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New school board chairs in Charlotte-area districts could signal the tone of change

Denise Adcock addresses the Cabarrus County school board after being chosen to chair the board on a 3-3 vote.
Cabarrus school board screen shot
Denise Adcock addresses the Cabarrus County school board after being chosen to chair the board on a 3-3 vote.

School boards in Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Catawba and Union counties elected chairs this week, at a time when school boards are facing national attention and controversy.

Those decisions provide a first hint at how those boards may function after November’s election. Many boards in the Charlotte region saw heavy turnover. Many newly elected members became active in the past couple of years, as debate raged about remote learning, mask mandates, how race is discussed in schools and what kind of reading material is available for children.

Cabarrus board splits

The Cabarrus school board split 3-3 on whether Republican Denise Adcock or Democrat Keshia Sandidge should lead the board. The vote came after one Republican incumbent and two Democratic newcomers were elected at large last month.

Keshia Sandidge
Cabarrus County Schools
Keshia Sandidge

The two newcomers, Sam Treadaway and Pam Escobar, joined Sandidge in voting for her. Adcock was joined by members Rob Walter and Tim Furr in voting for Adcock.

The board’s former vice chair, Laura Blackwell, was reelected to the board but declined to vote for chair. She has married and now goes by Laura Lindsey, Communications Director Philip Furr said.

A board attorney said Lindsey’s non-vote counted as a yes for the first person nominated. That was Adcock, who has served two years on the Cabarrus board. She said she wants to ensure that all members are “respected, heard, empowered and valued. We can accomplish this in our meetings by mastering the methods of Robert’s Rules of Order in a more comprehensive way.”

Walter was elected as vice chair on a 4-3 vote, with Lindsey joining Walter, Furr and Adcock in voting for him. Sandidge got the same three votes for that office as well.

The Cabarrus board’s former chair, Holly Grimsely, left the board after 12 years to run for county commissioner. Voters ousted incumbent Carolyn Carpenter, who had served 16 years on the school board and 12 years as a Cabarrus County commissioner.

Catawba veteran edges out newcomer

Ronn Abernathy
Catawba County Schools
Ronn Abernathy

Ronn Abernathy, who has served on the Catawba County school board for 10 years, beat newly elected Michelle Teague on a 4-3 vote for chair.

Teague, a Republican, was the top vote-getter in the November race for four at-large seats. She is co-founder of a group called Mama Bears of Catawba County and ran as a conservative Christian who would be a voice for parents and advocate for “medical freedom.” She told the Hickory Daily Record she wanted to “remove controversial agendas in the classrooms such as critical race theory, social and emotional learning, and sexual and gender ideology.” In March, she asked the school board to remove 24 books from school libraries, saying they contained inappropriate content.

The board’s former chair, Democrat Leslie Barnette, came in fourth in November. She nominated Abernathy, a Republican, to take her place. Barnette was elected vice chair, also on a 4-3 vote.

Michelle Teague is sworn in to the Catawba County school board.
Catawba County Schools
Michelle Teague is sworn in to the Catawba County school board.

Unanimous choice in Iredell-Statesville

Bill Howell
Iredell-Statesville Schools
Bill Howell

Bill Howell, a former teacher and coach who has been on the Iredell-Statesville school board since 2016, was unanimously elected chair by a board that has a new majority after the November election. Former Chair Todd Carver didn’t run for reelection.

Mike Kubiniec, one of four newcomers elected last month, was chosen as vice chair on a 4-3 vote. All four are Republicans who were part of the Free the Smiles group that arose to oppose mandatory masking during the pandemic.

Gaston board makes no change

The Gaston County school board unanimously reelected Jeff Ramsey as chair and Dot Cherry as vice chair, after three new members were sworn in.

Jeff Ramsey
Gaston County Schools
Jeff Ramsey

“Hopefully we’ll have a good two years ahead of us,” Ramsey said. “We had a tough two years with COVID, there’s no doubt. But I am so proud of the board for how they was able to navigate through all this and was able to educate our kids as best they could.”

Vice chair moves up in Union

The Union County school board unanimously chose Kathy Heintel as chair on Tuesday. She has been on the board since 2016, most recently serving as vice chair. The previous chair, Melissa Merrell, was elected a county commissioner in November.

The board elected the Rev. Jimmy Bention Sr. as vice chair. The vote was 8-1, with the Rev. John Kirkpatrick IV, the board's only Democrat, casting the "no" vote.

The Union board saw little change after this year’s election, with four incumbents reelected.

CMS meets next week

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board will hold its first meeting with five newly elected members next week. In addition to choosing board officers, they’ll have to figure out who leads the district on an interim basis while they conduct a superintendent search. Hugh Hattabaugh had agreed to be interim superintendent through May, but he announced last month that he’s leaving at the end of December.

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Updated: December 6, 2022 at 8:13 PM EST
Updated Dec. 6 to add the Union County school board's vote.
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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.