Wednesday, July 17, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Rogers ready for school board service, sworn in Mon.

“To me, our school system is not about politics; it is about doing what is best for our students and our staff.   We are truly in this together, and there are more things we have in common than separate us.”

– Newest school board member Seneca Rogers, sworn in Dec. 4

The newest member of the Alamance-Burlington school board, Seneca Rogers, is no stranger to the community.

Rogers was appointed November 14 to serve out the remaining year of former four-term school board member Patsy Simpson, is no stranger to the community.

The vote was 5-1, with only then-board vice chairman Ryan Bowden voting against the appointment.

A Burlington native who graduated from Cummings High School in 1998, the 43-year-old Rogers ran twice for the school board, in 2020 and 2022, on a platform predicated on the idea, “We are the Neighborhood.”

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In 2022, Rogers, who is a Democrat, came in fourth place for one of the three open seats on the ostensibly nonpartisan school board that were ultimately filled by freshman board members Dan Ingle; Dr. Charles Parker; and Chuck Marsh – all of whom were registered as Republicans at the time. (Ingle has since changed his voter registration to unaffiliated; and while Marsh has said that he intends to change his voter registration to unaffiliated, both he and Parker remain registered as Republicans, according to the state Board of Elections.)

Rogers was one of 11 applicants who submitted letters of interest this fall to serve the remainder of Simpson’s term, which expires in November 2024.  He tells The Alamance News that he plans to file for the 2024 school board race – when four seats will be up for grabs – but says he had not done so prior to the interview Monday morning.

“Do I think black lives matter? Yes, because I’m black.  I think that the same way I think other folks’ lives matter.”

– Newly-appointed school board member Seneca Rogers

Rogers flatly denies some of the claims he’s heard about himself over the past several years.  True, he’s involved with the Alamance County chapter of Down Home North Carolina, a grassroots “community organizing” group, which some critics describe as a “radical, left-wing” organization working to advance such things as defunding police.

For his part, Rogers says he sees Down Home NC as “more of a support organization that’s trying to get regular people engaged in their community.”

Rogers says he isn’t a “member of Black Lives Matter,” though he acknowledges having attended demonstrations in Alamance County in 2020.

“Do I think black lives matter?” Rogers asks rhetorically.  “Yes, because I’m black.  I think that the same way I think other folks’ lives matter.”

Rogers lives at 3392 Golden Oaks Drive in Graham with his wife of 15 years, Shekita Rogers, who works in financial aid at Alamance Community College.

As a teen, he dreamed of becoming a lawyer, Rogers recalls, but his life ultimately charted a different path.
The first in his immediate family to graduate from college, Rogers graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science from North Carolina A&T State University in 2002.

He has been employed with LabCorp for 17 years, where he currently serves as a reimbursement analyst negotiating payments for services from insurance carriers.

The inspiration for his given name, Seneca, came neither from Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher credited with the development of many of the tenets of stoic philosophy, nor the more common meaning, “old man.”

The Seneca Nation of Indians was one of the largest Native American tribes based largely in New York, where Rogers’ father, Melvin Rogers, grew up.  “He just liked the name and he decided to name me that,” Rogers tells the newspaper.

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“Scoot”?

Rogers recalls with a laugh that another name that has followed him since infancy is “Scoot,” which his mother, Bertha Rogers, nicknamed him “because I used to scoot down in my car seat a lot.”

Rogers credits his parents with instilling the kind of values in him that he hopes to demonstrate as a community volunteer and as a school board member.  “They always emphasized how important education was and always treating people the right way – being kind and finding ways to help folks.”

His track coach at Cummings, Donnie Davis, has also had a lasting influence, Rogers recalls.  “Outside of my parents, he’s always believed in me ever since high school,” he elaborates.  “Another last big influence for me is my faith.”

Rogers says he’s an active member at Arches Grove United Church of Christ on Deep Creek Church Road in Bur-lington, where he had served as chairman of the board of trustees until 2022.  He says he stepped away from that role late last year, when the school board campaign season heated up, but remains very much active with the church.

 

A calling to help others

Public service has always been a calling for Rogers, he says.   Though he and his wife have no children of their own, he says he feels called to help others, and especially to help improve education for younger generations.

For the past three years, he has volunteered with a backpack giveaway program for K-12 students in Alamance County through the Mayco Bigelow Community Center at North Park, which Rogers says is a collaborative effort between the city of Burlington, churches, and local nonprofits.

Rogers also volunteers with a mentoring group based at North Park, KING Academy, for boys ages six through 14, which he says works to instill values such as teamwork, leadership, accountability, and goal-setting.   “We’ve had professors come from Elon and talk about healthy living, and people in finance [come talk about personal finance],” he says.

Embarking on his official foray into public service, Rogers says he would like to see ABSS expand on things already underway, like small group instruction, in addition to hiring more guidance counselors and tutors (what ABSS refers to as “curriculum specialists”) at schools with the greatest needs for additional academic help.

“The situations for some of these kids might be different,” says Rogers.  “You have to take into account what they’re bringing into the school with them… Maybe slow down the process for students who need the most help.  There are students [for whom] there are not problems, but there are ones who are not advancing.  I feel like support services at our schools are very important – not just [in terms of] funding; we need resources for them.”

Despite the fact that ABSS currently faces significant academic and financial headwinds – in particular, what ABSS officials last week termed an “unprecedented financial crisis” due to widespread mold that delayed the start of the current school year by two weeks – Rogers sees it as a time of great opportunity.

 

‘My faith is going to carry me through’

“I look at it as a great opportunity to work with our community, to work with our schools, and to work with our students,” he says.  “Knowing at times it’s going to be difficult, my faith is going to carry me through, while also understanding that people need to be heard.”

Like several of his new school board colleagues – Parker, for instance, had run on platform aimed at improving parental involvement – Rogers says he sees a need to boost the public’s involvement in public education.

“I feel like if the parents are involved, the kids are going to be more engaged. I would like to see our students at school board meetings and standing up, making public comments for themselves also. We need for everyone to understand the value of being educated and learning.”

– School board member Seneca Rogers

Rogers says he’s optimistic about new initiatives in ABSS, such as the Family Led Organizations (FLO) that started this school year, with the goal of establishing parent-teacher organizations in every school, and idea that he says evolved from conversations that he and Dan Ingle had when they were campaigning for the school board last year.

He says he’s also encouraged by the increase he’s witnessed over the last two years in parents attending school board meetings and getting involved in their children’s schools.

“I feel like if the parents are involved, the kids are going to be more engaged,” Rogers explains.  “I would like to see our students at school board meetings and standing up, making public comments for themselves also. We need for everyone to understand the value of being educated and learning.”

Also at top of mind for Rogers as he joins the board is what he says is a need for strengthening security in schools.  “It looks like a multilayered approach,” he tells the newspaper.  “I am in support of [school resource officers] in our schools; I think another piece is security cameras and automatic [locking] doors.

“Proactively, I feel like we’ve got to have more guidance counselors, mental health professionals,” says Rogers.  “Another piece some folks have lost sight of is school nurses and what school safety looks like to them; they play a role [in] the emotional and mental well-being of our students.  Also, I would like to look at what community partnerships can be made, after-school tutoring programs that are already [established but] can be expanded.

“I am a person who grew up in Alamance County; I love my county,” Rogers adds.

“I really care about our next generation and setting them up for success – however that looks for them, not dictating that success only looks like one pathway.

“To me, our school system is not about politics; it is about doing what is best for our students and our staff.   We are truly in this together, and there are more things we have in common than separate us.”

Rogers was sworn into office and took his seat on the board Monday night.

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