Tuesday, February 27, 2024

New Hanover County Primaries 2024: Jerry Jones runs for board of education seat

Democratic candidate Jerry Jones is running for the NHC school board in the 2024 primary election. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — 2024 is a presidential election year but also one that impacts numerous local boards — such as county commissioners and education districts in the tri-county region.

READ MORE: Here is who filed for the 2024 elections

First-time Democratic candidate Jerry Jones — small business owner of The Roasted Bookery — is running for New Hanover County Board of Education. 

Jones is facing off against Tim Merrick and Judy Justice in primary election, to take place March 5. Cynthia Munoz was leading a campaign but dropped out of the race on Jan. 26; her name will still appear on the ballot for the primaries. Jones’ stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

Port City Daily has compiled candidate questionnaires so voters can read up on contenders’ stances before heading to the polls. The paywall is dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of casting their ballots.

Voters will choose which candidates from their registered party they want to move forward in the formal election — or those who are registered unaffiliated can choose which party’s primary they want to vote in. After the March 5 primaries, Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024; a valid photo ID will be needed to cast a ballot in both. 

Anyone not registered to vote can partake in same-day registration, available throughout the early voting period, Feb. 15 – Mar. 2. Check here to see if your registration is active at your current address.

Early voting in Brunswick County takes place at five locations: the Cooperative Extension at the Government center (25 Referendum Dr. in Bolivia), Leland Cultural Arts Center (1212 Magnolia Village Way), Brunswick Center at Southport (1513 N. Howe St.), Brunswick Center at Shallotte (3620 Express Dr.) and Sunset Beach Community Center (200 Station Trail).

Early voting at the Cooperative Extension is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 15-16, 19-23, and 26-Mar. 1, and on Mar. 2, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The other locations are open: 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 15-16, 19-23, 26-Mar. 1, and on Saturday, Feb. 17 and 24, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., and Mar. 2, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. The locations open one Sunday, Feb. 18, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.  

Below is a breakdown of dates to expect ahead of the primary election:

  • Jan. 19, 2024: County boards of elections begin mailing absentee ballots to eligible voters who submitted an absentee ballot request form.
  • Feb. 9, 2024: Voter registration deadline (5 p.m.).*
  • Feb. 15, 2024: In-person early voting begins.
  • Feb. 27, 2024: Absentee ballot request deadline (5 p.m.).*
  • March 2, 2024: In-person early voting ends (3 p.m.).
  • March 5, 2024: Primary Election Day.
  • March 5, 2024: Absentee ballot return deadline (7:30 p.m.).*

Jones’ questionnaire is below; all candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. 

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Port City Daily (PCD): Why do you want to run for the school board?

Jerry Jones (JJ): I am running for school board because there are a group of people who are persistently tinkering with education in order to drum up outrage over perceived threats for no other purpose than to drive culture-war warriors to the polls.

Education helped me to break the cycle of poverty in which my family was mired. My parents raised five children, all of whom broke that cycle because we were taught that education was the path. I think kids that look like me deserve the same opportunity I had to use this silver-bullet solution to change the arc of their lives.

PCD: What is the current board of education getting right? Wrong?

JJ: The board took a stand against the proposed closure of the CRA program within Mosely and proved that bipartisanship can create good outcomes for our students. Procedurally, I think it was a stand worth taking. The administrative authority assumed to close that school weakens the power of the board and must be counteracted.

Right now, I think that the board is mired in culture-war issues that have no place in our district. The board is hampered by a cynical experiment in voter turnout and, unfortunately, the leaders of the future are paying the price now. We have serious problems in the district that require professionalism and focus.

PCD: If elected, what is the top issue you want to tackle?

JJ: My primary focus, if elected, would be working to refocus the board on the nuts and bolts of creating a district that would be the envy of North Carolina.

  • ● New Hanover County is woefully behind on investment in the educational infrastructure necessary for a growing population
  • ● There is a significant delay in the flow of information from the board to the public. Those who vote for us should have access to public information
  • ● Crafting policy that supports students and educators, promotes academic freedom, and provides safety for all students regardless of the circumstances of their birth
  • ● The inclusion of student and teacher voice in our decision-making

PCD: In December, the board voted to dissolve the equity, diversity and inclusion committee. Do you agree with this decision, and what is your plan, outside of reestablishing or opposing the committee, to promote inclusivity and ensure every child has the resources they need to succeed?

JJ: No, I do not agree with this decision. Growing up a Black man in the South has taught me, again and again, that racism isn’t something that we’ve left behind. It continues to persist precisely because we continue to choose to bury our heads in the sand about racism and its negative effects.

Ultimately, my plan to ensure that every child is seen and gets the resources they need may very well rest with the electoral process. Getting like-minded individuals elected to office will go a long way toward rectifying the mistakes of this decision.

In the short term, those of us who would favor the return of such a program are at a numerical disadvantage. More than likely, I wouldn’t be able to get a discussion of that committee’s dissolution on the agenda, so I would turn to the community to talk about how EDI would be a positive net influence in the lives of their children during something like “call to the audience.”

While the committee has been disbanded, the data and experience still exist. Socializing this flow of information and experience informally might be the best way to keep this conversation from being relegated to memory.

PCD: A 2023 space needs study concluded NHCS needs significant capital projects and repairs to accommodate its current student population. However, other analyses by the county show the district could better distribute students across its facilities, indicating a redistricting is needed, and the student population is expected to level off and decrease in the future. Where do you stand on addressing potential growth and the district’s capital needs? What projects do you think the district should prioritize?

JJ: The fastest remedy for the slanted overcrowding we’re seeing appears to be redistricting. There is a significant lift in terms of logistics to achieve manageable capacities through redistricting, and we’ve already demonstrated that the district is having a hard time hiring and holding on to the staff to execute those logistics. The district would be better served, I think, to take a step back and examine the root of the issue.

We need to look at policy and practice. We need to understand why certain schools are crowded while others are under capacity. If there are programs and offerings that are attracting families to one school versus another, then we have to explore the question of duplicating those programs at other schools to see if we can draw families to the underutilized schools.

Conversely, are there characteristics of a school that push families away? If we can ameliorate those issues then, perhaps, we can resolve the overcrowding we see without a significant capital expenditure.

PCD: Since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the school district has been grappling with a return to more rigid, and in some views inadequate, processes highlighted by pandemic flexibility. These issues — calendar law, budget cycle, allotment funding — often stem from the state level. What is your view on these topics, do you think they should be changed and how would you plan todo so?

JJ: I empathize with the desire, the need, to “return to normal.” The COVID-19 pandemic engendered an existential crisis for our entire country and it was felt in every corner. It makes sense then that there is a whiplash effect of sorts, where decision-makers aggressively reassert old practices–with the idea that those old practices, part of a now defunct norm, will return some sense of control back to our lives. This sort of rigid thinking only serves to slow the eventual pivot to a more modern and responsive model for education.

PCD: Do you think the district is adequately staffed? What positions would you like to see prioritized and/or deprioritized, especially in light of the district having to make significant cuts to next year’s budget? What should the board do to create a better working environment for its employees?

JJ: No, it isn’t adequately staffed. The evidence for that is found in our discipline data and in our workplace satisfaction data. I think that the district needs to prioritize positions that have the most contact with the population we serve: students. We need to deprioritize administrative positions that add to our costs but don’t enhance the level of service provided to our students or to our school staff. The answer to enhancing the work environment for employees is to incorporate teacher and admin voices in our decisions about the manner in which they work. Full stop and period. Teacher voice.

PCD: Many districts, including NHCS, have been experiencing issues with student discipline. NHCS is also unique in its struggle with discriminatory discipline practices against Black students per a federal sanction. Do you think changes should be made to the way the district disciplines students, and if so, how?

JJ: I think that the data shows quite clearly that the approach to discipline needs to change. Again, I revert back to policy and practice. We need an honest evaluation of the policies in place within the context of our unique community. We simply cannot duplicate the policies of another district without understanding the net effect of those policies on our student populations. It makes the work burdensome, but we must have a comprehensive lens of the socio-economic and historical context of our students and how our policies interact with that context. It is that intersection that must be understood.

The other side is the practice or the human side. Teachers are overly burdened. With the best of intentions, everything from the pressure to perform to our staffing levels can create. an environment in which an educator may make a choice that they wouldn’t otherwise make. Additionally, a student that lives in constant fear or constant hunger isn’t equipped to make the best choices. We have to understand the context in which these very human choices are made. We have to account for the driving factors that have created the environment that has led to such a disproportionate application of discipline.

Understand that this isn’t a time to call people or institutions out. It is an opportunity to call those who care about our students in and create the kind of environment where all students have an opportunity to thrive. As a board, we must understand that this comes at a resource cost and be willing and able to think creatively to secure those resources for our educators and students. An example might be to hire more therapists rather than asking for a stronger police presence in our schools.

PCD: Since the last board election, the topic of parental rights has influenced discussions, including over curriculum, library materials, surveys and medical care. Where do you think the balance lies between parent and school staff responsibility over a student’s education, particularly in these areas?

JJ: I trust the experts we’ve hired to educate our students. Parents absolutely have the right to enter into conversations with their child’s teacher if they have a concern about materials. If that parent decides that their child isn’t to be exposed to a certain idea or material, then they should work with individual teachers to create accommodations for their child. They should not, however, have the ability to make decisions for other parents and other families.

The idea of parental rights has been broadened and weaponized to motivate a group of people to come to the polls and vote for candidates they wouldn’t otherwise consider. The idea of parental rights has been positioned as a “weapon” in a culture war that no one asked for and most voters don’t want. I’ll never judge or criticize a parent for wanting to educate their child according to their value system — but that parent does not have the authority to make decisions for other families.

PCD: The board has discussed different ways to hold each other accountable, such as a code of ethics policy, and ways to make the board more efficient, such as adding agenda review meetings. Do you think the board should be doing more to promote civil and efficient discussion? If so, what actions would you propose to accomplish this?

JJ: I do not believe that an additional policy is needed to promote civil and efficient discourse. I think that what is needed is for the adults to be the adults. Discord and disharmony do very little to help the buses run on time.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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