Monday, June 24, 2024

NHC school board approves new committee and survey, Bradford addresses newcomer school comment

On April 9, the board approved the creation of a student safety committee and climate survey. (Port City Daily/file photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The New Hanover County Board of Education took the first steps in addressing two key issues in the district: student safety and work climate. 

READ MORE: ‘We’re paying for it’: $4.5-million ask coming to county, as schools district breaks down employee cuts

The board approved the creation of a student safety committee, consisting of all seven board members, to brainstorm ideas for bolstering mental health, academics and physical security, all which play a role in student safety.

“Insanity is doing this again and again and expecting a different outcome,” board member Pat Bradford said before making a motion to form the committee. “We must have a different outcome.” 

Bradford cited two recent incidents involving discoveries of weapons in schools. In March, officials confiscated a firearm from a Laney High School student, while just a month prior, a pre-K student was found with a loaded gun.

The board also approved the development of another climate survey to gauge NHCS employees’ thoughts on the effectiveness of student discipline and overall morale. 

The district has executed one before; a 2022 staff climate survey revealed many employees attributed low morale to low pay. Hired consultants suggested the board raise its minimum wage to $16 or $17 an hour, though the board did not vote to do so in the next budget session.

The survey will go hand-in-hand with the safety committee in that, per board member Hugh McManus’ suggestion, employees can be asked about their struggles with student discipline. 

McManus said he would only support the safety committee if it addressed student attendance and academic accountability. Board member Stephanie Walker added she would like to see mental health in the conversation, especially in light of the $20-million budget shortfall. Social workers and counselors are among the positions being considered for reduction.

“The idea of cutting folks like that, I think it’s gonna cause things to be unsafe as well,” Walker said.

Board member Josie Barnhart added she hoped the committee could address school bus and crosswalk safety.

Not every board member was in favor. Stephanie Kraybill said she thought the committee “superfluous” since every board member would be on it, suggesting a work session instead. 

“Board committees recommend, to the board, action,” Kraybill said. “So we’re basically just going to recommend action to ourself, and then action to the superintendent, which is what he’s already tasked with doing. I just think that we’re adding another layer.” 

She also described the move as board overreach, noting the district has policies governing student safety.

“If we don’t think the policies are good enough, or tight enough, or harsh enough, then let’s look at our policies and then hold the superintendent and his staff and the principals mainly accountable to that,” Kraybill said. 

The committee was approved 6-1, Kraybill dissenting. 

The climate survey received unanimous approval; the board members will compile questions over the next couple weeks to be refined with the help of staff.

At its conclusion, Bradford used the correspondence section of the meeting to correct the record regarding her comments on the district’s now-defunct newcomer school idea. 

Last fall, senior leadership announced its plans to develop a newcomer school, or an institution geared toward transitioning English-as-a-second-language learners into traditional schools. Around the same time, the district also announced its plans to close the Career Readiness Academy at Mosley due to low enrollment and limited opportunities. Both initiatives were highly criticized by the board and community, leading Superintendent Charles Foust to reverse course. 

At the board’s March meeting, Foust referred to the Nov. 28 meeting when the board received a presentation on the newcomer school proposal.

“Go back and watch the video,” Foust said Tuesday. “And I’ll add to that — Ms. Bradford at two hours and five minutes, you said, ‘Congratulations, this is fabulous.’ Those are your words.”

Bradford was critical of the newcomer school proposal. On Tuesday, Bradford admitted to saying something along those lines, noting she was “elated” the district was taking action.

“The previous six to eight months, I had in meetings and outside of meetings spoken repeatedly to staff about addressing the multi-lingual crisis in our school district and all I got back were just blank stares,” Bradford said. 

She explained her mind changed after parents were notified of the closure of the Career Readiness Academy and she learned more about the newcomer school in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

“I learned it wasn’t a school to teach students English as much as it was an immigration center with wraparound services at the taxpayers’ expense,” Bradford said. 

The Greensboro school, Doris Henderson Newcomers School, is not an “immigrant center;” though some students are immigrants, the facility educates Guilford County residents who may struggle with the transition to a new location.

Bradford suggested the county funding that would go toward a newcomer school be used to pay for the homeless residents of New Hanover County rather than people “crossing our border as we speak.”


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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