Newly elected New Hanover County Board of Education members hopeful for positive change in the near future

In a surprise sweep on election night, Republicans claimed all four open school board seats, ousting two incumbents.
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 10:48 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2022 at 2:57 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - In a surprise sweep on election night, Republicans claimed all four open school board seats, ousting two incumbents.

Three new faces will join the New Hanover County Board of Education in December. The only incumbent returning is Pete Wildeboer, with Judy Justice and Nelson Beaulieu losing their bids for re-election.

“I think the seven of us can make some real positive inroads for our students,” Wildeboer said.

This is Wildeboer’s first elected term as a board of education member. He was appointed to the seat he’s filled for the past two years.

He said he is looking forward to working with the newly elected board members to hopefully get some new perspectives on topics the board has worked on previously, like school safety and pushing to get staff the support they need.

“We need to rebuild trust with parents, I mean, that’s a huge thing,” Wildeboer said. “I plan to go out to schools, as I have done in the past, but even more, I would like to meet with the faculties and the PTAs and hear from parents. I mean, we should do more so we can hear from our constituents, more constituents. It’s so important that we really work together on this. The parents, the teachers, the administrators, central office, and the board so that we can really give our students the very, very best in education. It’s all about educating our students, but we also need to support our staff, our teachers. I push for more money for our teacher assistants, which is a need, we need to continue to do, as well as looking at things like student safety, student safety is paramount.”

Wildeboer and Bradford both mentioned that data presented at a recent school board meeting showed that New Hanover County Students are about 3 years behind academically due to the pandemic.

“We just saw on our last board meeting that our students are, on average, three years behind because of the pandemic. So, we really need to focus on academics, that the basics of academics, you know, reading, math, social studies of science, we need to focus on that,” Wildeboer said.

“And you have students coming into high school that can’t read, they can’t write, they can’t add. And high school teachers don’t have that training, they’re supposed to work with them, to prepare them for their feature, not bring them up to where they needed to be in third and fourth and fifth grade,” Bradford added.

Pat Bradford received the top number of votes on election night, and she said she is hoping to bring necessary change to the board and school district as a whole.

“Students don’t read, they don’t write, they can’t add a column of figures. If you can’t read, you can’t do science. If you can’t read, you can’t fill out an application for work. If you can’t read, you’re probably not going to succeed in life, you’re going to end up what’s that expression pipeline to prison is probably going to help you be on that pipeline, I work with the homeless, and a lot of them can’t read. And it’s just, it’s just a lose, lose,” Bradford said. “I want to bring unity, there’s such a huge divide. This group says this is happening, this is what’s being taught, this group says no, it’s not happening, you know, move along, nothing to see. So, what’s the truth? I’m going to get to the bottom of the truth on every single issue. You can trust me to do that.”

WECT spoke to Josie Barnhart and Melissa Mason on Wednesday morning and they both mentioned how the old school board was not working well together, so they hope to step in and change that. Bradford echoed that point.

“An enormous amount of dysfunction on the board, I think you’re going to see that stop, there’s four of us coming on that get along. So, the other three aren’t going to have the maybe the chemistry that they had, some of them really kind of loathe each other and it was very toxic. So, we’re believing that that’s going to stop and be able to work together and be great as a group, and make the schools better for our children,” Bradford said.

One thing that all four elected members mentioned is that they want parents to be more involved in decisions the board is making for their children.

“I want to hear from parents. I want to hear what they’re experiencing, what’s going on for them and their children, and what they want. Parents have lost their voice in our schools,” Bradford said.