This year we have New Hanover County School Board elections. There can be no doubt that education is a topic of great importance in our area. We seem to be grappling with a series of issues: A memo to the school board from New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Dr. Markley leaked earlier this month, and laid bare the failures of under-performing 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 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 tax payers all have a stake in the school system. We as community members all have a stake in the future of our city. There are questions relevant to how our community functions that apply specifically to the school board race.
encore sent the same questions to all of the New Hanover County School Board candidates last month. We will run their answers within Live Local leading up to election day, Tuesday, November 8.
Allow us to introduce our first candidate, Mr. Kevin Spears.
encore: What was the moment (realization, situation, instance) that made you decide to run for school board?
Kevin Spears (KS): I had been eyeing a few things and based on being a father of a child in this school system, and also from being so involved in the community and trying to impact youth, I felt the school board is where I could make the biggest impact as a newcomer to the political arena.
e: Have you worked in the classroom?
KS: No, I haven’t worked in the classroom but I have spent plenty of years in the classroom as a student and think there needs to be a perspective from a different view. Student perspectives are important, and parent perspectives are important as well. Somewhere down the line, I think the legislature and board has forgotten who they’re supposed to be supporting. Nothing or nobody gets to be more important than the children.
e: Who was the teacher who changed your life? In what ways?
KS: I had a couple of teachers who impacted my life, but Ms. Brown and Mrs. Sparrow stick out most. They were my second and seventh grade teachers. They created an environment I could learn in and also provided structure while being compassionate. Neither made it easy for me, no matter how much they liked me. When I see them today, the expression of how proud they are is priceless.
e: What is the first issue you would want to see improved upon/changed within the NHC schools system? Why?
KS: Failing schools/academic gap. We cannot take pride in our public education system here in New Hanover County if all students here do not have access to the same quality education or educational opportunities—such as fair practices, school supplies, and the AIG programs.
I have also heard of parents having concerns about the coaches as it relates to player treatment.
e: There are several programs within NHC schools that are desirable to participate in (Lyceum, Spanish Emersion, etc.). What is necessary to make the application process as transparent as possible and as accessible as possible to all students and families?
KS: We must change the system of dissemination. Sending important information sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of daily student life. There should be information sessions for parents and students. We should make the process more personal.
e: What specific steps do you plan to advocate for to reintegrate our elementary schools? Since the school system made the move to neighborhood schools, we now have effectively resegregated elementary schools. What are the steps to move education forward for all students in New Hanover?
KS: The district lines need to be redrawn, and there needs to be a shift in the balance of students between over- and under-capacitated schools. Being that I’m a product of the NHC public school system, I know better is available for all students here. There are some mitigating issues that need to be addressed to move our school system forward. The “sweeping issues under the rug” methodology has our current school system and school board with a ginormous hump in the carpet.
e: How do you see the PTA most effectively working for school advocacy?
KS: I see PTA participation gaining more diverse members, and I see these members chipping in to fill the void of certain schools where teachers face greater challenges. I see members choosing to work side by side to elevate their schools as a whole.
e: What should parents and PTA members know to communicate effectively with the board?
KS: Parents and PTA members need to be given facts, and treated as stakeholders in our public school system. The board should be more empathetic with parents concerning issues with their students. Parents should not be made to feel as if the school system is not open to real discussion and real solutions to problems.
e: Where do you see New Hanover County Schools in five years?
KS: If the outcome is what a lot of the citizens of NHC are suggesting, then I see tremendous improvements—especially with all of what we are discovering as of late.
e: Ten years?
KS: Better and better, as long as the board and school system is challenged to be fair and great!
e: What is the future of the arts in New Hanover County schools?
KS: Two years [ago] I had the pleasure of attending Best Foot Forward, and I must say, I was excited and disappointed: excited to have seen such talented children and disappointed it took me so long to attend. I think everyone walked away feeling full, spiritually.
Please, show up and make your voice heard on November 8. Part of our responsibility as adults is to make good decisions for the people in our community who do not get to raise their voices—namely our children.