Candidate Questionnaires: Board of Education

Jessica Winger, candidate for Chatham County Board of Education — Dist. 3


Editor's Note: All candidates were sent two questionnaires by the News + Record. The first asked general questions about candidates and their goals; the second asked office-specific policy questions.

Questions are indicated in bold, any question left blank was unanswered by the candidate.

Jessica Winger

How long have you lived in Chatham County?

Occupation (where you work, what you do):

Stay at home Mother, Substitute teacher and Yoga instructor

Campaign website/social media:

Party affiliation:

Current and previous elected offices held or sought & terms you served:


Campaign manager (if applicable):

Campaign treasurer (if applicable):

Why are you seeking this office?

I believe that children embody all the hope, joy, and pride of the families in our community, which is why I am running for our school board. As a mother of four children, I have seen the effect that our school boards decisions have had on my family during COVID. As a substitute teacher, I have witnessed the effects of learning loss on children. I know that many families feel ignored and dismissed, and that teachers are overwhelmed in red tape. I want to restore trust in our school board and help teachers to do what they love.

What makes you the best candidate on the ballot?

 I am the only mother with children in the school system running for Board of Education. I have been teaching in the classrooms, listening to concerned teachers and staff, and attending almost all the board meetings for the last couple years.  I have heard the conversations at churches and community gatherings. I am proud that I have broad bipartisan support from my campaign. People are looking for genuine change in the status quo, and I feel that I am the best candidate to accomplish it. 

Give us a job description youd write for yourself if youre elected to this seat:

To represent the district in all matters of education policy, administration, curriculum, and educational budget. To act in a professional and transparent manner and uphold the values of our community. To be mindful that I am an ambassador for Chatham County and to always balance the needs of our children, families, teachers, and administrators to meet the goals of this community.

What three specific, measurable and attainable goals would you pursue if elected?

1) I would hold at least three community sessions per year, separate from the school boards regularly scheduled meetings, with direct interaction involving parents and teachers.

2) I would establish a broad mix of parents/guardians with different perspectives to form an advisory committee that gives constructive feedback on issues that the school board is deliberating. 

3) There are no readily viewable receipts, contract awards, or contracting processes for the public to easily review. I would seek the creation of a monthly report, published online, that coincides with the board meeting with this detailed information.

What are the biggest challenges in Chatham and/or N.C. right now — and how would you address them?

1) Our youngest children are experiencing a crisis in learning loss and developmental delays from recent masking, isolation, and separation from their peers. We must get these children back on track

2) Build trust between the board and stakeholders, through a series of informal meetings between community leaders, parents, and board members.

Chatham County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. What do you see as the major challenges/opportunities coming from this growth and how would you address them?

We have the challenge of keeping pace with the growth from VinFast, Wolfspeed, nearby Google, and Apple, coupled with the budget constraints that we all must live within. We must incorporate more efficient practices, focusing on the total cost of ownership in our future facilities. We must prioritize recruiting teachers from outside of our region, which means we need to offer them competitive wages, benefits, and a high quality of life. Lastly, we must do better at having smart, sustainable growth that takes good care of our history and our future.

Whats your overall view of the role of the elected body youre seeking to join? Is it fulfilling its mission now? If not, what needs to change?

The school board has failed to build a meaningful and significant bond with the families they represent. It seems that outside influences and special interests have replaced parents' voices in critical education matters. We are at an inflection point in childhood education in Chatham, and I think that our board must do better, or they will lose trust and community for a generation.  

Do you believe the 2020 Presidential election produced fair and legitimate results? (Please respond with a yes” or no” answer, then, if desired, you have 100 words to support your response.)

No & Yes. It is shameful that the Chatham News + Record wants to distract from the important issues facing families and children in this election by trying to re-litigate the last election and fan the flames of division. Stunts like this make average citizens distrust the media. Every minute you and your readers spend on this issue is a wasted opportunity to focus on vital matters for our children, grandchildren, and loved ones.


Fast facts:

Political/government hero: George Washington

Favorite book: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Book most recently read: My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Favorite film: Any musical (old or new)

Hobbies: Yoga and cooking

Community/civic involvement: Volunteering regularly with my church and in the schools, attending school board meetings and participating in community listening sessions.

Favorite thing about Chatham County: I love the people of Chatham County, who are so inviting and down to earth. 

Personal motto or one-line philosophy: Choose the harder right, instead of the easier wrong.

Strongest childhood ambition: To travel and see the world

Most significant life goal youve accomplished: Being a mother of 4 children


Office-specific questions

One of the primary roles of the Board of Education is allocating district funding. Has the district properly utilized its funds, including federal emergency COVID-19 (ESSER) funds, in recent years?

There is no publicly available report that shows what ESSER and GEER money was spent on, or who it was spent with in Chatham. There are no receipts, contract awards, or contracting process for public review that are easy and readily available. While we do have a high-level audit report and a basic accounting for those funds, there are no details. It is a lack of transparency by our school board to make that information readily available. I think public funding reporting must be vastly improved. I think taxpayers have a right to know how training programs are funded and how much in contracts, discretionary funds, and lesser-known programs are awarded.

 We should also be tracking the valuable and incredible work that is provided by non-profits in our system. Their value and the efforts they provide should be part of the record for us to keep as a record for the amazing support provided by this community.  


What new projects or initiatives would you like to see funded in the coming term?

We have two urgent and critical needs. First, I am calling for a county wide tutoring program that addresses the learning loss experienced by our children from the pandemic. Second, we need a strategic plan that looks at teacher pay, administrator and staff pay, and how we should organize the coming growth in Chatham. It is essential to plan for the expected massive growth of VinFast and Wolfspeed, coupled with nearby Google and Apple, which will change the way we structure our roads, our schools, our school districts, and allocate future funding.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the education system today? What would you do as a member of the Board of Education to help address those problems?

There is not one top issue, but many.

One of those issues is the lack of trust in our board to implement a sound educational plan that is unbiased, fair, and focused on academics and not on political talking points. I would form a parents advisory committee that would help guide the county educational plan.

Another top issue is addressing learning loss, particularly in K-4 education where mandatory masking, virtual learning, and covid protocols affected them the most. As stated in the previous question’s answer, a county wide tutoring program should be formed to address this. 

One more issue is how we will recruit new talent to our schools with a fiscally constrained and uncertain budget. As inflation, deficit spending and supply shortages encroach further in our lives, so will their impacts on our ability to hire and retain the very best talent in our school system.

How much supervision should parents have when it comes to a teacher’s curriculum?

Teachers don’t develop curriculum, they develop lesson plans. The NCDPI and the US Dept of Education have certain curriculum mandates from Congress and the State Legislature that are intended to ensure students receive a sound education. Chatham County School Board can supplement those guidelines to fit within those mandates for curriculum. That leaves teachers to develop lesson plans that fit within mandated and approved curriculum standards. Further I think it’s important to point out that curriculum must be focused on strict academic goals unless directed otherwise. All lesson plans must nest within those plans and follow the guidelines of appropriateness to achieve educational outcomes.

What role should social issues like race, sexuality and gender play in the classroom?

First, there is not a one-size fits all approach to this question as there are different approaches depending upon a child’s special needs, grade levels, and cultural settings. Unfortunately, special interest groups have gained an outsized role in children’s education at the expense of parents' input and concerns, attempting to force topics on children that some parents find offensive or inappropriate. The current policy allows parents to opt out of objectionable material. 

Do you believe the current Board of Education is inclusive of school community stakeholders? Why or why not?

No, it is clearly not inclusive enough. Special interests have gained an outsized input on school policy at the dismay of many parents. It is apparent that there is deep division on this issue. The voices of special interest groups are elevated above parents and family concerns. I continue to hear from parents and as well as teachers/staff who have been ignored and shut-out from our board policy decision making process. There is a great deal of room for improvement in including all stakeholder voices. 

Academic and operational challenges remain in the wake of COVID-19 both in CCS and across the state. What do you believe needs to be done to improve upon issues like learning loss and teacher vacancies in Chatham County?

I eagerly anticipate the support that will come from recent Federal COVID funding passing through Governor Cooper’s GEER Office of Learning Recovery (OLR). The OLR is responsible for providing best practices guidance, teaching assistants, tutoring resources and more. In the meantime I would seek consensus to build a volunteer corps of community members who could donate time to work with children on campus in after school programs, seek generous support from corporate philanthropies to grow this effort so that children can meet the academic standard set for them in the post-pandemic world. Additionally, within the current budget, I would like for the board to aggressively recruit new teachers and assistants to lower student-teacher ratios and extend after school opportunities for tutoring. 

Jessica Winger, candidate questionnaire, Elections 2022, Chatham County Schools, Chatham Board of Education, District 3