New Hanover County’s Board of Education has four open seats this year. Eight people, four Democrats and four Republicans, are competing for those seats – which carry four-year terms.
The New Hanover County school system has two pre-kindergarten schools, 26 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and 9 high schools. According the most recent figures from the National Center for Educational Statistics, there are close to 26,000 students and 1,700 full-time educators. Of these 26,000 students over 1,110 are English Language-Learners or ELL and over 3,200 have individualized education plans or IEPs.
Ed Higgins, a Board member since 1994 and the current Chairman, lost his re-election bid in the May primary. Bill Rivenbark, a newcomer, takes his place on the ballot along with incumbents Janice Cavanaugh, Don Hayes, and Bruce Shell. Bruce Shell is seeking his second term.
The Democratic challengers, Stefanie Adams, Nelson Beaulieu, Judy Justice, and Elena Rosemond-Hoerr are all political newcomers to the Board of Education race.
Some of the issues at the forefront of this race. The recent devastation of Hurricane Florence may cost the school system up to $4 million to repair damaged buildings. Redistricting proposals, which officials started discussing in January of this year, will be on the docket for the next Board of Education members. The May Teacher Rally for Respect closed New Hanover County schools on Wednesday, May 16, 2018.
While the education hurdles of maintaining smaller class sizes, increasing teacher pay, recruiting highly qualified personnel, and ensuring safety for students, New Hanover County schools are improving. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the county’s graduation rates and assessment scores are increasing. 86% of all high school students graduate, up 3 percentage points from last year. This includes improving rates for minority students. Superintendent Tim Markley also reports that short-term suspensions have decreased over the past four years.
On this edition of the CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we meet half of the candidate pool: two Democrats and two Republicans. On a separate edition, we meet three more.
Bill Rivenbark, a Republican candidate, is a lifelong resident of Wilmington and attended New Hanover County schools, as did his children. His grandchildren are now also at local public schools. Bill Rivenbark edged out incumbent Ed Higgins in the May primary – and he is the only Republican of the four who is not an incumbent. He works at a New Hanover County ABC Store.
Elena Rosemond-Hoerr, a Democratic candidate, is co-director at Peace Rose Montessori School in Wilmington. Before her move to the Cape Fear region, she worked for the Jewish Museum of Maryland as a Museum Educator. Part of that work included outreach to Baltimore public schools. If she wins, this would be her first time holding elected office.
Don Hayes, a Republican incumbent, has been on the Board since 1994 – a total of 24 years. He has served as Chairman five times, and he is a former New Hanover County teacher and assistant principal. Before earning his degrees – including a Master of Education from UNCW, he served in Vietnam.
Judy Justice, a Democratic candidate, taught social studies at Laney High School in the 1990s. She also served elsewhere as an assistant principal, principal, and central office administrator. Her children attended New Hanover County public schools, and now her grandchildren attend do, as well.