NEW HANOVER COUNTY—Bruce Shell is a current Board of Education member for New Hanover County Schools.
Shell lives off Middle Sound Loop on Atlantic Drive and is a parent of two, with three grandchildren.
Shell has served one, four-year term and is seeking re-election. Shell is a registered Republican.
What do you see as the highest priority issue New Hanover County Schools face?
Well I think that safety right now and space, safety in a practical sense. A lot has been done since 2013. Of course Florida is another wake-up call. So what you end up with is you start looking at what are we doing, what have we done, are we doing enough?
Then you have the other side of that, you have the personal, emotional side of that. And you have to honor both of those. But as far as I’m concerned it’s probably number one. If you asked me four years ago I would have said getting a vocational high school started and we got that. Space is an issue. There are so many modular units to support 20,000, almost 27,000 students. Redistricting raises its attentive hand. So we’ve got an issue with space, safety I think will take care of itself.
Do you find the operating budget to be appropriate? Would you like to see it increased, decreased or stay the same?
Not a bigger budget, per se, I’d like to see the county and the school system become closely aligned so that when we have needs we have a relationship and understanding and they have a position to do something about it. What we’ve done in the past is the school system asks for a number from the county commissioners, and I did it for 25 years as a county manager. You look at that number request and you think well I don’t understand what they’re asking for, I want to help them but I don’t have an endless amount of money, we’ll give them part of that.
What I’d like to see then is that they understand the needs. For example, when you look at technology and see the school system and the state are getting away from books. We’re getting more into technology, we’re getting more into laptops and iPads, et cetera. We’ve got to support those children so that they can be successful in those classrooms. Some of those laptops and iPads are more than seven years old and, even for someone my age, that’s old. With this many students and the changing of issues, that’s just one example.
I am passionate that we’re going to change the world as far as return on investment. Best place we can put our money, not at the expense of others, is in Pre-K.
Did you know that we build prisons based on the third-grade reading level in North Carolina? They look at a child’s ability to read and they determine from that some factor what their needs are going to be in prison. I thought that was bizarre the first time I heard that. So my point is, if we focus on the early child and how we can get them caught up and focused on learning then you don’t get so far behind.
We made your county commissioners aware of it last year at budget time. They stepped up. They put 450,000 in expanding Pre-K. The state legislators saw it, recognized it, and they put more money in it. So we’ve expanded in New Hanover County and across the state.
Author’s note: Port City Daily initially identified the “operating budget” in our candidate survey questions as the total budget. The question has been simplified in its published form.
Michael Earl Kelly has been charged with at least 14 counts of indecent liberties with a minor. He taught at Isaac Bear Early College since the school’s inception. If information becomes available that NHCS staff members were aware of any of Kelly’s abuses, how would you plan to hold those individuals accountable?
I would ask the superintendent and law enforcement to investigate and based on their findings we would take the appropriate action as we had before. I’m not going to give an emotional reaction by it. I’m deeply offended by it, but I know better than to try and get ahead of investigators. People do their work, let them do their job, as board members we’ll respond to it.
Author’s note: Since Port City Daily’s questionnaire was shared with candidates, Michael Earl Kelly has been charged with an additional 27 charges related to sex crimes against children.
Do you feel that New Hanover County elementary schools have a fair and just socioeconomic study body composition? Its middle schools? Its high schools?
I don’t know what you mean by fair and just, but if the question is should we adjust the socioeconomic level, I would say absolutely. We’ve got for example, New Hanover is about 50 percent free and reduced lunch. Hoggard is about 20 percent. Laney’s higher, Ashley is lower, I think it’s something we look at.
Do you support the NHCS board’s decision to delay school redistricting? Why or why not?
I do. I voted for putting it off but I’m not in favor of putting it off indefinitely. Redistricting was designed initially to take some of the overcrowding off of Laney and Ashley. You have Blair being rebuilt, you’ve got College Park being rebuilt and you’ve got all those dominoes at play so to try and do a redistricting for them is practically impossible. Same thing with middle school. High school, not so, so the thought was what can we do about that? So we looked at the numbers; we didn’t engage the public very well in my opinion. We were getting a ton of emails and phone calls and it was so apparent that a lot of people didn’t understand. If the public doesn’t’ understand what you’re doing, if you’re not communicating what you’re doing, then if you’ve ever studied change management, you’re not going to get from all the way around that curve to implementing something if people don’t understand. I didn’t think we were doing that and that was number one. Number two, we were not looking at some of our – and this is where I differ from the rest of the board – we weren’t looking at the long-range decisions. My sense is we were not doing a comprehensive look. I felt like we were rushing it, we hadn’t communicated with the public, we hadn’t talked about our issues, so we said, so, let’s talk about our issues.
What is your opinion of having a board comprised of multiple individuals having served 15 or more years? What are the strengths or weaknesses of having a majority veteran board?
Their strengths are the experience or the things they’ve been exposed to or the things that they’ve learned over time. And they’re all nice people. I have respect for them. But that doens’t help if you’re not willing to communicate. That’s been my challenge, frustration level, has been over the inability to have conversation. I’ve always believed that term limits should be decided by the citizens. If someone is not doing a good job, they should be voted out. And some would say, well that hasn’t happened. I’m not one for term limits but I would say I would impose them on myself. I will not be running another term. This will be my last run, you can count on that. I struggled in my decision this time because I have grandchildren, but I felt like I had a little bit more to give.
The weaknesses is that people that have been on the board a long time say that sometimes complacency becomes a factor. New board members want to fix everything right now. Older board members, or members with longevity, don’t seem to have the patience that it takes to discuss these topics. It takes patience but more than anything it takes empathy. If you don’t consider another person’s perspective, how in the world can you come up with the best solution?
I think yeah, there are strengths, but I think those strengths are seriously negated if you’re not willing to talk.
What strategy do you support in managing school overcrowding?
A fair amount of work has been done since ‘13. The board did a safety audit and they’ve done significant improvements with locks, with panic buttons, with cameras, with training, with school resource officers. There’s been an increase in counselors, mental health providers, school nurses, all of them fit into the mental and physical health of the child. And if the mental and physical health of the children are better served, then the mental health of the parents are better served and you tend to be more successful in the delivery of education as far as being more effective.
So I am told by staff that elementary and middle schools have a very solid locking system.
I’m open to a recommendation of what we can do. I talked with some of the mental health providers and I’ve talked with the state to see what we can do to bring in more mental health providers into the schools. We will upgrade our audit and then as a board we will discuss it. If you overreact, you may turn your school into something you don’t want. I’m just waiting to hear from the professionals and what their opinions are. It’s a highly emotional issue.
What are your thoughts on Charter schools?
Charter schools are a part of the solution. They provide choice, they can solve things sometimes that traditional schools can’t. They tend to have a higher energy of volunteers because if say you want your child in a charter school then often, or most times, you’ve got to provide them transportation as a priority. If it’s a priority to the parent, you’re going to get a much better student in my opinion. Not always but as a general rule. So I do see them as part of the solution.
It’s real easy for someone in the school system to say, “Well look at all this money that’s going into the charter schools. What would we do if we had that money?” My answer to that is, wait a minute, those are our children. They just happen to be in a different school than what we are over. I think some charters to an extraordinary job and there are some that don’t, just like there are traditional public schools the same way.
RiverLights is apparently receiving a new elementary school. Do you believe this is a fair prioritization of resources?
Well, it’s, I’m not sure I agree with the question and I’ll tell you why. RiverLights is a planned development. So as part of the planned development when they sit down, over the years, when a group wants to build a development they set aside so much for schools, so much for fire service. Well, they set aside 15 acres for an elementary school. And there’s been talk back and forth ‘well, what if it was a middle school? Or what if it’s a K-8?’ Well, 15 acres wouldn’t be enough. There’s been talk of, what if we did something to improve Mary C. Williams, which is very old, what if we did something to improve the park, which might upset the neighbors, which we’ve got to talk about it and get it out in the open. If your question assumes that RiverLights would be the only ones that would be going to that school, then it wouldn’t be an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars just to benefit a development. And there eight to 10 years out from build out from what I hear and they’re also older clientele. I’m tickled to death that they’re giving us the land. They sat on it for the longest time.
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