“This district has a lot going for it”: Kathy McDuffie Sanborn fills East Rowan school board seat

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, August 16, 2023

SALISBURY — The question of who will fill the vacancy for district seat 3 (East Rowan) on the Rowan-Salisbury School Board was answered Monday night.

After the field of candidates was narrowed to two individuals, Kathy McDuffie Sanborn was selected over Charlie Ashby following a forum-style discussion during the RSS work session at the Wallace Education Forum. 

The seat was vacated by former school board member Brian Hightower, whose resignation from the board was announced during a June meeting.

Sanborn challenged Hightower for the position during the last election cycle. Her 29,162 votes narrowly lost out to Hightower’s 30,334. Sanborn received 48.66 percent of the vote to Hightower’s 50.62 percent.

“I ran for this position in 2020 because I felt like I had a lot that I could offer,” Sanborn said. “This district has meant a lot to me, and even since I retired, I have come back and held several interim (positions) because I feel like I could still contribute and support.”

Background and experience

Sanborn grew up in Dallas, N.C., as one of four children. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree in education with concentrations in learning, mental and emotional disabilities. 

She also earned a master’s degree in school administration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. 

In 1984, she began teaching as a junior high school special education teacher with Kings Mountain City Schools and later moved to Albemarle, where she taught at New London Elementary School. Her career eventually brought her to Rowan-Salisbury Schools. 

In 2004, she was offered an assistant principal position at East Rowan High School. Two years later, she was appointed Director of Secondary Education for RSS and served in that capacity until she retired in 2013. 

In 2014, she started the business Education4All, which focuses on curriculum development and academy support for Crosby Scholars. 

Following retirement, she has also worked in interim positions with RSS, including interim principal for Salisbury High School, North Rowan Middle School and Overton Elementary School, as well as interim director of Exceptional Children on two occasions and as an administrator at Koontz Elementary. 

In the zone she will represent, Sanborn sees promise through collaboration with the school district’s administration. 

“This district has a lot going for it and a lot of excitement with Dr. (Kelly) Withers (Superintendent) and her strategic plan and her fine-tuned focus,” Sanborn said. “I think it is a great time, and I think that I can add that perspective as an educator to the board.”  

Sanborn acknowledged that some challenges are present for the school district.

“Our teachers are not compensated the way that they should be,” Sanborn said.

Additionally, Sanborn said lack of benefits deter teachers from applying for open positions.

“When I first started, (there was) lifetime healthcare and lifetime retirement,” Sanborn said. “That is not there for them now. I believe we have to figure out a way to compensate our staff so they make a living wage and have money to put forth for their future and their children’s future.”

Sanborn said she sees potential with technological advancements but wants to see classroom implementation done in a way that balances the students’ interests.

“Technology is a tool,” Sanborn said. “It is one of the tools for our kids, but it should not be the only tool for our kids in the classroom. Pencils and paper are still good for some tasks. Hands-on activities are great. 

“Artificial intelligence, like any other form of technology, is good as long as it is used the right way … It is there, and we have to figure out how to teach our children to use it in the best way, just like social media.”

Sanborn will officially be sworn in during the Aug. 28 meeting, which begins at 4:30 p.m. and will be held in the Wallace Education Forum, 500 N Main St., Salisbury.