Busta’s Person of the Week: ‘Shai’ made history


Busta’s Person of the Week: ‘Shai’ made history
December 20
13:04 2018

By Busta Brown

“Me and rules didn’t see eye to eye,” she laughs. “If there is a rule, I’m going to question it. I wanna know how I can break it,” said the Carver High School alum. Principal Vic Johnson wasn’t having it. “Just because you’re smart, that doesn’t mean you can do what you want to do here. You need to get your act together, so I’m sending you home.”

Principal Johnson sent the student home several times for breaking school rules and now, 26 years later, that same student is the chairperson of the same school board that Vic Johnson sat on for over 20 years.

“It’s such a blessing to be in one of the seats Vic Johnson had; he’s been a great mentor to me all my life. He’s a part of why I’m there.” Then her face lit up; it was as if a bright light surrounded her as she spoke about her life at Carver High school. “Going to Carver helped me believe I could do and be anything. I love my high school.”

Malishai Woodbury, better known in the community as “Shai,” said she’s very excited about her new position as chairperson of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education. Woodbury is the first African-American to hold this position in its 55-year history.

I asked the Winston-Salem native if she was more nervous or excited about her new position. “I had replayed in my mind for so long all of the wisdom State Sen. Earline Parmon, Vivian Burke, Vic Johnson and other mentors gave me. It prepared me for this moment, so I just stepped in it,” she said. The new chairperson said Senator Parmon saw something special in her. “She caught me eight years ago, and she told me, ‘I’m going to help you, you got something special going on.’ So she just nourished me and nourished me. So to become the first African-American chairperson for Forsyth County Schools is so exciting because I was properly prepared for it.”

She also credits her parents for her success. “My dad was very influential in helping me shape a mentality for wanting to be successful in school, because he was just so proud of me when I made As, and I liked to see him smile. When I was at UNC, he said I can only dream of going to Chapel Hill, I can only dream about going to college. My mom sometimes had to hold, raise us alone, so her strength helped me push forward to be great. So when I went to college, I knew I was representing my parents as well. It was pressure, but it was good pressure.”

I asked Woodbury what will be some of her toughest challenges as the new chairperson of Forsyth County Schools, and she replied very passionately, “We have 30-plus failing schools, and 27 of them are District One schools, and these schools are considered to be bearing the burden of failure. I’m coming as a District One school board member, so you imagine people are thinking … what you are going to do? They’re thinking, we can’t take this anymore, our schools are literally failing.”

She said the root of this is connected to School Choice, “because in my opinion, it’s not done correctly, so the fear in this community is that Shai is going to get rid of School Choice. No way! I’m an educator, so I understand why it was created, to give parents choices and options that work best for their children. So we don’t want to take School Choice away, what we want to do is correctly have it implemented in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools so that there are great choices all throughout the County, verses just in the rural areas.” She plans to work with the community to figure out how to change the County’s national F grade rating to an A rating. “Together we’re going to make this School Choice work effectively.”

The other major challenge: “An equity piece. It’s not a clear understanding of diversity issues and how it impacts us as a community. The needs of the students and staff in District One schools aren’t being met, so we have to come together in an authentic way so we can move forward for the well being of our children. So I plan on making sure the board is very conscious of the training we need so that we can combat those implicit biases that cloud us. We’re not saying all schools need the same thing; what we’re saying is whatever Carver, Reynolds or any school needs, get it for them.”

She also said it’s hard to fairly represent the students, parents and teachers without visiting the schools to see firsthand what’s needed and what’s working. “I’d love to visit a school and see some awesome things happening and commend the staff and students on the spot.” She lit up with her big, beautiful smile and said, “It’s very encouraging to see the smiles and the confident expressions when we compliment them face to face. I love it.”

Here are Malishai’s Super 6 Education Priorities: Eradicate failing schools, minimize the academic achievement gap, decrease suspensions and juvenile referrals of black male students, diversify student and teacher populations throughout all schools, increase benefits for personnel, and collaborate with parents and community organizations.

What does the new Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools chairperson want you to know about her personally? “I grew up in Happy Hills, so I know the struggle of being raised by struggling parents with children to clothe, feed, and keep a roof over our heads. I’m one of those District One students. My goal is to use that experience and my expertise to show them there’s no excuse for failure, you just have to work hard. I was extremely competitive academically, because I decided I wanted better. And that’s why I’m here, to do my best to give our students better.

I’m just a happy, honored person to be doing this; I’m here to serve our communities. I believe that the community is a partner in getting this work done.”

How does Malishai “Shai” Woodbury unwind? “I love those corny, goofy comedians. I also enjoy Tiffany Haddish; she keeps it real. I love the story of how she got to where she is.”

The last question I asked Malishai: What is the first thing you do when you open your eyes in the morning, and she gave me that big, beautiful smile again, and then softly replied, “Pray.”

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