Tuesday, August 9, 2022

2022 Primary Election: Chris Sutton wants to serve on NHCS board

NEW HANOVER COUNTY ⁠— Chris Sutton, a registered Republican, is running for 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.

Sutton’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.

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Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority and how would you address it?
Chris Sutton (CS): One of the more pressing matters is working on our low proficiency rate. This is not a new issue. In 2018/2019 (Pre-covid) Wrightsboro Elementary had only 1 in 5 children meet proficiency standards for Math. That is a failure. We need to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio by hiring and retaining more teacher assistants as well as move us away from the 50-100% grading scale that has been implemented. There are a significant amount of children on individual education plans not receiving adequate services due to the system being overwhelmed. We need to ensure that every child receives a sound, basic education in our district. Without having a firm grasp on the fundamentals like reading, writing and math our students will have potential paths to success closed off to them.

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?
CS: Current leadership could’ve done a better job with providing hardened metrics to rationalize their decision making instead of leaving the community to guess. The phrase “moving goalposts” was used by people in the community (including teachers) and seems fitting. It’s very easy for me to look at everything in hindsight and critique the moves made, instead I’d prefer to focus on the future and ways we can help fix some of the problems exacerbated by Covid like the uptick in mental health cases at our schools.

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?
CS: All district employees deserve to be paid a livable wage, that isn’t much to ask. We need to address the culture of retaliation and indifference in our district to truly make a lasting impact on faculty morale. Teachers are supposed to be listened to and their suggestions be taken seriously by the administration. We are learning a valuable lesson right now, we can pay our teachers better than the majority of other counties in the state and still have a mass exodus from our schools if they feel like they are not supported properly by leadership. I want our district’s employees to be treated well enough that good teachers in surrounding districts want to work here and be a part of growing a better public school system.

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?
CS: There’s room to use technology to improve our current suspension system and implement a program that keeps children more engaged and enriched while they are out of class. We could help identify and resolve obstacles in the students’ lives that may be causing them to act out. Using this time to discuss their future plans and introduce them to different blue collar work programs would be wise use of this time as well. We need to transition away from the use of seclusion rooms however we need to do so in a manner that does not set our teachers up for failure or place them in harm’s way. Proper training and staffing is pivotal. The US Dept of Education Office of Civil Rights investigated our district’s seclusion room use 10 years ago and stated they had concerns that our use was inconsistent with state law. Recently it was announced that New Hanover County School District accounts for nearly HALF the seclusion restraint cases in the state of North Carolina. It is time for NHCS to pivot away from this practice.

PCD: Do you think community members, parents and staff members have a platform to be adequately heard? How can the district improve?
CS: Being heard isn’t the problem, having the community’s complaints and concerns taken seriously is. We need to restore the community’s faith in our School District and that begins with increasing communication and transparency. We shouldn’t have community members emailing the district with legitimate concerns/complaints and never receive a response back. We shouldn’t have parents requesting copies of their appeals only to be told that it doesn’t exist. Let’s amend applicable policies to work in favor of the community and solidify the town hall idea that allows for open and respectful dialogue with our elected officials.

PCD: What needs to be done to make schools safer?
CS: Safety of our students is pivotal. I believe we should always be seeking ways to improve our district. Simple things like purchasing Lifevac systems for our schools as a backup for when the Heimlich maneuver does not work or making bulletproof vests mandatory for on-duty School Resource Officers are small steps in the right direction.  We are still waiting for the Fingerprinting memorandum of understanding to be completed so we can begin to fingerprint our staff, the community has been fighting for a fingerprinting program for close to a year now. Our background check system needs to be more thorough, teachers have been hired who should’ve been flagged in the hiring process.

PCD: How comfortable are you with the way the district uses local funds? 
CS: It is time for our district to be fiscally responsible. We have wasted taxpayer dollars while telling the community we do not have the money to properly staff our schools. A thorough audit needs to occur and it should be handled by our elected board members. A reduction in discretionary spending, like the Superintendent’s $300k discretionary fund, should be reduced to $100k, so we can allocate the $200k towards hiring more Teacher Assistants. Let’s tighten the belt & prioritize spending.

PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?
CS: There are so many items that need to be worked on in our school district, here are just a few: Removal of policy loopholes that work against the community. Revamp Public Records Request system. Curriculum reform. Investigate and give final closure to all the victims and advocates who have been following the NHCS sexual misconduct coverup for few years now. Work to provide more options and viable paths to success for our students. Addressing the previous redistricting failure. Seek to give board members investigational powers. Audit the system. Expand Seatech and other programs like it. Finding creative ways to retain our teachers and staff. Establishing a strong constitutional presidence that protects our community from future injustice. Make our district something we can all be proud of.


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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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