Cox appears to win school board seat despite conceding; Hightower, Byrd-Clark also leading on election night

Published 11:18 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2020

By Carl Blankenship

SALISBURY — Election night results for a trio of seats on the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education were all tight Tuesday night, but one newcomer and two incumbents appeared to come out on top.

One of those incumbents was Susan Cox, a retired teacher who could not get her name off the ballot in time for the election, but decided to concede her seat on the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education and endorse her opponent. Despite actively campaigning for challenger Jennifer Studer and planning to move on from the board, however, Cox had a 900-vote lead for the southeast area seat with all precincts reporting.

In a year when absentee by mail ballots were more popular than ever, there could be changes in final vote totals, but Cox was ahead on election night with 28,394 votes to Studer’s 27,492 — 50.29% to 48.69%, respectively.

Cox said she has to talk to her family and come up with a plan going forward. Cox and her husband sold their house and have been planning to move closer to family in Guilford County.

“I was just hoping I would lose,” Cox said.

Studer said she was feeling OK after results were in and happy about the number of votes she received.

Reacting to the results, Studer, a registered nurse at the W.G.”Bill” Hefner V.A. Medical Center, said she is unknown to voters.

“She worked really hard to lose,” Studer said. “At this point I can only laugh.”

The East area seat, meanwhile, was a tight contest between former East Rowan High School head baseball coach Brian Hightower and retired educator Kathy McDuffie Sanborn.

Hightower was leading Sanborn for the East area seat the entire night. Hightower’s lead expanded as the night went on, and stood at 1,220 votes over Sanborn once all precincts had reported. Hightower’s vote total was 30,163, 50.67%, and Sanborn’s was 28,943, 48.62%.

Hightower said he was running against a great candidate and that he respects Sanborn. Sanborn said she sent a congratulatory message to Hightower and that she might consider running for elected office again.

Hightower said he had no expectations going into the race and was just putting his name in the hat to do the best he can to represent the county.

Hightower said he wants to help smooth out relationships between the district and residents in areas around Faith and Enochville elementary schools, which the board recently voted to close at the end of the school year.

Incumbent Alisha Byrd-Clark also appeared to win her contest against carpenter and recent Catawba College graduate Jonathan Barbee.

Election night results showed Byrd-Clark with the largest win of the night among the series of relatively tight races, leading Barbee by 1,899 votes. Byrd-Clark received a total of 30,244 votes, 51.25%, to Barbee’s 28,345, 48.04%.

“I feel good, I’m excited,” Byrd-Clark said, adding that it meant a lot for people to show confidence in her leadership by having more than 30,000 people vote for her.

Byrd-Clark said it could be anybody’s seat and a candidate should never be overly confident, but she felt she has served well.

She identified the search to replace retiring Superintendent Lynn Moody as the most important project for the school board right now, though the board has other major concerns like COVID-19 to deal with as well.

Barbee said he was feeling “completely OK,” noting he wanted to make system-wide improvements and move toward more in-person instruction.

Barbee noted he’s heavily involved in other areas by holding leadership positions with local young Republican organizations and serving on the Rowan County Historic Landmarks Commission and the Salisbury Tree Board.

Barbee said he would consider running again as well.

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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