Candidate Interviews: New Hanover County Board of Education
The New Hanover County Board of Education has three open seats in this election, with incumbents Lisa Estep, David Wortman, and Jeannette Nichols all choosing not to run for re-election.
There are three Democrat and three Republican candidates running for office, and if elected, they will serve a four-year term.
Major issues on the ballot are increasing transparency and accountability after three high profile cases of teachers sexually abusing students, how and when to reopen schools safely during a pandemic, providing and expanding equitable access to resources across the district, and restoring civility to discussions at board meetings and among board members.
The New Hanover County School Board has six candidates running for three open seats. Those elected will serve a four-year term. WHQR spoke with candidates Stephanie Walker, Pete Wildeboer, and Tony McGhee.
Stephanie Walker is a graduate of the University of North Carolina Wilmington Master’s of Public Administration program -- and a small business owner who specializes in landscaping and community management.
Walker was drawn into politics by the former school board’s “neighborhood schools” policy, where students were assigned a school in proximity to where they lived:
“It actually kind of made me mad to know that some of the loudest voices in the room managed to influence the policy, and even though after that last decade, all you had to do was look at the numbers what effect it has had on some of our marginalized kids, especially high-poverty kids.”
If elected, Walker wants to revisit the redistricting policies to increase socioeconomic diversity in the schools. But right now, she says the school board needs to listen to teachers on reopening plans.
“They don’t get consulted or listened to and I feel like health and safety should be the highest priority, that’s how I view this pandemic, and if the numbers aren’t there or if there’s community spread occurring, I really don’t think it’s the right thing to do to send kids and teachers back into that system.”
Candidate Tony McGhee is a veteran of the US Marine Corps, the pastor of Liberty Bible Church, and has spent over 28-years working in information technology.
He wants New Hanover County Schools to embrace accountability after the three recent high profile cases of teachers sexually abusing students.
“I think that having the kind of culture where if something is important, it is going to be looked into, every stone turned over by the Board of Education, by the administration, including the Superintendent and principals, and everybody involved, so nothing is swept under the rug, nothing is ignored or taken lightly.”
McGhee also believes school board members need to do a better job of resolving differences.
“We have to reach a place that we can agree to disagree and of course, oftentimes instead of having empathy, we tend to have disdain and the problem with disdain is we don’t give the other idea, the other position, the other person the opportunity to adequately express that point-of-view.”
Candidate Pete Wildeboer has been a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal, and principal in the Cape Fear Region’s schools. The main reason why he’s running is to ensure safety, and he has an idea to help sanitize school environments during the pandemic:
“The idea of germicidal ultraviolet, when I saw it originally, I was like it’s silly, it’s on TV, but actually hospitals use it to disinfect the hospital rooms, so if we could get some kind of system throughout the schools to further protect our children, I think that’d be a great idea.”
Also on his platform, increasing security in the district means maintaining the level of Student Resource Officers:
“I know there’s a big push in different school districts about elimination of SROs. I think that’s just a woeful idea; I think we need to keep our SROs in our schools keeping our students safe.”
The last day to register to vote is October 9th. One-stop early voting starts on October 15th. And voters are not required to show ID for this year’s election.
The New Hanover County School Board has six candidates running for three open seats. Those elected will serve a four-year term. WHQR spoke with candidates Stephanie Kraybill, Hugh McManus, and Chris Meek.
Stephanie Kraybill has been a substitute teacher and a volunteer in New Hanover County Schools for over twenty years. One of her priorities is creating an open dialogue between the community, the board, and the administration:
“More transparent communication from the school board to the stakeholders like some regular town hall meetings or some gathering opportunity, so that the school board can hear real-live, real-time from teacher groups, from parent groups, from support system groups.”
She also says board members should be in the schools more often so they can see for themselves problems that need to be addressed--like leaky roofs or broken HVAC systems.
“The board member really has a feel for what they’re asking for. Not just like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re asking for more money.’ And then the school board would have a much stronger, compelling presentation to the county commissioners when we’re asking for funds to cover these kinds of things.”
Candidate Hugh McManus has over forty years of experience working as a teacher and administrator in New Hanover County. He says, if elected, he wants to do what’s best for kids, not what’s best for a political party or point-of-view:
“I just believe very strongly that the Board of Education should not be a political or a partisan board, and if it’s going to be a partisan group, it’s going to be extremely difficult and challenging.”
After three recent cases of teachers sexually abusing students, the school board created a Title IX Committee and unveiled an online complaint system called Ethix360. But McManus says there needs to be a clearer chain of command when someone reports abuse:
“Any report must be received by one individual responsible for that at the board and then that eliminates the question of who got the information, who got all the information, whether it goes from a principal or an individual teacher or a parent, one person is responsible.”
Candidate Chris Meek, a virtual public schools teacher in Onslow County, wants more external oversight of any future allegations of sexual misconduct:
“I’ve put forth the idea of engaging an outside public agency, possibly out of SBI or the Attorney’s General Office to set up a complaint hotline that can be investigated independently of New Hanover County.”
He also believes the school system needs to be more cautious about returning students and staff to the classroom:
“Currently our county is at a 9% positivity rate. Do we really want to risk the health of our students, their families, and our staff to alleviate people’s frustration? I know it’s a very difficult situation; it’s not an ideal situation; however, it’s what we’re dealt and we want to handle it in the safest and prudent way possible.”
Meek wants to see a 5% positivity rate before resuming in-person instruction.
The last day to register to vote is October 9th -- and one-stop early voting starts October 15th. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is October 27th.
For more information on voting, click here.