NHCS Board of Education updated on reopening plans, new board chair elected

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The first day of school for public school students in North Carolina was more than two weeks ago, and many students across the state are still doing remote-only learning.

On July 28, the New Hanover County school board voted to go with remote-only learning for the first nine weeks of school. Now the district is looking ahead to how students will be welcomed back to the classroom.

The Board of Education received an update from administrators on Tuesday night about how the district is preparing to transition to Plan B, the hybrid of both in-class and remote learning.

According to staff, the district has checked out nearly 11,000 iPads and laptops to students. 556 web cams and 160 laptops with cameras have been loaned out to teachers for video conferencing.

Staff says one hurdle has been securing hot spots for the district. After working out a contract with AT&T, the district also delivered hot spots to 26 schools Tuesday, which will be distributed to students. More hot spots will be delivered to schools Wednesday.

After the first nine weeks are up, students will have the option to continue remote-only learning, although they may not be able to retain the same teachers.

New Hanover County Schools are also forming plans to isolate potentially infected students, and are planning bus routes that allow for social distancing.

When asked if there would be any additional delay before students can return to the classroom, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Lachawn Smith said the following:

“I think we are at different places, because the work looks very different in terms of moving through what’s required to get us to Plan B,” she said. “But speaking specifically toward teaching and learning, I feel really good about where we are and very comfortable that we will either meet or exceed the board’s expectation.”

Staff also announced that enrollment has decreased by approximately 3.5 percent, nearly 1,000 students, which will reduce state funding for New Hanover County Schools. 75 percent of those students are grades K-3.

Also during Tuesday night’s meeting there was a change in leadership of the board. Chair Lisa Estep made a surprise announcement that she would be stepping down from the position, effective immediately.

We have a new superintendent, we have an election coming up in November, and it just felt like a good time to give somebody else a chance to lead on the board,” Estep said of her decision.

Board members Stefanie Adams and Judy Justice both made the case for why they should be selected as Estep’s successor. Adams ultimately won the vote.

“I’ve been an educator for many years, but I’ve also worked in HR and in training and leader development,” Adams said of her ability to take over the leadership role. “The fact of the matter is that we brought on a new superintendent, and the role of the board, the superintendent is our direct employee. And so I feel that I have a lot to bring from an on-boarding perspective to be able to support him as he transitions and takes New Hanover County schools to the next chapter.”

Estep is not running for reelection to the board in November, and says she looks forward to supporting Adams in her new role for the next few months.

Another change in leadership was made official Tuesday night as a judge swore in new superintendent Dr. Charles Foust.

Dr. Foust comes from Kansas City, Kansas public schools where he has served as superintendent since 2018.

According to the board, Foust will receive an annual salary of $225,000 and his contract is through June 30, 2024.

His hiring comes after former superintendent Tim Markley resigned in February. Parents had called for Markley’s removal after three teachers were arrested and charged with indecent liberties with students within a year and a half during Markley’s tenure.

Foust addressed the need for trust and transparency after his swearing-in.

“We will be looking, taking  a strong look at Title IX and training all of our employees on Title IX, training students on Title IX and reporting, and even our board members are going to be trained with Title IX and making sure they know how to report and what we do,” Foust said.

Dr. Foust says he wants parents to know that student safety is at the top of his priority list, and wants to make sure students understand that it is never okay for an adult to make them feel uncomfortable.

Click here to view the agenda and supporting documents from Tuesday night’s meeting.

Categories: Local, New Hanover, News

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