School board candidates talk accomplishments, challenges at NAACP forum

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, October 1, 2020

By Carl Blankenship

SALISBURY — The two candidates who attended the Rowan-Salisbury NAACP’s forum Thursday night for Rowan-Salisbury School Board were largely in agreement.

Alisha Byrd-Clark and Kathy McDuffie Sanborn attended the virtual forum, but their opponents were absent. Byrd-Clark is running for reelection to the Salisbury area seat against recent Catawba graduate Jonathan Barbee. Sanborn, a retired Rowan-Salisbury Schools administrator, is running against former East Rowan High School head baseball coach Brian Hightower for the east area seat.

Jennifer Studer and incumbent Susan Cox, who are both on the ballot for the southeast area seat, did not attend, but Cox has publicly conceded the race to Studer.

Chris Sharpe, of the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP, noted the organization is nonpartisan and the forum was a chance for people to hear from candidates. The races are nonpartisan as well.

South Main Book Company owner Alissa Redmond, a former U.S. State Department diplomat, moderated the forum.

Redmond had both candidates introduce themselves and then asked the pair what they see as their biggest accomplishments with the district and coming challenges.

Byrd-Clark immediately pointed to ensuring $26 million in funding to renovate Knox Middle School, though now the district is planning to create a new K-8 facility that would combine Knox with Overton Elementary School and be more expensive. She added that seeing the new K-8 facility through to completion is one of the reasons she is running for reelection.

“We have kicked the can so many years, and Knox has been one of the schools that has been overdue,” Byrd-Clark said. “And I want to make sure that comes to fruition for our kids and for our community.”

Byrd-Clark also said she wants to be part of renewal. Though it comes with challenges, Byrd-Clark said it puts the district in a position to do more for the community. She pointed to a couple challenges the district is facing, including eventually returning students to classrooms full-time and finding a new superintendent who is well suited for the district.

Current superintendent Lynn Moody will retire at the end of December and the board is beginning the search process for a replacement.

Sanborn pointed to her time as director of secondary education for the district, saying a goal when she came on board was to bring the high schools together to collaborate. Sanborn said over the course of a couple years the high school principals became collaborators and worked to improve each other’s schools.

She also helped create student advisory, a model that takes input from student leaders at each high school a few times a year to see what the students wanted to change. Sanborn said she is proud of listening to stakeholders to make the schools better.

Sanborn said it is time for a new leader who will take the district forward, and she noted renewal gives the district more freedom to make local decisions.

“How are we incorporating it?” Sanborn said. “Are we always making decisions that are best for our students as we are moving forward?”

Sanborn said the district should always look at using the freedoms to always do what is best for students and not what is easiest for adults.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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