School board candidates

Wilkes Board of Education candidates

Ballots in Wilkes County for the March 3 primary races also have the names of five candidates for three seats on the Wilkes Board of Education.

There are no primaries for Wilkes school board races because they are non-partisan, so the three seats will be decided through voting that began Monday with the start of by-mail absentee voting and ends with voters going to the polls on March 3. By-mail absentee voting in the party primaries also began Monday. More details on this year’s by-mail absentee voting are on Page 14, as well as at

Early, one-stop voting, when people can register to vote and then vote at the same site, is Feb. 13 and 14, Feb. 17-21, Feb. 24-28, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. each of these days in the Wilkes County commissioners meeting room on the first floor of the Wilkes County Office Building in Wilkesboro. It also is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29.

If a second primary is required, one-stop, early voting will be conducted at the Wilkes County Board of Elections Office, also in the County Office Building, during normal business hours.

The five Wilkes Board of Education candidates are, in alphabetical order and as their names will appear on the ballots, Joan Sheets Caudill, 53, of Hays; Hardin Kennedy III, 45, of Traphill; George Shafer, 74, of Wilkesboro; T. Kirk Walker, 60, of North Wilkesboro; and Brandon Whitaker, 48, of Elkin (Pleasant Hill community).

Walker is the only incumbent school board member seeking reelection. Darren Shumate of Hays and Leslie Barnes of Moravian Falls didn’t seek reelection after serving two terms and one term respectively.

Wilkes school board members serve four-year terms. There are five members of the board, so the three elected this year are a majority.

More details about the five Wilkes school board candidates, including why they decided to run for the office, are as follows:

Joan Sheets Caudill

Joan Caudill stated, “I truly have a heart for the children of Wilkes County. I am an advocate for all of the children in the Wilkes County Schools no matter their abilities or disabilities. And as the mother of a teacher, I can relate to the struggles educators in our county face on a daily basis. I worked with the public in Wilkes County Government for 21 years (in Wilkes Board of Elections office) and have heard the positive comments and the concerns that people have for the current school system.”

Caudill added, “My goals are to recruit and retain the best teachers and other personnel for the school system. If we want our children to be afforded an opportunity for the best education possible, we need the best teachers and administrators we can find. We also need to focus on technical education and educational opportunities that make our students more marketable.” She said not all students want four-year degrees and will benefit from technical training. She said there are employers in Wilkes who must recruit from elsewhere to find employees with the skill sets they need.

“If elected, I vow to listen to any concerns that parents, teachers, administrators and the general public have about our personnel, facilities, buses or anything that pertains to the school system. I will do my best to address any issues that I am able to address. I will serve the people of Wilkes to the best of my abilities.”

Caudill is a lifelong resident of Wilkes. She is married to Richard Caudill and they have one daughter and two grandchildren. She graduated from West Wilkes High School, Wilkes Community College with an associate degree in social sciences, Gardner-Webb University with a bachelor’s degree in human services and Liberty University with a master’s degree in business management.

Caudill retired from the Wilkes Board of Elections office in 2018, and now works in the biomedical department at Samaritan’s Purse. She is a member of Maple Grove Baptist Church in Hays, where her husband is pastor.

She has been engaged in volunteer projects through N.C. Baptist Men, including assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Miss., and assisting low income people in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and North Carolina. She has been a volunteer for Samaritan’s Kitchen, Wilkes Crisis Pregnancy Center, Catherine Barber Homeless Shelter, Hospitality House, St. Jude Hospital, Walk by Faith Christian Camp, for the Wilkes County Schools and at Maple Grove, Knobbs, Oak Grove and Austin Baptist churches.

Hardin Kennedy III

Hardin Kennedy III stated, “The education of Wilkes County students is near and dear to my heart. The education that I received in Wilkes County has contributed to my success in life. My motivation to seek reelection to the board of education developed through the eyes of many Wilkes County students who all possess a spark of interest and knowledge, as well as creativity if they are provided the opportunity to excel in their career choice.”

He added, “I currently have two high school juniors in the Wilkes County Schools. As a Christian and a citizen of Wilkes County, it is my responsibility to provide the necessary leadership to my children as well as the many others in the county to promote their education and assist them in obtaining and achieving their dreams. I am very concerned about the many students who are left behind in our county and state simply because of low test scores, lack of money and lack of support. No child is born on this earth as a failure. It is my belief that we should nurture each and every child in the same manner no matter their stature and assist them with achieving their goals and education as well as in their lives.”

Kennedy has lived in the Traphill community of Wilkes all of his life. He and his wife of 20 years, Becky Kennedy, have 16-year-old twins, a son and a daughter. He graduated from North Wilkes High School in 1992, from Wilkes Community College (diesel and heavy equipment in 1996) and from Eastern New Mexico University with a bachelor’s of education degree with a concentration in professional technical education (career and technical education) in 2008.

Since 2003, Kennedy has been chairman of transportation technology at WCC. This includes four program areas: automotive systems technology, collision repair and refinishing technology, diesel and heavy equipment technology and welding technology. Kennedy was a Wilkes County Central Garage automotive and diesel technician from 1993-2003.

He was a member of the Wilkes County Board of Education from 2012-2016.

Kennedy is a member of Little Elkin Baptist Church, Traphill Masonic Lodge, High Country Workforce Development, Wilkes County Business and Industry Committee and the Wilkes County and N.C. Cattlemen associations. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout in Boy Scout Troop 336, is an N.C. Guided Pathways Leader for the N.C. Community College System. With SkillsUSA, Kennedy is WCC advisor, state board member, championship committee chairman and Region 7 High School Career Showcase coordinator.

George Shafer

George Shafer stated, “As a product of the projects in upstate New York, I know how critical good teachers and good schools are to escaping the cycle of poverty. I am running for a position on the Wilkes County Board of Education because I recognize that strong schools can make strong families and strong communities. Studies have shown that a community with good schools can attract business even more than low taxes. There is also a clear link between good schools and real estate values. Our schools can play a key role in making Wilkes County a place where kids want to return and businesses want to move. I have the experience and education to help make that happen.”

With part-time jobs, scholarships and student loans, Shafer graduated magna cum laude from the State University of New York. He received master’s degrees in theatre and library science and earned a doctorate degree in speech and theatre from Kent State University. Shafer also did post-doctoral study at Princeton University through a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He recently completed five semesters of Spanish at Wilkes Community College. 

Shafer is retired after 19 years as a teacher, including at Northwestern, Kent State, Damavand College (Tehran, Iran), Brunswick Community College, Cape Fear Community College and Coastal Carolina University. He also worked 20 years in corporate communications for Sears, Allstate, Premark International and Trustmark Insurance Co.

While serving two terms on a local school board in Illinois, Shafer helped secure approval of two multimillion dollar school bond referendums to build and equip a new high school. He served nine years on the board of directors for Lake County Council Against Sexual Assault, was board member and director for Winding River Players in Southport, co-chair of annual giving campaign. He currently is a member of the Wilkes Family YMCA finance committee, chairman of the Wilkes Library Endowment board, is on the Beekeepers of Wilkes board and is a Wilkes Art Gallery volunteer.

Shafer has lived in Wilkes since 2013, and in North Carolina since 2004. He and his wife, Gwen, have two children and four grandchildren.

T. Kirk Walker

T. Kirk Walker said, “I believe that educating our children is one of the most important things we do. I also believe working together with others is the best way to accomplish shared goals.”

He added, “I will use the experience I have gained while serving on the Wilkes County Board of Education to work with others to make Wilkes County Schools the best they can possibly be. I am hopeful to have the opportunity to continue working with parents, staff and the community to put Wilkes County students first.”

Walker is a lifelong resident of Wilkes County. He and his wife, Kim Walker, have a son and a daughter and three grandchildren. Walker graduated from North Wilkes High School.

He is the owner and operator of Kirk’s Automotive in North Wilkesboro.

Walker is seeking reelection to his third term after serving on the Wilkes County Board of Education from November 1998 until May 2008 and May 2016 to the present.

He is a member of First Light Church in North Wilkesboro, where he serves as worship leader. Walker is active in the Brushy Mountain Baptist Association and currently serves as administrative team leader.

He is on the Knotville Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors, Music Afterschool Program Board of Directors and Relay for Life Team.

Brandon Whitaker

Brandon Whitaker said his daughter is a seventh-grader at East Wilkes Middle School, his son graduated from East Wilkes High in 2018 and his wife, Kimberly Whitaker, is East Wilkes High receptionist, “so we are heavily invested in Wilkes County Schools.”

He attended C.B. Eller Elementary School and graduated from East Wilkes High in 1989. “I care deeply about our school system and its success. I have experienced what it is like to be a struggling college student from Wilkes County. If you look at Wilkes County and the surrounding area, we live in an area with many children living in poverty and a quality education is the only chance they will have to escape a life of poverty,” he said.

Whitaker added, “Simply put, the education of our children is the most important thing we will ever do. A quality education is the foundation of who they will become and how successful they will be. I have lived that success and want to see our children have that same success. I am living proof that given the right opportunities and support from this community anyone can achieve success.

“Our teachers and staff deserve our support and respect for everything they do for our children. They have not been given the resources or respect they have needed and deserved for many years. We need to do more. We need to remember our county cannot survive and prosper without the successful education of our children.”

Whitaker has lived in Wilkes all his life except about four years in Charlotte while in college and four years in Elkin before starting kindergarten. He attended WCC in late 1989, before attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he obtained a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 1995. He became a licensed professional engineer in 2000.

Whitaker began his engineering career with the N.C. Department of Transportation in the summer of 1990 and was a permanent DOT employee for about 23 years. He left DOT a little over a year ago to work for a private engineering firm in North Carolina, where he is a project manager.

He was an unsuccessful candidate for a seat on the Wilkes County Board of Education in 2018.

Whitaker said, “We are currently in between churches and visiting different churches in the area. We hope to find a home church soon.” He assisted with Science Olympiad teams at C.B. Eller from 2014 to 2017, by providing technical guidance.

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