Gratitude and Hope After the Storm

by Valita Quattlebaum, APR

As we approach the 2018 holiday season, we at New Hanover County Schools are filled with gratitude for the kindness and hope the storm recovery has brought our way. We are grateful that we were able to reopen most of the schools on October 4, 2018, to help our students and their families regain a sense of normalcy. We are grateful that we were able to carry on with our United Way fundraising campaign to help those in our community less fortunate in spite of the fact that many of those less fortunate include some of us during this time. Most of all, we are grateful for the many dedicated employees of this district who demonstrated leadership and true heroism to help us recover.

This continues to be a challenging time for some people. So long after folks like NBC’s Lester Holt and Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel have left town headed to the next national disaster, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence two months later. This was a storm like no other seen by this region in recent times. Hurricane Florence was a slow-moving monster that stalled and lingered over our community and did far more damage than was originally known. New Hanover County Schools lost 19 school days because of it – the most in the history of the district. Some staff and students came back after the nearly two-week evacuation period to find homes severely damaged and in some instances, completely torn down. There was serious damage at some schools as well, some of it extensive. Damage ranged from some schools having puddles of water in the hallways to a few schools being destroyed and one uninhabitable. Precious items in some classrooms were lost such as books, degrees, family photos, and classroom memorabilia. NHCS-TV chronicled a few of these stories through a series we called “NHCS Hurricane Stories.” These videos told the poignant tales of loss and survival of some of our staff, students and their families.

While there are those among us who lost everything – we never loss hope. We have hope in each other, hope in our district leaders, and hope in the resilience and strength of the people of the Cape Fear region. Hope came after the storm in the form of donations from across the country that keep coming. Approximately 48 schools, 15 individuals, 10 nonprofit groups, 11 businesses, 6 colleges and universities, 3 private/charter schools, one denomination and several churches came through for NHCS. Donors called, lifted up prayers, and sent truckloads of supplies including every type of school supply imaginable, books, clothing, kind letters, and social media posts of support. Some people donated funds and gift cards to give to our displaced students, families and employees.

At some point, we became inundated with donations and had to graciously say that we have more than we can handle. The district is still accepting monetary donations only that will be used to help us continue to make needed repairs. We have also been redirecting donors to reach out to neighboring districts in Robeson, Brunswick, Pender, Onslow and Columbus counties. Some school districts in those counties suffered even greater losses than NHCS and they are earlier in the recovery process. We were fortunate in NHCS to be able to reopen our schools quicker than most were able to do.

Thanks to all for your support before, during and after the storm. We look forward to 2019 filled with hope for a great new year and continued success for all of our students and staff. NHCS wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday season!

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NHCS Storm Stories

In our last installment of NHCS Storm Stories, a NHCS teacher shares her desire to help others while she deals with the loss of her home.

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Leading the Way

Each year, I write a blog post about the performance of our schools. Typically, I do this blog in October, but due to the hurricane, it has put us a little behind our regular schedule. I still think it is important, though that the community-at-large knows how New Hanover County Schools is performing on state and federal assessments.

Traditionally, the first data point that we look at is our graduation rate. Back in the fall of 2010 when I first arrived to NHCS, the graduation rate was in the 70s. We have made tremendous growth in this area, and I am so proud to share that for the first time ever we made it to 85%. Our 2017-18 graduation rate was 86%! I cannot say enough good things about the administrators, teachers, counselors, tutors, and others in our district who work tirelessly with our students every day to make sure they graduate on time. Graduating from high school is the first step for all students to start their career.  Without a high school diploma, students cannot advance to the next level – they cannot go to college, enter the military, or take classes at a community college. They encounter very limited career options and job opportunities. My goal for NHCS is to exceed the State average of 86.2% and then surpass the 90% threshold for graduation.

When you dig deep into the graduation data, you see that every subgroup showed improvement. I am particularly proud of the improvement of our students with disabilities.  This group went from 66% to 72%. Another group that showed strong growth was our English-as-Second-Learners students. They jumped from 45% to 63%, and this continues the upward trend of the last several years for our students.

Beyond our graduation rate, we also look at our performance composite. The chart below shows that in the last four years, we’ve gone from 63% to over 66% proficient.  We have also exceeded the State each of those years by almost 10%.

As a district, we also benchmark our performance against several other indicators; these include the districts around us, other large districts and districts of similar size. The next two charts show that we are not only a top performer in the region, but we also outperform similar-size districts and other urban districts.

Another area that we benchmark is against the area charter schools. Each year, our performance compared to these schools only gets better. As you can see from the chart, none of the area charter schools would be eligible to rank in the Top 10 schools within our district. The one school that struggled the most – DC Virgo Prep Academy – has been restructured as a Lab School in partnership with UNCW.  I believe that this partnership will help the school continue to grow and make progress. Several of our downtown schools have shown tremendous growth and outperformed their downtown charter school counterparts. With the transition of DC Virgo to UNCW, the district has no schools with an F School Performance Grade (SPG).

The last two charts show data that is specific to our high schools, and once again, our high school students are outperforming the state.  The ACT test is given to all students, and you can see from the chart that we are almost 10 points better than the state. When you look at our SAT results, you will see again that we are above the State, as well as the national average, at all of our high schools.

Let me conclude by saying, I’m very proud of the work that our teachers and other educational professionals do every day in the classroom. These improved results and strong standings at the regional, state and national levels are because of their hard work and commitment to our students from Pre-K to high school. Additionally, I cannot say enough about the willingness of others that share their resources and provide support. During my time here, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners has been a great partner, who has been willing to commit resources to ensure that our students have what they need to be successful. It is also an indicator of the level of parent support that we have in our district and the faith that they have in our schools.

Next year, I anticipate that I will have the opportunity to share similar or even better results as NHCS continues to make progress. No hurricane can slow us down or prevent our students from being successful!

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Getting Back to the Business of School

Storm recovery…Where to begin? From home life to work life and everything in between, our region is now in recovery mode from Hurricane Florence. We are now dealing with insurance adjusters, contractors, tree removal, and other tasks to help restore our homes, our businesses, our lives. Everyone is trying to get back to a normal routine, which is sometimes easier said than done.

New Hanover County Schools has been in recovery mode for the last several weeks – restoring our buildings, our facility’s grounds, and yes…our instructional day. As part of our district’s restoration efforts, we have to look at not only the structural areas that we have lost, but also the instructional time that was also taken by the storm.

There’s been a lot of discussion about making up time due to Hurricane Florence. I have received numerous emails and messages from a variety of stakeholders – NHCS employees, parents, students, and community members – that have kindly (and some very candidly) given their input on the options to make up time.

Several have asked not to make up the days at all due to the State Legislature forgiving up to 20 days. Others have shared their comments about adding time to the instructional day or adding days to the school calendar. Whatever solution is determined, we will not please everyone, but simply not making up any of the time is not an option. NHCS is in the business of educating students, and just like with any other business, we have to do whatever is possible to make up our losses. When the State Legislature forgave the days, they did that primarily for employees, so that they would not have to take leave for the days that they missed due to the hurricane. It also gave districts the flexibility on how to make up the instructional time that was lost to the hurricane.

Our primary mission is educating students and not making up the time would send the message that classroom time is not important. Seventeen days is almost a full month of instruction. I believe there is no better instructional time than when a teacher is in front of his or her students. This simply cannot be made up without adding time. We can argue about days or minutes as a means of gaining that time back, though our tight calendar really limits our options to gain time.

I also have to consider the possibility that more days could be missed due to weather, as we have not even started the winter months. (We lost three days last year due to the snow and icy weather.) If we miss more time in the coming months, we may have to look at Saturday school, a shorter spring break at Easter or other make up options.

Last week, the district conducted a phone survey about make up options to all traditional calendar parents and teachers. After reviewing the results, we found that there is a slight proportion in favor of adding time to the day instead of adding extra days at the end of the year. For this option, one of the biggest complaints is, “What can you do with 20 minutes? That doesn’t really add anything to instruction.” I would disagree with those that do not think an additional 20 minutes per day has no educational value. By adding 20 minutes to a reading block or a math block, a teacher can dig deeper into that subject. A 20-minute remediation block added to Smart Lunch at the high schools can make a difference. Time is simply a tool that we have at hand. If we ignore it, we have lost the opportunity to recover what we have lost; if we capitalize on it by adding 20 minutes a day, we will regain a good portion of the time that was lost, and the district will be moving forward with its recovery. We have no control over the weather, but we can manage the school day that will allow us to incorporate time that our students need and deserve so that they can have a successful school year.

During the November Regular Board Meeting on Wednesday, November 7th, I will present both make up options – adding 20 minutes to the school day OR adding 5 additional days to the school calendar (Traditional Calendar) – for the Board of Education to review, consider, and determine how the district will make up the instructional time.

The NHCS Instructional Services Team has prepared examples of how the additional 20 minutes can enhance the school day and make a difference.

How to Effectively Utilize an Extra 20-Minutes to the Instructional Day

Suggestions from the NHCS Instructional Team

I can remember as a teacher on many occasions I would run out of time during a lesson. I would often think, if I just had more time, or if I just had five more minutes, I could have ______________.  Any teacher could fill in this blank. Our instructional time is already full of carefully planned activities and meaningful learning experiences. Unfortunately, Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on our area and negatively impacted many things, including the loss of instructional time. Make no mistake, there is nothing more important to student achievement and academic growth than our teachers working with our students. So with the loss of instructional time, the decision on how to recover it becomes an important issue.

Principals share this burden and have heard teachers’ concerns as they express that they do not have enough time in their day to do all that they need do and teach all that they desire or need to teach. Truth be told, our principals feel the same way. Principals are outwardly worried about how we can we recover our time for our teachers and students. Every opportunity that causes missed instructional time is scrutinized and even more so post-storm. Collectively, teachers and principals reassess every minute of instructional time and ask questions….Should we still attend this field trip?  Do we have time for this enrichment activity? The list is long and there is no right or wrong question or right or wrong answer as every minute of instructional time is precious and every instructional minute between teachers and students is important. These are the complications of finding the balance of recovering instructional time for our teachers and students versus all that stands in the way. While final decisions are yet to be determined, the idea of returning twenty minutes to remaining school days is a possibility. The NHCS Instructional Team is here to support teachers and principals in whatever decision is reached.

We know research suggests that more quality time spent on instruction yields higher achievement. So in the spirit of every minute makes a difference, we have compiled some ideas and instructional strategies that teachers might find useful as they reorganize and plan their lessons, post-storm. In addition, we realize that our list could be greatly enhanced by the contributions of others so this list is not comprehensive by any means.

Beginning of class

Try a new activating strategy: Engaging activities can be used at the beginning of any class period to activate students’ prior knowledge and hook them into the lesson.

Spiral Review: This common strategy used in math and science to review/reteach/remediate previous material that students have learned can be adapted to any content area.

Independent Silent Reading: The NCDPI grade band guides assist teachers in implementing ISR instruction and provide a picture of what ISR looks like in practice.

Journaling: Writing is powerful for student learning and reflection, which helps build metacognition. This article discusses various ways to incorporate journaling in the classroom and provides an efficient strategy for reading and grading student journals.

Pre-assessments: These are a useful tool for teachers to gain information about student knowledge before a unit of study. This enables teachers to compact the curriculum to better meet student needs.

Vocabulary strategies: Strategies to build and review content area vocabulary can be utilized in any course with students of all ages.

Number Sense Protocols: 10-15 Minute Number Sense Protocols is a collection of activities and strategies to increase students’ number sense and increase student discussion.

Teacher Read Alouds: “Read alouds draw students of any age into a community that is knowledgeable and curious about topics and texts, from novels to news reports.”

Middle or during class

Brain Breaks- Brain breaks aren’t wasted time. They are valuable to re-engage students and enhance learning. This article clarifies two types of brain strategies: brain breaks, which are stimulating, and focused-attention practices, which are quieting.

Writing Across the Curriculum- The NCDPI writing guides offer clarification of the writing standards and provide grade specific ideas for instruction.

Cooperative Learning Strategies- This list provides examples and potential uses for Think-Pair-Share, Jigsaw, Numbered Heads Together, Carousel, and more.

Graphic Organizer Structures- Connecting standards, thinking processes, and thinking tools—graphic organizers are a must in every classroom!

End of class

Exit tickets- These mini formative assessments allow students to reflect on their experience of the lesson. The teacher obtains a quick perspective on how well students understood the content and can adjust future instruction.

Quick writes- A quick write can be used to promote personal connections and reflection, assess student learning, summarize reading, and encourage critical thinking.

Student Surveys- “One way of gathering feedback from your students is to take 15 minutes or so during class to have them anonymously complete a mid-semester feedback form.” In addition, student surveys could be utilized at any time during the year to gather feedback on a number of things.

Online learning platforms

Most of our schools have access to online learning platforms and there are some online learning platforms that are available to any and all. Resources such as LearnZillion, Zearn, Prodigy, Khan Academy, IXL, and NoRedInk are no cost resources that can be used by students of all ages.

Twenty minutes a day can provide students with skill review, which can reinforce lessons from the classroom. The core of our business is teaching and learning. Collaboration and the sharing of ideas only enhance what we do. Please feel free to share any positive ideas and/or strategies on how to creatively use the extra time in your instructional day!

Here to serve!

The NHCS Instructional Team

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NHCS Storm Stories – Bringing School Families Together

In our next installment of NHCS Storm Stories, we learn how Hurricane Florence left her destructive mark on College Park Elementary, and how the school families of Castle Hayne Elementary and Holly Shelter Middle School welcomed College Park staff and students with open arms.

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NHCS Storm Stories Series Continues

As our community and the southeast region continue to recover and rebuild from Hurricane Florence, NHCS-TV has produced two more videos to include as part of the Superintendent’s Blog Storm Stories series.

These videos share the stories of a NHCS student and his family after their home was severely damaged by a large tree, and how a NHCS employee has taken in a fellow employee and family due to extensive damage to their home. Both of these stories are examples of the tremendous loss that so many have experienced due to Hurricane Florence. And, these stories are also excellent examples of the incredible community spirit to help those in need.

#buildingastrongfoundation #nhcsstrong

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NHCS Storm Stories

On September 14th and 15th, our county, our region, and our state experienced a weather situation unlike no other – Hurricane Florence. As you are aware, countless homes and businesses sustained severe damage and some were even destroyed. Roads have been washed away. And, sadly, lives have been lost. The impact of Hurricane Florence can be found far and wide, and the recovery efforts will last into the coming months, and for some, possibly years. A storm of this magnitude will leave a lasting imprint on us and our community.

All of us have a story about Hurricane Florence – how it has impacted our lives. To help capture these stories, throughout the month of October we will post NHCS Storm Stories – a video blog of NHCS employees and students sharing their stories about Hurricane Florence.

The first two videos are included below – Dr. Maggie Rollison – Principal of Trask Middle School shares her account of overseeing Trask as an evacuation shelter during the height of the storm – and Lauren Gray – a WECHS teacher – shares the loss of her family’s home to flooding and how they are rebuilding.

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It’s Never Firecrackers Here

by Dr. Tim Markley, Superintendent

Every once in a while, we need a reminder about the importance of public education. Being a strong advocate for public education, I would not have necessarily thought that I needed a reminder, but I got a very strong reminder a few weeks ago while I was attending the Back to School Cookout in the Houston Moore community.  It was a nice, warm August afternoon for administrators and teachers from Alderman Elementary and Myrtle Grove Middle Schools to meet students and their families, who may not have had the opportunity to attend their schools’ upcoming Open Houses.

While there, school staff members witnessed a tragedy – a drive-by shooting – that unfortunately has become all too common in some of our public housing and high-poverty areas. Just two blocks away from the fun-filled picnic, a young man was fatally wounded during a drive-by shooting. One would not have imagined that such a sudden, violent crime would have occurred in the afternoon while the community had gathered to celebrate the new school year…but it did.

I would like to publicly commend the school administrators and teachers. They didn’t try to escape the picnic. They chose to stay with their students and understood that while they could have left the gathering for the security of their own homes, they knew that their students had no place else to go, so they kept the party going to support their students – making the best out of a difficult situation and surroundings.  The teachers at these schools and all of our schools are committed to making a difference in the lives of all students, regardless of where they come from or what their background is. We need to recognize that this type of tragedy can and does have a lasting impact on the students that come to our schools every day.

We also need to recognize that public education is the only way out for many of these students. We serve as a shelter of refuge, a foundation of strength, a morsel of hope for many students, who are surrounded by the darkness of their reality and the violent crimes that engulf their communities, their homes. They struggle with trauma and life circumstances that most of us will never experience. When they come to school, we need to understand the traumas that they are facing and how we can work with them to meet their needs – both educationally and socially.

What drove this home for me was the comment of one young student.  When speaking of the event to some of the people there I said, “At first, it sounded like firecrackers,” and this student looked at me and she said, “It’s never firecrackers here.” No student should have to grow up in that kind of environment. How can we expect students to learn and pay attention when they grow up scared or indifferent to the violence that they see around them every day?

I commend our staff who are willing to work with some of our most challenging students. They do this because they want to make a difference and understand that if these students are going to be successful, we all have to be part of the solution.  I believe the entire community has to be willing to be part of that solution. We need to provide safe areas for our students outside of school, where they can grow up and not experience violence as a daily occurrence.

As we begin this new school year, I come with a renewed sense of the importance of the work that we do. I also come with a renewed sense that the work we do makes a difference in the lives of our students and the well-being of our community. I urge everyone to get involved and help make the life of our children safer. Whether it’s being extra patient with a frustrated student, sharing a listening ear to hear their fears, or just a smile and a few kind words, the school day may be their only positive experience. The importance of public education is endless. Please join me this year – as you have for many – to continue to support our students, our future.

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New School Year, New Beginning

by Christen Howe, NHCS 2018-19 Teacher of the Year

Welcome back to a new school year!

One thing I love about the beginning of the school year is that everyone, including educators, is given a fresh start, a new opportunity to begin again and do better. To me this new beginning always inspires hope and possibility.

As you begin to set goals and make plans for the new year, I encourage you to remember the reason why we are here.

No matter what subject or grade you teach, what department in which you work, we are all here for kids. Our whole profession exists to serve children.

In order to create a strong foundation in the coming year, I invite you to join me in the three following endeavors:

One: Let’s build real relationships that matter with every student.

Learning is a deeply personal experience. As James Comer states, “No significant learning can occur without a relationship.”

So let’s make time to know our students as people, both in and out of the classroom. Let’s learn about their interests, strengths, hopes, and fears.

Let’s build relationships based on trust and respect. Let’s treat our students the way we want to be treated.

Let’s believe in each and every student and let them know that they matter. Every day.

Our little efforts and actions can make a big difference.  This year, let’s

  • Greet students at the door, say hello and goodbye every day.

  • Let’s seek student feedback – find out what’s going well and what we can do better.

  • Let’s take an afternoon to attend a student’s extra-curricular activity.

  • And let’s keep trying, even when it’s difficult.

Building a strong relationship with each and every child is not always easy, but it is so important. And this is the beauty and responsibility of what we do.

We work in a profession where we have the chance every day to change someone’s life with our words, our actions, and our belief in their ability.

We must not underestimate the power of our words and the potential impact of our efforts.  As teachers we must seek to connect with and find the strengths in every student, every day.

Two: Let’s build a life-long love of learning.

Learning is at the core of what we do every day in schools and it is important that we help our students understand that it is more than a score on a test or a grade at year’s end.

What if we create experiences that help our students see that learning matters? And not because they need to learn information for a test, but because it allows them access to ideas, opportunities, and the world around them.

Children are born full of wonder and a desire to learn and, as educator/innovator George Couros says, “If our students leave school less curious when they started, we have failed them.”

So let’s teach to inspire, ignite curiosity, and create wonder.

Let’s provide learning opportunities that invite students to see what’s possible and then empower them with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to make it happen.

Three: Let’s believe in ourselves and know, without a doubt, that what we do matters.

Every day is an opportunity to do something great for kids. A strong foundation for children and learning begins with us.

There are – and will continue to be – challenges in education, but let’s remember why we are here.  We are here for children and we make a difference. Every day.

Never doubt your sphere of influence or the capacity you have to affect change. We can’t allow the things that are out of our control interfere with all the things we can control.

As teachers we are at the heart of education; we have the collective capacity to be the change our students need.

So let’s work together to make it happen. Our kids deserve it.

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Building Brains for Success Through Play and Connection: NHCS Early Childhood Year in Review

by NHCS Early Childhood Education Department

During the 2017-2018 school year, the NHCS Early Childhood Education Program (NHCS ECE) served over 870 children ages 3 and 4 in 50 public and private school classrooms across the county. Preschool children are growing rapidly and their thirst for knowledge is almost unquenchable! Our preschool program uses the Creative Curriculum system which places emphasis on learning in Interest Centers and hands-on investigation of study topics. Young children learn best through intentional play based experiences. Nearly every interaction in a preschool classroom provides an opportunity for a developmental or content based learning objective. Now you know why we take naps :)

Preschool children use literacy and drawing skills to write about their emotions.

In addition to our state approved curriculum, we utilize the formative assessment called Teaching Strategies Gold (which is part of the Creative Curriculum system). This formative assessment process requires teachers to collect data points on 38 researched based objectives three times a year. The 38 objectives for development and learning are predictors of school success and are based on school readiness standards. We feel so proud about implementing this curriculum which is the most widely used preschool curriculum in the state.

This past year, we have strengthened our partnership with 10 private sites which serve NC Pre-K children. Our department has provided curriculum resources and professional development for every private site teacher and directors. This past year, private site teachers filled out the Kindergarten Transition Card in alignment with our public preschool classrooms. For 2018-2019, every single elementary school will have NHCS Preschool graduates!

We are exceptionally proud of our implementation of the social and emotional learning  program Conscious Discipline, which trains teachers how to view children’s behavior in a neuroscience informed way.  In our classrooms, teachers use strategies to teach prosocial skills and develop foundational executive skills with our preschoolers. In our classrooms, you will see Baby Doll Circle Time, Feelings Buddies, Safe Place, Brain Smart Start and Wish Well.

Preschool child practices active calming by using breathing techniques with her baby doll.

In NHCS preschool classrooms, we are building young brains through play and connection. We are reminded of a quote from Ghandi, “To reach real peace in the world, we will have to begin with the children.”  We believe we are investing in our society by collectively raising our children to have empathy and be problem solvers and we know our children will have lasting positive effects on the Wilmington community.

We are proud to showcase the data of our children throughout our Pre-K classrooms.

Our children have shown incredible growth this year as assessed in 6 domains of learning: 4 developmental domains of Social and Emotional, Language, Physical and Cognitive and 2 content domains: Math and Literacy. In each domain, our preschool children have shown growth: at the end of the 17-18 school year 87% of children were meeting or exceeding the widely held expectation for Social and Emotional domain learning, 82% of children were meeting or exceeding in Language, 94% were meeting or exceeding in Physical development, 87% of children were meeting or exceeding in Cognitive development, 81% were meeting or exceeding in Math, and 87% were meeting or exceeding the expectation for Literacy development.

Kudos to our youngest learners and the teachers who support them!

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