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NHC school board tackles wages, teaching history, Title IX, staffing, and more

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At Tuesday's New Hanover County school board meeting, members voted to approve the state’s salary schedule, but board member Judy Justice was the lone dissenting vote.

Members Stephanie Walker and Nelson Beaulieu were absent for the salary approval vote, but Justice said she was disappointed with the district’s salaries, especially for teaching assistants.

“This is so sad. This is just sad. This is wrong. [...] And I wish the county would change it — I know the state’s already given us money, so it’s their turn,” said Justice.

Justice also said the county’s new minimum wage is now $16.85 — and that she was upset that the same wage wasn’t extended to district employees. But according to New Hanover County’s Chief Communications Officer Jessica Loeper, that's slightly inaccurate.

“The county increased the minimum, midpoint, and maximum salaries in our salary plan by 6.86%. This results in a living wage minimum of $16.35 per hour/$34,008 per year (based on 2,080 standard annual work hours) for any county employee," she said.

Member Pete Wildeboer ultimately voted for the approval but agreed with Justice in saying, the new salaries were a “shame.”

“I’ve been fighting hard for so long, but we have to do what we have to do,” said Wildeboer.

Chief Financial Officer Ashley Sutton said the average teaching assistant will now earn $16.74 an hour — which is based on working for the district for nine years. Additionally, the average bus driver will earn $17.04, child nutrition workers will make $15.57, and custodians will make $16.24.

Teaching assistants, along with other classified employees, will also receive a retention bonus of $1,000 from the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).

Sutton also said the average salary a New Hanover County teacher receives from the district is now $59,500, which includes both state and local funding. That’s based on working for the schools for 14 years.

In the state budget for this school year there’s an average salary increase of 4.2% — but the range is from 2.5% to 7.2%, which depends on years of service. Principals and assistant principals will receive an average increase of 4%.

All 3rd to 8th-grade teachers will also receive performance bonuses from the state based on last year’s test scores. The same goes for Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), and Career & Technical Education (CTE) teachers — they’ll receive up $3,500 for their 2021-2022 test results.

While salaries have increased, there are some district positions that are still vacant. Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust said they are “filling them at an incredible rate” and that “we [New Hanover County Schools] will be among the most prepared in the state to start school later this month.”

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Dr. Foust's report of vacancies in the district.

Foust said he was at a conference recently with the “big 12” schools, districts with over 25,000 students, and that some of them have over 200 vacancies. Foust is reporting 39 certified vacancies of the 2,195 certified staff positions. For classified, it’s 67 vacant positions.

Update on district social studies curriculum

Dr. Patrice Faison, the district's chief academic officer, gave an update on the district’s social studies curriculum on 9/11, Constitution Day, and the 1898 coup d’etat. She said they’re planning instruction to commemorate these historical events.

She said third-grade students learning about 1898 go on a ‘Tarheel’ walking tour of Wilmington — they stop by John Taylor’s home where “the tragic event happened,” according to Faison, and they also read a historical fictional account of the coup. Additionally, she said district students learn about 1898 in 4th and 8th grades, and in high school in an American history course.

After this explanation, Wildeboer said to Faison, “I’m going to continue to be concerned about the social studies curriculum overall — with the glossary of terms such as ‘oppressed’ and ‘oppressor’ and ‘marginalized people’ – and I’m concerned with our 1898 [curriculum], I think we should teach factual history, period, end of discussion.”

Wildeboer then asked Faison if the schools are teaching the history factually, especially 1898 — and said that the district continues to change how this history is taught.

“Our role as educators is not to be interpreters of history. When someone is teaching history or anything else, you should never know their view because it’s not about their view — it’s about the facts,” said Faison.

Wildeboer responded by clarifying where parents or guardians can find out what the schools are teaching. Faison said to go on the Department of Public Instruction’s website to view the curriculum/Standard Course of Study, and that she is planning on showing the board in September where to find the district’s ‘Scope and Sequence’ curriculum for each grade level, which would also show what they’re learning.

Continued calls to end seclusion and restraint 

During the ‘Call to the Audience’ period, about 14 speakers asked the district to end the policy of seclusion and restraint. Most of them asked the school system to end the practice at the upcoming September board meeting, with the practice officially ending in the 2023-2024 school year.

Earlier in the evening, Justice tried to get a discussion of seclusions on the agenda, but the motion failed. Additionally, Justice asked if Assistant Superintendent Julie Varnam could present where the district is in evaluating the policy. Varnam responded that nothing had changed since the last time she spoke on seclusions at the July meeting.

Updates to Title IX policy

The board also voted unanimously to amend the Title IX sexual harassment policies to include a provision for an informal grievance policy. This informal process has to be agreed upon by the alleged victim and the ‘respondent,’ that is, the person accused of wrongdoing — and parties can leave the informal process and enter into the formal one at any time. However, an informal grievance process cannot be used when the complaint is between an employee and a student.

Jarelle Lewis, the district’s Title IX coordinator, added that there is a provision in federal law for this type of policy. Justice asked how and when parents are notified when a complaint is filed. Lewis responded that parents are informed during the ‘interactive rights’ process, where all parties read and understand their rights.

Lewis said that formal investigations can take up to 120 days, but with the informal ones, parties can sometimes get a quicker resolution — and they have more say and access to options.

Additionally, during the evening’s closed session, members discussed the status of the civil suit filed against the school board by the survivors and alleged victims of former teacher Michael Earl Kelly’s sexual abuse.

Brogden Hall Gym Floor Renovation extended to October

Assistant Superintendent Eddie Anderson announced that the Brogden Hall gymnasium floor replacement at New Hanover High School wouldn’t be completed before the upcoming school year due to the manufacturer of the wood flooring going out of business.

But Anderson said the contractor, W.M. Jordan Company, has identified another manufacturer but that work won’t likely be finished until October 2022. As for pricing, in March 2022, the district signed a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) with the contractor of $2,501,335.52 to replace the floor, meaning the price of renovation will not exceed that figure.

Anderson said the only sport affected by the current timeline will be volleyball — and said they've identified other gyms for the junior varsity and varsity teams to use. But Anderson did say that if the work extends beyond October, they also “have a Plan B” for where other sports teams will practice and compete.

New Hires, Resignation

The board approved the district’s August personnel report. In this report, the district said the newest Chief Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer, who takes over from Dr. LaChawn Smith, is Malcolm Johnson — his start date is yet to be announced.

Russell Clark, district media relations manager, said they’ll officially announce the filling of the EDI position at the September board meeting.

The newest principal of the International School at Gregory is Hilda De Leon. There are also two incoming assistant principals at Roland-Grise: Leslie Hash and Kristy Walter. Erin Lee is the newest principal of Bradley Creek. Additionally, Dionne Sturdivant, the principal of Rachel Freeman Elementary resigned.

Resources

State Certified Salary Schedule

Local Certified Supplement Schedule