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New Hanover County Schools head of HR abruptly resigns amid increasing scrutiny, closed-door meetings

Primary election results are in and it appears the chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Education will not appear on the ballot in November. (Port City Daily/Johanna Ferebee)
Multiple closed-door sessions of the Board of Education have left the public in the dark as to what elected officials are planning. (Port City Daily/Johanna Ferebee)

WILMINGTON — As public scrutiny of the school system increases and the county prepares to send social workers and law enforcement into schools, one of New Hanover County Schools top administrators has resigned.

The resignation of Dr. John Whelmers, an assistant superintendent and head of HR, is technically effective at the end of the month — but it was announced at the end of his last day working for the administration. The abrupt move comes one week after the arrest of Peter Michael Frank — the third New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) employee arrested as a child predator is two years. Increasingly, public outcry has focused on evidence that NHCS administrators — including human resources — knew about misconduct by multiple employees for years, even decades, before they were arrested on child sex charges.

Read more: A long hard look at New Hanover County Schools’ arrests, allegations, and administration [Free read]

On Monday night, the County’s Board of Commissioners joined calls for more action to be taken, saying there was a ‘systemic’ problem at NHCS. The county offered the support of detectives from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, forensic social workers from the Department of Social Services, and counseling and mental health workers.

While county commissioners have no direct oversight power over the school board (beyond budget approval), the ‘offer’ was clearly intended as more than a suggestion — and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the school board could defend not allowing the county’s support. On Tuesday night, the Board of Education announced its apparent acceptance of the county’s offer.

“We appreciate the resolution passed by the County Commissioners at their meeting yesterday evening. We are grateful for their offer of school-based support and look forward to partnering together to take proactive steps forward. We acknowledge and understand the community’s concerns. The safety of our students continues to be our highest priority. We look forward to working with our Commissioners and the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office to restore trust in our system,” the board said in a statement issued Monday night.

When it came to Welmers resignation, the board provided no further information and did not say if the resignation was connected to recent concerns about the administration.

“Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Dr. John Welmers has resigned effective March 1, 2020. He will take earned leave until that day. Dr. Welmers last day was today, February 4, 2020. His duties will be reassigned to other staff while the Board of Education seeks his replacement,” according to the board.

This week also saw the retirement of Laura Holliday, the principal at Holly Tree Elementary School. In a letter to parents sent on February 3, Holliday wrote she was retiring after 40 years to be more available to her family. The move echoes the resignation of her husband — former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday — who retired amid an investigation into the administration for failure to report to crimes of teacher Michael Earl Kelly, now serving a 16-31 year prison sentence.

The Board of Education has held numerous closed-door sessions since Frank’s arrest, it remains unclear what the substance of these meetings has been. Board Chairwoman Lisa Estep said at a press conference last week that the board was considering releasing portions of Frank’s personnel file — but so far, that hasn’t happened.

According to a Monday evening release, more closed-door meetings are planned, including a special meeting Friday, February 7, 2020, at 7:30 a.m.,  at the Board of Education Center located at 1805 S. 13th Street. “The purpose of this meeting is to discuss personnel matters pursuant to NCGS 143-318.11(a)(6). Some Board Members may participate by telephone,” according to the board.

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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