One Data Point in Time: A Reflective Memo for Students, Parents/Guardians, Teachers, and Administrators

By Karen Greene, NHCS Testing Director

To the Students, Parents, Teachers and Administrators of New Hanover County Schools:

As the 2014-2015 academic year wanes, during the final days of the school year students in our district and across North Carolina participate in the End-of-Grade (EOG)/End-of-Course (EOC) assessments. The results are among the many ways to determine how well students are progressing in school, but it is only one measure, among the other indicators, of student achievement. Although the results are merely one indicator of student progress, it prompts parents, teachers and administrators to reflect on the academic year. As the assessment time nears, below are thoughts to consider.

To Our Students:
You have worked hard and have demonstrated your progress many times throughout the year. As you prepare for the assessments, remember the following:

- Do your best! Rest well and relax;
- Although taking the EOG/EOC is a chance to show what you know, keep in mind that your teacher monitored your progress all year, has lots of samples of your work, and knows how much you have progressed; and
- Your teacher and your parents/guardians are proud of you!

Thank you for working hard and doing your best each and every day!

To Our Parents/Guardians:
Thank you for all you have done to support your child throughout the school year! You have discussed your child’s academic performance with him/her, encouraged your child to ask questions about things not yet understood, and maintained open communication with your child’s teacher. In preparation for the end-of-year assessments:

- Note the testing schedule to ensure that your child is at school on time on testing days;
- Make sure that your child has gone to bed on time the night before so they are well rested;
- Serve a healthy breakfast including protein so that your child is not hungry during the testing session. If your child eats at school, the Child Nutrition Department will provide such;
- Encourage your child to listen to and follow all directions given by the teacher; and
- Remind them that this assessment is only one measure, on one day, during the entire school year.

Enclosed with your child’s final report card is an Individual Student Report which provides information regarding your child’s performance on the assessments. The results compare your child’s progress to other students in the same grade at the school, the district, and across the state. Please contact your child’s principal if you have questions about the report. You are a pleasure with which to work. Thank you!

To Our Teachers:
Great teachers are part of the key to success in our schools. You have worked tirelessly all year to design and implement effective strategies to ensure student success. As you analyze the end-of-year results, keep in mind the following essential questions:

- Did my students show growth? In addition to the end-of year results, what other pieces of evidence do I have to determine my students’ progress?
- Did my students demonstrate proficiency, meaning did they score at a level that indicates that they consistently demonstrate mastery of the content standards?
- How am I using the end-of-year results and the results from numerous measures during the year to reflect upon and improve my effectiveness?

You emulate a life-long learner as you continue to learn and grow. You have contributed to your students’ academic success and have demonstrated it in numerous ways throughout the year. Thank you!

To Our Administrators:
You create an environment which engages the community in the support and ownership of the school and develop strong relationships with students’ families and community members. You lead the staff in the use of the best instructional practices and model and encourage collaboration between teachers and create an environment in which the staff is accountable for the performance of their students.
As you analyze the end-of-year results along with multiple data measures considered for school improvement, use them to:

- Establish an understanding of the “big picture” of your school’s current state, including student achievement, and other important measures such as the school environment, teacher community, parent community, and administrative issues;
- Reach consensus across the school community on which needs represent the highest priorities for action based upon the potential to improve overall student and school performance; and
- Identify implementation goals and strategies, including specific targets, indicators and milestones required to address the school priorities.

You are a data-driven instructional leader committed to improving the school and its progress. Thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Hanover County Schools’ 2015-16 County Budget Request

by Dr. Tim Markley, Superintendent & Mary Hazel Small, Chief Financial Officer

The 2014-15 school year is quickly coming to a close and I expect our students to achieve at a very high level. New Hanover County Schools continues to be the leader in the southeast region, surpassing surrounding counties. We are one of the highest performing urban districts in the state. This could not happen without county government support. Their support means:

• Assistance to overcome unfunded state and federal mandates.
• Additional teachers to support more high-needs students.
• Teacher assistants to help with small group instruction, which allows teachers to reach all students.
• More students will graduate than ever before.
• Opportunity to attract the best teachers and staff possible.

Our 2015-16 Budget Request is for $75,997,200, including both Operating and Capital funding. This budget request exceeds the prior year by $5.2 million (8%). The increase is being driven by several factors that include unfunded mandates from the state, increased cost for employee benefits and our desire to provide the best education possible for the students of New Hanover County. The budget was crafted with the needs of our students, front and center. Operating needs exceed the County Request by $2,320,000, and our recommendation includes using $1,033,000 of fund balance. For Capital Outlay, in addition to the County Request our recommendation includes use of available State Lottery and Technology Funds, along with fund balance in the amount of $1,033,000.

The first budget driver is unfunded mandates. A prime example of this is Driver Education funding. The state budget eliminates the funding for this mandatory program for next year and does not allow districts to charge enough to cover the cost of this program. While we hope the state corrects this, we have to develop our budget plan based on current law. Other anticipated mandates include estimated increases for state salaries, health care costs and employer contributions to the retirement system.

The next driver in this budget is student growth. We must ensure we have enough teachers to deal with our growing district. Our student population increased by over 300 this school year, and we are forecasting growth for the upcoming school year. We anticipate the budget will address this, though until we have a state budget, we must plan for the worst possible scenario. There are additional teacher positions in this request that help address the continuous growth. Without them, already crowded classes will increase, courses will have to be eliminated and programs trimmed.

The final driver and the most important one is making sure that the resources for student success are in place. Over the last several years, the state has significantly decreased funding for classroom resources and support. We continue to ask teachers to do more with less, but we believe it is critical to provide an appropriate level of resources and support to allow them to provide the services to students at the level our students need and deserve. This increase in funding would allow us to strengthen classroom support through increased instructional resources, professional development, administrative and mental health support.

In addition, we have included a 1% supplement increase for veteran teachers (26+ years), because this group of hardworking and loyal teachers has been ignored by the revised State Teacher Pay Scale. We are also requesting increased funding for custodial services, which were significantly reduced over the last several years to protect the classroom. Currently, we do not believe we are providing adequate custodial coverage in all buildings. While the detailed operating budget changes exceed our request, we are hopeful that some of these items will be included in the state budget.

We are very appreciative of New Hanover County citizens’ support for the 2014 School Bond Referendum, though additional capital outlay needs exist. We have documented our top priorities for the next two years, which will address several significant needs including:

• A new transportation facility for our Northern Bus Division at the Sidbury Road site. This division was moved from Laney High School in January, freeing up much needed space, but the site will need a new parking lot and building to house staff when we begin using the facility as a swing site for schools being replaced in the bond funding.
• Demolition and site repair for the old Lakeside School building.
• Renovations and repairs at several schools including bathroom renovations, HVAC upgrades, window and carpet replacements, and painting.
• Phase II of system wide classroom computer replacement.
• Furniture, equipment and vehicle replacements.

The capital needs will be funded from multiple revenue sources, including the North Carolina Education Lottery, for allowable renovation and repair projects, the state technology reserve (funded by state fines and forfeitures revenue) and fund balance.

To put this request into perspective, I wanted to provide a brief overview of our current operating budget. The total operating budget is $237,600,000, excluding child nutrition and capital outlay. Our total budget per pupil is $8,870, and the current county per pupil funding is $2,534. The local budget currently funds 15% of our instructional positions, along with an 8% teacher supplement.

Eighty-nine percent (89%) of the school system’s General Fund is funded by County Appropriation and used to fund 631 of our 3,700 positions. A breakdown of the positions is as follows:

• 51% for Salaries and Benefits for locally funded positions (excluding supplements):
     -418 Instructional (66%), including teachers and certified instructional support, assistant principals, and teacher assistants.
     -213 System wide Support (33%), including technology and maintenance support, custodians, clerical and central administration.

• 13% for Supplemental pay for teachers and school administrators paid by state and local funds.

• 36% for Non-salary line items including:
     -Instructional support (23%)
     -Administrative support (8%)
     -Technology and Operational support (49%)
     -Transfer to Charter Schools (7%)
     -Transfer to Capital Outlay (13%)

We are so fortunate to live and serve children in a county, whose leaders value the importance of education. Complete 2015-16 NHCS Budget information can be found at this link:

http://www.nhcs.net/superintendent/NHCSOperatingBudgetPriorities2015.pdf

The Operating Budget by source and purpose is shown in the following charts:

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

School Mental Health- Challenges and Supports

By Lisa Burriss, LCSW, NBCT, NHCS Lead Counselor and Social Worker

In serving well over 26,000 children and youth in the New Hanover County School system, there are numerous opportunities to identify and respond to the mental health needs of the students in our care. Teaching, modeling, and instilling mental health wellness for all students is as critical as assuring a quality education for each and every one. In fact, without a full spectrum that includes prevention, intervention and treatment, individuals as well as all stakeholders are at risk of unintended consequences.

When wellness is replaced by disorder or distress, assuring safety for the individual and the school is paramount. At times, the need is clear even if the solutions are not. Hidden indicators, on the contrary, present with added complications. Educators from varied disciplines must be skilled at recognizing signs and symptoms. Understanding that behaviors are motivated by thoughts and emotions, met or unmet needs, and the presence or lack of wellness, provides a framework for support.

A quick fix would be to stop the behaviors of concern or remove the student from the school environment. However, the matter is much too complex. The root of the misbehavior may be social, emotional, psychological or physical (lack of food, sleep, medical care). Substance abuse/misuse, sexual abuse or promiscuity, physical abuse and neglect, or unmet physical needs for survival may impede one’s ability to thrive and to achieve. Problematic behaviors may be trauma based, fear based, anxiety ridden, or the result of hopelessness. On the other end of the spectrum, students who believe themselves to be capable, connected and contributing are more likely to make healthy behavioral choices and experience wellness.

The challenge in schools is to equip students with coping skills that instill healthy living both emotionally and physically. The response must be rooted in school wide character building, outreach to groups, individual students and families as needed and a collaborative partnership with community resources.

Student Support personnel in schools, as well as the Central Office, provide extensive, multi-layered supports and interventions. School nurses, counselors, social workers, graduation coaches, school psychologist, behavioral specialist, school resource offices and site coordinators from Community in Schools provide individual counseling and specialized supports, large group initiatives, classroom guidance, and collaborative efforts with community resources. Guidance curriculum is integrated in academic subjects as well as athletics and the arts. Outreach to families includes access to food, housing, school stability, school supplies, and opportunities to enhance parent engagement.

At a higher level of need, New Hanover County Schools has a long standing contract with the New Hanover County Health Department which secures mental health therapists in 18 of the schools; the WHAT Clinic has established sites in three of the four traditional high schools, and three other local mental health providers have placed therapists in seven schools through a Memorandum of Understanding. Lake Forest Academy continues to secure day treatment for eligible elementary and middle school students.

The NHCS Crisis Response Team is ready on a moment’s notice to respond to critical incidents in schools. Each school must develop and abide by Safe School Plans collaboratively established with the Safe Schools Division and community emergency supports. Suicide and Self-Injurious Protocols are adopted and annually reviewed. Bullying claims are assessed.

In conclusion, the efforts to instill emotional and mental wellness in students is extensive and ongoing. Solutions to provide support, redirection, and care for those in crisis are vast and varied. The response to mental health needs must be significant and continue to remain a high priority in order to assure academic success and college and career readiness for all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

The Looming Crisis

By Dr. Tim Markley, Superintendent

High school seniors around the country are finalizing college applications, and more than likely, they are contemplating their college major and ultimately, their careers. One major they are not choosing is education. There is a silent crisisshortage of teachersbrewing for the future and many do not realize that it is coming. Universities are seeing drastic decreases in the number of students enrolling in education. In some states, the number of students enrolling in teacher education programs is down by over 53%. Here in North Carolina, the number is down 20% in three years. This is also a trend for alternative teacher training organizations such as Teach for America. For a state such as ours, this is a pending crisis. We are the ninth most populous state, and one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Even now, we do not produce enough teachers in North Carolina to cover annual attrition and have to recruit teacher candidates heavily from out of state.

What is driving students away from teaching? Like many problems, there is not one easy reason to identify. Instead, there are a number of factors that have contributed to the crisis. The politicizing of education, the increase in high stakes testing, budget cuts, elimination of teacher scholarship programs and low pay are some of the major culprits. When all of these factors are taken into consideration, together they paint a picture of a career that is not as valued by the public as a whole. Teachers are often used as piñatas by politicians and policymakers to score points with their base constituents.

Unless there are changes made, this crisis will only accelerate. We need to stop this war on teachers and treat them as professionals. How do we do this?

Address pay issues
Support meaningful professional development
Restore teacher scholarships programs such as Teaching Fellows
Ease rules related to lateral entry
Allow easier transfers between states

We also need to work to keep the talented professionals we have currently teaching our students. We need to recognize their efforts by supporting their attempts to increase their skills. This means paying for master’s level education, rewarding high performance and giving them the tools they need to do their jobs, which includes more classroom resources, better facilities and the support of strong paraprofessionals.

Without changes, I worry about the future of our educational system. During this legislative season, let your legislators know how important teachers are to our future!

State legislators’ contact information is available on line at: http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/representation/WhoRepresentsMe.aspx

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

We Have Reached the Insanity Point on Testing

by Dr. Tim Markley, NHCS Superintendent

I was planning for a recent meeting with local leaders and asked one our high school assistant principals to prepare a calendar about testing at his school. What he submitted can only be called ridiculous. He indicated that at his high school, they will administer 188 subject exams. Forty three of these exams will be one time tests such as AP, CTE credentials and ACT. The other 145 exams are administered at the end of each semester and include CTE, EOC and NCFE.

These numbers are just the total number of course exams. They do not reflect the number of testing rooms/administration sessions required, which would be a much larger number due to multiple sections of the same courses and the testing of students with accommodations.

To offer a more specific idea, testing for the Fall of 2014 at this school was as follows:
• Jan 15th – 15 subjects to test; 58 testing sessions needed
• Jan 16th – 13 subjects to test; 59 testing sessions needed
• Jan 20th – 14 subjects to test; 54 testing sessions needed
• Jan 21st – 11 subjects to test; 34 testing sessions needed
• Jan 22nd – If all students would have attended make-ups, 25 testing sessions would have been needed.

This level of testing disrupts the entire school. Even when only one grade is testing, which is what happens with the ACT, it causes changes to the entire schedule for the school.

When you examine the elementary testing, the picture does not get any better. We are even testing kindergartners. We are testing 5-year old students with an assessment that was meant to provide diagnostic data for teachers. The original Read to Achieve legislation required 36 tests to assess third graders. Luckily, this was reduced in 2014, but not by much.

Why are we doing this? There are a number forces driving this insanity, but one primary driver is a federal mandate that says when you accepted Race to the Top funds, you agreed to using test to evaluate teachers. While the tests are supposed to be aligned to curriculum, I often hear complaints that there is a disconnect between the two. In order to meet this mandate, the state has tried to create assessments for nearly every subject taught. For those tests that cannot be measured by a multiple choice exam, the state has implemented Analysis of Student Work (ASW) this year, which is a topic for another time.

There has to be some support for reform. There are several groups working on this issue and one group formed by Governor McCrory is about to make significant recommendations to reform our current assessment model. I believe we need accountability, but it must not come at the expense of high-quality teaching. Tests that are not aligned to the curriculum do not measure anything. Using tests that were designed to help shape instruction as the measure of teacher input is poor pedagogy. We must push our legislators to implement a balanced assessment system that is designed to drive instruction, not to meet a misguided federal mandate.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

We Are So Much More!

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

On Thursday, February 5th, schools in New Hanover County and across the state will be issued School Performance Grades for the first time. The NC General Assembly passed a law in 2012 requiring the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to issue grades A-F to each school based on the Ready Accountability Model Indicators. For K-8 schools, a separate performance score and grade for reading and math will be reported as well. Grades are calculated based on 80% student achievement and 20% academic growth. The academic growth score is comprised of the EVAAS School Accountability Index converted to a 50-100 point scale. More information regarding EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System) can be found at the EVAAS public website. The grades will be based on a 15-point scale for the first report card, but then be reported on a 10-point scale for following years.

As a district, we are extremely proud of the work and achievements of our students, teachers, and administrators. We are concerned that in grading our schools, some of our many accomplishments and successes will be overlooked. The achievement and growth of our students cannot be adequately captured in a letter grade. Our schools are unique and reflect the challenges, interests, and needs of the communities that they serve. In each of our schools, we offer unique programs and learning experiences tailored to meet the needs of our students. Our goal is not only to increase proficiency levels at our schools, but to ensure that our students are meeting or exceeding their academic growth rates. Unfortunately with the current process when our grades are released, we will have some schools assigned a letter “D” or below who have met or exceeded their growth expectations. We believe this sends the wrong message to our students, their families, and the teachers who serve them.

So on February 5th, when School Performance grades are announced, please remember that regardless of the grade a school receives, the school system’s focus continues to be on providing a high quality education to all students , and school grades cannot reflect the total quality education that our schools are providing.

We are so much more!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off