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Who are the candidates in the Orange County Schools Board of Education race?


On May 17, seven candidates will vie for the four open seats on the Orange County Schools Board of Education. 

Garen McClure ended his campaign and is no longer seeking election. Because he withdrew after the deadline, McClure’s name will still be listed.

The candidates running for a position on the board include two incumbents and five newcomers. Those elected will serve a four-year term. 

Will Atherton

Atherton is running as an incumbent hoping to serve his second term on the board. Atherton said he is running for the board again because he has a passion for the schools in the community.

He said he believes being on the board means more than just attending meetings.

“Over my four years, I've been at the car rider line, visiting classes, our parents, our art exhibits, courses, athletic events or robotics,” Atherton said. “I love visiting our schools and seeing the wonderful things our teachers and students are doing every day.”

According to Atherton, the three platforms he is running on are student outcomes and opportunities, teacher retention and school security and safety. 

He said he hopes to improve teacher retention by improving teacher pay, respecting teachers' time for planning and changing the way Orange County tracks teachers' years of experience.

Bethni Lee

Lee said she is running for the Board of Education because, over the past several years, she has become frustrated and even angry with Orange County Schools. 

Lee has three children in Orange County Schools. She said she hopes to help students catch up on time lost due to COVID-19 through initiatives such as free summer school. 

Lee said the main platforms she is running on are rebuilding trust, teacher retention and school finance. Lee explained that she wants to do a deep dive into the budget and prioritize fixing school infrastructure. 

She said that as a mother of a child with Down syndrome in the school system, she can understand the problems felt by other parents of special needs children. 

“I am able to relate to the special needs community that we have within our school systems, and I know the problems and the frustrations, and I think that's a big plus when you can relate to everybody within the school system,” Lee said. 

Anne Purcell

Purcell has been an educator in Orange County for over 30 years, including working as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and director of student services. She said her background in education and her love for children qualify her for the board.

Purcell said her platform focuses on supporting teachers, principals and academics – especially as they begin to return to normal from the pandemic.

She also said she is concerned that Orange County children are now behind in academics due to COVID-19 and work needs to be done to get them caught up.

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“As a middle school principal for 14 years, I know what it's like for a student to come into middle school from elementary school and not be on or very close to grade level,” she said. “It takes a lot for them to get caught up with their peers – and it's hard. It's very hard on teachers, it's hard on the child, it's hard on the parents.”

If elected, Purcell said the first thing she would do would be to get in the building and talk to teachers and parents.

André Richmond

Richmond said he is running in this race because he is a proud graduate of Orange County Schools. He attended school here and now works as the captain of the school resource officers division at Orange High School. 

Richmond has also served as a teacher's aide, a school bus driver and an assistant coach in the county.

“Working in the schools as a school resource officer has given me great insight on the disparities that our teachers and our students face and have faced for the last few years,” Richmond said. 

Richmond's main concerns are expanding community engagement, volunteer support, security, diversity and safety. 

If elected, Richmond wants to expand community engagement by introducing a program to the schools where senior citizens can visit elementary schools and provide assistance to teachers. 

Sarah Smylie

Smylie is running in this race as an incumbent. In addition to being a member of the board, she also works as a talent advisor for education non-profit organizations. Smylie has two children who attend OCS schools.

If re-elected, this would be her second term on the board. According to Smylie, consistent leadership is needed to build momentum for success.

Smylie added that of the work she has done thus far on the board, she is most proud of the district's growing commitment to more equitable and inclusive schools. 

She explained that the biggest issue she wants to address is the inequity in student outcomes and experiences in schools.

“At the end of the day, the success of our students is why we're all here,” Smylie said. “And the fact that we have a tale of two districts in Orange County Schools is sort of the most important fundamental thing I think we need to fix.”

Ashley Wheeler

Ashley Wheeler said she chose to run in this race because she wanted to serve the community. 

Wheeler has two children who are currently enrolled in the school system and she has worked as an ER nurse for sixteen years. 

Wheeler said her experience as an ER nurse has qualified her for the Board of Education because it has taught her communication, relationship building and logistics. 

“I have had to develop the ability to talk to people when some extremely important stuff is on the line,” she said. “So I feel like I will be able to bring that to the table on the school board.”

Wheeler said her main platform items include retaining and attracting new teachers and renovating the older schools in the district. Wheeler said the district has been applying temporary Band-Aids to the older schools – but more permanent solutions are necessary.

Penny Carter King

King, another candidate for a seat on the Orange County Schools Board of Education, did not respond to The Daily Tar Heel's request for comment before the time of publication.


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