Foursome vie to fill vacant seat

Published 6:50 pm Friday, May 7, 2021

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JACKSON – Four candidates answered questions at a special meeting here on May 4, but the Northampton County Board of Education (BOE) did not reach a decision on which person would join them in making decisions about the local school district in the future.

Josephine Tyner Dunn, who began her term on the seven-member board last year, passed away unexpectedly at the end of February. Now the BOE is working to appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of her four-year term.

The four candidates who submitted applications for the vacant seat were Clinton Williams, Franklin Williams, Melissa Simmons, and Garfield Johnson.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the candidates had a total of 20 minutes each to answer a pre-determined set of 10 questions from the board.

Those questions covered topics such as strengths and challenges facing Northampton Schools, ideas for increasing parental involvement and improving school safety, and the primary responsibilities of a BOE member. The candidates were also asked to share their qualifications and preparations for the role, their motivations to serve on the board, and any work they’ve done with the school administration or board in the past two years.

Additionally, the candidates were questioned on whether or not they’d be willing to support a majority vote of the board if the decision did not reflect the candidate’s own convictions.

The first candidate to speak was C. Williams, who has previously served 12 years on the BOE. Most recently he lost his reelection bid in the March 2020 primary election by a total of 19 votes.

“I think we have to focus on what we can do to make sure our students are very successful,” C. Williams said in his remarks, citing statistics on how Northampton County compares to other local districts.

He talked about the importance of having a strong PTA (Parent Teacher Association) in the district as well as the importance of honest discussion among the board. He also listed several projects he previously took part in while serving as a board member in the past.

“I have served 12 years on this board and I have come in contact with thousands of citizens in Northampton County,” C. Williams stated. “I have been the eyes and ears and voice for many students, many families, at the table when it counts most. And I’ve done that without prejudice.”

He added, “My vision is very simple. I believe our children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”

  1. Williams was the next candidate to speak before the board. He is a pastor, licensed guidance counselor, and is currently employed as Northampton County’s Economic Development Director.

He emphasized the importance of a holistic education for students because “one size does not fit all.” He also advocated for more outreach to parents, including home visits, to help students get the support they need if they’re struggling.

“What motivates me is to unlock the potential in all of our children and watch them thrive and go forward,” F. Williams explained.

Citing his 20+ years of experience as a pastor, he said he understood how to work with people who disagree on different issues.

“Once we take the final vote, we are all together,” he continued. “You’ve got to have people who are of one accord.”

During his comments, F. Williams also explained that he supported year-round schools as a way to ensure students are competitive and prepared for their future after graduation.

“We can see our school system soar,” he concluded.

The only woman seeking the position, Melissa Simmons, was the third candidate to be interviewed. Simmons is a local insurance agent who received over 300 votes as a write-in BOE candidate in the March 2020 primary election.

She is also the mother of two students who are currently enrolled in Northampton County Schools.

“I want to be a positive influence that brings you somebody who is currently in the school system and knows what is going on in the schools right now,” she explained, noting that she’s active in PTO, specific school improvement teams, and local NC Department of Public Instruction meetings.

“We do not put enough emphasis on the good things happening in Northampton County Schools, such as the Early College, the new technical school you’re opening in the Fall,” Simmons said as an area they could improve upon.

She noted that there are still challenges like economic disparities and lack of internet access which need to be addressed.

“It’s all about attitude. I have a positive attitude,” Simmons said, describing some of her qualifications. “I’m a good listener and I have a very open mind. I’m a people person.”

What she advocated for the most in her remarks, however, was bringing more students back to their public school system.

“I always ask what can I do to get kids back into Northampton County Schools. We need more students in our school system,” Simmons explained. “That is my vision, to bring more people to the public schools and to see the strengths of public schools.”

The final candidate to answer questions was Johnson, who is retired from military service and has been employed as a bus driver with Northampton County Schools since last year. He has grandchildren attending school in the district.

Many of his answers emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between parents and teachers. He also said he wanted to see the district grow and rise up to the level of other school districts.

Johnson explained that he believed the school board’s role is to keep parents and the community informed about what’s going on in the district and to listen to their suggestions and ideas.

Following the interviews, the board cast their vote for the candidate of their choice. A candidate must receive a majority vote (four votes) in order to be appointed to the seat.

Board Attorney Rod Malone read the results. C. Williams received two votes (cast by Lucy Edwards and Barbara Stephenson), F. Williams received two votes (cast by Tony Burnette and Theresa Scott), and Simmons received two votes (cast by Rhonda Taylor and Dr. Marjorie Edwards).

Johnson did not receive any votes.

After a brief discussion by the Board about options on how to proceed, they agreed to vote a second time.

The results remained exactly the same.

After this second vote, the Board agreed to vote again at their regular meeting scheduled for Monday, May 10.