NHCS Summer Library Program 2018: Growing Readers & Learners Through Our School Libraries

by Jeannie Timken, NHCS Digital Teaching & Learning Specialist

Research shows that when students read over the summer, they come back to school better prepared for the challenges of a new school year. In fact, reading just five books during summer break can altogether prevent the “summer slide,” – a regression of reading ability that can occur over the summer months. The US Department of Education offers the following tips to help students maintain healthy reading lives over the summer:

  1. Let your child choose what they want to read – or be read to – for 30 minutes each day. Children are much more likely to engage in material that interests them rather than materials that are forced on them.

  2. Use language and reading opportunities throughout the day. Talk often with your child and point out reading materials wherever possible:  on menus, magazines and newspapers, signs, brochures, maps, guidebooks, smartphones, ipads, etc.

  3. Make daily reading a social event. Get the whole family to join in with their own books or take turns reading the same book aloud. Include telling stories as well.

  4. Connect reading to other summer events. If you take your child to the zoo, think about reading a book about animals before and afterward. This will place your child’s reading within a larger context.

  5. Make reading a lifestyle choice. Keep books all around the house to cultivate an atmosphere of reading, and set an example by reading yourself. Children need good models of reading books, magazines, or newspapers.

Once again, New Hanover County Schools will host summer library programs at FIVE sites across the district this summer to help parents engage their NHCS students in various types of reading as well as other creative and critical thinking activities. The NHCS Summer Library Program runs from Monday, June 25th through Wednesday, August 1st. This year, the following schools are opening their libraries on dates throughout that window.

  • Alderman Elementary
  • Anderson Elementary
  • Blair Elementary
  • Pine Valley Elementary
  • Trask Middle

Students at participating sites received a personal invitation that included the dates and times of when their school’s library will be open; however, ANY NHCS student is allowed to participate in any program and checkout/return materials at any of the other participating locations. NO registration is required. Simply check out the calendar to find out what sites are open and make plans to attend!  In addition to checking out reading materials, each location will host a variety of programs that include:

  • Coding and robotics

  • Reading with service animals

  • MakerSpace activities

  • Walking through an interactive Story Garden

  • Augmented & Virtual Reality experiences

  • ….and many other  digital & “unplugged” activities

Please visit the NHCS Summer Reading Program website for a complete schedule and calendar of events.  We look forward to seeing you this summer!

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Be the Best You for Your Students

by Adriana Poveromo, NHCS Rookie Teacher of the Year

“The dream begins with a teacher – who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.” -Dan Rather

As we enter into the week of appreciating our educators across the country, the memories come flooding back into my mind as to why I became a teacher and what led me to where I am today. For me, it was my first grade teacher that ignited the passion for me to become a teacher. Ever since then, I have had this drive and fire inside of me to make an impact on the students that I have in my classroom.

Four years ago, my journey as a teacher began, and it was not an easy one. I was traveling an hour to and from work, and I was putting 400 miles a week on my little car. I was a first-year teacher teaching third grade, and I was the only teacher. How terrifying?! It was in that first year that I was able to discover what did and did not work for me as a teacher and how to form relationships with my students. It wasn’t until my second year of teaching that I found my way back into the County – NHCS – where I received my education for K-12.

The past four years of teaching have been some of the most rewarding and challenging for myself, but the rewarding memories far outweigh the challenging ones. I am thankful to NHCS for giving me the opportunity to come back and educate the future leaders of tomorrow. Throughout this last school year in the Beginning Teacher program, it has brought me the most memorable moments of my teaching career. I never would have imagined being in the position that I am today, and I just have to thank NHCS for believing in me as an educator and as a leader.

Teacher appreciation isn’t just one week out of the year…it is each and every second of the day. Teaching brings incomparable joy to each and every one of us, or we would not be in the positions that we are in today. We walk into a brand new opportunity each and every morning, no matter what happened the day before. Each day is a fresh new slate for us to make the most of what lies ahead of us and be the best “YOU” for your students.

My purpose and why is plain and simple…my students. It probably sounds cliché, but I try to instill my students the values and morals that I learned when I was a student sitting in their shoes 15 years ago. In brief, this is why we teach: to improve the transmission of learning, to honor the scholarship we have so dearly won, and to inspire our students’ compassion and ideas. In these challenging times for teaching and learning, we must persist to persevere.

I wish each and every teacher a Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, and if you haven’t heard it lately, I appreciate you and all of the hard work you put in to educating the future leaders of tomorrow. Thank you for your dedication to your students.

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How NHCS Handles Parent and Public Complaints

by Dr. Tim Markley, NHCS Superintendent

There has been a lot of discussion recently about how New Hanover County Schools handles parent complaints. I want to assure you that we value parent input on every level, because we know that the success and safety of our students requires it. That is the reason every official parent complaint that is filed with the Superintendent’s Office is considered to be of the highest importance. The complaints are thoroughly investigated unless the situation is such that immediate action is required. If complaints are substantiated, appropriate action is taken. Receipt of the complaints are always acknowledged and marked received by the Superintendent’s Office. Finally, a written letter is sent to the complainant describing the resolution of the matter.

Informal vs. Formal Complaints

It is important to understand and note the difference between informal and formal complaints. An informal complaint could include anything from a casual conversation with a school staff person to a hallway chat with the principal. NHCS strives to be responsive to informal inquiries when they are raised. Many of our complaints are resolved on this level. However, if an informal complaint goes unresolved, then it is important for the person making the complaint to follow the next step and file a formal complaint. The formalization of the process serves as documentation of the issue and it helps ensure that the complaint gets to the appropriate person.

What are NHCS’ policies regarding complaints?

NHCS is governed by the New Hanover County Board of Education. The Board has enacted several policies regarding complaints against teachers and other employees. All of its policies are and have been for many years posted on the NHCS website, www.nhcs.net. Policy 9510 addresses Parent/Public complaints. It provides that parents and members of the public (which includes students) should try to resolve their complaints against teachers at the school level, but if they cannot, they may have them reviewed by the Superintendent. It also states that they may contact members of the Board at any time. Policy 1601 provides more detail about the complaint process and the role of individual Board members.

How do I file a complaint?

Complaints may be filed by completing the NHCS Parent/Public Complaint Form which is available on our website under the Parents tab. In addition, the names and contact information for the Board members are (and have been for many years) on the NHCS website. In addition, if parents or members of the public call the NHCS main telephone number at (910) 254-4200, and inquire about making a complaint, they will be sent the Parent/Public Complaint Form.

How do I know my complaint will be handled properly?

Parents and students in the district can be assured that appropriate and forceful action will always be taken when necessary. Our goal is to continue to be the district of choice for our parents and students. Therefore, we value public input and strive to handle complaints in the most efficient and equitable manner possible.

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EdCamp Beach

by David Glenn,  NHCS Regional STEM Specialist

Join Us This Month at EdCamp Beach!
April 28, 2018 – Castle Hayne Elementary

New Hanover County Schools has countless selling points: its historic downtown, the Cape Fear River, the balmy weather, and let’s face it, its beaches. So, when it came time to decide on a name for our annual Ed Camp conference, there seemed to be no better title than EdCamp Beach. There is significant connection between the beach and our profession, and I couldn’t help but reflect on the symbolism as I sat at the shore during my spring break. Each day, we meet the waves of students head on.  Each comes bringing varied backgrounds and paths traveled. Our days are filled with highs and lows, just like the rising and ebbing of the ocean’s tides. The currents cut new swaths of shoreline just as we are constantly adjusting to new trends and ideas. Despite the stings of sunburn and jellyfish, we continue to return to the beach to enjoy its experience; just like despite the regular challenges of the classroom, we continue to return and invest in our students – to guide them in their learning as we nurture and guide them through new experiences to prepare them for success in the world.

The journey to our third annual EdCamp Beach on Saturday, April 28, 2018, at Castle Hayne Elementary School (8am-3pm) has been one filled with lots of learning and growing. Our vision for this gathering is to create an opportunity for the wealth of collective educational brain power in this area to learn from and share with each other. We want the voices of passion in this profession to be heard. We want those who desire to be better in this calling to feel empowered by their own knowledge and inspired by the knowledge of the teachers from other schools and districts that they don’t often get to collaborate with.

If you’ve never participated in an EdCamp before let me share with you my story of how this unique learning experience came into my life and forever changed the way I seek professional development. October 2015 was a transitional time period in my career. I had just left my comfortable classroom position to embark on a new journey in NHCS as an elementary STEAM facilitator. It was my 11th year in education, and just as many others in this field can relate, I had attended numerous seminars, conferences and classes in order to continue my professional development as a teacher. I had started hearing about this ‘EdCamp’ thing – an ‘UNconference’ for educators. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the concept of this unorganized professional development with sessions that evolve organically out of conversation topics relevant to participants at that time…usually on Saturdays.  I heard nothing but rave reviews from people that had attended these events, so I signed up for my first EdCamp.

On the Saturday before I began my new job, I rose early and drove two hours through gray and rainy weather to Wilson, North Carolina, to attend EdCamp EastNC. This was the first place I saw a Sphero or heard about the Hour of Code. I recall working with two teachers during one session to demonstrate how Google classroom could be an effective tool for managing student assignments. In another session, I remember discussing the use of citizen science with 6th grade science students. Makerspaces were a new edu-buzz word, and I recall one session driving home the point that it wasn’t about “the makerspace” but more about giving students the chance to explore and create! Vividly, I recall a conversation I had with a district assistant superintendent, who clearly relished the chance to dialogue with classroom teachers and hear their concerns. Looking back, that Saturday was a pivotal point in my career, where I made connections with other educators I might otherwise never have met, and I my eyes were opened to new tools I could use that Monday with my own students.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway was not in something I learned or discussed, but an idea that I pondered the entire drive home: Why not have a similar gathering of educators in southeastern North Carolina? In my years in Pender and New Hanover counties, and in working with other professionals in North Carolina, I have met amazing and passionate teachers. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel we lacked a way to share this with one another. Was an EdCamp the perfect venue we needed in southeastern NC? Unbeknownst to me, other educators in New Hanover County Schools – Beverly Ladd, Jeannie Timken, and Jen LaGarde – were also starting to have this conversation. When I reached out to my then-principal Cyndy Bliss about the idea of doing an EdCamp in Wilmington, we soon connected with them with the common desire to bring this unique and impactful professional development to our district. From those moments, EdCamp Beach was born. It has continued to grow with each school year.

Yes, the structure of an Edcamp is the absolutely opposite to the traditional vision of professional development:

➔     No set agenda of sessions in advance.

➔     The power to walk out of a session mid-discussion if it isn’t for you.

➔     No instructor or formal presentation in each session.

The EdCamp experience allows opportunities to:

★     be a professional and drive your own learning and growth.

★     connect with other education professionals and learn from, and with, them.

★     take away ideas and strategies that will positively impact your students.

We hope you’ll sign up and join us on for EdCampBeach on April 28 to share your ideas, collaborate with other professionals, and walk away ready to navigate the shorelines that are the hallways to our classrooms. Come learn with us at the beach: EdCamp Beach.

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The International School at Gregory – Two Years Later

by Leigh Ann Lampley, Principal

The decision to move to Wilmington N.C. to be the principal of an Immersion School that was in transition was one that I did not take lightly. I knew this would be a challenging experience; merging two school cultures together, rebuilding trust among staff and families, hiring new staff, and increasing attendance from around  325 students to 500 students wouldn’t be an easy task.  However, without hesitation, I knew this was the place I needed to be.

Instead of this being a daunting task, I looked at this as an opportunity. Not only an opportunity for myself to grow as an educator but also in creating a rigorous academic program that challenged students to reach their highest potential.  One that I would be able to hire a high quality staff that would provide bilingual experiences to children that they would not be able to access otherwise in any other public school in Wilmington.  The opportunity for students to become, not only, bilingual, but bi-literate makes them naturally competitive in the future job market.  Providing students the skills they need to read, write, and speak Spanish from Kindergarten is a gift.  Students benefit from language acquisition and increased cultural sensitivity.

Expansion from, not only an elementary school model, but to also a middle school model was another avenue to embrace.  Students in grades 6-7 are enrolled in a longer school day (8:00 – 3:30) in order to acquire additional language courses such as Conexiones and Mandarin. (Conexiones is the middle school curriculum for students that have been in immersion since Kindergarten.) Mandarin has proven to be a well-loved and popular course as well. We partner with Williston Middle School in order to expand our elective offerings.

The 50/50 model we provide in grades K-5 allows access to the curriculum on an A day / B day schedule. Students receive instruction in English one day and Spanish the next.  All students benefit from this model as students who are native Spanish speakers continue to build their native language while still learning English.  Students that are native English speakers continue to build their native language while learning Spanish.  A natural win-win situation!

Now, two years later, the dust is finally settling.  Next year, we will expand to a K-8 model.  Staff members have bonded with one another and are often social outside of school. The sense of family is evident and everyone puts their best foot forward.  Our students walk hand in hand and are developing a love of other cultures.  Many of our middle school students are learning Mandarin, some as a third language. And finally, we now have 11 international teachers from countries all over the world, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, China, and Honduras.

As I walk in and out of these classrooms, my heart fills with joy knowing that our school is changing the future of our students. We are preparing students for a global society where they can appreciate the differences of others.  The International School at Gregory is focused on connecting our children to the world around us and building bridges across cultures and traditions. I am committed to a strong instructional program that will provide a world of opportunities for the students that come though our building. This is a place any parent would want their child to attend. The International School at Gregory would love for your family to join us in this amazing journey.

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I Am the Bridge

Last week, NHCS hosted the 7th Annual Legislative Luncheon. NHCS Teacher of Year – Angela Hewett – Art Teacher at Ashley High School – was one of the presenters. Her inspirational speech, I Am the Bridge, brought a standing ovation and is posted below as this week’s blog.

I AM the BRIDGE by Angela Hewett

I never sought to be “teacher of the year” and I still haven’t reconciled that title with the way I perceive myself. This has been a year of personal reflection and professional stretching. I have over-analyzed my motives, all of my methods, and even my mission as a teacher. But I have also expanded my scope of awareness and sphere of influence. Sometimes, I’ve been uncomfortable with the attention, but I assure you, the entire time, I have been committed to the experience. Hidden behind the public appeal of the billboards, gifts, press, and even the Prius, I silently accepted this as an honor, a season to grow, and an opportunity to make a difference beyond my classroom.

My focus and reward as a teacher have always been my students’ successes. I am hyper-aware of my role and responsibility in the moments I share with them. I’m grateful for the waves of stories I hold dear in my memory that tell of my impact in student lives and their impact in mine. If you and I were sippin’ a coffee right now, it would be those stories that I would share. We would laugh…at some point, I would probably cry…and you would quickly get a sense of my love for teenagers and my passion for growing them as adults and artists. But in this setting, this one opportunity I’ve been given to address all of you, I feel compelled to share some of the needs in our schools, in honest reflection, and to encourage you in your uniquely significant role to help address those needs.

I’ve evolved in many ways throughout my career, but I’ve consistently been an observer, a sponge, and (maybe even) an over-thinker in regards to our system and I continually come back to the image and the metaphor of a bridge. Each of my 13 years in teaching has been filled with exciting opportunities, but each has had its share of discouraging and overwhelming challenges as well. Today, I will highlight one divide, one disconnect, and one opportunity in our system that persist despite our good intentions and our collective efforts. I believe giving sincere attention to these challenges will propel us forward and I believe that we are the ones to do it. I believe that each of us in this room is a bridge.

The public schools of New Hanover County are not an extension of our community. They are not a mere part. They are evidence of the value our community places on education and they are the primary indicator of our future. In our public schools, we teach, guide, and nurture students from pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade. We can’t forget that we have direct influence for nearly 15 years of each student’s life!  My work, my decisions, my relationships, and even my spirit are all grounded in this simple truth. No matter your professional position, I’m sure you can say the same. So it is firmly planted in this common ground that I confidently address three areas we can bridge together.

We can bridge the divide of inequity through awareness and accessibility.

A need of any people group, a need of any school, even a need of one family is fundamentally a need for our entire community. We know the issues of the family become the issues of our schools. We also know unaddressed issues of today become the critical issues of tomorrow. Only when their most primary and urgent needs are met, can students learn and thrive. No individual entity or singular attempt can identify and solve the challenges and the inequities that exist in our society.

Our school personnel are relationally positioned to detect, monitor, and address needs and concerns. Our school buildings are physically positioned, all throughout our city, to make us a prime location for incorporating essential information that creates an effective avenue connecting families to solutions. I’d love to see us capitalize on our existing local resources as we strategically combine our focused efforts with a shared mission. I encourage us to remember that many families are not aware of available services within our county or transportation and financial hardships prevent them from accessing them. We can build a stronger bridge for families to connect to appropriate agencies, organizations, ministries, and services. Our success in this area will rely on alert and empathetic teachers, informed support staff, and the sustained commitment across our district to strengthen existing partnerships and to forge new ones.

As leaders, we can bridge the disconnect between policy and progress.

Experiencing professional recognition as NHCS Teacher of the Year while simultaneously walking in career uncertainty resulted in a season of inner conflict. House Bill 13 unearthed a divisive sentiment across our state and created fear in teachers, like me, that countless jobs would be cut. To satisfy a new class size formula for K-3, this policy could have forced districts to forego vital programs, created subsequent class-size increases, and required millions of dollars toward physical space. These consequences could have negated decades of growth in our state and given families legitimate reasons to seek alternatives for their child’s education. Improvement in one area of our system, at the expense of others, is not true progress.

I am using HB 13 as one example from this current school year to make this timeless point: policy must match reality in North Carolina schools. Otherwise, it is financial loss and it is opportunity loss. Policies should not cultivate a mindset in our leaders to react and survive. Policies should promote a mindset to innovate and thrive. Instead of battling erroneous and counterproductive policies, irreplaceable time and energy should be spent dreaming about possibilities for the years ahead of us. Political leaders, educational leadership, and teachers should be navigating new ideas, refining practices, and innovating harmoniously to the benefit of our public school system and, ultimately, our students.

Those of us in this room must be the bridge between policy and real progress in our schools by being and echoing the voices of teachers and school leadership who are devoted to success in every corner of our system.

This leads to my final challenge: We must extend a bridge beyond status quo.

New Hanover County Schools has a legacy of academic and athletic achievement because of its devoted personnel and public support. I’m so proud of our commitment to Beginning Teachers, Exceptional Children, and the Arts. Early college and dual-enrollment options, Sea-Tech, and Career Readiness Academy at Mosley all offer non-traditional avenues of success for students. Our Pre-K sites elevate our youngest to opportunity and J.C. Roe Center transitions our students through difficult times. Between the arts performances, clubs, competitions, and athletics, our district is active and engaged, day and night, year after year! We have a profound presence in our community and we are a persistent symbol of hope.

However, serious needs still exist in our schools. We need quality teachers, capable bus drivers, more administrators and more support staff to manage the growing responsibilities of our schools. We need applicable professional development, relevant assessment for students and transformative assessment for teachers. We need increased wages and incentives to attract and retain the best personnel in all positions because our students deserve our very best. We need sufficient technology that promotes future-ready learning and systemic efficiency. We need instructional innovation, more negative behavior prevention measures, and more crisis interventions. We need to better guide and prepare each student for a personal-best future beyond graduation. We also need the physical space to grow and the assurance we are safe.

The obvious solution is far from easy, but it is simple. We need funding! We have to move forward now with soul-deep conviction that our students, our teachers, and our communities deserve even better. We have to show now the fiscal proof that we collectively believe education is worthy of our lavish investment. We have to build a bridge together now that provides a pioneer education for the generations to come.

I’ve considered for weeks how to advance lasting change from this one brief speech. I just want it to matter. I recognize the points I’ve made take time and require involvement. So through support of Dr. Markley and Crystal Buie, I give you a pin. The statement “I am the bridge” encircles an image resembling the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. For Wilmington to thrive, bridges are essential; they are not optional. For our students, so are you! I hope you’ll ponder all the implications of this bridge metaphor. And I hope you’ll choose to wear this pin as a visual declaration of our collective commitment to bridge the divide of inequity, tie policy to progress, and extend our current status to a vanguard one. I hope you’ll wear it to spark conversation and ideas, evoke continued thought toward growth and solutions, and refresh our minds and hearts with the reminder that we are serving our community together in this crucial time in public education.

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A Message from Superintendent Markley – School Safety is Everyone’s Business

Dear Parents:

This has been a challenging week for us all in light of the recent events that have happened – both nationally and locally.  I’d like to take a moment to reiterate that ensuring safety in our schools is our top priority. The district experienced several threats this week, and upon investigation, they were found to have no credibility; however, please understand that communicating a threat to a school is a felony, and there will be serious consequences for anyone who does this.

We ask for patience from parents as law enforcement investigates these cases, and please understand that we are legally mandated to maintain the confidentiality of minors, particularly during an investigation.  We take each threat seriously, and each threat is thoroughly investigated.

We are doing everything possible to keep our schools safe, and we continually look for ways to improve. You can help by encouraging your student to alert a parent, teacher, counselor, principal or other trusted adult regarding any suspicious activities, threats or disturbing information.  “If you see something, say something.”

This weekend, please take a moment to speak with your child about the consequences of communicating a threat of violence against a school. What may seem like a harmless prank can result in the student facing criminal charges and school disciplinary actions. We don’t want any of our students to be this situation.

Thank you for choosing New Hanover County Schools for your student and we appreciate your support.


Dr. Tim Markley

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New Hanover County Health Department in Conjunction with NHCS Provides School Nurses

by Dr. Rick Holliday, Deputy Superintendent

The New Hanover County Health Department works with our school system to provide school nurses in our schools, and they are an integral part to the academic success of our students. New Hanover County Schools is pleased to have a positive working relationship with the health department and their school health team.

The role of the school nurse is to maximize in-class time; therefore, improving student achievement. They accomplish this by reducing the incidence of health related absenteeism; eliminating or minimizing health problems, which may impair learning; assisting students and families to create independence in managing their health problems; and connecting families with school and community resources.  School nurses educate students and staff, treat sick and injured students, and assist students in managing chronic illness at school. Their role also included disease prevention through various screenings, assist families to obtain care for students and help to control the spread of communicable diseases.

During this formidable flu season, the school nurses have been educating students and staff on the prevention and control of the flu in NHCS.  They provide education to the school staff on sanitation practices for classrooms, desks, doorknobs, shared equipment, etc.  The school nurses have continued to promote the flu vaccine as the best prevention method.  They also recommend the following proven measures to prevent the spread of the flu:

  • If flu-like symptoms appear in your child (cough, fever, body aches) keep your child home and consult your medical provider.
  • If your child is out with fever do not allow them to return to school until they are fever free for 24 hours without the aid of fever reducing medicines.
  • Cover cough and wash hands thoroughly.
  • High-risk people (existing medical conditions, pregnancy, immunocompromised) are urged to seek medical attention.

When students are in school and exhibit symptoms, our school nurses have certain protocols in place during this flu season such as:

  • Children with fever 100.0 or greater are sent home.
  • Children with cough and flu-like symptoms (body aches, fever) are masked and sent home.
  • Currently any student coughing, even without fever, is masked in the health room and urged to go home (unless nursing judgment can strongly support otherwise).
  • Follow-up calls are made to parents to monitor students’ illnesses and advise when students may return.

Our school nurses are currently monitoring absenteeism related to flu-like illnesses and report higher than normal rates to their supervisor.  The nursing supervisor is in constant communication with the N.C. Communicable Disease Branch to report trends and to receive the latest recommendations for control measures.   Any additional measures are initiated as needed.

Our school nurses consistently provide education and information via weekly “health minutes” via school broadcasts, web pages, and newsletters and within the classroom.  We are thankful for the opportunity to have the wealth of information and service that our school nurses provide to us.  The bottom line is to keep students healthy and IN school so that they actively learn and succeed!

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Digital Security: Keeping NHCS Safe

by Dawn Brinson, NHCS Chief Technology Officer

One of New Hanover County Schools’ main priorities is keeping students safe while at school.  Safety is not limited to just physical safety, but also digital safety. As you may have heard on the news, there have been some major security breaches at well known businesses and public entities, including school systems in North Carolina. We thought we would take the time to inform you of the measures that NHCS take to keep our students and staff digitally safe.

A robust enterprise filtering system is in place to protect students against malicious content – whether intentional or inadvertent. A team has been assembled consisting of security and instructional specialists to set baselines for the categories that we are filtering, which are based on age appropriate content. We have infrastructure in place to automatically update and patch NHCS devices to address the latest identified security threats.


Ransomware attacks have also been  in the news over the past few months. There are security measures that we have taken to decrease the likelihood of a ransomware attack; unfortunately, end users’ behaviors cannot be controlled.

One of the most common ways that ransomware attacks are carried out is via phishing emails. As of March 2016 according to PhishMe.com, 93% of all phishing emails contained ransomware attacks. These emails will have attachments that look legitimate and may or may not be from someone you know. It’s important to not open unsolicited attachments from emails unless you are 100% certain of their authenticity. It is reasonable to reply or call the person to verify the validity of the attachment if you know them. If you do not know the person that should be a big red flag.

Knowing that the majority of ransomware comes in via email, we do heavy spam filtering. We currently scan all email for spam internally and externally that passes through our system at an aggressive level. While this is often successful in identifying the spam and categorizing it as so, it is still important that the end user be diligent and question each email. No spam filtering is 100% effective.

Ransomware, malware, and viruses are a constant threat to NHCS users and assets. We currently have deployed multiple levels of security such as district-wide Firewalls, IPS (Intrusion Prevention System), Web Filtering and Antivirus. Unlike traditional viruses that are designed to infect machines and cause significant harm and data loss, Ransomware is designed to lock the user out of their data/equipment until they pay a ransom to unlock the data. They are not out to explicitly destroy data, they want you to pay the ransom, so the data is kept intact. One of the ways that the system protects important data is to back it up regularly. This allows us the ability to restore data that may have been encrypted by a ransomware attack.

In an effort to stop ransomware from overwriting files on our servers, we do block certain file extensions from being written to server drive space. If a user is compromised with ransomware,  this will provide us with some protection from the user encrypting files on the shared server space with other users.

Education, Tips, and Strategies

While we make best efforts to protect students via hardware and software, we also have a Digital Citizenship course that is implemented in sixth grade. Additionally,  each teacher is responsible for teaching students about internet safety.

We would not be doing our duty if we didn’t share some strategies that can be done at home to keep you and your child’s data safe. The easiest thing that users can do is in regards to passwords:

  1. Don’t write them down;

  2. Use a different password for each site; and,

  3. Passwords need to be complex.

Businesses have made it very convenient to stay connected by providing public wi-fi.  Do not use this wi-fi to do transactions with banks, credit cards, as well as medical records. It is easy for someone to gain access to your account information through public wi-fi networks.

How Parents Can Help

Parents are encouraged to have discussions with their children about what is appropriate technology behavior/usage and what isn’t and why. This should include not sharing personal information. Children need to be taught how to analyze search results for what is true and what is just someone’s opinion. They need to know that just because it came up in a Google search doesn’t make it true. Monitor children’s use, consider implementing parental controls such as software-based web filtering, or using your wireless router’s built-in parental controls if available.

Understanding where your data is stored is very important as well. When you are signing yourself or your child up on websites, there is a good chance that the servers that house the data do not reside in the USA. There are websites that are hosted in countries that have no laws governing the use of your data or who it can be shared with; often it is just stolen and sold off to the highest bidder. Doing some research to determine where the company is located can save you from sharing data with nefarious companies that may be out to steal your data. Identity theft should be on everyone’s mind. Sharing information like birth dates and addresses with websites that do not need that information for the service they are providing is a big red flag. Publicly sharing personal identifiable information like phone numbers, addresses, birth dates, etc., can be used to build a profile on you that can be used to create other accounts or impersonate you.

Technology is everywhere, and because of that we now reside in a digital age.  The measures we take to protect our students is of the utmost importance.  We hope that the information stated above will provide insight and generate conversations to help use technology in a responsible manner.

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Be in the Moment

by Julie Askew, Director of Special Education & Related Services

During the holidays, we are excited about festivities and always in a rush to fulfill our elaborate plans for family gatherings and gift-giving.  There is a buzz of energy, engaging all of our senses – the colors of the bright Christmas lights and “ugly sweaters,” the sounds of the holiday tunes, the touch of warm gloves when there is a crisp nip in the air, the smell of a fresh tree, and the taste of freshly baked treats to share with family and friends.

As we rush to plan the perfect Christmas, we often find ourselves stressed out and wishing for more time to relax.  We want to enjoy the best of everything this season has to offer, but often we realize we haven’t paused long enough to embrace what matters most – spending precious moments with loved ones and making lasting memories.

As we approach this busy time of year, let us be reminded that sometimes the most precious gift we can offer is our undivided attention, especially to our children.  I was reminded of this recently in a visit to one of our elementary classrooms with children in the Special Education program.  Our students work hard to defy the odds, whether it be mobility issues, medical conditions, or learning differently, the struggles are real. However, the students strive to overcome their frustrations with tenacity.

The season can be especially overwhelming for students who have special needs.  Even the simplest transition from the classroom to recess can present obstacles to overcome. Teachers work diligently with students to help them conquer their physical and developmental challenges.  These learners continue to practice communication skills, socializing with others.  As most children bravely tackle the playground, others cautiously practice their steps.  It is in that moment that something endearing happens, as I watch classmates coaching and cheering their friends along.

A moment like this could pass on any given day, but it triggers a sentimental tug at the heartstrings to witness such kindness from so many children. I am reminded of the lessons in compassion to be learned from our children who experience significant disabilities.  As I pause to take in the moment, I was invited to join in the fun.  We laughed and played chase together.  We walked the playground holding hands and talked without a care in the world.  I took joy in being in the moment.

What a gift it was to be reminded of the value of precious moments.  I will cherish this memory with our students, and it had a profound affect on me; but you never fully know the impact your presence has on others. It is my wish and hope for all of you to take time to create these moments with your loved ones.  These are not just moments captured, but they can be spread and shared to all around us.  Our students remind us that we all have an opportunity to give the most valuable gift we have to offer – our time and attention.  So go ahead, put on your ugly sweater, and let’s find the time for joy and peace in living in the moment.

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