Two Latino candidates, one Democrat and one Republican, are running for a position on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education, and they're focusing on the same issue: how to lower the number of Latino school dropouts.
For the 2020-2021 school year, Latino students had the highest dropout rate in Forsyth County at 39 percent.
Jason Lucero and Jennifer Castillo are the only two Latino candidates, out of a pool of 11 candidates running for the board in District 02 for Forsyth County. For Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools, nine members are elected from two districts in the county.
Lucero is running as a Republican. Originally from California, he now lives as a single parent with his daughter in Forsyth County.
"There's so many people that don't know how to get to the resources or don't have the tenacity to go keep digging until they get the answers they need," says Lucero. "I thought, if I'm dealing with that, how many others are as well? And so for me, I felt like I could be a voice for those people because I don't give up."
Lucero says that his background in foster care and not having a traditional childhood really opened his eyes to the adversity in the school system. He was not adopted by a Latino family, but he grew up around the community, and as a Latino, he says he is definitely trying to reach out to this group.
"The biggest thing for me is going and knocking on doors. I've gone door to door just talking to people, just listening to what's going on," says Lucero.
Lucero has had some unwelcome attention surrounding his campaign after an article in the Winston-Salem Journal reported on a federal tax lien he owed of over $35,000 from 2017. Lucero says the issue has been resolved and says he wants to refocus the conversation on why he's running.
He's noticed that a prominent issue adding to Latino dropout rates is the lack of tutors for kids who need to master English. One of his priorities is to hire more bilingual teachers and personnel in schools. Dropout rates among Latino children are an issue that his opponent, Jennifer Castillo, says is one of her primary concerns as well.
Castillo was born and raised in North Carolina. She's currently the only candidate running as a Democrat from District 2.
"I believe that we need some kind of Hispanic representation on the Board of Education," says Castillo. "Latinos are going to be the majority demographic group in the Forsyth County school system here in the next few years. And so I believe we need some kind of representation."
Castillo is heavily involved with the Latino community. She's of Mexican descent and ever since she was a kid she has been involved in politics. Today, she's the founder and executive director of the Jennifer E. Castillo Foundation, which offers support services for the Latin American community in Winston-Salem.
Castillo graduated from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and as a kid attended Robert B. Glenn High School.
"I actually came out of Glenn High School. And Glenn High School covers a zip code, which is to 27107, that's got a really high Hispanic population," says Castillo.
"Yeah, so that's actually one of the primary focuses I have is addressing the high school dropout rate in Forsyth county among Hispanic students," says Castillo.
Both Lucero and Castillo agree that there has to be a way to help Latino students finish high school. They have different plans, but the end goal is the same.
Lucero is mainly focusing on lessening the English barrier in schools for bilingual children and earning the trust of the community.
Lucero says he thinks "spending some more time with tutoring and grants somehow to develop learning English better, that can be one source of things. I think another source is being engaged with them and understanding."
Castillo, on the other hand, is currently focusing on the support for staff, not only teachers, and the direct financial support that the school district can provide to the families and students who might be struggling.
"We could try to offer some more supportive type of financial assistance if we can't increase their pay," says Castillo. "I think that we definitely need to have some kind of fund developed so that we can also help people that are struggling to pay their bills, to pay their rent, and things like that."
Both candidates do agree that there needs to be more bilingual representation in Forsyth County schools and that having a member of the Latino community on the school board could create a bridge between the schools and the solution to the problem.
This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.
Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.
Periodista de La Noticia y 88.5 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022