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Lincoln Herald | Lincolnton, NC

home : news : education January 18, 2021

9/2/2020 8:52:00 PM
At-Large Candidates For School Board
UPDATE: We understand that one of the At-Large candidates, Stephanie Mullen, has withdrawn from the race and is supporting another candidate. Her name will still be on the ballot since her decision to withdraw came after the ballots had been printed.

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Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

While everyone is aware that we are having an election in November, some may not be aware of the importance of the races on the ballot beyond those for President, US Senate, Congress, Governor and Lt. Governor, and other statewide races.

Those other races are also important; yet some voters may go to the polls without knowing much about the candidates.  We believe it's important to know more about for whom you are voting than to which political party they belong.

Voters in Lincoln County will be also be choosing three County Commissioners and four members of the Lincoln County Board of Education. Those who live in Lincolnton will be voting in two City Council races.

The Lincoln Herald had intended to have a Meet the Candidates event at the Lincoln Cultural Center in early October, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made that unreasonable; so we've decided to do our best to acquaint our readers with those running for the other offices about whome you won't be seeing tv commercials. 

Three of the four people running for the School Board are incumbents, but each of them has two--and in one case three--opponents. The candidate who gets the most votes will be elected in each race--whether or not their total is a majority.

The School Board election is always important. The schools portion of the total County Budget is the largest of any departmental allocation. This year, the new board (they take office in December) is likely to make the decision on who will be the Superintendent of Lincoln County Schools. Dr. Lory Morrow is retiring in October and while Dr. Aaron Allen will become the interim superintendent, the new board will likely decide whether he should keep that post or hire someone else. The four seats up for election are a majority of the seven-member board.

The Lincoln Herald asked all of the candidates to provide us information about themselves, why they decided to run, what they hope to accomplish. The information about each candidate was provided by them at our request.

Debra Williams

Having lived in Lincoln County for my entire life, it is a #1 priority to take an active role in my community and schools. I am immensely passionate about education which is consistent with my professional life. The pandemic has brought about a tremendous challenge. Parents became educators using what knowledge they had. As a school board member, we need a contingency plan that partners with teachers and parents for educational challenges. We need to have technology available as we build such a plan. Teaching becomes a partnership with parents and teachers. It is an opportunity to embrace the change by welcoming technology and a new collaboration – teachers, parents, and administrators. Education is not the same.

Debra Curry Williams was raised in the Denver, Iron Station areas of Lincoln County. She is a graduate from East Lincoln High School. She is married to Darrell; and they have two sons. Both attended Lincoln County Schools. She has a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, obtained from Belmont Abbey College; an MBA from the University of Phoenix; and an MSE from Kaplan University. She has previously served on the Lincoln County Apple Festival Board for over 10 years. Additionally, she was the NAACP President for three years. Debra remains highly active her community – Black History programs, Juneteenth virtual program and encouraging the youth to become valuable citizens. She is an Associate Minister at Providence Missionary Baptist Church, where she is also the Youth Director.


  • Wells Fargo, Business Risk & Control Sr. Associate (2014 – Present)
  • Synchrony Financial, Surveillance Manager (2014 - 2019)
  • Bank of America, Reporting & Governance Senior Analyst (2006-2013)


  • MSE, Kaplan University (2010)
  • MBA, University of Phoenix (2006)
  • Bachelor's, Belmont Abbey College (2002)
  • High School Diploma, East Lincoln High School (1979)
Stephanie Mullen

My name is Stephanie Mullen and I have been married to my husband, Mike, for 17 years.  I was the business manager for two animal hospitals before staying home with my children.  Mike is a USMC Veteran and now works for Duke Energy.  We have three kids at three different schools in Lincoln County: Iron Station, Rock Springs, & Pumpkin Center Primary.  Two of my children have varying levels of autism and because my children are at 3 different schools & in 3 different programs, I get a unique perspective of our schools.  I decided to run for the school board because of Dr. Morrow’s early retirement, the latest budget disagreements, and the strained relationship with our County Commissioners.  Securing a new Superintendent that will continue the betterment of our education system is a priority.  The fact that we will have our third Superintendent in four years is an example of the dysfunction of the current school board.  I will work to repair the relationship between the County Commissioners and the School Board while keeping our children’s education as a cornerstone of discussions. I will make sure our educators have the tools they need to do their job. I will work hard to get teacher assistants back in the classrooms.  They are an invaluable resource and are often on the front lines of helping children so they do not fall behind.  I think our education system can be greatly improved without raising taxes.  There are innovative opportunities to partner with our community to meet our growing needs.  In my business experience, I have proven myself able to get things done in a positive, supporting manner.  I would appreciate your vote in November and will work hard for you, the citizen, the parent, the teacher, the school administrator, and most importantly, the students in Lincoln County Schools.  Thank you for your time.

Heather Rhyne

I graduated from Cherryville High School in 1992 and went to UNC-Chapel Hill where I graduated with a degree in Pharmacy.  My husband Chris and I moved back to Lincolnton and have been involved with Lincoln County Schools for the past 11 years, including but certainly not limited to, mentoring with CIS, serving on the PTA, serving as class parent, helping with All Pro Dad, etc.  We have two girls, ages 16 and 13.  For us, it has always been important to volunteer, work, and give back to our community.  We have always felt led to serve and pour into the children and families in this community and being on the Board of Education is one way I have been able to do that.

When I first came onto the board in 2016, the Board was deep into discussion trying to figure out consolidation of two of our schools.  The question was not “if there would be consolidation” but “how to do it” when I came onto the board.  I offered the suggestion of a two-year phase-in to get this done so that students already at our intermediate school would not have to transition back to their previous school before going to middle school.  I was extremely glad to come up with an option that would provide the least amount of transitions for our students and staff.

Shortly after coming onto the board, I became a part of the process of hiring a new superintendent.  This long and tedious process was certainly eye opening and carried a significant amount of weight.  I am thankful for the good reputation of Lincoln County Schools that brought us such qualified candidates and I am thankful to have been part of the process. 

One of the areas I have tried to improve upon in my time on the board is to increase communication and be more visible.  While campaigning, I often heard comments like “I don’t even know what the Board does” or “What is the Board of Education?” It is important as a Board member to support our school system, be at events, and build relationships with staff and parents so that they feel comfortable when you are in their school or at events you attend.  Building trust with the community and staff is something I have always strived to achieve.  Most decisions made on the Board of Education will not make 100% of people happy but, those decisions can be made with transparency and integrity and that has been my goal while on the Board.  I try my best to respond to emails and answer any questions by phone that I can.  It is a particularly important part of this job to be available to the people you serve.  I have also spent time advocating at the county and state level for Lincoln County Schools by talking to commissioners as well as our state representatives about various issues.

If re-elected, one thing that I hope to continue expanding moving forward is our CTE program, as well as the thought process for higher education.  For years, the push has been for “everyone to get a 4-year degree.”  It has become evident today that there are so many other options.  If someone desires a 4-year degree, we as a school system should be able to prepare and support them for that endeavor.    However, students do not need to feel “boxed in” when it comes to that decision.  There are so many jobs available that do not require 4-year degrees, and often pay higher than those with 4-year degrees, that a student needs to be able to see all their options and make the best decision for them from a career standpoint and a financial standpoint without feeling a certain “stigma” about not getting a 4-year degree.  Times have changed, and so has the job market.  We must continue to adapt and change with it.  In any of these scenarios, we must continue to make certain as a school system that we provide the rigor in the classroom to prepare students for their future.

Last, with all the uncertainty surrounding education during COVID-19, and now, hiring a new superintendent, it will be extremely important to maintain stability and integrity on the Board of Education.  It does not matter how much you think you know, there is still a learning curve that must happen while on the board.  We also need leaders that will be transparent, act on their own accord, be passionate about Lincoln County Schools, and stand up for the students and families in Lincoln County.  I humbly ask for the support from our community to continue to do this for 4 more years.  Thank you Lincoln County!

Ann Cesena

Having spent my career in the field of education, my professional roles included, but have not been limited to classroom teacher, curriculum specialist, golf coach, teacher-coach and school administrator. Embedded in all these roles was not only my perspective as an educator, but also as a parent and stakeholder with the opportunity to positively impact students’ academic success. 

Now, as I pursue a position on the Lincoln County School Board, I am excited with the prospect of continuing to have a positive impact on the students and families in the Lincoln County School system.               

Specifically, the first step for increasing student academic outcomes is through collaboration and teamwor--not only between school board members themselves, but also between the School Board members, County Commissioners, and City Council members.   This can be accomplished by establishing a strong communication structure to inform and engage all parties in setting and achieving district goals. Collaboration between these entities will not be complete without frequent and open communication with the parents and guardians.  But no conversation or initiative can be successful without strong communication and feedback from teachers, school staff and administrators.  This can be accomplished with a variety of venues, with the goal of providing all stakeholders an opportunity to communicate their insights and feedback regarding what is best for all children.

The November election is particularly critical this year because the choice for a new superintendent will be one of the first major decisions made by the new school board. This, along with the impact that COVID-19 continues to have upon students, will require strong communication and teamwork throughout the entire community.   My overall goal in seeking this position is to facilitate the collaboration of all stakeholders and become one team that supports Lincoln County Schools’ ability to be the best academic choice for Lincoln County families. 

It is all about what is best for children.

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We already posted articles that provided information about the candidates in the other three School Board races.  Links to those articles are provided below.

Related Stories:
• More Info About School Board Candidates
• School Board Election Is Important
• School Board Is Part Of 2020 Election

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