Candidate Questionnaires: Board of Education

Gary Leonard, candidate for Chatham County Board of Education — Dist. 5


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.

Gary Leonard

How long have you lived in Chatham County?

I have lived in Chatham County my entire life except for my attending Guilford College in Greensboro, NC from 1974 – 1978.

Age on election day: 


Occupation (where you work, what you do): 

Retired from teaching in 2018 after 40 years and currently serve as Chairman of the Chatham County Board of Education

Campaign website/social media: 


Party affiliation (even if your race is nonpartisan):


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

Appointed to the Chatham County Board of Education in 2010 and elected in 2010, 2014, and 2018

Campaign manager (if applicable):


Campaign treasurer (if applicable):

Gary Leonard

Why are you seeking this office? 

Many of the mentors in my life were educators that worked hard to make things better for me and the other students that they taught, and I feel that CCS and its educators continue to hold that vital role for our young people.  I initially ran for School Board to give back and to make a difference for our students.  Our schools do amazing work, and I want to continue working with our Administration, school staff, county government, and our parents to make CCS a great place to educate and prepare our students for the future.

What makes you the best candidate on the ballot? 

I feel that my experience as a teacher, coach, and Athletic Director gives me the insight to work with our Administration to continue to move Chatham County Schools forward.  I have learned much about the workings of our school system in the past 12 years on the Board and will continue to work with all stakeholders to provide our students a quality educational experience.

Give us a job description you’d write for yourself if you’re elected to this seat:  

  • Listen to and work with people.
  • Be available and be willing to do the work.
  • Visit our schools and be accessible to our stakeholders.
  • Support our Administration as our system grows and changes.
  • Advocate for our schools and school personnel with our local and state elected officials.
  • Work to understand each Board Member’s perspectives to find common ground.

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

  1. Improve our graduation rate for students.
  2. Continue to hire and retain quality staff.
  3. Provide extra resources for our schools that are more in need.

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

  1. With the expected growth in Chatham County, we must be prepared to build schools to accommodate the expected growth while also continuing to upgrade our facilities at existing schools.  We would continue to be proactive in looking at projected growth and also continue to work closely with our county government officials to provide the necessary funding.
  2. Hiring and retaining staff to work in our schools is becoming more difficult with the competition with neighboring counties and other employment opportunities that may pay more.  We are currently using hiring and retention bonuses to hire and keep our staff.  I would aso advocate for Teach Chatham as it is rolled out to start early with our current students to encourage them to seek a career teaching with CCS. 

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?

One of the opportunities that I see is the opportunity for employment within the county that our students would have.  For so many years, many of our students have graduated from our schools and moved out of the county to seek employment.  The challenge with that employment opportunity is preparing our students with the skills needed for those particular jobs.  I would continue to advocate for more CTE programs in our schools and also continuing to partner with CCCC to provide our students with the needed courses and training.  I would also like to see more internship opportunities for our students with these new businesses.

What’s your overall view of the role of the elected body you’re seeking to join? Is it fulfilling its mission now? If not, what needs to change?  

I feel that the School Board’s mission is to support and provide oversight for our Superintendent, Dr. Anthony Jackson, as he oversees our schools.  The key to that is to first hire a highly qualified individual which our Board has done.  To be able to make decisions for the School System, the Board must be able to work together to implement the strategies that are needed to provide our students with a first class education.  Our Board continues to keep what is best for our students in the forefront of each decision that is made.

Do you believe the 2020 Presidential election produced fair and legitimate results?



Fast facts:

Political/government hero:  Abraham Lincoln

Favorite book:  Holes by Louis Sachar 

Book most recently read: Sparring Partners by John Grisham 

Favorite film:  Field of Dreams

Hobbies:  Middle and High School Sports, Reading, Enjoying our Grandchildren

Community/civic involvement:  Debbie (wife) and I attend Bennett Baptist Church and serve on various committees; Member of South Chatham Lion’s Club;  past chair of Chatham County Recreation Advisory Board, past president of Bennett Recreation, past president of Bennett Elementary School PTA, and past Board member of Chatham Habitat for Humanity.    

Favorite thing about Chatham County:  Being able to see the great things our students do.

Personal motto or one-line philosophy: Leave things better than you found them.

Strongest childhood ambition:  To be a professional baseball player.

Most significant life goal you’ve accomplished:  Helped to raise a family that believes in giving back to others.


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

I believe our district has done a good job in its allocation of district funding.  With a growing school system, our Administration has worked to balance the building of new schools while continuing to provide upgrades to our existing schools.  We have also worked to provide additional resources for new or existing programs to expand the opportunities throughout the county.  For example, the AVID program has been used at our high schools for several years, and we have expanded its use to many of our other schools and hope to expand it to all of our schools.  Our ESSER funding has to be approved by the Department of Public Instruction before it can be used, and one of the key ways we used part of it would be the hiring of additional personnel to help our students with extra support at the school level.  Our finance department continues to win awards for its bookkeeping practices, and our system has an internal auditor and is also audited by a private firm yearly to make sure funds are handled properly.  I will continue to advocate for AVID funding for all of our schools, continued upgrades to our existing schools as new schools are built, and additional funding for our schools that have high needs.

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?

The hiring and retention of staff has become a challenge for most districts throughout the country.  We need to continue to seek higher pay for our staff from our state legislature while also continuing to provide a competitive supplement and support at the local level.  Another challenge that Chatham County Schools will continue to face is the expected growth in population that will result from the additional businesses that are moving to our county.  We must be ready to build schools where they are needed while also continuing to upgrade our existing schools that are in need.  I will continue to advocate at the state and local level for needed funding for our schools.  

How much supervision should parents have when it comes to a teacher’s curriculum? What role should social issues like race, sexuality and gender play in the classroom?

As a former teacher, I know that parental input and support is a huge element in working with their child and helping that child grow.  The curriculum in North Carolina is approved and set forth by the State Board of Education and DPI, and our school system follows that curriculum.  I have always believed that children do better with engaged parents that know and are involved in what is going on in that child’s classroom.  Teachers and staff should look at each child as an individual that needs individualized support to help them to meet their potential regardless of any social issues.

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

I do believe that our current Board of Education is inclusive of school community stakeholders.  Stakeholders have had the opportunity to attend listening tours by our Superintendent, One Chatham focus groups, beginning of the school year group meetings that Board members have attended to listen to the needs of our community.  Our stakeholders are a key element in providing for the needs of our students and our schools, and we want to listen to and understand the issues that are important to them.  I attend many school events and hear from stakeholders often and will continue to do so.

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?

Our staff worked hard to give our students needed help after the pandemic.  Our district has hired additional personnel like MTSS personnel and Instructional assistants in our schools to provide that needed help and support to our students.  We must continue to offer additional tutoring programs to our students.  Our summer program continues to offer extra support for our students each year.  As I mentioned earlier on teacher hiring and retention, I will continue to advocate for higher salaries for our teachers and staff at the state legislative and the county level.  Our county commissioners have been wonderful and continued to work with us to provide a higher supplement for our staff  to compete with neighboring counties.  Teach Chatham will hopefully entice some of our current students to want to go into teaching and come back and teach in our schools.  We must provide an environment for our staff that continues to make CCS a great place to work.   

Gary Leonard, Elections 2022, Chatham Board of Education, candidate questionnaire, district 5, Chatham County Schools