Neighborhood schools. Student rights. Safe drinking water. Gun violence and school safety. A myriad of issues continue to weigh heavy on New Hanover County School leaders, teachers, students, and families. Therefore, we focused on voter issues regarding the NHCS Board of Education.
Eight candidates, four Democrats and four Republicans are vying for four seats in 2018. encore sent the same questions to all candidates. This week we introduce Democratic candidate Stefanie Adams.
encore (e): What was the moment—realization, situation, instance—you decided to run for school board?
Stefanie Adams (SA): After the 2016 election, I was compelled to stand up and become part of the conversation. Sitting in a friend’s living room, I mentioned that I wanted to help drive positive change, and was considering a run for School Board; with a little nudge, and some amazing people in my corner, 20 months later, we find ourselves almost at Election Day, and we are hopeful for a victory!
As a parent, and an educator with 15 years’ experience working in and around public schools, I know that public education works when the right people are in place, resources are allocated, and community support is tapped into. I believe that the New Hanover County Board of Education needs a new, innovative voice, and I think our community agrees. With my background, and passion for preparing students for a successful future, I feel that I can best represent our students, parents, and community, as we work to bring quality education to all our children.
e: According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a total of 283 mass shooting incidents have occurred as of October 14 across the United States (nine were in NC). What can and should schools do to prevent shootings in NHC?
SA: Protection through prevention is the best way to prevent tragedies such as Parkland and Sandy Hook. There has been increased awareness and interest about school safety due to local and national events, and we need to keep the conversation going in New Hanover County. School safety includes physical, emotional, and mental safety, and it begins with relationships. We need to collaborate with our state legislature and County Commissioners to increase funding for mental and behavior health professionals in all of our schools. If students are struggling, they need to know who and where to go to find support and resources.
Additionally, having worked in a school that partnered with multiple non-profits to support student needs, I am a strong advocate for collaboration with community organizations in schools because I’ve seen it work. We are stronger as a team then we could ever be as individuals; working together as a united group and building relationships with our kids, we improve culture and create safer schools.
e: Do you believe teachers should be trained and armed with a weapon in the classroom?
SA: Absolutely not. Teachers are professionals that chose a career to educate, expand perspectives, and change lives, not carry a weapon. The only thing we should be arming our teachers with are books and resources for their classrooms, professional development to help them grow, and expressions of gratitude for the good work they do every day.
e: Per the current state of the Cape Fear River and drinking water (GenX, hog waste, coal ash spills), how can and should NHC schools ensure students have access to clean and safe drinking water?
SA: I believe that NHCS should be providing bottled watered for all of our children, or invest in reverse osmosis systems at our schools. When the Gen X crisis first came to light, my son’s school sent home a recommendation that children bring their own water if parents were concerned; I’m grateful that our family is able to comply with the recommendation, but not every family can do so. During school hours, NHCS is responsible for a child’s health and safety; we need to find ways to include the water that they drink.
e: How are NHC schools supporting or not supporting LGBTQ students, their safety and health, within the schools?
SA: I have heard mixed reviews from parents of LGBTQ students; some have had positive, supportive experiences, while others have been horrendous. Every morning, when I drop my son off at school, I remind him of three things: be kind, be inclusive, and be brave. It is important that we encourage our children to respect and celebrate differences, and I plan to focus on this as a member of the Board through innovative programming, respectful conversations, and encouraging open dialogue at all levels.
e: Where do you stand on school redistricting and neighborhood schools?
SA: No matter what neighborhood you live in, you should have access to a quality school. New Hanover County is incredibly diverse, however, our neighborhoods are not. As a member of the Board, I will support policies that strengthen our magnet programs; if we offer opportunities that are focused, effective, well-funded, and backed by community and business partner support, magnet schools will appeal to a more diverse population. Overall though, my goal is to treat our schools as individuals; identify the needs of the students, educators, and surrounding community, and support programs that address those specific issues. It shouldn’t matter where you live; I want to assure that all New Hanover County schools provide a quality education, and that all students have access to equitable resources.
We must strike a balance between research and commentary to determine the best way forward for the difficult process of redistricting. Redistricting affects all of us, and there needs to be better communication with students, parents, and the community as a whole before a final decision is made; it is a complicated process, and all insights need to be heard and taken into consideration. In my experience as an educational consultant for Johns Hopkins University, I guided failing high schools through a whole school reform process; the process was often tense because not everyone was on board with the change. Through my work across multiple states, I learned that you can’t get to the “how” of an institutional change, until you fully explain the “why.” As a member of the Board, I will push for greater communication throughout the redistricting process.
e: What are plans or direct actions you want to take to raise teacher pay in NHC?
SA: I promise to advocate loudly for increased pay for educators. As a candidate, I have taken every opportunity to educate prospective voters regarding pro-education candidates on the ballot for NC House and Senate; I have shared that we need to do better for our educators in order to retain and grow our talent, and voting in November is crucial to bring about a positive change. As a member of the BOE, I will always advocate at the local, state, and federal levels for increased funding for our schools and educators. Locally, although I may have no control over funds personally, I will assure that educators feel respected and valued by building personal relationships at all schools, and encouraging community support and involvement, and I will spearhead Educator Appreciation events.
e: Where do you see New Hanover County schools in five years? Ten years?
SA: Although I don’t have a crystal ball, I would like to believe that, guided by new leadership and oversite of the BOE, New Hanover County will no longer have “low performing schools”; academically successful students, teachers who feel respected, and thriving community and business partnerships supporting our schools, will drive achievement across the county. Collaboration, innovation, and communication will be key for the next generation of NHCS.
e: What is the future of the arts in New Hanover County schools?
SA: Without the arts, the world would be an extremely boring and colorless place. I grew up playing piano, singing in the chorus, dancing and acting in musical theater; these experiences were an outlet for my creativity, and made me who I am today. It is imperative that we protect the arts and provide our children the same opportunity. I will always fight to keep the arts in and our schools, and look to expand the community partnerships we have to provide extended opportunities in and outside of our school walls.
e: Do you have experience working in the classroom or directly with students in some way?
SA: I completed my student teaching in an elementary school in Northwest Philadelphia, however, I found my calling working in high schools as an Education to Career Coordinator. I helped students discover relevance in education by developing and supporting programs that led to industry recognized certifications for career and technical fields. The years I spent in the School District of Philadelphia were inspirational, and I am grateful for every student that crossed my path during that time; they changed me for the better, they challenged me, and they taught me about the world.
After earning my M.Ed. in Multicultural Education, I was recruited by Johns Hopkins University to come to North Carolina in 2007 to implement whole school reforms at eight schools across the state to decrease dropout rates and increase academic success. I fell in love with NC, and decided to stay! I’ve worked locally at CFCC as the cheerleading coach, and in varied Student Services and adjunct faculty roles before settling in to a Corporate Training role at CastleBranch where I teach leadership, collaboration, and communication; I also serve on the Board of Communities in Schools.