This year we have New Hanover County School Board elections. There can be no doubt education is a topic of great importance in our area. We seem to be grappling with a series of issues: New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Dr. Markely had a memo to the school board leak earlier this month, laying bare the failures of under-preforming neighborhood schools. This on the heels of our schools having to provide an action plan for increasing diversity. In short, a serious discussion about the future of this community is timely and essential.
Part of what makes the conversation so difficult is that education should serve all students equally—but all students do not arrive on the first day of school with the same tools. Providing a quality education that meets the needs of our students and creates the greatest hope for the future of our community is an enormous challenge and responsibility beyond just one person. We as taxpayers all have a stake in the school system. We as community members all have a stake in the future of our community. There are relevant questions about how our community functions, which are specifically applicable to the school-board race.
encore sent the same questions to all of the New Hanover County School Board candidates. This week we introduce our second candidate, Mr. David Wortman.
encore (e): What was the moment (realization, situation, instance) that made you decide to run for school board?
David Wortman (DW): Last summer I started considering a campaign for NHC Board of Education. When speaking with friends, family and members of our community, there was a concern with not only some of the decisions the school board was making, but also with the lack of community input on important issues affecting our children’s education. The current board has a majority of members who have served for 15-plus years. In order for a board to be effective, they need to have members who are living the board’s decisions.
I have a 3-year old and a 1-year old who will be starting their grade schooling in the coming years. There is no more vested citizen than myself who will be specifically affected by the board’s decisions.
e: Have you worked in the classroom?
DW: I have not worked in the classroom; however, [I] come from a family of teachers. My mother taught high-school English, as well as at Cape Fear Community College. Both of my grandparents were retired teachers.
e: Who was the teacher who changed your life? In what ways?
DW: The teacher(s) who made the biggest differences in my life were Coach Rhodes (high-school soccer coach) and Coach Holmes (high-school tennis coach). Neither coach were teaching their first sport of expertise, yet the lessons I learned from these men were instrumental in who I am today.
Both coaches had their own styles of teaching, yet each style consisted of the same principles: hard work, teamwork and respect for not only your teammates but also your opponents. Moving forward in life, it is amazing how these principles continue into my personal and professional lives.
e: What is the first issue you would want to see improved upon/changed within the NHC schools system?
DW: While there are several issues, including long-term planning and expanding opportunities for children, I believe in the short-term we need to focus more resources in the underachieving schools in our lower-income areas. We need to think “outside the box” and develop partnerships with private businesses and community organizations to provide learning programs for both parents and 3- and 4-year-olds in an effort to ensure they are not behind when they enter pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Addressing these educational gaps at an early age will ensure children can continue to excel when they enter grade school.
e: There are several programs within NHC schools that are desirable to participate in (Lyceum, Spanish Immersion, etc.) What is necessary to make the application process as transparent and accessible as possible to all students and families?
DW: I believe continued development of these programs are an integral part of providing diverse opportunities for all children in our county. Transparency and accessibility to all students is an important aspect of these programs. Developing a less-confusing website, informing parents and students about the opportunities available, would be the first step in this process. Secondly, having information about these specific programs at parent/teacher conferences would allow another opportunity for parents to consider these opportunities.
e: Since the school system moved to neighborhood schools, we now have effectively resegregated the elementary schools. What are the steps to move education forward for all student in New Hanover—to advocate reintegrating our elementary schools?
DW: I support neighborhood schools in New Hanover County. Many of the new programs, including Lyceum, Spanish Immersion, etc., allow children throughout our district opportunities for learning with children of all races, creeds and religion. However, I believe attacking neighborhood schools takes away from addressing the real issues in some of our lower-income schools.
e: How do you see the PTA most effectively working for school advocacy?
DW: The local PTAs are extremely important, not only to our children’s education but also as a valuable resources to teachers dealing with overcrowded classrooms. I am a firm believer that children’s education begins and continues at home with their family. Continued parental involvement in their children’s education can provide additional resources to schools. In the last year, Wrightsville Beach Foundation was able to provide funds to hire additional assistants to help in overcrowded classes. An Ogden PTA was able to raise enough money to purchase additional iPads for students to assist in their learning. Whereas there does need to be some oversight, PTAs are an excellent resource for our schools.
e: Where do you see New Hanover County schools in five years? Ten years?
DW: One of the main functions of the school board is to develop a long-range plan to anticipate continued growth of New Hanover County. Currently, our schools are operating at maximum—and in a few cases overflowing—capacity. Anticipating the growth during the next decade will be a critical function of the board. We will need to identify new areas for schools, as well as address our current over-capacity classrooms.
Additionally, we will need to continue development of more opportunities for our children in order to prepare them for their future. Building a vocational high school, developing partnerships with our private sector for internships are just a few where we need to improve.
e: What is the future of the arts in New Hanover County schools?
DW: The arts are a very important part of the curriculum in our schools. Introducing our children to arts, music and foreign language at an early age has been shown to increase the probability of children’s academic success. Although the arts are consistently on the cutting block when mentioned in school cutbacks, we need to make sure these programs are firmly entrenched in our schools.
e: What is your favorite book?
DW: My favorite book is “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. This book has many lessons which translate into everyday life, including perseverance when confronted with difficult circumstances, and respect for the environment and others.