Five candidates keen on winning seats on Kannapolis school board

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 27, 2018

KANNAPOLIS — Five candidates are vying for two open seats on the Kannapolis City Schools Board of Education.

Incumbent Daniel Wallace is up for re-election, and board member Danita Rickard chose not to seek another term after 28 years of service.

Though they come from different backgrounds and varying levels of experience, the candidates have one thing in common: They say they care about their community and their school district.

“We are a small district, and we are a family here, and that’s important to have and to keep,” newcomer Kristina Cook said.

Cook, 38, is a parent who has been active in the school system for years as a volunteer. She is the current chairwoman of the Kannapolis Education Foundation board and is also a Kannapolis native.

“This is the next level for me to make a difference in my home community,” she said.

The biggest challenge Kannapolis schools face, she said, is making sure the needs of a diverse student population are fully met.

“I think there’s so much more that we can do to help to bridge the gap between home and school and making sure we’re taking care of their mental and emotional needs as well as their physical needs,” Cook said.

Cook also said she wants to focus on increasing support for teachers and making the district a safe, positive environment for students and staff.

“My only goal is to make sure that Kannapolis is the best that it can be,” she said.

Cook is an insurance agent for State Farm and has been married for 15 years to Jeff Cook.

Cook and three other candidates are challenging incumbent Daniel Wallace, who has served on the board since 2015. Wallace was appointed to the board after Millie Hall was unable to finish her term.

Wallace was a Kannapolis police officer for 18 years and began working in schools in 2001. He currently is the supervisor for school resource officers in the district and is an Army veteran.

“I’ve served my country and I’ve served my community my whole life,” he said.

Wallace said he has a passion to see Kannapolis students succeed and has a long list of projects he’d like to work on if re-elected. But funding tops that list.

“I think the biggest challenge that we all have in education is funding,” he said.

Wallace wants to improve the district’s career and technical education programs and use community partnerships to support schools and students.

“I’m going to continue to build those partnerships and call on those people to help our kids,” he said.

Wallace is a Kannapolis native. He and wife of 23 years, Emily, have three children.

Brenda McCombs, 64, has almost 30 years as an educator under her belt. She said she feels she has a lot to offer the board.

“I have such a passion for education,” she said. “… I’m putting all this knowledge that I gained in 27 years to use. How bad could that be?”

For McCombs, Kannapolis City Schools faces three major challenges, which she calls her “soap boxes:” school safety, funding and teacher recruitment. But safety is her top priority. If elected, McCombs said she would want to look at the design of each school to make sure it is up to the highest safety standards.

Funding and teacher recruitment go hand in hand, she said.

“There’s not enough funding for positions at the schools. Budgets have been trimmed and trimmed in Raleigh since the crisis in 2008,” she said. “… There are people that are doing two and three jobs now because there’s not funding for the person to do the jobs separately.”

When it comes to holding elected office, McCombs thinks her long experience as an educator is a plus. She said she already knows how schools, funding and education policy work.

“By having that educational background, I can hit the ground running,” she said.

McCombs moved to North Carolina from Michigan in 1986. She is married to Dan McCombs and has three grown children and nine grandchildren.

Jessica Dixon Touart, 31, is a preschool teacher who says she is dedicated to her community.

“My son is part of Kannapolis City Schools,” she said. “We came from Cabarrus County Schools. … I love the system. I wanted to be a part of something that works with the children directly.”

Touart said running for the Board of Education is a way for her to have a positive impact on all children in the district. She loves that Kannapolis is a smaller school district.

“I went through Cabarrus County Schools. We had so many students, and I didn’t know half the kids I graduated with,” she said. “I really want to be a part of just making decisions for a smaller school system. I want to expand on programs for after graduation even.”

And as an educator of younger children, Touart said she believes she brings something special — an intimate knowledge of child development, something she feels is often neglected in K-12 education.

“I think that gives me that edge,” she said.

Touart said the district’s career and technical education program is great, but she wants to make it better.

“The CTE programs here are amazing,” she said. “… I know how important it is for kids to come out of school with a true work ethic. That’s lost in our generation. There were people I was hiring that didn’t know a two-week notice was something that they should do. Kids need to know what it takes not just to have a job, but what’s important for maintaining a job and what’s expected of you if you leave.”

The biggest issue she thinks the school system faces is funding. If elected, she plans to take on politicians in Raleigh.

“We have to take that to them. I want to fight for our system, for our teachers to get the pay that they deserve, for our kids to get the resources they deserve,” she said. “It’s most important that the teachers what they deserve, and I mean everything: supplies, decent pay, all of that.”

Touart serves on the board of the Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Commission. She and her husband have two children.

Transplant Janet Yvars said she decided to run for the board after volunteering with the local Democratic Party.

“That’s kind of how all of this came about,” she said.

Yvars, a retired sales professional, thinks the board could benefit from a Democratic voice.

But the biggest challenge the district faces, she said, is training students for the workforce and connecting them with jobs. Yvars said the district should increase its collaboration with local industries.

She’d also like to see the district encourage more minority educators to apply for jobs with Kannapolis City Schools. The district is very diverse, she said, and the staff should reflect that.

Yvars said she wants to work to increase parental involvement and to see the Board of Education increase its community engagement.

“I believe for a community, it all starts with the school board. And I would very much like to be a participant in that,” she said.

While the May 8 election is a primary for many offices, it is the final election for the Kannapolis Board of Education. The results will determine who serves on the board.

One-stop voting for the race is open until May 5.

Reporter Andie Foley contributed to this report. 

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.