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An interesting article in today's newspaper

Last words: Carrboro has gotten rid of its Board of Aldermen. The name, not the actual board. Page A4

National group calls Greensboro Public Library a Top 10 Innovator

GREENSBORO — A national group that recognizes libraries with innovative ideas says it has discovered a gem here.

That’s why the Urban Libraries Council recently designated the Greensboro Public Library as a Top 10 Innovator.

“I want us to be a destination,” said Brigitte Blanton, the director of the Greensboro Public Library. “I want people to realize that libraries have been more than books for a long time.”

Judges working with the Urban Libraries Council saw that for themselves. They selected the library system’s Tech Navigator program out of 260 submissions for “out-of-the box thinking” and a creative use of resources. The program offers free, personalized sessions for people to learn computer basics, from using a mouse to setting up email to searching online databases.

"After launching the program, they've had 4,000 individual appointments — and that's just since Jan. 2018," said Paul Negron, a spokesperson for the Urban Libraries Council. "Outstanding."

Blanton has led the multi-branch system since 2012 after starting as an associate in a branch in 1988. She and her team had been looking at how they were measuring up to their goals, notably those related to technology.

Her deputy director, Brian Hart, who had been named a 2014 Emerging Leader by the American Library Association, oversaw the development of "Tech Navigators: Experts? No. Explorers? Yes!" The program offers one-on-one 30 minute appointments.

Blanton hopes any publicity from the award will allow her to tout the Greensboro Public Library’s other offerings, including 3-D printers and programs that can help people search their family history.

“The true honor in it wasn’t receiving an award, but that we had put together a package in Greensboro that other libraries could duplicate,” Blanton said.

Leadership changes at Greensboro Ballet

GREENSBORO — As Greensboro Ballet prepares to stage its popular annual production of “The Nutcracker,” two familiar faces will be missing.

Executive and artistic director Maryhelen Mayfield and school director John Dennis have left the nonprofit ballet company and school, based in the downtown Greensboro Cultural Center.

Jennifer Jones, who chairs Greensboro Ballet’s board, declined to say why the husband-and-wife team of Mayfield and Dennis had left — Mayfield after nearly 40 years.

Mayfield declined to comment when reached by email.

The ballet’s board has brought in new leadership from within the staff “to continue the excellent tradition established by these former team members,” Jones said in a news release.

“Throughout the tenure of Maryhelen and John, Greensboro Ballet has become a premier classical ballet school and performing organization,” the news release said.

Greensboro Ballet offers a mix of performances each year, including “The Nutcracker” each December.

Its school offers classical ballet classes for ages 3 to adult. Among those classes is Dancing Above the Barre, which teaches creative movement to young children with physical or other disabilities.

During the change of leadership, administrative and artistic responsibilities have been divided into two positions.

Ballet Mistress Jessica Fry McAlister has been promoted to interim artistic director. Jennifer Savage Gentry is now interim executive director.

Gentry has worked with Greensboro Ballet as a teacher, administrative assistant and most recently, marketing and development director.

Nina Munda, a longtime professional dancer, teacher and administrator with the ballet, has become interim school director.

“In partnership with Jessica and Nina, we will strive to continue offering the absolute highest quality dance training at the School of Greensboro Ballet while driving to create a fully-professional ballet company,” Gentry said in the news release.

Greensboro Ballet long has aimed to have its own professional ballet company, with at least eight to 10 professional dancers, Gentry said in an email.

“We’ve gotten really close in the past but, for financial reasons, we have had to let go professional dancers when the budget was tight,” Gentry said. “As a nonprofit arts organization, funding can fluctuate from year to year for various reasons. As the school has always been the priority, the dancer salaries have fallen to the wayside.”

“I think Greensboro has grown to a level that makes it ready for a professional ballet company,” she added.

McAlister is developing new choreography and dancers are rehearsing for this year’s production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22 at the Carolina Theatre.

The ballet also will bring back “Muttcracker,” with a few dogs making cameo appearances in the Dec. 20 performance.

McAlister has a long career in classical ballet, including training in New York City with American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet.

She danced in several principal roles with Greensboro Ballet, including the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the 2018 production of “The Nutcracker.”

She also served as ballet mistress for that production, working with Mayfield and assisting with rehearsals.

Mayfield arrived in 1980 from the Kansas City Ballet to lead the school of what was then Greensboro’s Civic Ballet Theatre.

Dennis came to visit two years later and started teaching at Greensboro Ballet in 1986.

They got married in 1993.

They often have appeared in the ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” playing Mr. and Mrs. Silberhaus.

In 2007, their work with the ballet won them the Betty Cone Medal of Arts, presented each year by ArtsGreensboro.

With their departure and the new leadership, the ballet’s board, staff families and community will engage in strategic planning over the next several months.

“Our goal is to continue with the current annual program and classes, while we prepare a more comprehensive plan for the long-term future of the Greensboro Ballet,” the news release said.

Congressional map would join Winston-Salem with Guilford County in 6th District; send rest of Forsyth into 10th

RALEIGH — The political future of two GOP incumbents, including Greensboro’s U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, could be endangered as North Carolina Republican legislators advanced a new congressional district map Thursday in response to a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit.

The reconfigured districts have become necessary since state judges blocked use of the current U.S. House districts for the 2020 elections because they say it’s likely the map was drawn with excessive partisan bias favoring the GOP.

Republicans hold 10 of the 13 seats in North Carolina’s delegation, even though the state is considered a presidential battleground and Democrats remain the state’s largest bloc of registered voters.

The proposal, which passed the state House on a party-line vote, would consolidate the districts of Walker and George Holding around urban Democratic centers, making it harder for them to get reelected. Both Holding’s 2nd Congressional District and Walker’s 6th District are currently a mix of urban, suburban and rural counties that have been considered Republican leaning.

The map also needs Senate approval, which is likely to come today. House Redistricting Committee Chairman David Lewis said his Senate GOP counterparts support the replacement in principle. Redistricting maps aren’t subject to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto stamp.

Holding, a former federal prosecutor, is in his fourth term in Congress. Walker, a Baptist minister now in his third term, was chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee during the last congressional session. Walker shook off the redraw, tweeting that he’d keep fighting for North Carolina residents “no matter what liberal attorneys, judicial activists and politicians in Raleigh do in self-interest.”

A spokesman for Holding’s campaign didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Emphasis on the political performance of replacement districts had been muted in public during this redraw until Thursday’s House floor debate. Legislators agreed that political data and election results wouldn’t be used in drawing potential replacement maps. But it was obvious any alteration would result in at least one Republican House member getting placed in an unfavorable district.

State judges have stopped short of ordering a replacement map, saying they lacked authority at this stage of the lawsuit filed by Democratic and independent voters. But they encouraged the General Assembly to redraw the map on its own to avoid delaying the March 3 congressional primary. The State Board of Elections has said it needs a map by mid-December to do so.

Otherwise, a separate congressional primary, with likely low turnout, would be needed later in the year.

Lewis said the proposal addressed concerns raised by the lawsuit about excessive partisanship and it included input from the public and Democratic colleagues.

“No partisan data was used in drawing this map. There was no pre-established nor incidental partisan goal made in how these districts were drawn,” Lewis said. “This is really a good-faith effort to make districts that are fair, that are compact.”

Democrats still opposed the proposed map despite the likely opportunity to pick up two additional seats, which would help national Democrats maintain their U.S. House majority in the November 2020 elections. They said the configuration still contains districts shaped like the old districts that the lawsuit plaintiffs consider to be illegal partisan gerrymanders, leading to seats won by comfortable margins.

“The public would like to have some competitive congressional races,” Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison said, but acknowledged “it’s better that we’ll have more Democrats.”

The idea that partisanship didn’t play a role in the maps is disingenuous because Lewis also shepherded the current congressional map approved in 2016 by the General Assembly, House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said.

“It is not competitive in any way. It’s not fair,” Jackson said. “Hopefully the court will send it back and we’ll do a better job next time.”

The 2nd District represented by Holding currently covers all or parts of six east-central counties, including the suburbs around Raleigh. The proposed 2nd would only be in strongly Democratic Wake County. The 6th District would now cover all of Guilford County, which includes Greensboro, and in Forsyth County, all of Winston-Salem, most of Kernersville and about half of Walkertown. Walker’s current district reached north to the Virginia border and south to Randolph County, which is strongly Republican.

Other proposed changes to the map would shuffle the foothills and mountain counties in districts represented by veteran GOP Reps. Virginia Foxx and Patrick McHenry, both of whom have served in Republican leadership this decade.

McHenry’s 10th District would include the rest of Forsyth: Clemmons, Lewisville, Rural Hall, the northern areas of Forsyth and the rest of Kernersville and Walkertown. It also would contain Rockingham, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.

The new districts for McHenry and Foxx appear to remain Republican-leaning.

The far-western 11th District, represented by former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, would take in all of heavily Democratic Asheville. But the district’s reconfiguration still appeared to favor Meadows.

Alamance, Davidson, Davie and Rowan counties would be in the 13th District, which currently includes parts of Guilford County and is represented by Republican Rep. Ted Budd of Advance.

The 2016 congressional map was the subject of a federal lawsuit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the majority opinion ruled in June that federal courts should stay out of partisan gerrymandering controversies. But Chief Justice John Roberts wrote state courts could intervene.

A state lawsuit was filed shortly after state judges struck down dozens of North Carolina legislative districts for extreme partisan bias.

Community members get hint of what principals does

Eighty-nine Guilford County schools hosted guest “principals” Thursday. More than 100 community members got a firsthand glimpse at what it’s like to lead a school, shadowing school principals all morning and joining all of the participants for lunch. Principal For a Day is sponsored by the Guilford Education Alliance, an independent nonprofit group dedicated to quality public education.