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Update: Incumbent Pete Wildeboer unanimously elected as chair of New Hanover County school board

Incumbent Pete Wildeboer taking the Oath of Office.
Grace Vitaglione
Incumbent Pete Wildeboer taking the Oath of Office.

At Tuesday evening’s New Hanover County School Board meeting, the Republican slate of Pat Bradford, Josie Barnhart, Melissa Mason, and Pete Wildeboer took their oaths of office.

The meeting got off to a late start because of a lockdown at Holly Shelter Middle School. The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said it was another ‘swatting’ call — a false 911 call about an active shooter designed to trigger a SWAT team response.

It’s the second time in a week law enforcement had had to investigate a potential hoax call. The first one occurred at New Hanover High School last Thursday.

Former members say ‘goodbye’

Before the swearing-in of the newest members, outgoing members Stefanie Adams, Nelson Beaulieu, and Judy Justice got to make remarks.

Justice went first to say that she faced tough issues during her tenure: dealing with former district teachers who sexually assaulted students, the pandemic, and teachers leaving during the ‘great resignation’. She said the next board needs to trust staff, students, and teachers — and to provide “real oversight” over Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust. She also reminded them that “public schools are the backbone of democracy.”

Beaulieu followed by saying when he was first elected, he told the public he “wouldn’t let [them] down,” but by the end of his tenure he was mistaken — and that they [the new members], too, would eventually let the public down. He followed by saying the members needed to be “true to who they are.”

Adams was the final speaker. She told them to get ready for a “wild ride” and to “be brave”.

She reminded the new board that she is now solely “a parent in this district.” And that they have to listen to all parents.

Adams also said, “Remember that 49% of this population did not vote for you, and you are representing all students; it’s hard sometimes as a member to listen to all the voices.”

Results of the school board race did show that Democratic candidates received 48.3% of the vote.

Leadership election

In attendance were politicians like New Hanover County mayor Commissioners Bill Rivenbark, Deb Hays, LeAnn Pierce, and Representative Ted Davis.

Judges J. Corpening, Frank Jones, Shelly Holt, and Phyllis Gorham swore in the newest members.

Gorham is the judge overseeing the civil cases against the school district brought forth by the survivors of convicted sex offenders — and former district teachers — Michael Earl Kelly and Peter Michael Frank.

Gorham swore in Bradford, and mentioned the new board member went to her church.

After the oaths, it was time to vote for the board’s newest leadership.

Wildeboer was unanimously elected as chair.

Josie Barnhart nominated Bradford, who became vice chair in a 4 to 3 vote, with Bradford herself, Wildeboer, Barnhart, and Hugh McManus in support.

Barnhart also got a nomination for vice chair by Walker — but that failed.

When Wildeboer took the chair seat, he said that the public has given him and the other Republican board members “a clear mandate for change.”

He added that what the people of New Hanover County can expect in the short term is for the board to dig into the serious issues that are facing the schools, which according to him are “parents’ rights, curriculum, student safety, and raising academic achievement.”

Wildeboer said he plans to hold a board retreat in the coming weeks — and by the end of it to have a 100-day plan of action.

Before the new board broke for a closed session to discuss current civil suits against them, brought forth by Jane Does, survivors of Peter Michael Frank's alleged sexual abuse, Bradford tried to add new items to the evening's agenda.

The board attorney said they needed a 2/3rds majority to add the unspecified items, which Bradford didn't get — as McManus, Walker, and Kraybill voted against the measure.

After the meeting, Bradford told WHQR she had hoped to reopen the agenda process for any board member who wanted to discuss additional items. Bradford said she personally "was hoping to add an agenda item for academic accountability - increasing literacy in a measurable way and see a favorable vote. Another could have been discussion on increasing communication(s) opportunity for parents, students and the community with the BOE."

Bradford said it was "a shame" that those items would have to wait until January, but acknowledged that due to the delayed start of the meeting, other board members wanted to keep the meeting short.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to identify which board members voted for Pat Bradford as vice-chair. It initially incorrectly stated that Melissa Mason, and not Josie Barnhart, had been one of the four votes.

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
Grace is a multimedia journalist recently graduated from American University. She's attracted to issues of inequity and her reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, she's investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast, and produced student-led video stories.