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Right-leaning candidates run for Durham Public Schools Board of Education under united slate

<p>Durham's public schools have opted to remain remote until at least next semester.</p>

Durham's public schools have opted to remain remote until at least next semester.

As the May 17 general election approaches, a group of five registered Republican candidates hope to fill the five seats up for election on the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. 

The candidates—Curtis Hrischuk, Christopher Burns, Gayathri Rajaraman, Valarie Jarvis and Joetta MacMiller—are joined under the Better Board, Better Schools, Better Futures (BBBS) slate.

According to the BBBS website, the slate demands that “our public schools achieve academic proficiency, expect transparency in reporting academic achievement, and identify where resources are being spent.” However, some have raised concerns that the BBBS is a “stealth slate” meant to halt a recent movement to a more progressive social studies curriculum, including a greater focus on the historical roots of structural inequality and racism in the United States.  

In North Carolina, school board elections are nonpartisan, but the political party a candidate is registered with is publicly available. Durham County operates under a state law that mandates counties to elect school board members on a strictly nonpartisan basis. Candidates’ names are further not listed with their personal party affiliation on the ballot. 

While Durham County traditionally favors Democratic candidates, it is possible that the BBBS candidates, most of whom would serve four-year terms, could take the Durham Public School Board in a more right-leaning direction. 

In all but one school board district, the BBBS slate is running against an incumbent candidate. Emily Susanna Chavez and Jasper Fleming are also running for District 1. There are no incumbents in this race. Bettina Umstead is the incumbent for District 2, where Donald Hughes is also running. Matthew Sears is the incumbent for District 3. In a special election, incumbent Frederick Xavier Ravin III and Millicent Rogers are running for Consolidated District B for an unexpired term ending in 2024. Incumbent Natalie Beyer and Myca Jeter are also running for District 4. 

Curtis Hrischuk, District 1 Candidate

Hrischuk advocates for a greater focus on science and technology, citing a lack of industry-ready students he sees in his work in the high-tech industry, according to his profile available through the BBBS website. In addition to content changes, Hrischuk hopes to make schools “a safe environment for learning and better mental health.”

On social media, Hrischuk has questioned climate scientists and signed a statement titled “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” which favors a creationist view of human development. 

Christopher Burns, District 2 Candidate

Burns comes from a background in industrial technology and manufacturing. According to the BBBS website, he wrote a woodworking curriculum for Durham Technical Community College and has trained numerous schools in Digital Manufacturing and CAD-CAM-CNC. 

Like his BBBS counterparts, Burns is campaigning for a greater focus on STEM and STEAM education, seeing these practical skills as important to the job market. 

Gayatri Rajaraman, District 3 Candidate

According to her candidate profile on the BBBS website, Rajaraman is also campaigning for a departure from social studies education in favor of “teaching just math, science, creative arts, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).” 

“Countries around the world are slowly overtaking us in technology and advanced education.  It is because the priority has shifted from education to social topics that will not help them achieve academic success,” her profile reads.

Valerie Jarvis, District 4 Candidate

Jarvis is a registered nurse and the co-founder of a Durham nonprofit centered around urban farming, according to her profile on the BBS website. Jarvis holds experience in corporate nursing management and states in her profile that a large proportion of the candidates she interviews for positions are largely undertrained. She attributes this to “the disparity and gaps in the educational system for those out of high school and beyond.”

She also says that this background, in addition to her role as a foster and adoptive mother, gives her a better understanding of the social and emotional needs of students. One of her main goals for Durham Public Schools is to improve parent and family involvement as a tool for furthering the success of students. 

Joetta MacMiller, Consolidated District B Candidate

According to her campaign profile on the BBBS website, MacMiller would like to see a return of schools to a traditional focus on “reading, writing, and arithmetic so [students] can be productive, successful citizens once they graduate.” 

“Currently, our children are not getting the education they deserve. Instead, they are being told what to think, not how to think,” her profile reads.

MacMiller attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, which resulted in the U.S. Capitol attack. 

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