PITTSBORO — Following the resignation of Melissa Hlavac at last month's Chatham County Board of Education meeting, the board has selected Julie Bridenstine as the new Dist. 1 board member.
Bridenstine will be on the board until 2024 when the seat will be up for election. Bridenstine may choose whether to run at that time.
Bridenstine is a post-conviction staff attorney who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder and Jurius Doctor from the University of Colorado School of Law.
She has served as an attorney for 15 years, including five years as a public defender in Colorado, two years as a solo law practitioner in Nebraska working on indigent defense and juvenile matters, six years investigating actual innocence claims for the neutral, state-run agency NC Innocence Inquiry Commission, and now serves as a post-conviction attorney at NC Prisoner Legal Services, representing incarcerated people.
Hlavac, in announcing her resignation, cited a need to devote more time to personal and professional endeavors. Her resignation was effective immediately.
“I feel honored and privileged to have served on the Chatham County Schools Board of Education for nearly eight years,” Hlavac said last month. “We’ve worked hard, navigated challenging decisions, and treated each other with respect, all while not betraying our deepest values. I’m proud of our board for its collective accomplishments on behalf of CCS as well as its steadfast support for our students, teachers, staff and administrators.”
The candidates for office were Stan Beeks, Julie Bridenstine, Henry Calderon, Chris Fields, Deborah Hittel, Dustin Miller, Leslie Strohm and Timothy Winters.
During her candidate interview, Bridenstine said she wanted to minimize the school-to-prison pipeline and improve graduation rates in the county. She said her previous experience as a public defender and guardian ad litem showed her the importance of the education system.
“As the mother of two children enrolled at Chatham Grove Elementary School, I want Chatham County Public Schools to continue to thrive and I want to be part of making that happen," Bridenstine told board members during her interview. "I am interested in public service, and I think that contributing to the educational path of our future leaders is important work and good for society.”
The meeting on Thursday night at George Moses Horton Middle School saw eight candidates take the stand. Each candidate was interviewed for about 20 minutes. They were provided a three-minute introduction, and five questions with two minutes to respond to each question.
The meeting was run pursuant to school board policy 2115 and North Carolina General Statute 115C-37(f), the four sitting Board of Education members interviewed the candidates.
Following interviews with each candidate, board members deliberated for about 20 minutes before choosing Bridenstine. They cited her prior experience in working with young people and understanding of challenges in education as reasons why Bridenstine was qualified for the position. The board unanimously approved the appointment, 4-0.
Board members said the decision was difficult given the high quality of all applicants. Discussions primarily focused on background of candidates and the skillset they would bring to the board.
“The board wants to thank all of our candidates who interviewed. We had an outstanding group, and it was a difficult decision,” said Board of Education Chairman Gary Leonard. “We very much look forward to working with Ms. Bridenstine and the contributions she will make to benefit our students, families and community.”
During deliberations, CCS Board Member David Hamm immediately nominated Deborah Hittel saying she accurately connected the dots of the goals of the school district. This motion was later withdrawn following discussion of other candidates.
“I am grateful for this opportunity to serve the students of Chatham County,” Bridenstine said following the meeting. “I have a deep passion for education and it’s exciting to be part of shaping our district’s future, particularly at this very pivotal moment in time for our county as we face extraordinarily rapid growth and the challenges accompanying that. I look forward to working with the other board members as we continue to grow, improve and strengthen our district with educational pathways to serve all students.”
Bridenstine will be officially sworn in at the next school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 10, at the Chatham Grove Elementary School media center.