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New Hanover County Board of Education holds ‘participation night’

Of the 40 sign-ups available to speak, only 14 people signed up
Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 10:19 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - On Tuesday night, the New Hanover County Board of Education held its first ‘participation night’.

Last month, the board updated its public comment policy to shift that part away from regular board meetings.

The board was prepared to listen to two hours of public comment; but instead, they only heard from a handful of people.

Of the 40 sign-ups available to speak, only 14 people signed up.

School board member Judy Justice says she wasn’t surprised.

“People thought that they were going to have an actual town hall or some kind of format like that,” Justice said. “When they saw it, it was just another call to the audience; that’s going to draw the audience away.”

Some parents of New Hanover County said prior to Tuesday’s meeting, they hoped this would be a better way to communicate with the board.

“The thing is, I really would appreciate it if they said something back,” said parent Alicia Ogundele. “I really don’t like the fact that we’re just complaining and we never hear their perspective back.”

The format at the meeting was the same as previous call to the audiences at meetings, but speakers had three minutes instead of two.

Board Chair Stephanie Kraybill said that this is a trial and error process for communication between the board and the community.

“I just want everybody to have a positive experience with this and it’s not just a gripe session,” Kraybill said. “It’s really positive. We’re going to get there next time where we can have dialogue back and forth.”

Some speakers, and even board members, were under the impression there was going to be dialogue between the two.

“People would’ve came if we had a true town hall that they could’ve been heard,” said New Hanover County resident Chris Sutton. “They would’ve been here.”

Judy Justice also agreed that the community and the board needed more of an open conversation.

“If we had open dialogue, then that would possibly get them to feel like they could trust us more,” Justice said. “And they actually heard answers that were valid.”

Stephanie Kraybill said that the format isn’t permanent, and she hopes that the next participation night will give them a chance to respond to the community.

“We want it to be positive,” said Kraybill. “We want the dialogue to be positive at all times. We have plenty of time to try different formats.”

The board’s policy states that they have to have three of these meetings per year, and they hope the next participation night will take place this summer.

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