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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Recap: NHC School Board debates leadership, calendar, and more, ends meeting without finishing agenda

New Hanover County School Board meeting October 4, 2022
Rachel Keith
New Hanover County School Board meeting October 4, 2022

Tuesday's meeting ended after nearly six hours, without making it to the end of the agenda. Heated topics of discussion included 'organizational change,' proposed changes to the academic calendar, the district's nursing program, and more.

Tuesday’s New Hanover County school board meeting started with member Judy Justice asking to add the agenda item: an “organizational change” discussion. She then went on to detail grievances against current Chair Stephanie Kraybill.

Justice accused Kraybill of improperly adjourning the September meeting, having a “temper tantrum” on the dais, and delaying the contentious discussion on changing this year’s school calendar after complaints surfaced that it wasn’t the one selected by the calendar committee.

During this calendar committee meeting, Justice said Kraybill verbally attacked a current staff member. Vice Chair Stephanie Walker chimed in to say that she also was disappointed in Kraybill’s behavior during this meeting.

Kraybill herself told WHQR at the last town hall meeting, “There was a teacher who had gotten permission from her principal to be [at the calendar committee], and I apologized to her for calling out her name. What I did not like was that we brought students into the meeting, who admitted they were missing school, and we're talking about the number of days we don't have, so that was my issue.”

Kraybill also said she was upset with board members who “might have led them [teachers and students] all to believe that they would get to speak. And we all know that if it's not noticed, you can't do it. And so I got a bad rap on that, and I take that bad rap. I did apologize to the teacher for the way I presented it.”

Justice’s motion to call into question Kraybill’s leadership failed 5 to 2, with Justice and Walker wanting to proceed with the conversation.

Calendar debate continues

But the discussion on changing this year’s calendar wasn’t over. Later in the meeting, the district’s Chief Academic Officer Patrice Faison brought to the board the calendar committee’s most recent recommendation: to maintain the current school year calendar.

Board Member Hugh McManus said the district “didn’t do well with the calendar committee,” arguing that there were too many people in attendance, and there wasn’t much consistency on who was coming to those meetings.

According to McManus, it was clear that the committee previously “all agreed” that the high school first semester should have ended before the December holidays. However, he said, “it’s too late to change it now.”

Justice was more forceful with laying the calendar controversy at the feet of Central Office. “This is an awful mess, and we made a mistake, and the district is not taking responsibility for it.”

Both Justice and Walker claimed they could still change the calendar at this point; however, members voted 5 to 2 to maintain the current calendar – which would end the high school semester in January instead of December.

McManus tried to tell the chair that they still needed to work out issues with high school students who are dually enrolled at Cape Fear Community College and the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Kraybill responded that since McManus is now on the committee he can help figure that out.

Student Voice Policy Passes

During the evening members unanimously passed a Student Voice policy, where district students, who are members of the Student Voice group, will have a guaranteed slot on the board’s agenda to state any future concerns.

They’ll also be able to send a student representative to some of the board’s standing committees.

After the passage of the Student Voice Policy, Chair Kraybill, students, and staff celebrated.
Rachel Keith
After the passage of the Student Voice Policy, Chair Kraybill, students, and staff celebrated.

A tenth-grade student at Laney High School, Tenaya Toon, played a major role in the passage of the policy.

“The amount of time we've put into this and the amount of students who have been begging just to be seen and heard and feel valued. It just felt so good to be able to say that I was a part of history today,” Toon said.

But she said she hopes the board — and its committees, and the district — continue to value their input.

“It's a worry that the adults, that we have that approved, are now going to kind of fall back and not put as much effort into it. And now it's like, ‘Okay, let's just say yes to this, and say in front of their face, and not really take action,’” she said.

Several district nursing instructors resign

During the Call to the Audience period, there were two district employees — one former and one current — who spoke about issues with the allied health program.

Emilie Pridgen is the career development coordinator at Ashley High School. She said she sent an email to the board on September 16 about current issues coming from teachers of the district's nursing fundamentals program. She thanked McManus and Justice for responding to her.

Pridgen said the district has lost three valuable nursing instructors over the change to conduct training at Novant Health rather than the district's community long-term care facilities.

According to Barbara Burt, RN, Health Science Division CTE at the Department of Public Instruction, there is no difference between what Novant is offering versus the long-term care facilities. Burt said the training for future nurses aides hasn’t changed, and that instructors still sign off on the same 15 nursing skills.

Meanwhile, Pridgen said the district is replacing those who left the nursing program with less than qualified staff. One Hoggard teacher who resigned over the summer was a registered nurse. The person who replaced them was not one, according to Pridgen. There was also a Laney teacher who resigned and no one has applied for the position.

There was also the situation of registered nurse Margaret Gambino, who resigned last month after she was told she would be “written up for insubordination” and on an “action plan for termination for not attending training at Novant,” according to Pridgen.

She added that they have one applicant to replace Gambino — and she’s not qualified to teach nursing fundamentals. She maintains that if the mandatory Novant training remains in place that more nursing teachers will leave the profession.

Pridgen said that with the staff that’s already left, she can’t promise students a program next semester. She continued to say, “Senior administrators who met with these nursing teachers said, ‘This is what you will do.’”

Gambino spoke herself during the public comment period. She said she’d been training nursing aides at Ashley High for 20 years and also served as the nursing aid coordinator for New Hanover County.

She said with all her experience, she was never consulted about the district’s memorandum of understanding with Novant Health. She said the students weren’t necessarily prepared to go into a clinical setting like Novant because of stipulations in their practicing license and liability insurance status.

When Gambino brought this up, she said she was told by an unnamed district career and technical education (CTE) administrator, “We all have a license to lose.” And she maintains that they were never given an update by administrators on their liability insurance.

Gambino and Prigden’s concerns were voiced earlier in the evening by members Justice and Walker. Those board members pressed Faison on changes to the nursing program. Faison said much of the program would be staying the same, and said that district students would be conducting only 10 hours per semester at the hospital alongside both their NHCS instructor and a Novant nurse, the other 30 hours of clinical work would be done as usual.

Faison said, “we do not want to take away this opportunity for our students.” She added that all teachers for the district have some form of liability insurance — but said if Novant mandates they have more insurance, the district will cover it.

Katrina Futrell, the district’s director of career and technical education, said that the nurses will be paid for doing the Novant Health training for the new program; Justice had voiced concern that nursing instructors were not being properly compensated for the time they spent training with Novant.

Futrell responded, “It [would] be illegal for us to ask them to work without being paid. They have been compensated all through CTE [budget] dollars.”

Holly Reynolds, director of professional development and nursing education at Novant Health, said the schools do have placement in the hospital at its rehabilitation facility, a majority of which are geriatric patients — and that they’ve done this program successfully with Brunswick County Schools. “I don’t anticipate any issues.”

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Christopher Barnes ended the conversation by saying that any district employee who feels they’re being retaliated against should come to him with their concerns.

WHQR reached out to district spokesperson Russell Clark to comment further on the matter. He said to take the information the district shared last evening, referring to the statements made by Faison, Futrell, and Barnes.

Other contentious public comment moments

Another employee voiced his concerns, but this time it was directed at Justice’s leadership.

Chase Fulton, the district’s video coordinator assistant, called out Justice for what he called falsely accusing him of intentionally cutting the live feed at the September meeting in order to conceal Kraybill improperly adjourning the meeting (the district has since acknowledged that Kraybill did improperly attempt to end the meeting, and said the A/V team mistakenly thought the meeting was over).

He said angrily to Justice, “I am a victim of your lies. I am a victim of your slander. I am a victim of your bullying.” Fulton’s mother also spoke in his defense.

Justice told WHQR that she never mentioned Fulton’s name publicly and maintains that the cut feed was a result of Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust and his administration’s protectionism. However, Justice said Fulton has the right to speak his mind — and said she is sorry that he got dragged into this.

Justice also referenced Chief Communications Officer Josh Smith’s response to the incident in aPort City Daily article, as justification that the district made some changes after the cut feed, “[my] team will record meetings without interruption from the time the doors open to the public until equipment is taken down at the end of the meeting. Previously, recordings began when the meeting was called to order and ended when adjourned.”

Additionally, close to half of the community members who spoke during the public commenter period asked the board to officially vote to end the practice of seclusion and restraint in the district. When they spoke in favor of ending it, about 20 people in the audience stood up in solidarity.

However, the board didn’t take a vote on ending the practice. Board members have previously stated they would take this vote after all the district’s schools have submitted their School Improvement Plans. It was on the board’s agenda to review these, but the meeting adjourned before the discussion ensued.

Unfinished business

McManus often tells the board that they don’t “play well together” after a certain point in the evening. It was around 10:30 pm when he said, “It’s time. Everyone needs to go home.”

As Justice tried to debate the adjournment of the meeting, the board’s new attorney from Tharrington Smith, Jason Weber, said that adjournment is not subject to debate or amendments.

Justice was the lone dissenting vote in adjourning the meeting early. The board will continue the rest of their agenda at their next scheduled meeting. According to a district spokesperson, that will likely be Tuesday, October 18.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR