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New Hanover County Schools loses another chief communication officer, the fourth in four years

While most government agencies face tumult from time to time, few have experienced the consistent level of scandal, controversy, and public outrage that the New Hanover County Schools district has faced. That’s made the chief communications officer position, as a public face of the district, a tough gig. The district just lost its fourth CCO — this time, to New Hanover County.

On Monday, New Hanover County announced it had hired Josh Smith to fill the chief communications officer position that opened when former spokesperson Jessica Loeper was promoted to Assistant County Manager in April.

It’s good news for the county, and County Manager Chris Coudriet touted Smith’s experience, including over a decade working communications for the U.S. Marine Corps before taking over the chief communications position at New Hanover County Schools (NHCS).

Smith took the NHCS job after three other chief communications officers had quit — one after less than a year, one after less than two months.

Related: New Hanover County Schools gets fourth chief communications officer in two years

He walked into a school district riven by the bickering of a dysfunctional board, criminal and civil cases stemming from the arrest of former teachers Michael Earl Kelly and Peter Michael Frank (and others), and a global pandemic. He would go on to deal with media coverage of the frequent public protests over Covid-19 measures, violence in schools, suspensions and seclusion, and more recent battles over trans athletes’ rights and book banning.

Despite those challenges, Smith shepherded New Hanover County Schools’ communication department to numerous awards from the North Carolina School Public Relations Association.

Smith will serve at NHCS until the end of June, roughly two years to the day after he was hired in 2021 — longer, at least, than the last two people to hold the role.

Smith noted that his job is currently posted and that, if a new CCO is not hired before his last day, Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust will “oversee communication.” Smith said there are no plans to hire an interim CCO.

Smith will officially start work as New Hanover County’s chief communication officer on July 11.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.