Wednesday, June 19, 2024

NHCS board member silent after opposing superintendent contract, others weigh in

NHCS Superintendent Charles Foust. (Port City Daily/file photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The superintendent of New Hanover County Schools is contracted to stay on for another four years, per school board approval.

READ MORE: Parents debate what and how NHCS students should learn about racism, removal of ‘Stamped’

After an hour-long special closed session last Tuesday, the board of education voted to reup the tenure of Superintendent Charles Foust, who has been leading the district since 2020. 

Board member Melissa Mason, who called for the superintendent’s firing during last year’s election campaign, was the sole dissenting vote. Mason didn’t offer any reasons for her vote during the meeting and didn’t answer Port City Daily’s inquiry as to why she didn’t want Foust to continue. 

“Apologies, but I am not at liberty to discuss personnel matters,” Mason wrote in a text message. 

When PCD followed up clarifying it was not asking for the personnel information, Mason did not respond. 

In her campaign questionnaire for PCD last fall, Mason blamed Foust for many community member’s loss of trust in NHCS and the exodus of students to charter and private schools. 

“Superintendent Dr. Foust has violated his contract and general statutes dozens of times, including acting without board approval to create a new central office position and appoint someone to it, failing to address seclusion room abuse, and overseeing a disastrous decline in educational outcomes,” Mason wrote. 

The board member was referring to the creation of the chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer position in 2021 at the behest of Sophic Solutions, an education consultant the district kept on until January 2022. The district initially hired former deputy superintendent LaChawn Smith for the role, but DEI practitioner Malcolm Johnson holds the position now after Smith’s retirement.

During the 2022 election cycle, Mason wrote in her questionnaire responses: “Foust needs to go, as do the EDI committee and EDI teams, for a start.”. 

Mason now chairs the district’s EDI committee. Instead of continuing to push for the  removal of the committee and position after taking office, Mason’s fellow Republican party member Josie Barnhart has been the one to lead the effort to reevaluate the committee and district position.

As far as seclusion rooms, the school board voted in November — one month before Mason took office — to update the policy to ban the use of seclusion rooms and reserve the practice of student seclusion to extreme circumstances. 

Mason was part of the many community members pressing the district to make changes after data found more than 900 instances of seclusion in 2019 and 2021 data revealed Black students were secluded four times more than their white peers. 

The board member also accused Foust of facilitating a “toxic work culture” and wasting money on the chief EDI officer position. She criticized the entire district leadership of “grooming” children with inappropriate literature, critical race theory, and social emotional learning in schools. 

Pat Bradford, who also led a successful 2022 campaign alongside Mason, had some of the same concerns. However, the board member voted for Foust’s contract extension.

She texted PCD on Thursday with her explanation, citing her vote aligned with her campaign promise to work with Foust if he followed board direction and instructions.

“I believe we, as a Board of Education, can successfully work with Dr. Foust and his leadership team to accomplish the advancement of the school district to excellence,” Bradford wrote in a text to PCD. 

Bradford laid out “accomplishments” over the last eight months under Foust’s leadership, including the settlement with the sexual assault victims of Michael Kelly, hiring Vogel Law Firm as the board’s new legal counsel, regaining $2 million from the county due to an enrollment discrepancy, securing an extra $5.5 million for capital investments, and bringing in a grant to address reading proficiency at the district’s Title I schools. 

The Republican also touted the board making the student survey policy an opt-in for protected topics — which Foust pushed back against in February— fostering a curriculum inspection day, developing a universal application process for committee appointments, and working to secure school safety measures.  This year the district has put in place K9 drug searches in conjunction with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. 

“With this track record of success, it would not have been in the best interest of the school district’s students to vote to move into a potentially contentious new superintendent search and contract negotiation for the next half year or longer,” Bradford wrote. 

Board member Stephanie Kraybill, who has often been a proponent trusting district staff to carry out the board’s vision, also spoke to her affirmative vote. She said some of her reasoning could not be disclosed due to personnel reasons, but went on to echo Bradford’s sentiment on maintaining a positive trajectory. 

“I appreciate that he listens to and values each board member’s opinions and expertise, trying to balance them with the collective direction of the board as his governing entity,” Kraybill said. “All of our stakeholders, our students, families, teachers, administrators, and all other employees, deserve the very best opportunities to achieve individual and system-wide success.” 

PCD reached out to each board member for comment; Hugh McManus, Stephanie Walker, Josie Barnhart and Pete Wildeboer did not respond by press.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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