Teachers and New Hanover County School Board members respond after petition to remove Superintendent gets more than 1,000 signatures

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — A petition to remove Dr. Charles Foust as Superintendent of New Hanover County Schools has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

This comes after an interview Foust had with the StarNews, when Foust said quote, “Too often teachers fail their students by lowering expectations because of their home life.” Nicknamed, “Bless your heart curriculum,” Foust continued that that mindset can lead to Black children being failed by the school system.

This week, teachers are responding to the comment, saying they don’t lower their standards, they often work harder to help students keep up.

“My kids know ever expectation is the same in my room for them, and that’s what my kids grow,” said one anonymous high school teacher.

Teachers say there can be many factors at play at home and in schools that affect grades, such as the “nothing below 50” grading policy instituted in New Hanover County Schools in response to COVID-19. That policy bans teachers from giving anything below a 50. But according to the comments on the district’s recent survey and multiple anonymous school staff members, some students no longer have the drive to work and learn.

“Why aren’t these students understanding the math lesson?” one teacher said she had to ask herself. “Is it because they’re hungry? Is it because they don’t want to do their work? Or is it because something is going on at home? And we have to wear all those hats. But this 50 percent thing doesn’t help either, because the students know, well I just have to do a few assignments and I’ll pass anyway so why do I have to do the work today. Students know they only need to turn in five assignments and they would get a 60.”

Another elementary school teacher said the school system now has a culture of blaming teachers that has driven away countless educators.

“We’ve lost a lot of teachers. And that’s because this man just beats people down rather than push them to a positive, nurturing environment.”

Former teacher and current New Hanover County Board of Education member, Judy Justice says she believes Foust should apologize and change how he communicates with county educators, many or whom had to quickly adapt to the pandemic to help their students.

“It’s not fair,” Justice said, “considering they’ve taken on the bulk of stress of all of this… to blame them?”

Another elementary school teacher responding to the comment, saying “Dr. Foust from the beginning has made it known that he does not have the best intentions for our school system. There has been a lack of support and communication to our principals, teachers, parents and students. Our staff and students are working harder than ever to make up for lost classroom time from COVID.”

Justice was part of the unanimous vote to hire Foust as the county’s superintendent. While she is aware the New Hanover County Association of Educators has a petition to remove Foust, she did not realize it had just shy of 1,100 signatures.

“That says that our community has lost faith in his ability to lead, I guess,” she said.

We spoke to the School Board Chair, Stephanie Kraybill about the petition as well. She says their latest data reports from the 2018-2019 school year shows that there is some work to do in New Hanover County Schools.

She supports Dr. Foust and his mission to make the NHC School District one of the best in the state. Kraybill says that they cannot run from accountability, and no one believes that they should.

“I believe that Dr. Foust is committed to strengthening our teaching and learning in all of our schools, even those that have been identified as our best schools,” Kraybill said. “Great teachers and great school leaders are not afraid of accountability and I really think that they strive to continually improve.”

Kraybill also explained that the Board is committed through it’s strategic plan to support all teachers, administrators, and district employees to be the best that they can be.

We reached out to Dr. Foust through New Hanover County School’s Public Information Officer, who said he was not available for comment.

Former Board of Education Chair and current member, Stefanie Adams also commenting on the petition, stating in an email, quote:

1)  “I want to be very clear…I support Dr. Foust, and I support every person on our NHCS team.  I am proud to have been part of the Board that hired our superintendent, and I am proud of the work he has done.  Through a global pandemic, political chaos, and community trauma, he has kept students at the center of every conversation; he has brought necessary change to New Hanover County Schools, and change is hard.  I agree that everyone in our district (teachers, support staff, administrators, and the Board) should be held accountable for meeting the needs of students, acknowledging areas we need to improve, and providing top tier education and support for every child.
2)  Feedback is an opportunity for growth.  I appreciate those that have contributed to the petition and shared their thoughts, however, it is not representative of the will of all 4,000 NHCS employees, every family of our 25,000 students, nor the total 230,000 residents of our county; it is a data point to review, and learn from.  As a Board Member, I communicate openly and honestly with Dr. Foust; I appreciate his willingness to have hard conversations.
3)  Regarding the petition itself, it was released by the current president of the NCAE without input from membership or incoming NCAE leadership; anyone has the right to publish a petition on Change.org, however I feel that it should have published by the individual that wrote it, not represented as the official thoughts and comments of an organization.  After its release, the Board received an email from incoming NCAE leadership that they were not consulted prior to its posting.”
Board member, Stephanie Walker agreeing in part with Judy Justice, emailing back:
“I disagree with the superintendent’s statements regarding teacher performance in the district. Having first hand knowledge of the teachers and staff at Freeman and Snipes, I understand the extra challenges they face serving the high needs of their student population, and I know they go above and beyond to meet those needs. This is on top of the enormous challenges all district staff have faced because of hurricanes and COVID-19.
Not every student in the district is going to arrive at our schools at the academic level our state standards demand. The goal of our district should be to meet the needs of all of our students, not simply require the student meet the needs of a test and say that’s that. The teachers and staff at Snipes and Freeman are performing admirably to grow and prepare their students for the future. We should be doing everything we can to support them and give them the resources they need. I stand behind them and all of our educational staff in their efforts to better the children of our community in the best way they can. That is the value of public education.”
Board Member, Nelson Beaulieu echoing some of Kraybill’s sentiments, saying over the phone:
“There’s always room for improvement. And I believe Dr. Foust has embodied that sentiment. He has worked tirelessly to make our school system better.
I understand competely that out teachers and our staff have had the worst two years that anybody could have with the pandemic, the learning loss. You know, going through all we’ve gone through as a district its been very tough. And as an educator, as a classroom teacher, I don’t think anybody understands that as well as Dr. Foust does.
The StarNews pointed out some pretty significant problems that exist in New Hanover County, but they’re problems that Dr. Foust had absolutely no hand in creating. They’re problems that he and the Board of Education will have a big hand in solving. Dr. Foust has my complete support.”
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