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'Diversity' and 'Tokenism' Debated as Exec. Council Rejects Board of Ed Nominee

The Executive Council voted Wednesday to deny the nomination of Ryan Terrell to the State Board of Education.

Terrell’s nomination, by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, was voted down by the Democratic majority on the five-member body, who cited concerns about Terrell’s qualifications. But Terrell, who is black, said the debate “turned into a conversation about race” that discounted his other qualifications.

Terrell was nominated to the state board after the board's chairman, Andrew Cline, met him at an educational event several months ago and recommended him to Sununu, according to Terrell and Cline.

Terrell would have replaced Helen Honorow, of District 5, on the seven-member board that oversees New Hampshire's public, charter and private schools.

Terrell, a Republican, graduated from Southern New Hampshire University in 2014. As part of his college studies, he worked in 2011 for the mayoral campaign of Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas. Since 2017, he has worked as a project manager at a hair salon distribution company in Derry.

Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Democrat who is running for his party's nomination for governor, said Terrell had "absolutely no qualifications for the job” and “never sought to participate in any school functions” prior to his nomination.

Councilor Debora Pignatelli, a Democrat, offered a list of alternative nominations that she said included “people of color who are more than qualified.”

The state board does not allow members to be technical educators or professionally engaged in school work, but current members have experience volunteering or working with schools and youth-oriented organizations.

Sununu said Terrell's work in the private sector would bring innovation and diversity to the all-white board of education.

“This position does not call for some expert or insider in education," Sununu said. "All the better frankly, that we have somebody with an outside perspective."

“To have someone that has such a diverse background, that is a person of color that brings diversity to the board - ” he continued, “Of all times, to potentially reject a candidate like this, I’m shocked.”

“I won’t engage in the tokenism that apparently you’re willing to engage in,” Volinsky countered.

Terrell told NHPR he was disappointed the conversation became about race, and that the diversity he wanted to add was diversity of perspectives, professional background, and life experience.

“Using the phrase ‘tokenism’ was disappointing because I know that’s not what the Governor intended,” Terrell said. “Race was not mentioned to me as a reason I was nominated…It’s not about color. It’s not about race. It was about my diversity skill set. Race was an added diversity factor.”

Terrell said he saw joining the State Board of Education as an “opportunity to give back to New Hampshire” but understood some councilors’ concerns about his qualifications.

“I think it’s completely fair to acknowledge and be concerned about the fact that I have no direct activity in K-12 education," he said. "That’s completely in line with what citizens and constituents should be concerned about."

Cline, the board's chairman, issued the following statement after the vote: “Ryan Terrell is an exceptionally bright, thoughtful person who would’ve served with distinction on the Board of Education. He didn’t deserve to be personally belittled by an executive councilor and told, amazingly, to get in the back of the line, just for volunteering to serve his state.”

Terrell says that after the Executive Council vote against his nomination, he now plans to run for state representative this fall.


Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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