SEAGROVE — Moore County Public Schools installed three new school board members at a ceremony held at Westmoore Elementary held on Dec. 5. The full event can be viewed on the district’s YouTube channel.
The new additions were touted on the district’s holiday parade float, which carried a banner that read “under new management.”
A total of 83 school boards had elections this year in the state, with 41 of them being partisan races. Republicans swept all seats in 21 of those 41 races, while Democrats only swept three. Moore’s school board races were nonpartisan; however, the new members are all Republicans and represent a shift in control for the board.
Moore County Clerk of Court Todd Manness was on hand to administer the oath of office to new members Shannon Davis, Ken Benway, and Pauline Bruno.
Bruno and Benway won the two at-large seats. Davis ousted the board’s Chair Pam Thompson for her District 3 seat.
“I would like to wish our school board the best,” Manness said after all three had taken the oath. “May God bless all of you ,and I know that you will diligently serve our children in Moore County. Thank you.”
The board and all attendees observed a moment of silence to remember those in Moore County affected by the recent power outage due to an apparent attack on a power substation in the county.
Officer elections were held, with members Bob Levy elected as the new chair and David Hensley elected as vice chair.
“We have a really great board in front of us,” Levy said before speaking a little bit about each new member.
Of Benway, Levy noted his military service would bring the board “discipline and clear thought.” Levy cited the importance of Bruno’s experience in special education.
When speaking about the addition of Shannon Davis in District 3, Levy noted she homeschooled her children and that 12 percent of students in Moore County are homeschooled.
“We need her here in our board of education,” Levy said.
After delivering remarks detailing the financial mismanagement in the district related to building schools, leaky roofs, and putting air conditioning in gyms, newly elected Vice Chair Hensley said the board’s first business meeting would be to rectify those issues.
“North Moore, the days of you being ignored are over,” Hensley said.
The newly sworn-in members also gave some brief remarks.
Citing Article 9 of North Carolina’s Constitution, Davis remarked during the meeting that “religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind” and that she promised to do her best to support those ideals.
Benway thanked the voters for having confidence in him and said that the district has a “bright future” ahead of it.
“I want to want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart,” Bruno told attendees of the ceremony. “You put us in these seats, and we are forever grateful. We are really going to work hard to listen to you to do what we promise and what the community expects of us.”
She added, “We are all for the parents. We are all for your students.”
Davis was born in Pinehurst and remained in Moore County, where she homeschooled her three children, who are now ages 22, 17, and 14. She believes her extensive educational base of knowledge gained as a homeschooling mom will provide invaluable insight as a board member.
Davis’ candidate platform included preserving foundational American values, protecting students, parents, and teachers, supporting a culture of learning, and strengthening the community through education.
Davis beat Thompson in both election day and early voting turnout, even though Thompson led in absentee-by-mail voting. In the end, Davis won by an over 8 percent margin.
Thompson had been criticized in the past for attempts to include controversial “gender identity” ideology into certain MCS policies as well as for removing board member Bob Levy from the policy committee after he introduced a measure barring the use of Critical Race Theory from policies and instruction in Moore schools.
Bruno is a retired Special Education teacher, and Benway is a 27-year Army Special Forces veteran.
Of the four candidates vying for the at-large seats, Bruno and Benway received the most votes; 21,158 and 19,240, respectively. The bottom two finishing candidates were Robin Calcutt with 18,882 votes and Rollie Sampson with 14,466 votes.
Bruno has a strong background in education, holding a degree in Elementary and Special Education from Kent State University and a master’s degree in Reading from Waldon University. She put those degrees to work teaching children with Special needs from pre-school to high school and even juveniles in detention facilities.
Bruno has served as President of the Moore Republican Women’s organization for the past four of the 15 years she has lived in the county and, per her campaign website, “led the fight to keep CRT out of Moore County Schools.”
While campaigning, Benway characterized himself as a “problem solver” who wants safe schools, appropriate materials for students, and a return academic excellence as the primary focus of the district. As a candidate, Benway garnered numerous endorsements, including Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields and Civil Rights icon Clarence Henderson.
Moore County Public Schools (MCS) is also operating under a new superintendent after former Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey announced his intention to retire in October 2021 and whose last day with MCS was Jan. 31, 2022.
Dr. Tim Locklair, who was serving as the Chief Officer for Academic and Student Support Services, was selected as an interim superintendent. The role was made permanent, effective July 1, 2022.
Grimesey had been criticized by conservative members of the board for failing to prioritize academic achievement over “equity” initiatives infused with social justice and an emphasis on social and emotional learning.
In the year prior to his resignation, Grimesey was questioned about involvement with a secretive education non-profit called The Innovation Project (TIP). The non-profit has been collecting over $2.048 million in dues from 33 public school districts around the state during the time period spanning 2017 to 2021. Of that total, MCS was found to have paid out $83,837 in three dues installments to TIP. To date, TIP has not responded to requests for comment about its activities, including topics like racial and social justice.
Both the new board and Locklair have their work cut out for them in terms of academic achievement and school safety.
In mid-November, the district received four threats to district schools within a 24-hour period. Per a Facebook post by Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields, after an investigation involving the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, a 15-year-old from Aberdeen was arrested in connection with threats of mass violence directed at Union Pines High School.
During his tenure, Grimesey was called out by board member David Hensley for a lack of attention to school safety, including blocking the previous MCS police chief and school resources officers from being questioned by the board. Following Grimesey’s departure, Hensley issued a Facebook statement indicating it had been discovered the MCS police department and its SROs had “not received ANY meaningful training in the past five years.”
Since returning to school full-time following the pandemic, MCS has seen an increase in fights on its campuses. Over a dozen such fights were caught on camera at a single school: Crain’s Creek Middle.
Crain’s Creek has been plagued by high turnover in staff. At least one former teacher at the school says Principal Melonie Jones is to blame for a “hostile work environment” that includes undermining educators when it comes to student discipline.
Following reporting on the Crain’s Creek Middle School fights, another parent came forward about her son having been “choked out” by another student in the lunchroom at Elise Middle School. The same parent also said she found out a child in her daughter’s class at Robbins Elementary brought a gun to school. The parent only found out about the incident because the daughter brought it up.