he said. “Public education has been under assault for decades now financially, politically, however you want to view it, and I want to be a part of helping reverse that.”
If elected, he said he hopes to ensure that each classroom has the appropriate support for its needs. Additionally, he hopes to work with funding school improvements, closing the racial opportunity gap and increasing social and emotional learning. He also hopes to implement more nondiscriminatory climates to make schools safer for all.
Griffin is endorsed by Equality North Carolina.
Ryan C. Jackson
Jackson has worked as a college-level educator and adviser. He stressed that he is not a politician but instead is focused solely on giving children opportunities. He said he noticed a disparity between educational and extracurricular opportunities at schools which lead him to enter this race.
“I want to be elected to represent all those people that feel like they haven’t had their voice heard and return the board to the community,” he said.
Jackson hopes to prioritize enabling representation of the community on the board and building a better foundational education in schools. He also said he plans to redefine educational success within the school system and extend its definition beyond GPA within the school system.
Jenkins is the daughter of two teachers and a mom of three children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District. She said that education has long been important to her family.
“Education really impacts long-term outcomes in life,” Jenkins said.
She describes how seeing the significance of education throughout her lifetime and volunteering with various school improvement committees has motivated her to run.
Jenkins said she finds that certain existing policies with discipline and fiscal clarity are problematic, and she hopes to address these. She also aims to focus on each student having their needs met within the diverse community.
Pruitt comes from a long background of working in education and is a first-generation college student.
She is currently the vice president for strategic initiatives at UNC Health, and was instrumental in introducing the statewide Higher Expectations plan and myFutureNC commission. She also worked as senior adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Education before moving to North Carolina from Washington, D.C.
“I believe education can be the great equalizer in our nation, and this is my opportunity to pay it forward,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt said she is concerned about the district’s testing scores and will work to bring students up to grade-level reading if elected. She said she wants the district to teach students “how to think, not what to think” by focusing on fundamental skills and fully in-person learning.
Her hope for the district is that they can become strategic and transparent in listening to and acting on community needs.
Sharp has worked with CHCCS since 2002 and taught elementary and middle school students. He feels his time as an educator will help him contribute from first-hand experiences.
“I’ve seen a lot of things changing and happening, and I’ve seen a lot of things that need to change,” he said. “I feel like a have a good, unique perspective on that from being a teacher and working on the front lines.”
Sharp plans to address the opportunity gap within the district with racial equity training for teachers. If elected, he is also in favor of removing school resource officers to help dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Sharp said training teachers on “restorative practices” is a better method.
Sookram said he is a "frustrated parent" with the district and currently serves on its school improvement team. He said he hopes to bring more transparency and communication to the school board if elected. Sookram’s frustration with the board stems from slow responses and a lack of clarity on items like COVID-19 protocols.
“They are always trying to catch up,” he said, referring to the current board. “They are not making good long-term decisions.”
Sookram hopes to rethink school start terms, provide more equity through pre-K programs and implement sustainability practices in schools. Mainly though, he hopes to allow for more community expert input — including from teachers — before making decisions.
Registration for the municipal elections deciding who will serve on the board ends Friday, Oct. 8.
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