With New Hanover County Schools embroiled in controversy, four Republicans are seeking seats on the county’s Board of Education. None are currently serving on the board. WHQR spoke with two of them about how they think they can move the school system in the right direction.
Pete Wildeboer and Stephanie Kraybill both have one top priority:
In the past few years, New Hanover County Schools has seen multiple allegations of sexual abuse by teachers against children. And recent allegations against Roland-Grise band teacher Peter Frank have made student safety the number one issue among parents.
Wildeboer and Kraybill both say the school system needs to be reformed. Wildeboer is a former teacher and principal, and has a threefold plan to increase safety, and restore trust in the community. His first initiative?
“I think that every allegation needs to be investigated. Obviously, these three allegations and situations we know about at this point need to be thoroughly investigated by an outside agency, not the school system itself.”
To do that, he wants to implement a collaborative investigative team led by the police or sheriff’s department.
“I also think the county safety officer might be another vital part of that. So someone from inside, someone from outside, pairing up together so there's not anything done behind closed doors.”
Wildeboer also thinks the school system needs more faculty training, to review all school expectations, laws, and consequences. And he wants new policies to be implemented to hold administrators more accountable.
“When I was a principal, I was in and out of classrooms all the time. And I think that’s the vital part, we need to instruct our administrators to do walkthroughs on a regular basis and to log them, so that if there is anything going on, they can't say, ‘Well, I didn't know.’”
Stephanie Kraybill, who serves on the school system’s Crisis Management Team, thinks board members need to be more present in classrooms as well.
“I do think that board members need to be in the school a little more often than they are. They need to be talking to the principals, seeing some of the plans in action.”
But Kraybill says her main focus is ensuring that current policies and procedures -- like updating personnel files -- are followed. Her plan to enforce that?
“Well the one thing is, the board can only do so much because basically our only jobs are to hire and fire the superintendent and to set board policy. So the board would be looking to the superintendent and his assistant superintendent to, I'm thinking, give more regular reports.”
Kraybill says the board is going to be using the State School Boards Association to revamp its policies, which will make this process easier. She also thinks the school system is in need of more support staff -- including teachers, mental health interventionists, custodians, and bus drivers. And, while she says she can only do so much as an individual person -- she has one last goal:
“[...]make sure that Dave Spencer, who is Director of Safety of New Hanover County Schools, does give regular reports to all the principals and to the Board of Education so that we would be clear on what's going on.”
In addition to Kraybill and Wildeboer, two other Republicans -- Frederick Fisher and previous board member Janice Cavenaugh -- are also running for the New Hanover County Board of Education. WHQR could not reach Fisher, and Cavenaugh did not show up for her scheduled interview.
The current Republican board incumbents -- chair Lisa Estep, and members David Wortman and Jeannette Nichols -- are not seeking re-election.