A suite of Democrats are vying to fill two seats on the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) school board that have historically represented predominantly black schools in the state’s largest school district.
District 4 covers much of Mobile’s inner city and includes feeder patterns for Murphy, Williamson, LeFlore and B.C. Rain high schools. There are no Republican candidates in the race, so the Democratic primary race between Ty Burden, Stanley Draine and Sherry Dillihay-McDade will decide the seat.
Of the three, McDade appears to have the most extensive background in education. Attempts to contact her campaign were unsuccessful, but McDade has previously said she spent roughly 35 years as a teacher, coach and athletic administrator at Booker T. Washington Middle School and LeFlore High.
Her campaign materials have emphasized plans to “improve” and “evolve” the quality of education in MCPSS schools and to make sure schools are safe. She also stressed the importance of members of the board being accessible to students, parents, teachers and the community at large.
“We’re a diverse community and diversity is what we need to celebrate,” McDade said at an event last fall. “Our schools are here to serve the educational needs of all children, stakeholders and parents.”
Though the campaign did not respond to messages from a reporter, Burden has been involved in Democratic politics for years. Though she graduated from a high school in California, Burden went to Williamson, according to an online interview she gave to Kimberly Knight of the Lush Consulting Firm.
Burden spent several years on the radio, where she went by “Chocolate Ty” on air, and more recently, she worked in the local branch of the Alexander Shunnarah law firm. Since 2009, she has worked on and managed campaigns for local and national Democratic candidates in Alabama and Mississippi.
In the past, Burden has also spoken out about issues impacting local schools and has addressed the board in open meetings with concerns before. In her interview with Knight, Burden said her work in politics and radio has led to her spending a lot of time in local schools with students, teachers and parents.
Draine told Lagniappe he’s worked with school-aged children in a number of capacities. Though many midtown Mobilians may recognize Draine from his job at Publix, he also worked as a substitute teacher in MCPSS and served as a counselor for the Optimist Boys and Girls Club from 1986 to 1990.
A 1985 graduate of Williamson High School, Draine has worked as a behavioral aide for mentally challenged adults at the G&M group home in Mobile since 2010. If elected, he’d like to focus on ending bullying, increasing parental involvement and distributing the board’s funding more equitably.
“I was motivated to enter this race by a teacher in the system and the overwhelming desire to assure that all students are treated equally regardless of social or financial status,” Draine said. “My specific campaign issues are simple: visionary leaders for all schools, removing schools from the academic distress list and establishing a District 4 council to represent each school [for transparency].”
In District 3, which includes schools in Prichard and North Mobile, former board president Reginald Crenshaw is looking to secure his third term in office since 2008. To do that, he’ll have to survive a challenge from fellow Democrat and retired educator Douglas L. July.
July spent 22 of his 39 years in public education at various posts throughout MCPSS. He was a band director, an assistant principal at Vigor and Murphy high schools and a principal at Mae Eanes, Booker T. Washington and Mobile County Training middle schools before he retired in 2016.
Speaking with Lagniappe, July said he entered the school board race this year because he does not believe proper attention is being given to schools with the greatest needs. Specifically, July mentioned the closure of schools like Mae Eanes, which the school board shut down in 2016 due to dwindling enrollment.
“When a school goes down, whether it’s from dilapidation or a decrease in enrollment, it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a period of years, and I refuse to believe that the school board is not aware of what is going on in some of these schools before they take the step of closing one down,” July said. “The population in West Mobile near the airport is bursting at the seams, so what we need to do is redraw the lines to put people from districts with too many students into those with too few.”
Citing reports about local teachers quitting over “unruly students,” July said he’d also like to ensure MCPSS is providing the necessary resources to support teachers and to work with “unruly students” and their families to address the root of the problems. He said having the right support at the central office and at the school level goes a long way to help “attract and retain highly qualified teachers.”
A retired educator himself, Crenshaw spent nearly 40 years in administration at Bishop State Community College. He holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration and a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Asked about the claims of MCPSS funding being unequally distributed, he called them “a bunch of crap.” While there are times when resources are not distributed perfectly evenly between districts or schools, Crenshaw said, that’s because those dollars are spent wherever the greatest needs are.
“When Rev. [Levon] Manzie and I came onto the board together, almost all of the schools with the greatest needs were in our two districts and we probably got 95 percent of the bond money for new construction at that time,” Crenshaw said. “We’ve upgraded facilities all over District 3. There’s been almost $100 million of new construction in my district since I’ve been on the board.”
Asked about his accomplishments, Crenshaw touted recent increases in MCPSS’s graduation rate, the reduction in the number of schools defined as “failing” under the Alabama Accountability Act and the hiring of Superintendent Chresal Threadgill — a leadership change that seemed to single-handedly derail discussions about the city of Mobile forming its own school system last year.
If elected to a third term, Crenshaw said there’s still more he’d like to do.
“I’d like to see us float another bond to do some more renovations, specifically at Vigor High School to add an athletics facility,” Crenshaw said. “I’ll also continue to make sure that we’re putting the resources needed into these failing schools so they have what they need to be successful academically.”
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