Friday, June 2, 2023

2022 Election: Nelson Beaulieu runs for second term on NHCS board

Democrat Nelson Beaulieu is running to retain his seat on the New Hanover County Board of Education in 2022. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Democrat Nelson Beaulieu is running to retain his seat on the New Hanover County Board of Education in 2022.

Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in local elections in the tri-county region.

Beaulieu’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall is dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots will be available Sept. 9 and have a Nov. 1 deadline.
  • Registration to vote will open until Oct. 14; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration only will be available during one-stop early voting. 
  • Early voting begins Oct. 20 and remains open through Nov. 5 (3:30 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 8, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Locations to vote early in New Hanover County include CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 2nd. St.), Carolina Beach Municipal Building (1121 Lake Park Blvd.), CFCC North Campus (4500 Blue Clay Rd.), Northeast Library/Board of Elections (1241-A Military Cutoff Rd.), and the Senior Center (2222 S. College Rd.).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on the voter registration card.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

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Port City Daily (PCD): Tell us your top three concerns within the school district and how do you plan to address them?
Nelson Beaulieu (NB): My number one concern within the district is the mental health and safety needs of our students. We are in the midst of a mental health pandemic and our students will need more support and more resources to fight it. We need to make sure that our support services and our community partnerships are prepared to meet our students where they are, assist our families in support of their child, and address whatever damage has been done.

Related to that is ensuring that our students have the tools they need to address learning loss. The data on learning loss cannot be denied or ignored. 76% of our prison population can’t read on a third-grade level so this is about FAR more than test scores. The poor results for this past year (13 schools cited as low performing) make it clear that we have a lot of work to do. We have reduced (and in some cases eliminated) suspensions. Now we need to jam the school-to-prison pipeline full of books, math papers, and opportunities. 

My third concern is continuing to improve our CTE programs and making sure students are exposed to and aware of their options post-graduation. I will continue working with our community business partners to develop new opportunities so that students graduate not with a job, but with a career. A job sustains us, but a career helps fulfill us, and that is the opportunity we should seek to create for our students. 

PCD: The school board has stalled on a decision to end the practice of seclusion in schools for months. What indicators are you looking for to end the policy? Can you commit to ending the practice by a certain date?
NB: The school board has not stalled on a decision to end the practice of seclusion.  We have taken steps to put the district in a position to end the practice safely and responsibly.  

The indicator I’m looking for is for our staff to answer to the question: “What do we do with a student who is in crisis and has become a serious threat to themselves, other students, or staff?” I believe that ending the practice without first having an answer to that question puts students and staff in danger. However, I do believe that the district is getting close. We are moving toward the elimination of the practice and I’m hopeful that we will soon be able to make an announcement to that effect. I will not commit to a certain date but will continue to rely on our teachers and staff to inform me of their readiness before any vote. 

PCD: How should the district address two years of learning loss due to Covid-19? 
NB: Aggressively! Our students are far behind and we need to maximize the time they spend in the classroom. We have done some things to bridge the gap. We’ve had two years of the summer ignite program. We have brought in career coaches, additional support staff, and made our district a 1-1 technology district. However, without continued funding from the federal, state, and county governments, I’m afraid these measures may end up being little more than a finger in a dam. We need money to make our summer programs permanent and fund professional development opportunities for our staff.

We also need calendar flexibility from the state of North Carolina to allow our district the ability to end the first semester before winter break. The state gave districts a waiver during Covid, but that waiver was not available this year. This is just one example of how a return to “normal” will not be good enough … we need to return to better!

PCD: There are 60 SROs across NHC schools. Is this effective for school safety? Why or why not? Should there be more measures implemented? 
NB: 60 SRO’s might sound like a lot, but we have more than 40 schools and 4 traditional high schools. I think that number is reflective of our need. I think that the SRO program is an effective part of a safe school and I’m grateful for that partnership.

Due to tragedies like Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Uvalde, the presence of SRO’s is now a reality in most of our nation’s school buildings. As a father of two NHCS students (and the husband of an employee), it’s a reality I appreciate.

However, the SRO program is only part of what is necessary to make a school safe.  We need mental and emotional health support services. Through our partnership with Coastal Horizons we have WHAT clinics at each of our traditional high schools. With parental consent, students have access to health services right on site. We have provided our staff with mental health first aid training. We have hired more social workers and more guidance counselors. We will continue to work to make sure that our students are safe and cared for, and I’m appreciative that we have the help of our SRO’s in that effort.

PCD: The school board has faced many calls to ban books in schools and offer more parental oversight of curriculum. How do you promote a relationship of trust between educators and parents and ensure both parties’ roles are respected? 
NB: I believe parents are partners. If a parent has a concern about something being taught in their child’s classroom, then absolutely; they should ask the question.  However, no parent should expect that students will never confront controversial topics that might make them uncomfortable or challenge their beliefs.

I think developing a relationship of trust starts with transparency. Right now parents can access the standards set forth by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) by going on their website. Parents have a right to know what is being taught in their child’s classroom. Through elections and public meetings, they should be allowed to have input.

That being said our educators need to be given the space to do their jobs. We need to trust that they are being responsible with their positions and not pushing personal beliefs on our students. We need to ensure they are free to offer students a rigorous course that forces them to use critical thinking skills and offer thoughtful analysis on a wide range of topics. I respect the professionals in our school buildings far too much to substitute my judgement for theirs with regards to appropriate books. Our students certainly do not operate as a monolith. What might be inappropriate for some, could be beneficial reading material for others. Students and parents need to make up their own minds about what should and should not be read.

PCD: Research has shown the district’s “neighborhood schools” districting policy has increased segregation along racial and socioeconomic lines reflected in Wilmington’s residential segregation. Do you think the district should redistrict using different techniques, why or why not? 
NB: Thankfully, during our last redistricting in 2019-2020, the board voted to remove the neighborhood schools districting policy and instead adopted seven guiding principles for the new maps. These principles were to balance facility utilization, account for future growth, establish clear feeder patterns and continuity, minimize impacts on students, consider economic, cultural, and ethnic diversity, and maintain close proximity to a school where possible.

We worked hard to balance ALL of those principles and did see slight gains with regards to increases in diversity along racial and socioeconomic lines. I would hope that moving forward the board would maintain those guiding principles, but even if they do, we need to recognize that New Hanover County is a much different place today than it was in the early 2000’s with regards to traffic and population increases.  We should continue making progress in subsequent redistricting, but our bus driver shortage and traffic problems necessitate a multi-pronged approach. Students should have an expectation of a top quality education regardless of their zip code. My hope is that our Superintendent can work with the county endowment to fund creative and innovative projects that will address the issues that hold back our low performing schools. I believe this is the type of project the endowment will be receptive towards.

PCD: Do you think schools are adequately staffed? Why or why not? Do you think teachers and staff are adequately paid? Why or why not? 
NB: Our schools are nearly fully staffed, but I wouldn’t say that means they are adequately staffed. 

Since 2008 the percentage the state contributes to LEA’s has gone from roughly 80% down to 63%. In New Hanover, we’ve seen a corresponding increase in county supplement over that time and we should all be grateful. The taxpayers and our commissioners have stepped up. But that money hasn’t moved us ahead, it’s just kept us from falling behind. We need a dramatic increase to our state’s educational budget so that we can hire teachers and have smaller classrooms not just in K-2 but from K-12. 

I know teachers and staff are not adequately paid and I’m as frustrated as anyone by it. New Hanover County Schools has 86% of its funding going to salaries and benefits. The county has given generous supplement increases over the years.

The time has come for the state to recognize the truth; without a serious increase in compensation to ALL state employees, we will not be able to fully carry out our mission of providing a high quality education to all students. We will make it work.  In education we always do. But our staff are highly qualified, highly motivated, and have a proven track record of success. The state must compensate them accordingly or risk losing them!

PCD: Current board members, please, answer this: What is one action you’ve taken as a board member you would do differently and why? Potential new board members, please, answer this: What would you bring to the board that is missing right now? 
NB: That’s a great question and it’s tough to answer. The one action I wish I could have done differently was pushing to reopen schools earlier than I did. It was difficult. 

I am not a doctor and I earnestly believed that by listening to the health experts I was acting in the best interest of our children. As much as I want that to be true, I no longer believe that it is. I don’t question the science behind their advice. Doctors are never going to tell you to put yourself in a position where you or someone you love might get sick. What I regret is not balancing that advice. I should have taken it and balanced the risk posed by Covid with the risk posed by the prolonged closure. 

Mine was the first and only vote to open schools in January of 2021, but I’ll regret for the rest of my life that I did not push for that vote earlier.

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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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