Earlier this month, the Alamance-Burlington School Board candidates came together for a Candidates Forum, where they discussed various issues related to ABSS and the upcoming General Election. 10 of the 11 candidates on the fall ballot participated - incumbents Brian Feeley and Patsy Simpson, along with challengers John Coleman, Cathy Dickens, Sandy Ellington Graves, Paula Harrison, Linda Roach Kinney, Dayson Pasion, Seneca Rogers, and Donna Davis Westbrooks. Ryan Bowden was the lone candidate on the November ballot who did not participate. Listed below are the candidates’ answers to the first question:
Would you mind telling us what your primary reasons for seeking a board seat would be?
As the son of immigrants, I know first-hand the obstacles and challenges that my parents faced in trying to secure the best for themselves and their family. When I was in fifth grade, my family moved from New Jersey to North Carolina. And I found my home school to be Southern Middle.
I’m a product of ABSS schools. I went on to graduate from Southern Alamance. Despite having to learn and live in a system that didn’t value my identity, that asked me to strip away parts of myself, I succeeded. I graduated top ten in my class. I secured nominations from Senator (Richard) Burr and former Senator (John) Edwards to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, and accepted an offer to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a full scholarship from the Naval Reserves Officer Training Corps. I graduated with a degree in Biology and also received my certification to teach Secondary Science while completing the Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching program.
I started my career at Graham Middle School, and served the community of Graham in my role as an educator. And I saw the same things that happened to me and other marginalized students as an educator that happened to me twenty years prior.
This is my why. For all our students, we must mean all of our students. It can’t be with just words, but with actions and solutions. My career has led me to a place where I can bring those solutions back to Alamance County - back home.
I am an Alamance County native - born and raised here. A graduate of Cummings High School, and then I went on to graduate from North Carolina A&T State University. I’ve always been a person who has been a big advocate for our public schools - even from my time when I was at A&T, supporting things going on in the Guilford County Schools and helping with mentorships when I was a student at A&T. But then also after my graduation, coming back to Alamance County being a volunteer track coach at my alma mater of Cummings High School. Making sure I could pass on my knowledge from going off to college, and then my previous times Cummings, to the next generation.
I always want to be a person who can set an example for our next generation, and show them there’s more out there to do, and more things to be involved in, than just being an athlete or being a rapper, or different things we always saw coming up in our neighborhood. I always feel like our boards and elected officials need to represent the same diversity that we see in our county daily. Alamance County is a very diverse county, so I feel our boards need to represent that with racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also with your living experiences.
My why for this is to bring the neighborhood back to the table. To make sure the voices of the teachers are always involved and being heard in any discussions we are having with the schools. There’s a lot of parents who I’ve met in a lot of different neighborhoods that feel like they haven’t had those voices, or they haven’t had enough of those voices. I want to be one of those voices to stand up for them.
My reason for running for the Board of Education started many years ago. As many of you know, I ran for the board for three attempts until I was successfully voted in. I ran on the platform of being an advocate, and being a voice for the public. I started that with my foster children. Finding that many of them did not have a voice. They did not have the support they needed in order to get the best public education that they could. So I ran, and continued to run, on that platform.
I want to continue not only to make the Alamance-Burlington School System one of the world-class, best school systems, but I also want to make sure that we prepare young people to be able to leave high school, to be able to go to the workforce, to the military or on to college. I truly believe there are so many things that we need to do in order for us to get to that world-class status. And having had the experience over the last 12 years, I feel that I need to continue to do that - to see that we can be the best.
I feel strongly in public education. I feel strongly that I have supported our teachers and our staff, and most of all, our community, in my efforts as a School Board member. And I would like to continue to do that. I know what our issues are. I know the things we have done a fantastic job of. And most of all, I know that we still have a need in order to be that world-class system. Therefore, I am running again for the Board of Education.
Linda Roach Kinney
As many know, I ran back in 2018. This year, I decided I wanted to do it again. I knew the day after. Because my passion and my dedication to the schools, our teachers, our students, and our parents in the community is just so huge. As a substitute teacher since 1999, I’ve had the pleasure of having students that really grabbed me. I wanted to see them succeed. I’ve taught a lot of classes in our Career Tech (program). And these kids, they need any support that they can get.
When I was a child, I came from moving in somewhere where I didn’t know anybody, so I felt left out. I want these kids to feel like they mean something - that they can do well and be what they want to be as they grow up and choose their career path. Not all of them have a career path of going to a university or college. Some can go to community college. I want them to see that there are other paths that they can take.
Also, I would be a great voice for parents, teachers, and students in the community. Because they are important. It takes a community to raise children. We need to do the best thing we can for them, and that’s what I want to do. I believe in everybody. I believe in them. That’s my passion and dedication. That is me. And I want to do well.
My main reason for wanting to serve on the board is I feel I have lots of knowledge about the Board of Education and the school system, and how they work. How did I get this knowledge? I worked in the Alamance-Burlington School System for 33 years. I also worked in Caswell County for a year, and I worked in Guilford County for five years. So I have 38 years of experience in working in the public schools.
Growing up here in Burlington, I attended Alamance-Burlington Schools and graduated. Went to Elon College for two years, and then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Got my degree in Early Childhood Education, and taught Kindergarten for the biggest part of my years at Andrews Elementary School. Then I went to Grove Park and taught there, and then I went to Guilford County and taught at Reed Fork Elementary School. I’ve been a teacher. I’ve been a curriculum facilitator. I’ve been a special teacher with reading recovery. I’ve seen lots of things happen through our school system over the years, and feel like I have a good insight into what’s going on.
I’m also very active in my professional association - the North Carolina Association of Educators. I want to be a voice for teachers and staff members. And I feel like I’m highly qualified to do that.
My journey to service on this board began, like many important ones, with a conversation at the kitchen table. That was with my wife several years ago. I was trying to decide whether to accept the offer to come back to a job that I was excited to take at my alma mater, Elon University. I was thrilled to come back to this community after graduating from Elon a decade prior. But we were nervous. Nervous about the state of public schools. That was the kitchen table conversation. We were living in Fairfax County, Virginia (which has) a great public school system. We knew we were going to be growing our family in the next several years.
We decided to move (to Alamance County), and it was the best decision we’ve ever made, and have never looked back. But once we got here, I decided to be a sponge. To learn as much as I could about the public school system. To figure out what our choices would be. And as someone who believes deeply in public education - a mother who was a public school teacher for three decades - I decided not only to inform myself, but I felt I could make a positive difference.
I feel it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to better our communities. And I thought I was uniquely qualified. Undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts (from Elon). A Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. A competitive internship at the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I’ve worked my entire career as a leader in non-profit educational organizations. I thought I could make a difference.
I’m proud of the service I’ve provided over the last four years, and looking to keep the momentum going. We have made tremendous strides, despite heavy challenges over these past four years since I’ve been on the board. But I’m proud of ABSS. Proud of public. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to build a great system to attract potential employees like me, and businesses to our community. That’s why I’m seeking another term on the Board of Education.
Sandy Ellington Graves
A seat on the School Board is important to me because I want to be a voice that speaks up, speaks for, and speaks out for the children in our county. I believe that an effective School Board leader needs to build an collaborative partnership based on accountability and transparency with our parents, our educators, and our citizens.
There is no one that knows better for a child, a child’s well-being, a child’s education, a child’s success, than that child’s parent. When we’re looking at classroom opportunities and classroom challenges, there’s no one better to be a voice for that than our educators. There’s nobody better to tell us what the community wants than our community. So our citizens play an important role in that partnership as well.
I believe that a seat on the School Board means that we create a collaborative partnership with all of our stakeholders, so that we all have a voice and a seat at the table for our children in what’s best in education.
Donna Davis Westbrooks
I am a lifelong citizen of Alamance County, having graduated from Cummings High School and later Elon College. I did my student teaching in ABSS, and I also worked as a teacher, a school administrator, and then later a central office administrator for a total of 32 years. And even though I retired with ABSS, I’m still in education in that I work as a preschool director at my church, in our half-day program we have here.
Education is obviously my passion, and it’s just who I am. I don’t know anything else. I’ve worked in public education for over 30 years, and during that time, I worked with many kids and teachers, and I built many wonderful relationships. And I believe that the key for successful students starts with the relationships that they build with their teachers and other support staff within their schools.
I understand the feelings and concerns of an educator, because I’ve been there. I’ve walked in their shoes. It is not an easy job. But it absolutely is a worthwhile one. It’s a calling, and not everyone can do it. And not everyone can understand it. But I want to be part of our school system again because I do understand it. Because I did it. And I believe that I have the knowledge and the experience and the willingness to build relationships with other members of the board, and provide productive communication, so we can do what is effective for our children. I’m an advocate for all kids, and doing what’s in their best interests, because of course they’re our future.
I have grandchildren in the Alamance County system. I look at how they struggle to learn. They come to me and ask me certain questions. The stuff they’re doing know, we don’t know it like we should know it, because everything has changed around. I find them struggling, and I know a lot of kids are struggling with their work. I have worked with a lot of children in my time. I hold children events when I can. And I love being around children. I love listening to what they have to say. Actually, they’re like little people to me. I’d rather talk to children sometimes than talk to grownups, because it seems like they have more wisdom, and more confidence in themselves. They know what they want. They know how they want it.
I talk to my grandkids, and I ask them what would you like to see changed in the school system. Bullying is the worst thing in the school system nowadays that there is. A lot of that is going around, and it’s causing kids to kill themselves because they may not have nicer clothes than Suzie or Jim, or whoever. I just want to make a change, and make a difference. I’m just a mom and a grandma. And I want to see all children succeed and be successful in and out of school. I want to let them know you can make it, and you can do it. Don’t never let anybody tell you that you can’t.
A lot of it for me was a push from former teachers. One of my former teachers who I’ve seen as a mentor was saying that we need help. You need to run. I know that you’ll be a voice for all educators. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m running. The state of our high schools - some of them are falling apart. It’s atrocious. It needs to be addressed. A lack of classroom materials. Concerns from the educators, and a push from one of my former mentors has really been the driving force in getting involved in running, and making sure that our students have the brightest future possible.
One of the things that you want to be is an example to the mantra of be the change that you seek to see. That’s something that I’m running on. I want to be somebody that the community can come to if they have a problem. Have an open door. Transparent as always. And make sure that the community has a seat at the table, and that our teachers also have a seat at the table together. If you bring them all together at one time, then you’re doing the right thing, and you’re doing the work. That’s my reason for running.