Doug Clark pays tribute to Dot Kearns

Doug Clark at the News & Record inked a column today in which he paid a sort of tribute to outgoing at-large GCS Board member Dot Kearns…and it is both igniting a crap-storm on his blog, and unfortunately reopening old wounds among many across the area who were unfairly victimized by the many rounds of busing led by Kearns.

Kearns: Tender heart, tough skin

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The next school built in old High Point ought to be named for Dot Kearns.

Not in north High Point, where Kearns was hanged in effigy a few years ago. That’s not her best part of town.

But south of Oak Hollow Lake, Kearns has been associated positively with education for so long that it’s almost odd a school doesn’t already carry her name. …

T. Wingate Andrews, Laurin Welborn, William Penn and Alfred J. Griffin have met their equal.

A child who entered kindergarten in High Point the year Kearns began her service on the city school board, 1972, is likely turning 41 now and may have seen his or her own kids graduate from Guilford County Schools — with Kearns now sitting on the Board of Education.

In between, she logged two terms on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, including a turn as chairwoman.

Altogether, she’s held public office for 34 of the last 36 years — a remarkable record that will end in December. Kearns said Monday she won’t run for re-election to the at-large seat she’s occupied since 1992.

The hangers-in-effigy may rejoice. They vilified Kearns as an architect of the “choice plan” that sought to achieve a better socioeconomic mix of students at High Point’s three high schools. The effort was meant to draw voluntary transfers for unique academic programs but failed to meet its promise and resorted to an unpopular assignment lottery. Eventually it was abandoned.

Even in the midst of that uproar in 2004, Kearns won re-election against Jim Kirkpatrick, a former colleague on the Board of Commissioners and a formidable challenger. It turned out to be the last of what Kearns tallies as her 19 campaigns. Anyone who wrote off this gentlewoman as a soft touch on Election Day made a serious mistake. Kearns almost always came up a winner.

One exception was 1990, when she lost her commissioners’ seat to fellow High Pointer Steve Arnold.

“That was about merger and Harvey Gantt,” recalled Kearns, who ran as a Democrat against the Republican Arnold. They were identified on opposite sides of two volatile issues — Guilford County school merger and the Jesse Helms-Harvey Gantt U.S. Senate race.

The defeat put Kearns out of office for two years, until she gained a seat on the newly consolidated school board. She was elected countywide but became a strong advocate for High Point.

She counts as a highlight “the development of magnet opportunities in High Point. Greensboro had 16 when we merged, High Point and the county had none. It’s wonderful the opportunities we have in High Point now,” she said Monday.

One of the most exciting is the aviation program at Andrews.

Kearns’ greatest disappointment didn’t surprise me: the resegregation of public schools. She believes passionately that children from different racial and economic backgrounds should get to know each other at an early age, and the social and academic benefits are worth busing them across a city as small as High Point.

It’s an intensely unpopular position these days, with little support from white or black communities. Kearns’ persistence in the face of hostility, ridicule and personal abuse is a testimony to her idealism and sense of hope and why I credit her with the tenderest heart and toughest hide of anyone I know in politics.

At 76, she deserves to retire from the battles and spend more time with her husband, Lyles, visiting their out-of-state children and grandchildren.

But not quite yet. Kearns will stick around long enough to help choose the next superintendent.

Terry Grier detractors may forget that Kearns voted against hiring him eight years ago. She’ll be just as choosy this time. But, any decision gives naysayers a chance to toss more bricks.

No problem. In a lifetime of public service, Kearns has caught enough bricks to build a school. It ought to have her name on it.


E.C. )


9 Responses

  1. I would agree that Mrs. Kearns was wrong about a lot of things, but some of the comments over on Doug’s blog strike me as mean-spirited.

    I don’t know her personally, but I truly believe Mrs. Kearns did what she thought was right. Unfortunately, she bought into a set of liberal values that has been proven wrong time and time again throughout human history. These failed ideas include: Higher taxes, forced busing, bigger government and fewer choices for individuals.

    I certainly hope the next at-large BOE member has a completely different set of ideas than Mrs. Kearns. I think it’s fine to criticize the performance of an elected official – heck, earlier today, I posted that we needed a new BOE Chairman because Alan Duncan isn’t getting the job done. But we shouldn’t turn this into a personal attack.

  2. That’s exactly what was wrong with Dot’s thinking, “Mrs. Kearns did what she thought was right”. Well Dot was an At Large Rep. and she was supposed to be representing the views of her constituents. Shame on her for trying to turn our education system into a Social experiment. She and Deena Hayes are sitting on the wrong board. The chaos that Dot has cause will take many years to alleviate.

  3. I posted the following comment on Doug’s blog:

    “Suffice it to say that Dot stands for “Damage Over Time.”

    Hopefully now this district can begin the repair process.”

  4. Excellent acronym. It was damage over a long, long time. It’s sad. I know she started out truly caring about kids (waaaay back a hundred years ago, maybe) but I think some people fall into this thinking that they can change the world if you’d just follow their lead. I think Hitler had that same mentality. There is some weird stuff in the water over in “old” High Point. Those folks need to wake up and come on over to reality. In reality kids CAN learn. In reality, they can learn in their OWN hood. And most importantly, in reality, these same kids don’t need any more excuses for failing. Dot has given them a great excuse–their skin color.

  5. Bon voyage!

  6. just saying,

    I know that you are trying to be fair to Dot when you say that comments at Clark’s blog was mean-spirited. Yes, the criticism is tough and with a edge, no doubt. But, if you did not have a dog (or a kid) in that fight (choice plan), you really can not understand the strong feelings that she and Susan Mendenhall generated in North High Point. That’s what happens when a government bureaucrat uses your kid for their social experiment, which is what it was, pure and simple.

    Do we need to turn things into a public attack on public officials who disrespect the rights of citizens that they are elected to represent? Well, it seems that these people respond to nothing else. You can go to one of their meetings or send them a personal appeal, and you get nothing from these people. They are only concerned about their own agenda. Yes, I am sure that they believe that they are right and know what is best for you. But, don’t all government bureaucrats believe that they are right and know what is best?. That’s where we are going, my friend. We are handing over our lives to the government’s bureaucrats slowly and surely, and in this county it’s not slowly. It’s called creeping socialism.

    I will, however, exempt Darlene Garrett and Garth Hebert from my comments. I do believe that these two representatives do try to what is right and what is best for their constituencies, and not their own personal agendas. We need several more like them, but sadly, we are not likely to get them any time soon.

  7. My name for this group is not Board of Education, it’s Board of Diversity Fulfillment. They are about achieving diversity, not learning. There is just not enough public funds to achieve their social goals and educate students at the same time.

  8. Stormy, that creeping socialism is something I’m concerned about, too. You see it at all levels of government — less freedom, higher taxes, fewer personal choices. We need to elect more candidates who will support the rights of individual freedom and choice.

    But in addition to the two names you mentioned, I think we can add Erik Huey to that list. It’s too bad Anita Sharpe is leaving the BOE, as she was a voice for common sense for a long time.

    Oh, and I completely agree that the High Point Choice Plan was an example of social experimentation at its worst. Just a terrible idea. But I don’t think Mrs. Kearns’ support of it makes her a bad person — it just means she was wrong.

  9. Yes, kearns was wrong but when you cannot admit it and you keep yammering on about how High Point needs to be diversified but no other part of Guilford co. does, than you have to just consider the woman is a freakin’ fruitcake!!! No, maybe she’s not BAD but she’s more than just wrong, she’s crazy!!!! I have talked to her for long periods of time on the phone, she’s a nut job!!!!!!

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