Entering the Legislative Season: A Teacher’s Perspective

By Meredith Kokoski, NHCS Teacher of the Year

Editor’s Note: Last week, the New Hanover County Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley hosted the district’s annual Legislative Luncheon for local and state elected officials. One of the keynote speakers was NHCS Teacher of the Year Meredith Kokoski, an English teacher at Laney High School. The following is Ms. Kokoski’s speech, which brought a standing ovation from the audience. The Legislative Priorities that were reviewed by Superintendent Dr. Markley during the luncheon follow Ms. Kokoski’s speech.


I absolutely love my job. Teaching runs through my veins and I feel it is as innate to me as breathing. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying I could never leave this love of mine because its place in my heart could never be filled by anything else. We never go into this profession for recognition or reward, which is a good thing because teaching is often the job of the unsung hero.

I was so fortunate to receive the title of New Hanover County’s teacher of the year in June. It came at a low point in my career: I had extremely difficult and unmotivated classes; I had just come back to work after my son, Ben, was born, and I had yet to see a raise in my six years of teaching. It was like someone above knew I needed to be reminded of my destiny as a teacher or education was going to lose another one.

I am grateful for the doors this award has opened for me and I am thankful to have been recognized for my dedication. However, I am one of 2,500 teachers in this county alone, so I don’t feel as though I represent the whole in this specific regard. All teachers deserve the reminder that they are valued, and most importantly that they are deemed capable of making sound decisions in their classrooms for their students. After all, they know their students best. However, I do represent the whole in that we all are in education for the same reason. We go into teaching because we recognize the need for the adults of today to positively impact the adults of tomorrow, and sharing our love of learning and our love for them is in so many ways its own reward. We go into it for the humanity of it all-the passion, the heart.

New Hanover County is comprised of strong, passionate leaders and educators who steadfastly work to reach our students and equip them with the skill sets they need to be productive, capable and happy citizens -after all, “Reach, Equip, Achieve” is our motto. Twenty years ago, in 1994, the World Wide Web was invented, cell phones came in suitcases for the car alone, there was no Google, we saved on Floppy Disks, and the DVD wouldn’t come out for another year. The mission of our county, in short is “to strive to provide children an excellent education in a safe and positive learning environment … for a world yet to be imagined.” This mission is a daunting one in that keeping my students safe keeps me up at night, but the scariest part of it is imagining the necessary skills one will need in twenty years. How can we adequately prepare them for our future world? What will it possibly look like in 2035?

Yet, we take this mission with pride and purpose every day because despite the issues we personally face as educators; it isn’t about us- at all. Education is about the students, the young minds at perpetual diverging paths with thousands of choices to make that can be the difference between a successful and happy life and a difficult and arduous one. It is our job to equip them to make these crucial decisions for themselves, by themselves and to live in the present but prepare for the future. I believe we are failing them in this regard and thus the “world yet to be imagined” is one that fills me with much trepidation.

As a district, NHCS has worked tirelessly toward our mission and has succeeded in a number of ways. Our county reached an 82.4% graduation rate last year; Laney High School reached 88%, 6% above the state level. Our schools lead the state in Grade Level proficiency and College Readiness Standards, and lead the region in multiple EOG’s and EOC’s, including English II and Math I. If numbers are indications of student success, we are meeting or exceeding the expectations for achievement and growth that have been put in place.

However, unlike the score reports for these exams that try to depict who our students are, it is hard for someone outside of it all to really tell how a school and its students are doing.

Having interned at Laney High School, I have stayed at Laney for seven years because I deeply respect my principal, and I believe in my fellow teachers and administrators. However, what I love most about my school are the students. I repeat, IT IS ALL ABOUT THEM.

I love the culture of my school, I love its diversity. Every day I witness deep personal friendships. I see inclusiveness. I see them look out for each other. I see them struggle. I see them fall, but get back up. I hear smart questions and intelligent statements. They are funny, and they are polite. They make me truly, deeply proud to be a teacher. Our students are the heart of our Buccaneer family, just as the students are the heart of every school in this county and beyond.

We have been inundated in the last few years with state tests, and every year despite the frustration and the worry that we are missing the point, we work so hard to help our students meet the requirements set forth by people who don’t know their stories, their battles, and their tribulations. Teachers are the bridge between many of you who want to see a collective whole succeed and the individual students who personally want to believe that their success is not measured by a number. We are the scaffolding that connects these two seemingly discrepant ideologies and makes them seem less incongruous.

When I broke the news to my seniors last year that they would have to take a state exam in English IV, they were devastated. They were confused. They were angry. Seniors in New Hanover County complete a rigorous semester-long Graduation Project on a contemporary issue of their choice. I had seniors start support groups, host dinners for the homeless, collect items for veterans. I had young men and women teach others about the importance of physical health and coastal environment protection, work with students with autism, foster and learn how to train service animals. I had young adults make care packages for the terminally ill, work weekly with the elderly, coach youth sports teams. “How, at the end of all of that,” they asked, ”was it a multiple-choice examination that would test their growth and what they had learned?

A test cannot possibly measure a student’s achievement in every subject, so I do not believe a North Carolina Final Exam is needed in every subject. Personal achievement and growth is just that-personal. It cannot be measured without taking into consideration the HUMANITY of education.

This issue becomes an even bigger problem when these same scores are used as what I believe is unfortunately becoming the sole basis of Teacher Effectiveness. North Carolina is one of 34 states that considers student growth when evaluating its teachers; however, we teachers do not feel that this is accurate. Our Summative Evaluations used to be a genuine dialogue between principal and teacher, but are now just an hour of clicking; how can accurate observation data even be obtained when the measurement tool is so impersonal?

If all we are doing is teaching to a test, we are not doing our job. I became a teacher because I had a teacher in high school who gave me a voice and taught me how to use that voice to make this world a better place. I became a teacher because I learned at a young age that what teachers do every day matters. Not the last day of the semester. Not the 120 minutes that a test lasts. Every day. When I polled my 115 juniors and seniors anonymously and I asked them, “On a scale of 1-10, how important is your relationship to your teacher to your success in a subject?” The average was 9. 75 of them said 10.

If we do not have passionate, positive teachers who love their students and want them to succeed as humans, not just for the EVAAS rating we receive from their test scores, what are we doing? I think we are losing our students not because teachers are giving up on them, but because public education is. Investing in teachers and giving them control over their classrooms creates the positive learning environment that New Hanover County Schools aims for in its mission.

The impact a teacher makes on a student is immeasurable. In spite of adversity, we teach with all of our hearts like our students’ lives depend on it-because they do. Our students’ futures are in our hands, and it is our responsibility to always construct education with this in mind. I am in this job indefinitely because it is in my blood. I do not intend on leaving the classroom as long as I feel I can prepare my 21st century learners to be conscientious adults who think for themselves and have the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a globally competitive society. I hope this remains possible in North Carolina.

“There isn’t a single person you wouldn’t love if you knew their story.” All children are who they are for a reason. Every child can learn, every child wants to learn and wants to be proud of his or her accomplishments; every student wants to be reached, to be equipped, to achieve. It is imperative, then, for teachers to keep teaching. We have to bring the love of learning and the desire to inspire back into our classrooms and schools. We have to make our students fall in love with learning again against all odds.

At the beginning of class on Monday, Evan, one of my juniors told me about a book he had read over the break. At the end of class, he stayed behind. “Did you ever just read a book just to read it? Not because there was something at the end to test your comprehension or whether or not you had read it, but just to appreciate the book for what it had to offer?”

Of course I laughed for a second- after all, I am an English teacher. “Yes, I have, once or twice.” He continued, “Did you ever come away from a book feeling like you were better off than you were before it, not because someone told you, you were, but because you were invested in it?” He paused. “I wish school was like that. I wish learning was like that. And I ask you, why can’t learning be just “like that?”

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The Good You Do For Others

by Dr. LaChawn Smith, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Academic Accountability

What do you think of most when you think of this time of year? Family gatherings, hanging decorations, shopping for the perfect gift or maybe you simply think of those who make a difference in the lives of others. Recently, I have read quite a bit about the selfless acts and generosity of some very special young people. For example, Ariana Smith is a three-year-old who donated her hair after seeing another little girl who had lost her hair to cancer treatment. Jamison Bethea, a ten-year-old boy, collected more than 1500 cans of food on his birthday in memory of his grandmother and because of the homeless people he had seen. Then there is Gunner Robinson, an eight-year-old boy from Wilmington. Gunner collected 300 pairs of shoes for students in need. “I get new shoes every year for school and I want other kids to get new shoes too,” he said.

Every day, teachers give tirelessly to their students as they do amazing things to motivate and inspire them. Co-workers invest in each other, work collaboratively and give the gifts of time, friendship and support.

These stories are encouraging and heartwarming, especially during this time of year. For most of us, the holidays are filled with joy, happiness and celebration. However, some families face sadness and despair. Circumstances can make it difficult to focus on the beauty of the season. Some have loved ones deployed, some have experienced loss and others may be dealing with the added financial stress of the season.

So as you journey through this holiday season (sleigh optional), I encourage you to reflect on your own selfless acts – the kindness and gifts that you share each day with others around you. I am reminded of this quote from Norman Brooks,

“Christmas is forever, not for just one day, for loving, sharing, giving, are not to be put away like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf. The good you do for others is good you do yourself.”

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Thank You New Hanover County!

Last night, the 2014 school bond passed with 64% of the votes. While I expected the positive results, I was stunned by the overwhelming level of support. I can only say THANK YOU to the citizens of New Hanover County. The margin of victory affirms my belief that most people are pleased with the direction of the district and support what we are doing for our students.

This win did not happen in a vacuum. There are a lot of people to thank and acknowledge. First up is the Bond Committee that was co-chaired by Ann David and Dianne Avery. They provided exceptional leadership to a dedicated group of community-minded citizens (The 2014 Bond Committee is listed below). This group of volunteers spoke to over 2000 people at over 40 different events. They met with groups of 5 to 200 and shared their passion for public education.

I also want to thank the employees of New Hanover County Schools. They supported the bond by helping to spread the message about our schools and the need for the bond. Educating 26,000 students is a tough job and over 3,000 district employees were instrumental in letting others know about our needs. The school bond coordinators stepped up at each school and were instrumental in sharing information about the bond. The NHCS Public Relations Department, lead by Chief Communications Officer Valita Quattlebaum, kept a steady stream of information flowing about the needs of our schools and the importance of the bond. The district’s Facility Planning Department, lead by Eddie Anderson, did a lot of behind-the-scenes work putting together the numbers and facts that were used in the bond informational materials.

There were a number of towns and community organizations that endorsed the bond, which I would like to recognize. These include the town of Kure Beach, the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, the Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS®, the League of Women Voters, the New Hanover County Council of PTAs and the Wrightsville Beach School Foundation.

The New Hanover County Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioners also deserve thanks; they recognized the need for a bond and were willing to ask for the largest school bond in New Hanover County history. The boards knew there was a potential tax impact but stepped up to support the need. The end result was one of the largest margins of victory on any school bond in the district’s history.

With the approval, the work on implementing the bond now begins; we have to finalize a construction schedule and get moving on the building projects. I look forward to this process and will keep you posted on the progress. Within just a few short years, we will be cutting the ribbons on new schools. Thank you, New Hanover County, for supporting the district and most of all, supporting our students.

Bond Committee Members

Dianne Avery, Co-chair
Ann David, Co-chair
Dale Pelsey-Becton
Chris Boney
Cindi Castles
Jay Corpening
Ben David
Sheila Evans
Clinton Howlett
Kathy Gresham
Livian Jones
Jennifer Kelly
Dr. Larry Mabe
David Martin
Jack Mills
Ernie Olds
Dr. Sandra Sheridan
Denise Szaloky
Lynore Young

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The Research on School Bonds: Experts Say There are Significant Benefits

The three themes of the school bond referendum are Growth, Safety and Infrastructure. Research, however, shows that there are other significant benefits to modernizing school facilities.

Academic Gains:

“The research is conclusive: school facilities have a measurable impact on the achievement of our children…. While factors such as teachers and parental involvement have an indisputable impact on student achievement, well-designed school facilities—the places where our children spend the majority of their waking hours—can significantly bolster whatever human inputs our students receive. On the other hand, poorly designed or maintained buildings threaten to undermine every other effort we may put into our educational system.”
Source: Issue Brief: School Facilities and Student Achievement (Center for Innovative School Facilities, 2011)

“In a set of 20 studies analyzed by 21st Century School Fund, all but one study showed a positive correlation between the achievement of students and the condition of the school facility once student demographic factors were controlled for…. The overwhelming results of these studies show how counterproductive it would be to push for increased student achievement without providing school facilities that integrally support such achievement.”
Source: G. Cheng, S. English, & M. Filardo, Facilities: Fairness & Effects at pp. 3-5 (submission on behalf of
9 organizations to the US Dept. of Educational Excellence & Equity Commission, 2011)

“The research on school building conditions and student outcomes finds a consistent relationship between poor facilities and poor performance: when school facilities are clean, in good repair, and designed to support high academic standards, there will be higher student achievement, independent of student socioeconomic status.”
Source: Growth and Disparity: A Decade of US Public School Construction at p. 3 (Building Educ. Success Together, 2006)

Property Values:

“We find that school construction had substantial positive effects on home prices in affected neighborhoods, and led to increases in the population of families with children attending public schools. These effects coincided with increases in student reading scores….
A survey…suggests that both physical and motivational changes play an important role.”
Source: C. Neilson & S. Zimmerman, The Effect of School Construction on Test Scores

“Our results indicate that…passing a referendum causes immediate, sizable increases in home prices, implying a willingness to pay on the part of marginal homebuyers of $1.50 or more for each $1 of capital spending. These effects do not appear to be driven by changes in the income or racial composition of homeowners, and the impact on test scores appears to explain only a small portion of the total housing price effect.”
Source: S. Cellini, F. Ferreira, & J. Rothstein, The Value of School Facility Investments: Evidence from a Dynamic Regression Discontinuity Design at p. 215 (The Quarterly Journal of Economics 2010)

Teacher Retention:

“A growing body of research suggests the physical condition of public school facilities and the availability of resources, including technology, impact teachers’ job satisfaction.
Source: D. Stallings, Public School Facilities and Teacher Job Satisfaction (E. Carolina Univ. 2008)

“Research also indicates that poor facilities affect the health and productivity (attendance) of teachers and make retention of teachers difficult (especially for schools with a condition grade of “C” or less)…. Another effect of poor school facilities is the detrimental impact they have on students’ basic health.”
Source: G. Cheng, S. English, & M. Filardo, Facilities: Fairness & Effects, supra at p. 6.

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The Bond by the Numbers

THE NEED

3,500 Number of students over capacity
450 Number of students over projection this year
3,000 Number of additional students expected in the next 7 years
84 Number of mobile units in use
1964 Year the oldest mobile unit went into operation

THE BUDGET

$390 million Identified needs
$160 million Proposed Bond Referendum
$5 Monthly Property Tax Impact on a house valued at $200,000

THE PROJECTS

43 Number of schools impacted by the bond
14 Number of major projects
3 Number of new schools
1,933 Number of security cameras to be installed at schools
1 Elementary school built from previous bond savings

THE OPPORTUNITY

10 October, last day to register to vote
23 October, early voting begins
4 November, Election Day

Need more information? Log onto:
WWW.NHCS.NET/BOND

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The Alternative

Trailers cost more to maintain and create safety issues.

In addition to supporting student growth, the bond will renovate and update facilities such as the George West Building of New Hanover High School, pictured here.


One of the most common questions that I am asked when speaking to groups about the upcoming School Bond is – what happens if this doesn’t pass? It is a great question, and one that I want to explore a bit in this week’s blog. Before I get into it, I need to share a few facts.

First, when students returned to school this year there were 450 more than expected. The state estimated our student population would increase, but we exceeded their estimate by 450 students. This is the fifth year in a row in which that has happened. The second fact to consider is that we ended last year with 84 mobile units and that number continues to grow. We added new units to Bradley Creek this year. Every year that I have been here, we have had to add mobile units or rented classroom space to accommodate overcrowding. Finally, we opened another school this year – College Road Early Childhood Center – to accommodate overcrowding at Bellamy Elementary. Even with this addition, we could not remove trailer units at the school; they need the additional classroom space.

The circumstances described above offer a bit of insight into what would happen if the School Bond fails. There would be overcrowded classes, more mobile units and constant line shifting to address increased student population. Growth will continue; we are the third fastest growing area in the state and building permits are at pre-recession levels. One only has to drive around the county to see the evidence of this. To address the growth without a bond will mean that schools will have to use non-classroom spaces such as the library, office space, storage areas and the hallways as instructional spaces. This is already happening at some of our schools.

No bond means even more trailers will be needed. We already have trailers that are well past their expected usefulness. I have told people that a number of our trailers are older than the teachers who use them. Using a trailer as a classroom is not a good use of your tax dollars. Trailers cost more to maintain and are more likely to have mold issues than brick and mortar schools. The situation at Bellamy Elementary last year highlights this concern. Finally, trailers create unique safety issues. Students have to leave the unit and enter a building that more than likely is locked. The cafeteria, gym, media center, office and specials classes are all located inside of the school.

Without a bond, line shifting will be an ongoing event as different areas grow as we have to shift attendance lines to address the growth. This will become an annual event. We have already had to make small shifts the last two years. Each of these moves brings a major disruption in the lives of our students. With the bond, there will be one major redistricting in 2019 when the elementary construction projects are complete.

Beyond these concerns, I worry what message a failed bond would send to businesses that are considering locating here in New Hanover County.

The bond slogan is Our Kids, Our Community and Our Future. Your vote on this bond will define that future for both the kids and the community.

In addition to supporting student growth, the bond will also renovate and update facilities such as the George West Building at New Hanover High School, pictured here.

There are more than 85 trailers in use in NHCS.

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The Tax Impact of the Education Bond May Surprise You


On November 4th, New Hanover County residents will vote on a $160 million school bond. The proposed bond will help address a number of needs that New Hanover County Schools is facing – Safety, Technology and Growth. Today, I want to talk about taxes and what passing this bond means to your bottom line.

Any bond has a potential tax impact. Over the life of this bond, the average tax impact is estimated to be about 3 cents on the tax rate. What does this mean for a homeowner in New Hanover County? If you own a home valued at $200,000, the estimated tax impact would be $60 per year or about $1.15 per week – less than the price of a small cup of Starbucks coffee.

A look back at previous school bonds provides some interesting insights. Going back to 1995, we have approved bonds that had potential tax implications. However, there was no actual tax increase enacted. This does not mean there won’t be one now, but it does show that impact may not be as great as shown on the ballot. Additionally, the current school bond debt is decreasing considerably. This year alone the payment of past bonds has decreased by $911,471.

There are a number of factors that can mitigate the tax impact. One of these is property values. If property values increase, then the tax rate could be lower. The county is currently doing a major revaluation that could affect the tax rate. After the recent recession, it would not be unreasonable to anticipate property values increasing. Another factor that affects the tax rate is the general financial health of the county. New Hanover County has a very conservative debt policy that limits the amount of debt the county can carry. This conservative approach has helped the county achieve an AAA bond rating. This is the highest rating possible and one that only a few counties in the state possess. The Local Government Commission sets the limit each county can borrow and New Hanover County is well below that limit.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and the New Hanover County Board of Education have been very frugal with the taxpayers’ dollars. Thus, the credit rating for our county is very good, which keeps the bond rates very low. Therefore, the impact on the taxpayer for this bond should be minimal.

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The 2014-15 State Budget for Education: A Confusing Mishmash

I am not sure there is a good way to describe the recently adopted state budget other than to call it “a confusing mishmash.” There are some things to celebrate in the new budget, but there are also a lot of things to be concerned about as we move into the 2014-15 school year. I want to take a few minutes here to review some of the key provisions and offer my perspective.

Teacher Pay: The budget offers an average raise of 7%, though this is the key point; 7% is not the flat raise across the board. Instead, the raises are heavily weighted at the front end of the pay scale. Those at the upper end of the scale received very little. They also complicated the matter by rolling longevity into the scale. There was no movement on the issue of paying extra for advanced degrees. Teachers with advanced degrees will be grandfathered in, but those not enrolled in a master’s program cannot receive pay for an advanced degree. While I applaud the significant raise for new teachers and those at the front of the scale, I am very concerned about the message it sends to our veteran teachers. These veteran teachers are often the teacher leaders in their schools and are a critical component of student success. A pay raise of less than 1% for some of these teachers will drive them away from the profession or to teach in other states.

Teacher Assistants: The spin around this issue is another example of political gamesmanship. The official announcement is that no teacher assistant positions were cut. What was not announced is that a large portion of this funding was in the form of non-recurring dollars. Non-recurring dollars are one time monies that cannot be budgeted going forward. Additionally, much of the TA fund was moved to the reduce class size teacher allotment, which forced many districts to choose between teachers and teacher assistants. We will not cut teacher assistant positions this year, but we will have to fight this all over again next year when the budget process begins for 2015-16.

Drivers Education: The budget calls for continuing Driver’s Education this year, but eliminates funding next year. It does allow for a fee increase to $65 for the 2014-15 school year. There is no way to fund the program next year at that rate. My hope is that this is addressed in next year’s budget, but we will have to wait and see.

Textbooks: There was an increase of sixty-two cents per student for textbooks. I am not sure what exactly you can get for an extra sixty-two cents. The last year textbooks were fully funded was in 2009 when we received $67.15 per pupil. The new allotment of $14.88 is 78% less than the 08-09 formula.

Non-Teacher Raises: Non-teachers received a raise of $500 for the year compared to a $1000 for other state employees. Again, the message here seems to be that the legislature values their work less than other state employees.

Planning Allotments: One change in the budget that has not received significant attention is the change to how school systems handle projected enrollment increases. In the past, growth funding was part of the continuation budget. The state planned for the growth and allocated positions based on that projection. Under this budget, they will no longer automatically fund growth. This change means that districts will not know if they have the positions or dollars to meet new growth demand. Instead, the process is at the whim of the legislative budget writers. It could force districts to choose between addressing growth and maintaining the current level of service.

Other Budget Items: There was a 3% decrease to central office administration and 1% decrease for transportation. Any funds remaining for the Teaching Fellows Program were eliminated. They did, however, find additional money for school vouchers. This means your tax dollars will subsidize even more private schools that do not meet the same standards as public schools.

What is not in the Budget: There are several items that were talked about but did not make it into the budget. One was the Governor’s proposed career ladder, which I believe would have benefited all teachers. There were no changes to the tenure law that was passed last year.

I have always believed that a budget is a person’s or organization’s philosophy in actions. Looking at this budget, one could conclude that the current state government does not value teacher assistants and veteran educators and is not willing to commit to the long-term needs of the students in North Carolina. While there was some progress, I can only hope that in the long session there will be real substantive progress for the students in our state.

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2014 Graduation Speech- Flag Day


Board Chair Don Hayes during his service in the Vietnam War.

Every year at graduation, we hear a lot of great speeches from students, principals and others. This year, one speech stood out for me. That speech was the acceptance of the class speech by Board Chair Don Hayes. Don is a veteran who takes a lot of pride in his country and his service during the Vietnam War. As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, I thought I would share his remarks with you. With his permission, I have reprinted them here.

On behalf of the Board of Education, I would like to welcome everyone here to graduation. Congratulations to the Class of 2014! We celebrate with you and your families as you celebrate this graduation day; a graduation day, that also happens to be Flag Day. Now, as a former history teacher, I think I need to say a few things about Flag Day. Two hundred and thirty seven years ago today, the 2nd Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution of 1777 in order to establish an official flag for the new nation.

There have been observances over the years, but Flag Day was not officially signed into law until President Truman did so in 1949.

What I want to share with you is part of a Flag Day address delivered by Secretary of the Interior, Franklin Lane, on June 14th, 1914. Secretary Lane is a having a conversation with the flag and the flag is telling him what makes up the flag.

“The work that you do, that is the making of the flag. I am whatever you make me, nothing more. I am your belief in yourself, your dream of what you may become.

I live a changing life, a life of moods and passions, of heartbreaks and tired muscles.

Sometimes I am strong with pride when honest work is done. Sometimes I droop, for then, purpose has gone from me and cynically, I play the coward. But always, I am all that you hope to be and have the courage to try for.

I am song and fear, struggle, and panic and ennobling hope. I am the day’s work of the weakest man and the largest dream of the most daring.

I am the Constitution and the courts.

I am the battle of yesterday and the mistake of tomorrow.

I am the mystery of the men who do without knowing why.

I am no more than you believe me to be and I am all that you believe I can be.

I am what you make me, nothing more.

I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.

My stars and my stripes are your dreams and your labors.

They are bright with cheer, brilliant with courage, firm with faith, because you have made them so out of your hearts; for you are the makers of the flag, and it is well that you glory in the making.”

Today, you graduate. How will you contribute to the continued making of the flag in the future? Is it higher education or a full time job?

Some of you have decided to serve your country by joining the military and I would like to recognize you for that future service. We live in perilous times, and we thank those that have served, those that serve today and those that will have the honor to serve. Those decisions to serve make this Flag Day and this graduation possible.

God bless you, and remember graduates, when you see that flag waving in the breeze, it represents you and all that you can become.

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The Continued Politics of Education

The Senate released its budget yesterday, and the highlight of that budget was an 11% average raise for teachers. That was the good news and is clearly a step in the right direction. The 11% will go a long way to making North Carolina competitive with other states.

Now with that said, there is a political aspect to this that cannot be overlooked. Teachers have to make an educational version of Sophie’s Choice and decide if they want to give up career status (tenure) in order to get that raise. If they choose to keep tenure they will remain on the old scale. As an ardent observer of politics, this is an audacious move and I am interested to see how it plays out. As a superintendent, I am worried what message it sends to teachers and forces them to choose between principle and pocketbook.

Beyond the teacher pay raise, there is little to celebrate in this budget. The biggest loss is to the teacher assistant ranks. The proposed Senate budget cuts teacher assistants by 50%. For New Hanover County Schools that could translate to possibly 100 fewer positions. This group has borne the brunt of budget cuts over the last several years. They are a critical part of what happens in the schools today. Given the increased emphasis on reading and assessment, they play a vital role in the day-to-day instruction of students. The image of a TA grading papers is no longer the reality. As we work to differentiate and personalize instruction, they are a critical part of that process.

Along with cuts to TA’s, there is a reduction to the transportation budget, no extra funds for instructional supplies, no funds for technology and a 30% cut to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The cuts to DPI will mean that state-mandated services will be pushed down to the local level and increase our costs.

So we need to celebrate that the legislature heard the message that teachers need to be paid better, but we must be concerned that the trade off is the continued undermining of the remainder of the educational system. We need a strong public school system in order to make our state a viable economic force heading into the future.

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