Tuesday, February 27, 2024

New Hanover County Primaries 2024: Aubrey Tuell seeks board of education seat

Aubrey Tuell is running for one of three seats on the New Hanover County School Board. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — 2024 is a presidential election year but also one that impacts numerous local boards — such as county commissioners and education districts in the tri-county region.

READ MORE: Here is who filed for the 2024 elections

Republican candidate Aubrey Tuell who is running for one of three seats on the New Hanover County Board of Education.

In the primary election, Tuell is running against four other Republicans — David Perry, Kimberly McDuffie Murphy, Nikki M. Bascome and Natosha Tew. The primary will take place March 5.

Tuell’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

Port City Daily has compiled candidate questionnaires so voters can read up on contenders’ stances before heading to the polls. The paywall is dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of casting their ballots.

Voters will choose which candidates from their registered party they want to move forward in the formal election — or those who are registered unaffiliated can choose which party’s primary they want to vote in. After the March 5 primaries, Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024; a valid photo ID will be needed to cast a ballot in both. 

Anyone not registered to vote can partake in same-day registration, available throughout the early voting period, Feb. 15 – Mar. 2. Check here to see if your registration is active at your current address.

Early voting in New Hanover County takes place at various locations: Northeast Regional Library (1241 Military Cutoff Rd.) in the David E Paynter Room, Carolina Beach Town Hall (1121 N. Lake Park Blvd.) in the police training room, CFCC Health Sciences Building (415 N. 2nd St.) and NHC Senior Resource Center (2222 S. College Rd.)

Early voting stops are open Feb. 15-16, 19-23, 26-29 and March 1, 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., noon to 5 p.m. on Feb. 24-25, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 2. 

Below is a breakdown of dates to expect ahead of the primary election:

  • Jan. 19, 2024: County boards of elections begin mailing absentee ballots to eligible voters who submitted an absentee ballot request form.
  • Feb. 9, 2024: Voter registration deadline (5 p.m.).*
  • Feb. 15, 2024: In-person early voting begins.
  • Feb. 27, 2024: Absentee ballot request deadline (5 p.m.).*
  • March 2, 2024: In-person early voting ends (3 p.m.).
  • March 5, 2024: Primary Election Day.
  • March 5, 2024: Absentee ballot return deadline (7:30 p.m.).*

Tuell’s questionnaire is below; all candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. 

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Port City Daily (PCD): Why do you want to run for the school board?

AT: I am running for the New Hanover County Board of Education to put parents back in charge of their children’s education. Our district is in desperate need of a strong, young voice for our students, families, and staff.

Our public school system has continued to fail our students for the past 100 years yet we elect the same type of individuals expecting a different result. It is time to elect a new generation of leaders. I will bring a fresh voice to the board and provide solutions, not speeches to problems. And it is time for a recent graduate of the public school system, with the skills and experience, to have a seat at the table. When elected, I will serve as a voice for students, parents, and the highly valued staff of New Hanover County Schools.

PCD: What is the current board of education getting right? Wrong?

AT: The current board has done great work in starting to restore parental rights within the district; however, we must do more to promote transparency, school safety, and academic opportunity. As a first step, I would propose the board streamline the agenda review meetings to cut down the time so parents can stay up to-date with the latest district activity, as well as begin ensuring the administration is transparent and held accountable to the elected board.

It is time the board gets aggressive with this administration. Too much is being swept under the rug and the superintendent thinks he can pick and choose what he gets approved by the board. Not on my watch!

PCD: If elected, what is the top issue you want to tackle?

AT: My top issue is expanding academic opportunity for all students. Too often the conversations at school board meetings have very little to do with academics. I am tired of the petty, political fights and want to get back to the basics. Our students deserve the opportunity to achieve academic excellence.

Strengthening our non-general education programs is key to unlocking their fullest potential. While many students can excel with the curriculum provided through general education, we have to ensure that each student is in the right program for their success. 

During my public school career, I participated in the Academically and Intellectually Gifted programs, honors, and AP classes. There are many students who thrive in this environment. These programs give students the opportunity to advance their critical thinking and analysis skills in ways general education classes do not. We must, however, bring critical thinking back into our general education classes.

There are also students who may never plan on continuing their educational career after high school and instead wish to pursue a technical route. We must ensure these students become successful through strong career and technical education programs. All of our New Hanover County students deserve the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, no matter the pathway.

PCD: In December, the board voted to dissolve the equity, diversity and inclusion committee. Do you agree with this decision, and what is your plan, outside of reestablishing or opposing the committee, to promote inclusivity and ensure every child has the resources they need to succeed?

AT: I believe in equal opportunity for all of our students. The previous equity, diversity, and inclusion committee treated students like quotas, not individuals. The time spent by our volunteers and board members can be better spent on a committee that can deliver results for all of our students.

The New Hanover County School System should provide unique pathways for our students to succeed. There are many versions of success and we must do everything possible to foster an environment for our students to reach their potential and equip them with the skills to become productive members of society. We need to start focusing on equality, not equity.

PCD: A 2023 space needs study concluded NHCS needs significant capital projects and repairs to accommodate its current student population. However, other analyses by the county show the district could better distribute students across its facilities, indicating a redistricting is needed, and the student population is expected to level off and decrease in the future. Where do you stand on addressing potential growth and the district’s capital needs? What projects do you think the district should prioritize?

AT: In the joint board meeting with the county commissioners and board of education members, it was discussed that many of our current facilities are overcrowded. New Hanover County is becoming a popular place for younger generations to relocate. We must become focused on how to expand our current facilities to account for our population, and future needs, without adding a major increase to the taxpayers.

New Hanover High School, specifically, is a historic gem to our district. We must restore this property and use the facilities we already own instead of tearing down or buying new property.

PCD: Since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the school district has been grappling with a return to more rigid, and in some views inadequate, processes highlighted by pandemic flexibility. These issues — calendar law, budget cycle, allotment funding — often stem from the state level. What is your view on these topics, do you think they should be changed and how would you plan to do so?

AT: The General Assembly has consistently given raises to teachers the past decade. When elected, I will do everything in my power to ensure our well-performing teachers are rewarded and respected for the pivotal role they play in our students’ success. Our board must have a strong relationship with local and state elected officials to ensure priorities of our school system.

PCD: Do you think the district is adequately staffed? What positions would you like to see prioritized and/or deprioritized, especially in light of the district having to make significant cuts to next year’s budget? What should the board do to create a better working environment for its employees?

AT: Our district is facing an $11-million deficit and there are going to be substantial cuts. We must ensure student-facing positions are prioritized. Each department that does not directly impact our students’ education must take a hard look at the bare minimum needed to operate. 

We can start by cutting the overly inflated administration. Our budget litmus test should simply be: “Does this expenditure improve a student’s education.” The previous boards used one time funding to cover on-going expenditures which equates to putting the current board and future board members in a tough position. When discussing cuts, especially in a school system, the conversation is difficult. It is even more imperative we elect strong individuals who are able to make responsible decisions.

PCD: Many districts, including NHCS, have been experiencing issues with student discipline. NHCS is also unique in its struggle with discriminatory discipline practices against Black students per a federal sanction. Do you think changes should be made to the way the district disciplines students, and if so, how?

AT: Peer-mentorship has a great impact on increasing educational quality and motivation while decreasing disruptions in the classroom. Through my own experience assisting teachers in the classroom as a mentor and tutor grades increased, attendance increased, and behavioral issues decreased. Just as peer mentorship has proven solutions of decreasing classroom disruptions, there are many practices the district can put in place to solve this issue at the root cause.

PCD: Since the last board election, the topic of parental rights has influenced discussions, including over curriculum, library materials, surveys and medical care. Where do you think the balance lies between parent and school staff responsibility over a student’s education, particularly in these areas?

AT: It is the role of teachers to educate our students with the knowledge to be successful, productive citizens. It is the role of parents to raise children with morals, values, and beliefs. Our parents have the absolute right to direct the education and care of their child. Parents entrust the school system with countless hours of their child’s lives, so the schools must act in an appropriate manner to educate their students and not cross into the territory of raising children or indoctrination.

PCD: The board has discussed different ways to hold each other accountable, such as a code of ethics policy, and ways to make the board more efficient, such as adding agenda review meetings. Do you think the board should be doing more to promote civil and efficient discussion? If so, what actions would you propose to accomplish this?

A: I do not believe this is a policy concern, I believe this is a people issue. It is important we as elected officials maintain a sense of professionalism and respect for other board members and the community. We must set a good example for our students and leave our egos and personal vendettas as the door.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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