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‘I was just in shock.’ Political newcomer wins school board seat with shoestring campaign.

Heather Scott pulls off upset to win Wake County school board seat

Heather Scott won the District 1 seat for the Wake County school board on Nov. 6, 2018 despite having far less money than her opponents.
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Heather Scott won the District 1 seat for the Wake County school board on Nov. 6, 2018 despite having far less money than her opponents.

Heather Scott didn’t come into Election Day thinking she would win. But her underfunded, shoestring campaign pulled off an upset on Tuesday to make her the newest member of the Wake County school board.

Scott, 43, a music teacher from Raleigh, won the three-way race for the school board’s District 1 seat with 39 percent of the vote, based on complete but unofficial election returns. Scott won despite spending less than $1,000 and relying on a word-of-mouth campaign against better-funded opponents who were endorsed by the major political parties.

“It was a big surprise because the only real volunteers for my campaign were me and my husband, who works full-time,” Scott said in an interview Thursday. “But I felt every time I had a chance to talk about my platform and what I had to bring, it went really positively.”

Also on Tuesday, three incumbent school board members were re-elected in contested races. Five incumbent board members ran unopposed — including the late Kathy Hartenstine, whose successor will be chosen by the rest of the board.

District 1 covers Wendell, Zebulon, Rolesville, Wake Forest and part of Knightdale and Raleigh. The seat is now held by Don Agee, who didn’t seek re-election for another two-year term.

Scott ran against Don Mial, who spent his career working in the state’s juvenile justice system, and Jim Thompson, a former Wake Forest commissioner.

Although Scott is a Democrat and an educator, Mial was endorsed by both the Wake County Democratic Party and Wake NCAE, the local chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators. Mial also raised $18,657, according to campaign finance reports.

Thompson was endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party. His latest campaign finance report was not immediately available.

School board races in Wake are officially non-partisan contests.

Scott said she had to run a frugal campaign that relied on spreading her message on social media, meeting people daily, speaking at candidate forums and showing up every day at early voting sites. She bought only 50 small campaign signs.

Scott campaigned on how she’d bring the perspective of being both a teacher and a parent of two students, who both attend Hunter Elementary School in Raleigh. She’s taught music for 20 years, including previously at Endeavor Charter School in Raleigh and more recently as a substitute teacher and private music teacher.

Scott said she wanted to promote equity in schools, an issue in District 1, which has affluent schools in Wake Forest and high-poverty schools in eastern Wake. She also talked about increasing access to pre-K and addressing how minority students are both disproportionately suspended and are under-represented in academically gifted programs.

“I want to make sure that all of the schools are getting the attention they need,” Scott said.

After a long and exhausting day of campaigning Tuesday, Scott said she went to bed with the outcome still in doubt. She was woken up later that evening by her husband, Derek, with the news that she had won.

“I was just in shock,” she said.

Scott will take office Dec. 4 and will be charged with helping to lead North Carolina’s largest school district, which has more than 160,000 students and an annual operating budget of $1.6 billion.

“I’m really honored and excited to serve on the board,” Scott said. “Education has always been so much of my heart. To be able to serve the teachers and the community in this way is really incredible.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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