NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Republican Josie Barnhart is in the race for one of four open seats on the New Hanover County Board of Education.
Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in local elections in the tri-county region. The paywall is dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of casting their ballots.
As a reminder, the early voting period runs from Apr. 28 to May 14. The voter registration deadline is Apr. 22. Voters may partake in same-day registration throughout the two-week early voting period (check if your registration is active at your current address).
Primary Election Day is May 17. Voters will choose which candidates from their registered party they want to move forward in the formal election. Those who are registered as unaffiliated can choose which party’s primary they want to vote in.
Barnhart’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full and the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.
Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority and how would you address it?
Josie Barnhart (JB): Our board is currently in a state of dysfunction. As a board member we need to restore student and staff accountability along with redirecting funding in our school system. Student accountability needs to be restored by changing back the grading system, maintaining discipline, and attendance. Teachers should be accountable to academics and quality unbiased teaching. Currently there is a disconnect between the teaching staff and decisions made. We need to restore communication and respect while making an effort to close the learning gap between students and keeping academic performance a priority.
PCD: Mask mandates. Canceled proms and sports. Virtual schooling: How would you describe the current and past leadership’s management of Covid-19? Moving toward an endemic phase, what is your stance on how the board should weigh public health into its decisions?
JB: I believe the inconsistencies in our district’s response to COVID is at large the reason for approximately 3,800 families who have left public schools in the last two years. Students at highest risk of failure suffered the most. Parents and teachers need to work together for students’ success and families need to have consistency with their child’s school needs. School closures in my opinion was the worst decision for education that has ever been made. The disparities created only increased learning gaps with some of our most at risk students. I will ensure a virtual option is available and if COVID measures become a discussion of the board I will ensure the board creates consistency and metrics for what should be obtained so that it is not a constant on and off road map with families and staff.
PCD: What is your opinion on the district’s current salaries and staff morale? What changes would you advocate for, if any, and how so?
JB: I believe we need to readdress funding to pay our support staff better. At this time I believe we need to address funding to cut program, curriculum, purchases or central office positions such that we can accommodate the salary study recommendations. Inflation and cost of living is high and morale is low. Our students will not get the support they need without appropriate staffing in the building and they deserve to be paid for the work they are doing.
PCD: Some community members have expressed a desire to see less invasive measures taken in a school setting. Where do you stand on suspensions and seclusion rooms?
JB: We need to provide a learning environment that is safe for all students and staff. Many students have unique learning situations. First and foremost we need measured discipline in schools and must hold students accountable for their behavior and develop them to be productive adults in society. However, schools need more access to behavioral health specialists and school psychologists so behavioral needs are addressed by professionals. Seclusion rooms are not the go to answer, but we have to address school safety and keep students safe from themselves and others. I do not want any staff or students to fear for their life at school. I will want to hear specifically from special education staff prior to excluding the use of seclusion, such that they feel supported in the de-escalation process and implementation.
PCD: Do you think community members, parents and staff members have a platform to be adequately heard? How can the district improve?
JB: No. Currently our committee make-ups are made from people chosen by the board of education. We need a better process in which parents can voice their concerns. We should be working towards incorporating parent feedback on committees as well as survey parents, similar to staff, such that we can gauge the pulse of the community. I personally would love to see an opportunity for the community and staff to give specific feedback on issues, such as a google form in which the responses can easily be seen on items the board will be voting on. Parents also need a way to have accountability in teaching. Current concerns of bias in teaching and curriculum are not being addressed and parents should be able to point out when there is an overstep of boundary by the school system.
PCD: What needs to be done to make schools safer?
JB: Increased SRO officers, less tolerance for violent offenses and targeted mentorship programs with our at risk students. We need to think about altering some of our current programs. The middle school I taught at in Texas had an opportunity that began in middle school as an alternative to PE that taught karate and self-control, respect, and discipline. This program targeted our at risk students and helped build characteristics students need to be successful. As a district we need to bring ways in which we are working about incorporating these traits so that more students can gain the skills and confidence they need to be successful in life.
PCD: How comfortable are you with the way the district uses local funds?
JB: We need to review where this money is going and make sure funds stay in the classroom and with our students. There is money going to administrative projects and programs when we need to prioritize the classroom and resources. We at this time have a large amount of money due to COVID assistance and we need to work on getting it appropriately in programs that will target academic growth and appropriately staff our district.
PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?
JB: The foremost issue that the board will need to address is the level of satisfaction with the current administration. We have seen the level of discourse between the board and administration and we need to address this before we can be effective with enacting policy. We should begin by reviewing the superintendent’s performance and setting priorities for the administration to address. It is my belief that re-establishing student accountability and redirecting funding is necessary. We also need to work with our staff and parents as we are implementing changes such that it is feasible and productive to academic growth. Change and a clear direction is needed and I plan to open that conversation on the first day in office if elected.
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