Dr. Charles Parker is beginning his first term in elective office – winning a seat on the Alamance-Burlington school board last month, his first time out of the gate – but he’s hardly a stranger in the community, particularly within eastern Alamance County.
Parker was part of a red wave that swept this year’s race for one of three open seats on the ostensibly nonpartisan school board.
A Republican, Parker, with 27,263 votes (20.10 percent) was the second-highest vote getter behind fellow Republican Dan Ingle (who received 33,897 votes, or 24.99 percent) in the ostensibly non-partisan race.
Coming in third for one of the three open seats was Chuck Marsh, also a Republican, who received 25,839 votes (19.05 percent), defeating three other candidates (including the only Democratic candidate in this year’s field, Seneca Rogers, who came in fourth with 23,295 votes (17.17 percent), based on unofficial Election Night results.
Parker’s campaign platform highlighted what he – like many other parents around the state and nation – says is a need to improve parents’ involvement with their children’s education, as well as to provide students with the help they need to overcome learning losses stemming from online instruction while ABSS schools were closed due to the statewide school shutdown. (Other priorities that Parker outlined during his campaign for school board included the need to recruit teachers and fill other staffing shortages, as well as enhancing school safety.)
ABSS “stayed closed too long” over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, Parker says. That decision to remain closed for a year, from March 2020 until March 2021, was an ongoing source of frustration for many parents in the county, Parker says, particularly for working parents who couldn’t always be home to monitor whether their children logged onto computers for online instruction, did their work, and got up and went to bed on time.
Parker, who holds a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering, as well as an M.B.A. from North Carolina State University, is employed at Duke University, where he manages a lab and oversees research projects in materials science for federal agencies that include the National Institutes of Health.
A Mebanite since 2003, Parker and his wife – Mary Parker, also a doctor who currently serves as the deputy chief medical officer for the North Carolina and Virginia division of the federal department of Veterans Affairs – met and fell in love while they were both students at the N.C. School of Science and Math (NCSSM) in Durham.
Now married 23 years, the couple has three children. They eventually settled in Mebane because it was a natural midpoint for their respective commutes: his wife was working in Greensboro at the time, and he was working in Durham, Parker recalls.
Drs. Charles and Mary Parker began volunteering in ABSS schools in 2010, when their oldest son Andrew (now a student at NCSSM), entered kindergarten.
“We have always been active in the schools in different ways,” the school board newcomer elaborates. His wife has served as treasurer for the boosters club at Eastern High School; and he previously served as the treasurer for the boosters club at Hawfields Middle School.
An Eagle Scout, Parker has also served as an assistant scoutmaster, as well. But what little free time he and his wife have today they devote to supporting their three children’s education and extracurricular activities. (In addition to Andrew, their middle child, Catherine, is a freshman at Eastern High School; and their youngest, Margaret, is a fifth-grader at Audrey Garrett Elementary School.)
“At this season in life, it’s really about being involved with our kids’ activities,” Parker tells the newspaper.
Parker also has a hobby that seems befitting for a research scientist: he roasts his own coffee at home, when the weather cooperates. “In the winter, it’s too cool to use the roaster,” he says, emphasizing that “freshness matters.”
At work, his research focuses on a number of different materials, such as metallurgy, polymers, ceramics, and semiconductors. “There are a lot of things in common with those materials,” Parker says, noting that his research has also delved into carbon materials. “I’ve done a lot of work with carbon nanotudes, for electrodes, for electro-chemistry,” he elaborates. Those materials have a host of real-world applications ranging from biomedical uses (such as targeted drug-delivery and cell regeneration) to fabrics and textiles; they’re also used to produce electronic devices that don’t consume high levels of energy.
“The second area I’ve worked with is diamond,” Parker explains, adding that application is being used in quantum computing to improve storage of units of information. In his position at Duke University, Parker oversees post-doctoral students for a professor in the electrical engineering department.
After winning a seat on the school board, Parker says that ensuing the opening of the new high school, Southeast High School, goes well is at the top of his to-do list. “There are a lot of decisions coming up that are time-sensitive,” he says. “One thing I would like to focus on this year is the transition from paper-based [instructional materials] to digital learning materials.”
“Almost everything” – from homework to pop quizzes – that ABSS students – complete during a given school year is done on the computer now, Parker says. He hopes to persuade the school system’s administrators to create a “parent portal” so that parents are able to view their children’s instructional materials, as well as class syllabi and assignments.
“Learning materials are not available for parents who want to be involved,” Parker says.
“That’s another thing we could make easier for the parent.”
Prior to entering the school board race earlier this year, Parker says he’d never considered running for elective office.
“I felt like there was something I could contribute here, so I thought the perspective of a person with a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] background [could be an asset to the community],” Parker recalls of his decision to enter the school board race.
“Having children in school now, I felt like there should be a component of the board that has children in the schools.”