Local Democrat Mary Ellen Kustin has officially entered the race for the Henderson County Board of Public Education with a focus on providing a fair and excellent education for all children in Henderson County Public Schools. Her first time running for office was in 2022 when she lost her race for school board by only 1% of the vote.
“I'm in it for the kids—not just my two children who will be in our schools through 2037, but for all kids,” she said. “I’m passionate about fairness and I’ll always fight to put children first. No matter their family situation or their background. Children are our future and they deserve the best we can offer them, especially safe, high quality, fully funded schools.”
Mary Ellen’s qualifications include a master’s degree in public policy, a career in the non-profit sector, and a lifetime of advocacy. She is a member of the City of Hendersonville Environmental Sustainability Board, the Kiwanis Club of Hendersonville, and the Parent Teacher Organization at her son’s school. “With my experience, I’m confident that I will be able to engage in policy and budget discussions productively,” she said.
Mary Ellen notes that she herself benefitted from a high-quality public education from kindergarten to graduate school and that public schools are the foundation of democracy. In addition to her master’s degree in public policy, she has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in sustainable development and conservation biology.
While right-wing politicians have organized a push to slash resources for public school systems throughout the country and state, Mary Ellen emphasizes her commitment to using taxpayer dollars wisely to retain hard-working teachers and staff and to provide the resources that are needed to set up students and families for success. “I’m willing to do the hard work to keep public schools strong. Children are among the most vulnerable in our community, and it’s important to me that our schools continue to strengthen their relationships with families and community partners to ensure the safety of each and every child in Henderson County. We all benefit when our schools shine.”
The 2024 school board race is the first time the race has been partisan. Henderson County’s all-Republican county commission unanimously passed a resolution in favor of the Republican-held state legislature changing Henderson County’s school board election from non-partisan to partisan. The state legislature then quickly made the change late last year even though school board members did not request the change and the unaffiliated chairman of the school board at the time stated publicly that he felt blindsided by the change.
One of Mary Ellen’s goals for serving on the board is to successfully work with board members who vote differently than she does. “I know we're stronger when we work together. I believe we can find common ground when we care about the whole child, no matter the child. I have faith that the broader culture wars won't hold as much sway with fellow board members when we truly consider the students and families in our community.
“I’m really proud that during my first bid, I had an enthusiastic coalition of volunteers who shared the goal of protecting Henderson County public schools’ tradition of excellence. Thank you to the 15,852 teachers, parents, grandparents, Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated folks who voted in favor of my campaign to put kids first. Let’s work together to get it done this time!”
Outside work and campaigning, Mary Ellen enjoys spending time outdoors with her family as well as kickboxing at the YMCA. “On weekend mornings, I love making blueberry pancakes with my kiddos,” she said. “I also love the process of cooking a yummy lasagna. My daughter is in an anti-lasagna phase right now, and I hope she moves through it quickly!”