A new chapter began tonight for the Wake County School Board with the swearing in of 8 members.
The bittersweet ceremony saw the congratulations of outgoing and incoming members as well as the solemn remembrance of the late Zora Felton who died unexpectedly last month a few days after being elected to her second term.
All nine seats of the school board were up for election this year in what was a tumultuous election season caused by uncertainty around the size and shape of the representative districts. When the dust settled, there were three new members and six returning members elected to the board on Nov. 7. The seat won by Felton remains vacant and will be filled by a vote of the school board at a later date.
Families and friends packed the school board meeting room at the WCPSS central offices on Dillard Drive in Cary as judges from the NC Court System administered the oaths of office. Loved ones stood at the side of each member as they recited their oaths.
“I believe I’m here because of the many conversations I’ve had with the voters of District 1 over the past few months,” said new board member Don Agee who was sworn in by NC District Court Judge Dan Nagle. Agee is replacing board chairman Tom Benton. “I plan use the wisdom and determination of the past few years and months to help me achieve my goals.”
Roxie Cash ran unopposed to replace board member Kevin Hill who did not seek reelection. She was sworn in by NC District Court Judge Vincent Rozier. She plans to continue the work she did as a school board member in the 1990s.
Bill Fletcher, sworn in by retired NC Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, looked forward to a day when a race, ethnicity, and income are not indicators of a child’s outcome.
“Just imagine what our community will be like when we can do that,” Fletcher said.
Vice Chair Monika Johnson-Hostler was sworn in by NC District Court Judge Michael Morgan, who recently won a seat on the NC Supreme Court. After taking her oath of office, she indicated to her husband, a teacher, and her daughter, a sixth grader, as “the two most important reasons that brought me to the Board of Education.”
Christine Kushner, who was sworn in by Judge Rozier, acknowledged Felton’s service, and remembered her fondly.
“I am going to miss her. I am going to miss her laugh. I am going to miss her stories of being in the classroom,” Kushner said.
Lindsay Mahaffey replaced Susan Evans who did not seek reelection. She was sworn in by Justice Morgan, and she kept her comments brief.
“I’m honored and humbled to be here,” Mahaffey said, before thanking her husband for “pulling extra parenting duty” to care for their three young daughters.
Board member Jim Martin, who was sworn in NC District Court Judge Deborah Sasser, said his kids – graduates of WCPSS – recommended he run for school board.
“They are actually the reason why I am on the Board of Education,” Martin said. “When your kids say you need to run and be engaged in public life like this, you’ll have to listen.”
With his oath of office, Keith Sutton said became the member with the longest continuous service of the current membership. Fletcher and Cash both served terms in the 1990s before returning to the board for new terms.
Sutton, who was sworn in by Justice Morgan, said “I’m reminded of four character traits that I think about as we all take the oath to serve as school board members: Scholarship, Perseverance, Uplift, Intentionality.”
After a brief reception, the new board members replaced the ones whose terms ended and the regular meeting began with the election of new leadership. Superintendent Jim Merrill presided over the meeting during the vote which was tabulated by the board’s attorney.
Johnson-Hostler, who served last year as vice-chair, was the sole nominee for board chair, and she was approved unanimously.
Kushner was nominated by Fletcher and Sutton was nominated by Mahaffey to serve as board vice chair. The board elected Kushner 5-3.
For more news from the WCPSS School Board meeting, please look forward to reading the next edition of IN Context.