New School Superintendent Wants To Restore Trust, Address Educational Inequities

Sep 10, 2020

Dr. Charles Foust was sworn in as New Hanover County Superintendent of Schools at the Board of Education's September 1st meeting. He spoke with WHQR about the challenges and opportunities he sees as he begins his new job. 

Charles Foust received his doctorate in professional leadership from the University of Houston and took his first teaching job in Guilford County, North Carolina. He then moved into school administration and was most recently Superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools. 

Rachel Keith: Superintendent Foust, welcome to Wilmington, and thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

Superintendent Charles Foust: Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

RK: You began your career as a fourth-grade teacher, how did your time in the classroom shape your views on education, and how does it affect the way you approach the job of superintendent?

CF: So one of the things that I think as a superintendent or as an educator, you never leave the field of educating. And so I can always drawback on my degree, I'm still certified as a K-6th teacher, so I know what it's like to be a teacher. And then there are times where you have to be the superintendent, but however, at the heart of it, I'm still a teacher.

RK: As you know, you're arriving in New Hanover County Schools at a difficult time. In the last several years, there have been multiple alleged cases of sexual misconduct on the part of teachers and criticism of the way that the school system has handled the cases. So what can you do to assure parents that their children are safe and that they're being protected in the school system?

CF: So the first thing I honestly believe is that we have to make sure that everyone is trained, starting with the senior staff with what Title IX and Title VI actually means, and then providing information on a regular basis, then we have to also train our students with Title IX and Title VI.

It's almost like the slogan where you see something, say something, and so making sure people understand that you are in a safe spot. And so I know that's going to take some time for people to understand. 

I'm going to have to lead a little more heavy-handed when it comes to issues and not taking anything by chance.

And so looking at the investigation process, and how do we do it when someone is reported or when we have an accusation? How do we go about it? I think that's one way that the community and our staff will start to gain confidence back in the school district, we've got to show what is it that we're doing and how do we do it, not necessarily telling them who we're investigating, but when it's submitted, how do we investigate those individuals? And I think that’s part of it, so everyone will know what the process is.

RK: Back to educational outcomes, one of the greatest challenges that schools face during this pandemic is making sure that all children receive an equitable education. So what do you think New Hanover County Schools can do to ensure that the achievement gap doesn't grow wider between advantaged and disadvantaged students? 

CF: So the first thing we have to be able to acknowledge is that students come to school ready to learn. We have to make sure that all educators understand that all kids can learn. 

But we're here to educate kids, and the road out of poverty leads right through the schoolhouse. And if we don't provide them with a solid education, then technically we're not helping support getting them out of poverty. We want to make sure that individuals who want to go to college, we prepare them starting at kindergarten. If they choose to study a career still we provide them with the same rigorous curriculum that we would provide for those students who are going to be entering the college world.      

RK: Superintendent Foust, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.

CF: Thank you. 

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Dr. Charles Foust is the new Superintendent of New Hanover County Schools. And as WHQR reports, his first major decision is just weeks away. 

At its October 6th meeting, the New Hanover County School Board is likely to vote on whether to continue with online-only instruction or switch to a hybrid model. 

Superintendent Foust says it’s too early to tell what he’ll recommend and says he’s meeting soon with county health officials:

“I'm an educator, not a medical doctor. So I want to get some information from the medical professions to help us make a decision. And I think once we do that, then we can move forward with whatever the decision is going to be, to either stay in C or move from C to B. But I will say this, I don't believe it will be received 100% from the community either way that we go.”

His top priorities for this challenging school year?  He hopes to restore confidence in the district surrounding safety, to improve the K-12 literacy programs, and to move New Hanover County Schools from the top twenty school districts in the state into the top ten.