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Seven candidates for the District 5 seat on the Hamilton County school board.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories about contested races in the August general election.

The August ballot will include seven names for the District 5 seat on the Hamilton County school board, but only five people are actively pursuing the seat.

At a District 5 debate on Thursday, Cynthia Stanley-Cash announced she was suspending her campaign. She said the field was too crowded and she didn't want to cause disunity in the community.

"I really hate that this is going to cause a divide in the minority community with all seven candidates being black and being supported by individual groups and backers," she said. "It just looks like a community divide is going on."

Richard Bennett didn't attend the debate and declined to comment for this story. Bennett was the city of Chattanooga's pick to head the social-services side of Mayor Andy Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative. But the city cut ties with Bennett after his June 6 arrest. A police officer found him with his pants unzipped in a minivan with hydrocodone pills, a baggie of marijuana, two open beers, a bottle of tequila and a woman who was not his wife.

District 5 includes some of the county's poorest and lowest-performing schools, including three of the five county schools that make up the iZone, a special turnaround model for schools whose performance ranks in the bottom 5 percent of the state.

Many candidates for the seat are preaching the important role that parental involvement plays in quality education.

Yashika Ward says it will take both schools and parents to boost involvement. She's currently a property manager, but has worked in schools as a social worker. She said there are ways teachers and principals can better reach out to parents.

"I think the parents are not getting involved more in the school and some of the schools are not welcoming in the parents," she said. "And I honestly believe and feel that we do not understand the educational process anymore."

Patrick Hampton said being raised and educated in District 5 gives him a unique advantage. His work as director of Goodwill's YouthAdvantage Mentoring Program has brought him into District 5 schools for more than a decade. At last week's debate, Hampton said he hopes to lay the groundwork for an all-male elementary school in the district to help boost the prospects of young black boys.

Hampton, a youth pastor, told the crowd that he believes parents make the difference in a child's education.

"My platform is very simple," he said. "I believe that we need a praying community in District 5."

Jackie Thomas has 25 years of experience working with children at the state and local level. She was a child abuse investigator for the state and worked with juvenile delinquents and families for the city. She says teachers and parents, businesses and residents, all need to partner together to improve schools.

"I just feel the knowledge and skills I have can benefit the community," she said. "I've been constantly advocating within my community and also advocating within the school system for children who were disenfranchised."<style type="text/css"></style>

Candidate Samuel Blakemore said he has a vested interest in the school system because five of his children attend Hamilton County Schools (though his kids attend schools outside of District 5). Blakemore, a pastor and retired firefighter, said his varied experience has allowed him to build many relationships within local government, including those with county commissioners, who fund the school system.

"And I think it's about having good relationships," he said. "If you want to get something done, you have to work with people. And over the years I've proven I can work with people and get things done."

Karitsa Mosley, a social worker at Life Care Center of Hixson, said students and parents can relate to her. She grew up in a single-parent household in the district. She now has a master's degree in social work.

She says District 5 schools are suffering from the declining socioeconomic neighborhoods of the surrounding community. As neighborhoods have grown poorer, people have fled. A lack of funding at the eight schools within the district is hampering their success.

And those schools just aren't progressing enough, she said.

"Everything evolves, but in District 5 we're kind of remaining constant," she said. "We're not evolving. We're living in 2014."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at at 423-757-6249.