Commentary: What does a flipped school board mean for us?

Commentary: What does a flipped school board mean for us?
November 15
09:21 2018

By Ricky Johnson Jr.

The results from the 2018 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board elections produced unforeseen results. The Winston Salem Forsyth County School Board of Education is majority Democrat until elections are held again in 2022.

Or is it?

This could possibly be the first time that the school board has not been majority Republican. Since the school board shifted from a five-member board to a nine-member board in 1998, the board has been dominated by Republicans.

Newly elected school board members Deanna Kaplan (D) and Andrea Bramer (D) will join Elisabeth Motsinger (D) to fill the three At-Large seats. Malishai Woodbury and Barbara Burke will fill the two District One seats. That means five Democrats that will serve as the majority of the school board.

This flip poses major questions: Will the candidates put their campaign promises into action? Additionally, what does this mean for marginalized and poor students within the district’s failing schools? What will change as far as the issues (behavioral incidents, teacher pay, mold-infested school where black and brown children attend, lack of textbooks, etc.) that have plagued the district for so many years? Will those who vowed to infuse the curriculum with a mandatory African-American studies class do so or will they fold to the chagrin of their supporters? Or will they appease the ardent naysayer constituents?

Many of the candidates put an emphasis on equity during their campaigns. Now that they are in the positions, the voters want to know how will they use their platform to ensure that resources are distributed around the school district in an equitable way. How will this newly elected board address the fundamental issues of the school district? How will they determine what’s fundamental?

Talk, especially political campaign talk, is a cheap commodity. Now that the school board is majority Democrats who have pushed equity as a priority, will they now address issues like those plaguing Ashley Elementary School without having to be pressured by the community and social media? Will they take a different stance or should the voters who elected them expect the same response as the previous Republican majority school board?

*Elisabeth Motsinger stated that she did not wish to have a divided school board but wanted to have a good school board. Can Motsinger and the newly elected board members reach an agreement on how to re-examine school choice that has, to a large degree, resegregated the district without being divided?

*Deanna Kaplan stated that she wants this district to be the best school district for all students. Is she willing to take a critical look into what it will take to make that happen?

*Andrea Bramer faults the previous school board for turning blind eyes. Now that she is a school board member, the voters are left to wonder how she will go about attempting to give the new board some vision on issues she felt they purposely tried not to see.

*Through their experiences, especially as educators, District One candidates Malishai Woodbury and Barbara Burke both seem to have knowledge about the fundamental issues. The tasks that they will face will be how they plan to implement that knowledge as school board members to bring about change.

All the school board members are faced with many issues from improving the failing schools, to closing the achievement gap, to decreasing suspension rates for black and brown students in the district. The list is extensive. The question is not of what the issues are, but how will the newly Democratic school board address them? How will they attempt to resolve these issues and come up with solutions?

Or will it be another four years of cheap talk and filibuster?

Ricky Johnson Jr. is an educator, community organizer and social justice activist.

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