WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – It’s one of the most thankless of all elected offices. Yet, 10 candidates are vying for four open positions on the New Hanover County School Board.
Under the best of times, serving on a school board is challenging. Emotions tend to run high when people are advocating for their children, and school board members are often on the receiving end of heated comments from angry parents. But in the last several years, remote learning, a mask mandate, two hurricanes that prompted extended school closings, and an ongoing lawsuit stemming from the sexual abuse of students by a former Teacher of the Year have made a difficult job much more so.
Terms for current board members Stefanie Adams (D), Nelson Beaulieu (D), Judy Justice (D), and Pete Wildeboer (R) are expiring. All but Adams are running for reelection.
On the Republican ticket, Josie Barnhart, Pat Bradford, Melissa Mason, and Chris Sutton are political newcomers running to be one of party’s four nominees to the November General Election.
Josie Barnhart is a former educator and mother of three young children, two of whom attend New Hanover County Schools. She’s running on a platform of accountability in school attendance and performance. Barnhart says NHCS staff lacks clear direction, which is necessary to provide quality education.
Pat Bradford is perhaps best known for her role as owner and publisher of Wrightsville Beach Magazine. She says she is a person of faith, integrity and transparency, who has served as a Guardian ad Litem advocating for children in the court system. Bradford says the school board needs to make a U-turn to improve the quality of education in New Hanover County and help bring students back who have left the public school system in recent years.
Melissa Mason is a mother of two students in NHCS. She is also an educator of 17 years. She is running on a platform to return rights to parents and increasing security in schools. Mason has also been critical of gender choice support program for students, saying she didn’t like that parents were being excluded from the process in some situations. Mason would like to eliminate EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion), CRT (Critical Race Theory), and SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) from the NHCS curriculum.
Chris Sutton is a business owner, a parent, and a graduate of Laney High School. He first became interested in running for the school board because he knew several victims of the teacher sex scandal that resulted in the current lawsuit against the school board. He is dissatisfied with how NHCS has handled public records requests in the wake of that scandal, and is an advocate for transparency. Sutton was removed from a recent school board meeting after turning his back on the board when it was his turn to speak during Call to the Audience, prompting a debate about the required decorum.
Pete Wildeboer is running to keep his seat on the school board after being appointed by the Republican party to an open seat in 2020. The former Principal of the Year in Pender County has three children who went through the school system, and is married to an educator. Wildeboer has advocated for cooperation between board members, and for the public to have more time to speak during Call to the Audience.
On the Democratic ticket, there are several newcomers joining the two incumbents running for the four ballot spots in November..
Jennah Bosch is running on a mental health platform. Like other candidates, she noted the dysfunction on the current school board, and said that a fractured school board leads to nervous kids. She said there is a huge need for improving the mental health of students after so many years of turbulence between hurricanes, remote learning and mask mandates that left children feeling isolated. She wants mental health workers in every school, and said kids can’t learn if their mental health is not stable.
Dorian Cromartie is a longshoreman and former member of the military, who has strong family ties to education and public service. His grandmother was Rachel Freeman, the first black woman to serve on the New Hanover County School Board. His great uncle is Major General Joseph McNeil, who famously sat down at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960 as one of the Greensboro Four, challenging the store’s policy not to serve minorities. Cromartie is an advocate for good pay for teachers and bus drivers.
Veronica McLaurin-Brown spent over 30 years as an educator in New Hanover County Schools. She says she has a strong work ethic, and is an advocate with the ability to effect change. Most recently, McLaurin-Brown advocated for ending suspensions for young children in NHCS in situations that do not involve drugs or weapons. The school board recently voted to adopt that change.
Nelson Beaulieu is running for a second term on the Board of Education. The history and political science instructor at Cape Fear Community College is also a military veteran. He is the husband of a school district employee and father of two girls who attend NHCS. In his time on the school board, Beaulieu has helped create the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee, and adopted a gender neutral dress code.
Judy Justice is also seeking a second term. She is a retired educator of over 30 years who once worked as a teacher at Laney High School. She also has custody of her grandchildren who are students at NHCS. She is an outspoken member of the current school board, who ran on a platform of transparency and accountability.
The four nominees from each party will be on the ballot in the November General Election.
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