Election 2022: School Board District 1

Posed photographs of Reginald Jackson, Breyauna Holloway and John Butler

Election 2022: School Board District 1

A well-known Democrat faces off against two independent candidates to represent the county’s only majority-minority district.

by jesse fox mayshark • July 20, 2022

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Posed photographs of Reginald Jackson, Breyauna Holloway and John Butler

Independent candidates Reginald jackson, left, and breyauna Holloway are running against Democrat John Butler.

Knox County’s 1st District includes many of its oldest schools, as well as many of its most academically and socioeconomically challenged.

There is no Republican candidate on the ballot in the county's only majority-minority district.

It is also the county’s only majority-minority district, meaning that the majority of residents are nonwhite — albeit barely. After redistricting last year slightly boosted its minority population, it ended up with an estimated 50.2 percent nonwhite population, to 49.8 percent white.

The minority population is mostly Black, making up 34 percent of the total district, with 10 percent Hispanic/Latino and 6 percent mixed race or “other.” District 1 has been represented by African-American legislators on both school board and County Commission for decades, and this year’s school board race will not change that.

The District 1 race on the Aug. 4 county ballot features three Black candidates, one a Democrat and the other two independents. The Rev. John Butler, a former head of the Knoxville NAACP chapter, easily won the Democratic primary in May, defeating Charles Frazier. He now faces Breyauna Holloway, a local business owner and parent advocate, and Reginald Jackson, a former school security officer.

Reflecting the district’s solidly Democratic status, this is the only competitive race in this year’s county elections not to feature a Republican candidate.

The district’s incumbent, current board Vice Chair Evetty Satterfield, decided not to seek reelection after serving just one term. Her time in office has been punctuated by outbursts of violence in the community around Austin-East High School, including the deaths of five A-E students in separate shootings last year.

One of those, the shooting by a Knoxville Police Officer of student Anthony Thompson Jr. during an encounter inside a school bathroom, prompted community demonstrations and discussion about the role of security officers in schools.

Satterfield has been a strong advocate for the district’s efforts to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in disciplinary actions and academic achievement. She tried and failed to get her colleagues to approve a formal equity policy earlier this year.

Butler has a funding edge in the race — he reported raising $2,345 in the second quarter, after winning the primary, and had $2,719 on hand at the end of June. Neither Holloway nor Jackson have reported raising or spending any money (although Holloway’s second-quarter report is not yet in, according to the Election Commission website).

Here are profiles of the three candidates to succeed Satterfield. Portions of the section on Butler previously appeared in our primary coverage this spring. Jackson did not respond to messages seeking an interview, so his section draws on comments he made at a candidate forum last week as well as our coverage of his run for County Commission in 2020.

John Butler

Butler was born in 1959 in Greensboro, N.C., into the heart of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. Just three months after his birth, the city was the site of sit-ins at Woolworth stores that eventually led the chain to desegregate its stores across the South.

Three years later, Jesse Jackson — then president of the student body at North Carolina A&T State University, a historically Black school — led sit-ins at downtown Greensboro restaurants and theaters.

For Butler, now 62, the civil rights efforts became personal in 1971, the first year he attended a non-segregated elementary school.

“That was the first time I ever had gone to school with whites and really had interaction,” he said. “I saw where they came from, what part of town they came from, and how they viewed our part of town.”

He also noticed that a lot of things at his school suddenly became nicer. 

“Our school became new and improved,” he said. “New everything — down to the desks, bulletin boards, chalkboards, books, playgrounds, landscaping.”

That early lesson in inequity — that a school could be nicer or not as nice depending on which students attended it — stuck with him. Butler said he is running for school board to continue decades of work focused on ensuring access and opportunities for all students.

“Equity is complicated,” he said. “It’s not just based on race, it’s not just based on gender, it’s a number of factors — one major factor being poverty. So we have to be willing to have the discussions, we have to be willing to observe honestly, and then we have to be willing to be intentional about how we address those inequities.”

Now the pastor of Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church in Mechanicsville and presiding elder of the Knoxville District AME Zion Church, Butler came to Knoxville with his family in 2007 from Asheboro, N.C., where he had also served as a pastor.

His daughter (who now works as an administrator in Knox County Schools) graduated from high school just before the move, but a foster child spent her senior year at Austin-East, and his son attended Vine Middle Magnet School and was the valedictorian of his graduating class at Austin-East. 

Butler said he and his wife were active in the parent organizations at Vine and Austin-East, serving as co-presidents when their son was at A-E. They have remained active as alumni parents. Butler has also been active in the Knoxville chapter of the NAACP, serving as president. This is not his first political foray — he ran for City Council in 2017, losing in a crowded field to current Councilmember Gwen McKenzie.

In recent years he has been active in the district’s efforts to reduce racial and economic disparities among Knox County students, serving on the original task force formed in 2015 and the steering committee that followed. 

Butler said he supported Satterfield’s efforts to pass an equity policy committing the school board to continue and monitor its work to reduce disparities.

“I think we need to make sure we have a report card,” he said. “Some way that the community understands what is happening and how equity is being addressed. It’s an ongoing effort. It’s  never going to be fixed to the extent that you don't have to do work on it.”

Butler said the gun violence that took the lives of five Austin-East students last year points to deeper legacies of inequity and lack of opportunity in Knox County.

“There are some things that we need to do in the community to alleviate poverty, to open up opportunities for jobs that people can get to,” he said. “In the school itself, we have to make sure that we have policies and procedures that's going to address student needs. We have to make sure we have the support systems in place, whether they be guidance counselors who help them navigate the school system, or they be mental health professionals, social workers.”

He said he knows recently hired Superintendent Jon Rysewyk and would look forward to working with him — and to holding him accountable.

“One of the challenges is that when you’ve served in a place for so long, it's hard to see the things that need to be done differently,” Butler said. “And so that would be one of those things that he has to be intentional about, looking for what do we need to do different?”

In the May 4 Democratic primary, he defeated broadcaster and community advocate Charles Frazier by a 57-43 percent margin.

Breyauna Holloway

Holloway has lived her whole life in the 1st District and has been involved in its public schools for most of it, as both student and parent. She grew up in East Knoxville, where she attended Sarah Moore Greene Elementary School and graduated from Austin-East in 2003.

She is now the mother of five children ranging in age from 2 to 17. Two are currently students at Austin-East, and two at Maynard Elementary; the fifth will enroll in the county’s preschool program next year.

Holloway is also a graduate of the University of Tennessee, where she earned a degree in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice, and a minor in African and African-American Studies. She subsequently earned an online master’s degree in criminal justice.

Professionally, she has worked for the state Department of Human Services and for many years as a customer service representative for the City of Knoxville’s 311 service. Now, she is the owner of Clara’s Closet and Crafts, a vintage boutique and thrift store on Magnolia Avenue.

She is a member of A-E PTA and alumni group, as well as the UT Black Alumni Council. She is also a UT Promise scholarship mentor. All of that sounds like plenty to keep anyone busy, but Holloway said she was prompted to run for school board by the needs she sees as an involved parent.

“I volunteered on several people’s campaigns over the years to try to get some experience under my belt,” she said. “I liken politics to a game of Double Dutch. I think that you have to watch the ropes and catch the rhythm of not just the ropes but yourself, and know when is the right time to jump in. And I felt like this was the right time for me.”

Her top priority is to find ways to recruit and retain dedicated teachers at the district’s schools.

“The two schools I’m most familiar with right now, Austin-East and Maynard, have an extreme shortage of teachers and staff,” Holloway said. “It’s critical that these vacancies be filled, because students in this district, historically, have always been behind their peers. Our graduation rates are among the lowest in the county, and our students are not prepared for college, or prepared for trade school or the workforce in a lot of cases.”

She believes those gaps have only grown with the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for students who spent a year in virtual learning.

Holloway also sees continued needs to tighten school security. She said students are still bringing weapons onto school grounds, which needs to be curtailed.

“I think we really need to take a hard look at how we are preventing that and how we can keep our children safe,” she said. “Albeit, they might be a bit uncomfortable. But I'd rather have our children and our staff alive and uncomfortable.”

Her third priority is increasing parental involvement in the district. She noted that many District 1 schools struggle to maintain engaged parent associations, and she thinks one way to address that might be to take it beyond the school-by-school basis.

“One of the things that I propose is to try to organize a district-wide PTA or PTSO,” Holloway said. “I know that our PTAs and PTSOs are weak at best, and nonexistent in most cases. Schools that have a solid and thriving PTA or PTSO are able to bring in more funding (from the community).”

Overall, she said, as a parent she has been happy with the education and attention her children have received. 

“There's some really good people in our school system out there that really care, they're really pushing to see these kids do well and succeed and learn,” Holloway said. “The dedicated teachers are out there.”

She said she’s taking a wait-and-see approach to Rysewyk, particularly his new plan to break up oversight of the county’s schools into five regions.

“I’m definitely open to working with him and trying to make Knox County Schools the best district in the state,” she said. “That’s the goal. And you know, I don’t want to see a lot of the bickering that went on between school board members and superintendents in the past.”

Reginald Jackson

Jackson is also a Knoxville native — his family has been here for five generations. He started school in Knox County but ended up graduating from high school in Morristown after his parents moved there. 

He served eight years in the U.S. Army before returning to Knoxville. He struggled for a time to find employment and was homeless for about six months — an experience that he said heightened his awareness of disparities in the community.

He now works in property management for his family’s real estate company, Hodge Properties. But he also worked as a school security officer for Knox County Schools before leaving the position out of dissatisfaction with the department’s leadership. He is also a parent himself.

This is his second run for office, following an independent campaign for County Commission two years ago.

“District 1 needs a leader,” Jackson said during a school board candidate forum on July 14. “It needs someone who’s going to stand by the parents and teachers and support the students.”

Informed by his experience working for the school system, he emphasizes the need to first of all keep students and teachers safe.

“I believe that as long as we have safety and security in our schools, the rest will follow,” he said.

Other priorities include ensuring students have access to an array of career and technical training, particularly those not inclined or suited to pursue a college degree; and building on the district’s reading programs to improve early-grade literacy.

Responding to a question at the forum about disparities in school resources, he said the first thing he would advocate for is a district-wide “forensic audit.” The school system is audited regularly, but Jackson suggested the budget needs a closer look.

“We have so much money going in, so much money that people are giving, that we don’t even know where the money’s going,” he said.

He acknowledged that one issue with safety in schools can be a lack of trust between students — particularly students of color — and security officers. He pointed to a chronic lack of Black security officers.

“You’ve got to learn how to build relationships,” he said. “The problem is that our Police Department, school security, and the Sheriff’s department have a problem with building relationships.” He added, “If we can get back to the point where we can hire more security officers that look like the district, it will be better.”