Sunday, July 14, 2024

2020 Election: Stephanie Kraybill (R), running for New Hanover County School Board [Free read]

Stephanie Kraybill is running to serve on the New Hanover County Board of Education. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Stephanie Kraybill)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Republican Stephanie Kraybill is running for a spot on the New Hanover County Board of Education.

Kraybill will appear on the ballot alongside five other candidates; voters may select three.

Early voting is underway. Same-day registration is available during the early voting period, which ends Oct. 31. Election day is Nov. 3. Check your voter registration and county elections office to confirm polling locations, dates, and hours.

Port City Daily emailed all candidates the below questionnaire and will run their responses ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Port City Daily edited responses for spelling and grammatical errors only.

Port City Daily (PCD): NHCS publicly changed its reopening plan three times before settling on a final course of action. How would you grade the current board’s handling of COVID-19? What, if anything, should have been done differently?

Stephanie Kraybill (SK): C+. First of all, New Hanover County Schools and the NHC Board of Education had to wait for directives from Gov. Cooper before deciding anything. That came very late and was out of the board’s control. The directive to start schools earlier and without remote learning as an option was ludicrous, in my opinion, and destined to cause strife with all stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and all other NHCS employees). People were apprehensive and scared, and NHCS administration did not have a chance to adequately prepare to open in any of the plan options (A, B, or C). 

In my analysis of the situation going forward, the board was making its decision about school reopening based on recommendations from the interim superintendent and later from the new superintendent, both of whom professed to have been following guidance from Gov. Cooper / NC Department of Health and Human Services and the New Hanover County Health Department. I was disappointed the board did not invite health officials on their own to their meetings (every meeting) at least starting in June, as discussion was well underway about school reopening. Any of the board members could have asked for a presentation from the local health department to be on the agenda during agenda review discussions and not wasted time at a board meeting, speculating and accusing each other of wrongdoing. I would have requested this.

I also felt that individual board members were contacting the health department, and not relaying what they heard to each other so they could all be better prepared to ask the right questions of the superintendent and senior staff at the board meetings. Their dysfunction was very evident and caused more anxiety for parents and teachers, to name just a few.

The board was also relying on informational reports from senior staff and the workgroups they chaired. I was disappointed board members were not proactively asking for the make-up of the workgroups, to ensure that all stakeholders (especially teacher and parent) voices were heard and involved in the decision-making upfront and not reactively, and quite emotionally, after the fact. I would have requested this and worked to have appropriate representation on the workgroups. I would not have waited for a crucial meeting to express my concern to the superintendent. Because this did not happen, more board embarrassing bickering and dysfunction ensued.

I was very dismayed when the interim superintendent responded they didn’t time to involve too many people. Wow! Time was all they had since April. Albeit a tremendous amount of work, I would have tasked the interim superintendent and new superintendent to work on multiple reopening plan options simultaneously from the outset, to be prepared for whatever directive came from the governor. Nothing has been more predictable during this pandemic than frequent and unexpected change in information, conditions, and situations.

I find Delta Chart comparisons very helpful so that all interested parties can see plans in writing and then more easily tweak them as new information becomes available. I am not, nor are all of our board of education members, former K-12 education professionals, and need more time to digest so much detailed information prior to board meetings, in order to ask appropriate and pertinent questions and then to vote confidently at those meetings.

I would have asked the interim superintendent and new superintendent to provide a summary of the questions being posed to them and the senior staff, especially his chief communications officer, from NHCS employees, parents, and the community along with the answers provided. There was so much lack of timely communication, vague communication, miscommunication, and speculation that it was hard for anyone to get a handle on what was really happening. Parents and teachers were hesitant to complete reopening surveys because of this. Somebody “had to go first,” and I think it should have been the school system.

As a board member, I would have suggested that board of education members also keep a running summary of frequently and not-so-frequently asked questions and concerns so that the board could share questions and concerns they heard with the superintendent. Lastly, I would have asked for more brief surveys to be conducted, perhaps at the school level and then shared system-wide, to keep a pulse on the reopening vibe and, subsequently, be better positioned to make the best reopening decision possible for the district.

PCD: How concerned are you about the achievement gap for minority students at NHCS? What, if any, policy changes would you push for to address it? 

SK: Extremely concerned. What I think you are really asking is, “What, if any, procedures, protocols, guidelines, best practices, etc. would I push for to close the achievement gap for minority students?” We already have many good policies in place. We just need to get down to the brass tacks of how to make sure they are met. I am very concerned about this and think NHCS and its board of education are going to have to try new things, even if they are hard, to deliver the high-quality education parents expect for their children. This should start with a new strategic plan that intentionally includes specific and attainable, measurable goals regarding closing the achievement gap and associated action steps to achieve those goals. Key people will need to be assigned accountability for each goal, and progress will need to be regularly monitored until completion occurs. School improvement plans should mirror the district’s strategic plan.

Efforts to close the achievement gap are neither cookie-cutter nor cut-and-dry to achieve results, but some commonality and cohesiveness across the district are necessary. Multi-cultural sensitivity training along with implicit bias training can lay a foundation and provide a sturdy framework for success in the classroom. Resiliency model theory can be mindfully incorporated into classroom lessons and into day-to-day school schedules.

Student teaching interns can be encouraged to take college classes on these topics. Student interns should be required to team-teach at schools where the achievement gap is evident, since this is where most entry-level teachers get assigned. Better yet, NHCS might consider rotating veteran teachers (on a volunteer basis) into lower-performing schools (with a possible bonus pay) and start beginning teachers with children who have had fewer adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and who are mostly on-grade level or higher. Then rotate the new teachers into schools that have openings. These new teachers need strong teacher mentors to help them through this difficult phase of their new career, but don’t always get it if they are assigned to a high-needs school where teachers — all staff, really — are so absorbed in the day-to-day struggles that good, solid mentorship, unfortunately, often falls to wayside.

Teaching strategies, such as action based learning, are extremely effective for all students, but especially for students who struggle. It intentionally incorporates movement into all classroom lessons to keep oxygen pumping to the brain and to keep students more engaged in academics than classroom antics. I have been working with a team to educate and train teachers and principals on this data-driven and time-tested teaching strategy. As a board member, I would encourage NHCS to use more best-practice strategies like this — and, of course, encourage teachers and other educators to find or develop other best practices. Long story short, we need to meet students where they are and create sustainable education plans for them. 

Lastly, I think we need to continue to work on the disparate discipline gap with minority students and keep our focus on learning rather over-disciplining.

I began working with the Safer Schools Task Force in 2013 and am very familiar with the groundbreaking work in North Carolina of Judge J. Corpening and others on eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline flow by establishing an Inter-Agency Governance Agreement on the handling school offenses. This agreement is not only good on paper, but has been helpful in bringing schools, law enforcement, justice system, DSS, and other government and community partners together to change disciplinary practices in NHCS so we can do the work of educating all children. The effort has been slow but steady and needs constant and continued work and attention.

PCD: Do you support higher pay for bus drivers? How else would you address the district’s need for bus drivers?

SK: Yes. I absolutely support paying fair market wages for educational support personnel, such as bus drivers, teacher assistants, child nutrition workers, custodians, and clerical workers. I am amenable to discussing how incremental pay increases via supplements over a carefully planned period of time might be used. Supplements would have to come through local sources, such as the county commission, city council (for schools within the city limits), the new community foundation (from the sale of NHRMC), and perhaps other local endowments. Frequent and frank discussions would be needed to make that happen. 

I would continue the incentive program for referring new bus drivers that was recently instituted. I will lobby the general assembly (or DPI or whomever) for more CDL instructors who specialize with school bus driver licensure to make it easier for potential drivers to get their certifications in more timely manner.

PCD: How familiar are you with the Isaac Bear school facility situation? What would you do to address it?

SK: Somewhat familiar. I am disturbed that Isaac Bear Early College High School opened in the fall of 2006 as a partnership (experimental school) between the North Carolina New Schools Project, New Hanover County Schools and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and is still housed in a small and rundown modular unit (aka a trailer) on the campus of UNCW. This cooperative innovative high school was promised a permanent building but that has yet to come to fruition some 14 years later, even after numerous attempts from parents and lawmakers have been attempted.

I would ask our new superintendent, Dr. Charles Foust, and the NHC Board of Education chair to strike up the conversation again with Chancellor Jose Sartarelli and Dean Van Dempsey from the Watson School of Education (the entity that oversees the IBECHS partnership) to find a location on UNCW campus where a permanent facility can be built. It is my understanding the memorandum of understanding between NHCS and UNCW technically expired in June 2020, so I would definitely investigate extending that, if it has not already been done. NHCS has traditionally funded supplies and school operations, and then reimbursed UNCW for course fees and books, and UNCW has been responsible for providing classroom space. Now we need to get off the dime and solidify a plan.

PCD: Do you support the district’s current use of school resource officers? What changes would you make and why would you make them?

SK: Yes. I support having SROs in the schools. They add another set of eyes and ears on school campuses and another layer of caring adult role models in our schools. Well-trained school resource officers can operate more like counselors and educators, working with students to defuse peer conflict and address issues, such as drug and alcohol use, as well as working with crisis hotlines in real time to intervene in potentially dangerous situations before regrettable behavior occurs.

Their presence in the schools also demonstrates that law enforcement officers are more than just people who patrol our streets, highways, and communities to “catch the bad guys.” SROs should not be used at schools as disciplinarians. That task falls to teachers and school administrators. As a substitute teacher, I have been diligent in reporting when I observe SROs being used as the primary discipline option.

PCD: How comfortable are you with the way the district uses local funds? What redistributions, if any, would you make?

SK: Somewhat comfortable. The pandemic has definitely put a damper on the school system budget and the state budget, and that there will have to be an extensive analysis of the income and expenses to meet our current situation. There will be more unfunded mandates than ever before to contend with, as well as unforeseen costs, including all of the expenses to cover safety measures to reopen the schools and requirements from Leandro. There are training programs and professional development needed to specifically address the sexual misconduct and systemic racism issues that have surfaced with a vengeance this past year.

Technology expenses and other related remote, virtual learning costs will need to evaluated as well. More mental resources are needed, and additional community partnerships may need to be forged. A new strategic plan will be developed shortly, so other priorities may arise that also need to be addressed and funded. It is going to be difficult and, unfortunately, some programs and materials / equipment / planned training will have to eliminated or severely cut back. Teamwork and civil behavior will be required.

PCD: In 2018 many board members branded their campaigns on increased transparency and accountability — do you think those goals have been met? Why or why not? What policy changes, if any, would you implement to improve those things?

SK: No. I believe in transparency across all factions of NHCS and the board of education as permitted by law. I would like to have more detail communicated from the board about the nature of (not the specific content of because that is not allowed) closed meetings, especially those regarding “personnel matters.” I believe NHCS employees and parents have the right to know if inappropriate behavior is trending and can then be on the look out to see if those behaviors are being addressed. I would like to have call-to-the-audience pre-recorded calls published with the board meeting minutes, and the names of presenters and topics discussed included in the minutes. I would like for approved minutes to be posted as quickly as possible after they were approved.

I am a staunch proponent that we cannot over-communicate what is happening in our schools, the good and the not-so-good, and that we need a solid, consistent two-way flow of information between NHCS and parents and community. Nothing beats good, old-fashioned talking around the kitchen table, so to speak. As such, I would like to see the board of education, in partnership with the PTA council and other parent support groups, to host quarterly, or at least bi-annual, town hall gatherings for open and frank Q&A and dialogue.

I believe in behavior observation-based management and in walking the talk, so I will be in schools, in classrooms, at central and division offices, at maintenance shops, and at the bus depots to see our employees, students, and volunteers in action, asking questions for clarity before jumping to conclusions and making rash decisions, but more importantly for building relationships within our school and school support communities. If board members are routinely just walking and talking and observing, employees should feel less threatened and more likely to be open and genuine in their comments.

I would seek opportunities to create partnerships with local businesses, organizations, and community members to not only share the successes of NHCS, but also to grow the human resource and financial capital so necessary to bring innovative and relevant opportunities into our classrooms and all departments across our system so that all students, teachers, and staff benefit.

I would like to see the same NHCS Board of Education Town Halls with the NHCAE and/or other NHCS teacher groups. Unfortunately, teachers and administrators often feel stymied when they want to or dare to speak up about their concerns. They have been dealing with this for many, many years, and it just does not seem to get any better. I have used my voice as a parent to help elevate concerns of teachers so they can be heard without fear of retribution, but this is not good enough when issues that are important need to be heard in a timely manner in order to get resolution. It amazes me that educators in higher positions are not more to open to feedback when they themselves probably have felt intimidated at some point in their career about speaking up and speaking out about their concerns. The school system needs an avenue like the Wilmington Police Department uses (Text-a-Tip) for employees to anonymously report their concerns. Right now, NHCS uses the Ethix 360 reporting system for bullying and sexual harassment claims. Perhaps that system can be expanded to include other issues or a similar database established.

I will also suggest that the superintendent hold this same style of meetings because he can easily share concerns with his senior staff, and they in turn with their staffs, before festering can set sit in. If the dialogue is frequent, and standard operating procedure, there should be little to no fear in bringing troubling issues to the forefront.

PCD: Has NHCS administration addressed long-standing issues that resulted in an alleged cover-up culture and consistent failure to protect students from pre-identified criminal activity on behalf of staff aggressively enough? Why or why not?

SK: No and Yes.

NO: In my observation and personal experience, the good ole boy and cover-up culture has been in existence on just about every aspect of the school system for many, many years, from student and teacher misconduct to retaliation in the form of grade and/or school changes for students whose parents speak up and for teachers who make mistakes and violate board policy and school system procedures or who simply do not “tow the unwritten line.” Teachers cannot be, or are very unlikely to be, transferred if they have a performance plan for poor behavior, so some principals have shied away from recording wrongdoings and other opportunities for improvement in order to more quickly get those individuals out of their buildings.

I reported questionable behavior of one of my children’s teachers over 10 years ago, only to have her embarrassed by the teacher for “crying to her mother.” Next thing we find out in the news, the teacher has been fired for kissing a student on school property.

It has become abundantly clear that there is a problem within the school system about consistently following its own rules. As a board member, I pledge to work closely and cohesively with our superintendent and other Board members to effect change in this regard and to tackle the many tough issues in front of us head-on. In this way, we can continue to move the school system forward with the positive initiatives already in place.

YES. Some “credit” must be given to the current board that moved as quickly as it could to investigate and clean house once the heinous behavior of a few teachers was brought to the public’s attention. Some of the bad behavior happened on their watch, but the majority of it happened under previous Boards and was perpetuated by them. I wish I was privy to more of the behind-the-scenes conversations and confidential findings so I can ascertain for myself why it took so long for action and just how permeating the behavior was and is.

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