Payne and Fearns vie for District 2 seat on Dare Board of Education

By on October 21, 2022

Ron Payne and Jessica Fearns.

Unaffiliated candidate Jessica Fearns and Republican candidate Ron Payne are competing for the District 2 seat on the Dare County Board of Education in the Nov. 8 election – one of three seats that will be filled by newly elected members when their terms begin in December.

Joe Tauber, the board’s current District 2 representative, has opted not to run for re-election after serving for one term. He is joined by fellow incumbents Margaret Lawler and Frank Hester in deciding not to seek reelection. Once non-partisan, Dare County Board of Education campaigns are now partisan races as a result of 2017 legislation introduced by then-Republican State Representative Beverly Boswell, a former Dare County Commissioner.

Fearns, 38, is a real estate agent and mother of one child currently attending Dare County Schools. Fearns has lived on the Outer Banks for about seven years and currently lives in Colington. She is the former president and board member of Outer Banks Mommy and Me, is the current First Flight Elementary School PTO membership chair, a member of Dare Education Foundation’s outreach committee and a substitute teacher. This is her first time running for office.

Payne, 67, is a resident of Nags Head and is a retired educator with 23 years serving as a teacher, basketball coach, department chair, assistant principal and principal, working in Elizabeth City and the Richmond, VA area. While his family has always had a home in Dare County, he said he returned in April of 2021 to live here permanently.

According to reports in The Daily Advance in June 2016, Payne was put on administrative leave for a week while principal at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City. No reason was publicly given for that decision. Payne was then reassigned to R.W. Moore and Pasquotank elementary schools to serve as vice principal. Payne told the Voice he was on administrative leave for three days, and states that he was reassigned to the elementary schools to help increase test scores with expertise in instructional strategies and classroom management.

Payne said he retired in 2017 to run for the Elizabeth City/Pasquotank Board of Education because of his discontent with the superintendent, who he said was “ruining” the school district. He ran two unsuccessful campaigns for that board in 2018 and 2020. This will mark his third consecutive race for a school board seat.

While Payne points to his years in education as a factor that makes him a strong candidate, Fearns states that she is more in touch with the community, the schools, teachers and parents. Both candidates say that teacher retention and recruitment is a priority, however, Fearns’ priorities focus on ways to provide more support to teachers. As for Payne, he cites student achievement in the wake of the COVID pandemic as a key goal.

“I want to stay in education,” said Payne when asked by the Voice why he chose to run. “I think I have something to offer…I just want to continue serving by taking my expertise that I have in education to the board level… I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to get the results that are needed and meet the goals that we set.”

Fearns, who as an unaffiliated candidate had to secure 1,223 signatures to get on the ballot, told the Voice she ran because “I care about public education and our local school system. As a parent, I want the best schools possible for my daughter, and as a friend, I am an advocate for a lot of teachers and want the best working culture for them as well.”

“I worry that my opponent is too ingrained in his political party to be able to do his job without bias and I think I have shown the community that I will be able to do that,” she added.

In discussing his focus on student achievement, Payne talks of the need to recover from COVID learning loss. “COVID really put us behind and we really need to come up with a plan to get the students caught back up,” he said. “We do need to have a plan to get these students caught back up because they really did lose two to two and a half years of material.”

And while acknowledging the housing crisis, he said that the school district needs to recruit and retain the best and the brightest teachers. He stressed the need for exit interviews to determine why educators are leaving. “Let’s find out the reasons why and if there is something we need to fix, let’s fix it.”

Fearns stresses the need to boost morale among teachers by lessening their workload, bringing in more support staff and reducing class sizes. By doing that, she said, teachers “can be happy coming to work and then the students are happy coming to school because their teachers are happy to be there.”

While also pointing to the Dare County housing crisis as one factor, Fearns said, “We have to dig into what the other reasons are that we are losing our teachers to other counties. A lot of that has to do with money, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that our facilities are bursting at the seams, class sizes are increasing, scores are going down.”

SEE ALSO: Brauer versus Russell for District 3 Ed Board seat


  • Susan Merrill

    What was the reason for the administrative leave? It surely wasn’t a preliminary requirement to being transferred to an elementary school.

    Friday, Oct 21 @ 9:15 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    We could find no one who would publicly disclose the reason for the leave.

    Friday, Oct 21 @ 3:14 pm
  • OBX Resident

    As a principle, Ron Payne was put on administrative leave for a week while principal at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City. The article states ‘No reason was publicly given for that decision’. Ron Payne wants to hold the students to a high standard yet he cannot even be transparent about this important matter and hold himself to a high standard. If it was not a bad, he would provide a reason. Bev Boswell really did a disservice to our community and teachers when she made the Board of Education partisan. The old system worked great, now the board meetings are a circus.

    Friday, Oct 21 @ 12:35 pm
  • John Boy Billy

    Fearns admits on her facebook that she is a registered democrat!

    These folks running as unaffiliated are embarrassed of their own political party. If they do that to win an election, imagine what they will be like if elected.

    Friday, Oct 21 @ 3:05 pm
  • Michael

    John boy billy, yeah I’m so tired of seeing the “unaffiliated “ label on these democrats running. It’s so obvious and they aren’t fooling many voters by doing it.

    Friday, Oct 21 @ 3:51 pm
  • Mary Jane Slesinski

    Candidates who are running “unafifiliated” aren’t trying to fool voters. They are trying to make a statement that the School Board should be non-partisan, as it was before Miss Boswell, and her fellow Republicans, forced it to be partisan. Anyone can easily find out whether candidates are registered as R or D. And if a candidate wanted it to be a “secret” they certainly would not put it on Facebook!

    Friday, Oct 21 @ 4:51 pm
  • Sarah Summerton

    Jessica Fearns is the best choice. She cares about our children and their futures. She has no political agenda. She is present both volunteering and substituting in schools. Partisan politics have no place in our schools. She got my vote today.

    Friday, Oct 21 @ 9:08 pm
  • obxBill

    Fearns and Russell, by far, are best qualified to hold the board seats. Years of representation ranging from Mommy and Me to PTO and other local education initiatives.

    The other two simply represent what?? A sketchy old “educator” with zero background in Dare county, and the other guy who is simply a wealthy construction business owner with no educational experience. Come on people…, nuf said.

    Friday, Oct 21 @ 11:52 pm
  • John J

    So, message is clear, Fearns is all about teachers and their “happiness”. No thanks, this should be about kids education. Mr. Payne’s issue was all about kids. Noting their education lacked, hello! And the fact so sneakily slipped out about him being on administrative leave for an Elizabeth City school (which was apparently due to his beef with the administration over kids education) doesn’t seemed to be a negative to me. How easy would it be to have such an issue in Elizabeth City? Sounds like an educator with a mission! We don’t need more teacher union helpers.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 7:31 am
  • John Boy Billy

    A person’s political leanings are important to know as it impacts their beliefs and how they vote. That’s why Boswell made that rule change.

    Is Fearns for CRT? Most democrats are.
    Is she for the personal pronoun/transgender stuff? Most democrats are.

    All you have to do is look at Fearns’ signs. The very first thing she puts is ‘For Teachers’ NOT ‘For Students’.

    This is all about the students, first and foremost. Her signs show (consciously or subconsciously) that she thinks like a typical democrat.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 7:37 am
  • Ann

    I would just ask OBV if you are going to dig into the closet for skeletons of one candidate, that you dig into the closet for skeletons of all candidates. It’s only fair.
    Surely ALL candidates have something in their past they prefer to keep private. If you don’t do your due diligence except by cherry picking, you have failed to do your job adequately and fairly.
    Maybe digging into the title unaffiliated would be a good place to start.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 9:16 am
  • obxBill

    Haha Jonny Boy, CRT, transgen, and the other “boogiemen of the democrats” nonsense… Get a grip dude and come back to reality. When I see this type of nonsense thrown up on a comments thread it points to how utterly “uneducated” we find ourselves in today’s hyper partisan political circus.

    John J, education starts with teachers. How will students achieve quality education without “happy teachers?” Payne’s mission…, I do not see anything of actionable value coming from him. I only see an outside interest in Payne, with no vested stake in Dare county schools.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 9:36 am
  • Mary

    @Mary Jane Well said!!! It is such a disservice to make the School Board a political circus!
    Furthermore, it’s so ignorant for people to stereotype ALL Democrats as far out liberals! How do you know their OWN personal beliefs VS political propaganda? This ignorance is what is wrong with this entire country! Candidates run “unaffiliated” because they want voters to know they’re NOT crazy liberals as some would have us believe of ALL democrats. It’s just beyond belief and unfair to the best qualified candidates!
    @obxBill. Well said!!! You obviously read both articles and gave thought to the FACTS given about the candidates.
    @John J How much time have you spent in a classroom lately? What facts do you have that teachers don’t care about education and are not working harder than ever to catch kids up from a pandemic that was beyond their control? By the way, happy teachers make the kids the happy! That’s just common sense!
    @ John Boy Billy You’re thoughts are outrageous and examples of political ignorance that we suffer from today.
    For once, I hope voters forget political parties and vote according to the factual qualifications of the candidates.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 11:32 am
  • village person

    Don’t be fooled by Fearns running “unaffiliated”. She’s a closeted progressive liberal.

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 10:31 am
  • John J

    Mary, I spent more time as a student in a classroom and a parent of students than you, I guarantee. I have an BS from a US Service Academy, MBA and other professional scientific qualifications and licenses which require annual recurrent education. My kids are in Grad school, educated HS school here – First Flight. Furthermore, I never said anything you claim I said (teachers didn’t care or are not working hard). But since you apparently need cliff notes of my comments, I did say the article clearly articulated how Fearns was most concerned with Teacher happiness (it was reiterated multiple times). In comparison, Payne was clearly concerned with Kids education (or lack there of). And in my opinion (not knowing anything more about these two, other than she was deceptive about her political affiliation) Payne’s focus was the correct one. Kids education should be our focus. Unfortunately Unions seem to be counter to public concerns these days focusing on all sorts of cultural nonsense. How do you know I am right? The public votes with their feet seeking better education with charter schools or home schooling. And then Unions and our own DOJ fights parents! Nice.

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 12:16 pm
  • voter

    @john teachers can’t even form unions in NC

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 8:00 pm
  • Reese Stencher

    Thanks for your resume John. Take it to Oprah. Oh and for your information NC is not a union state. Payne was demoted, it’s “not about the kids” it’s about mediocrity.

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 8:36 pm
  • Just a mom

    See I know nothing about either of these two candidates except their political affiliation. What I do know is I agree with all of the conservative commenters here. I see the silly and often mean toned nature of the liberal comments here. This is why affiliations are good for the public. Generally speaking if I agree with most things written here by conservatives in the comments section then I have a good chance to be in agreement with candidate Payne strictly based on his conservative views. Thankfully we have this opportunity to know now instead of trying to read a flowery description written about candidates leaving the voter to guess.

    Tuesday, Oct 25 @ 6:44 pm