#NHCSProud – Best Practices in Literacy Instruction

Mrs. Fullard, a second grade teacher from Anderson Elementary, and Mr. Jeffreys, a third grade teacher from Codington Elementary, presented Best Practices in Literacy Instruction to the State Board of Education on Wednesday, February 1, 2017. During their presentations, the classroom teachers shared video clips of their literacy instruction and explained specific reading standards, skills, and strategies evidenced in the videos. As you watch the clips, you will observe the teachers asking higher order thinking questions; students comparing information between an article and text; and students engaged in independent work as they complete reading and writing tasks, vocabulary instruction, and literacy skills integrated in a Social Studies lesson. These are just two examples of what makes NHCS the premiere district in the state!

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The Essential Question in Education

As part of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s PowerBreakfast Series, NHCS Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley participated as one of the guest speakers during the November 8th breakfast. Dr. Markley openly addresses, The Essential Question in Education.

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The Practitioners’ Perspective

New Hanover County Schools hosted its 6th Annual Legislative Luncheon on Thursday, January 5th. The district’s Principal of the Year – Dr. Steve Sullivan of Hoggard High School and the Teacher of the Year – Mr. Christopher Walters of Parsley Elementary School – were the guest speakers. Dr. Sullivan and Mr. Walters shared their perspective with the audience, which included the Board of Education, state and local officials, community leaders and fellow educators.

6th Annual Legislative Luncheon – Principal of the Year Perspective Dr. Steve Sullivan, NHCS Principal of the Year

Dr. Steve Sullivan, Hoggard Principal, NHCS Principal of the Year

Good afternoon:

It is quite an honor to have this opportunity to speak with you today. I asked Dr. Markley a few weeks ago if there was a particular topic that he wanted me to speak about, and he said, “Steve, keep it positive and keep it brief.” As a former English teacher, this immediately brought to mind a quote from Shakespeare – “Brevity is the soul of wit.” So, I do promise that I will be positive, I will be brief, but unfortunately I cannot promise wit.

As I sat at my computer to begin writing my speech, I thought about a phrase that I have said thousands of times to my students during my career as an English teacher – know your audience. So, I began to mentally list all of the people who would be here today. That list included: teachers, principals, directors, superintendent, city councilmen, county commissioners, law enforcement officers, legislators, and school board members. This is my 4th time attending this event. I have to admit that on the previous three occasions, I thought that this was bit of an eclectic group to bring together for a legislative luncheon. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see not what was different about all of us; but rather, what we all have in common. All of us are public servants; we all work to make our community better and stronger; and we all do our jobs because we want to help others. What all of us in this room do, day in and day out, is truly noble. All of us in this room know it is hard work and unfortunately it often seems to go unappreciated by the very people that we have dedicated our careers to help.

We are very fortunate to work in a community where the media outlets do a pretty good job of highlighting the positives that we do in and for our community. Paraphrasing Don Henley, “People love dirty laundry.” So, even with the positive press that we get, many people tend to focus on the negatives associated with our chosen professions. I have to confess, that over time, this negativity had become a huge weight on my shoulders. I have been a principal for ten years now. Five or six years ago when someone asked me what I did for a living I would proudly say, “I am a high school principal and it is the greatest job in the world!” The past few years; however, when I am asked the same question, I have found myself answering with, “I’m in education.” I would quickly change the subject before any more questions about my job were asked. I had been beaten down by the negativity and I had lost the pride that I have always had in my job. Then something changed, it happened last year at this event. While enjoying a piece of cheesecake and trying to think of something relevant and profound to say to the county commissioner who was sitting next to me, I became moved and motivated by the speech given by our then New Hanover County and current Southeast Region Teacher of the Year Katie Snyder. Dr. Snyder mentioned, and it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Rita Pearson, “Every child deserves a champion.” She drove home her speech by stating that every teacher deserves a champion too. I left last year’s luncheon committed to being a champion for my students, my teachers, my profession, and myself. It has been an uphill journey, because that negativity is still out there. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I was once again truly proud of what I do. This epiphany occurred to me while I was doing something that all of us in this room do every couple of years – upgrading my cell phone. The salesman who was helping me asked what I did for a living, and without hesitation I proudly said, “I am the principal at Hoggard High School!” He shook his head and said, “That’s got to be a tough job.” My reply, “Yes, it is. But it’s the greatest job in the world.” I walked out of that store, not only with the 22% discount they give to NHCS employees, but also with the comfort of knowing that I was truly proud of my chosen career, and more importantly I am not ashamed to share that pride with others.

Before I close (I promised this would be brief), I want to thank each and every one of you for what you do every day. Our community and our children need you. I do want to leave you with this reminder: do the very best at what you do every day; be proud of what you do every day; and be a champion for what you do every day! We are our own greatest asset; our actions make us who we are, and our voices, united, are our strongest messenger.

Dr. Steven Sullivan

6th Annual Legislative Luncheon – Teacher of the Year Perspective Christopher Walters, NHCS Teacher of the Year

Christopher Walters, NHCS Teacher of the YearGreetings members of the board, senior staff, elected officials and invited guests.  As we turn the calendar to a new year it is a time we typically reflect on our past to celebrate the good times, grow from the difficult times and look forward to positive change and better results.

As I look back on my 14 years in the teaching profession, many things have changed.  I once was the young teacher, half the age of many of my colleagues.  Now, I watch in disbelief as little strands of gray start to creep into my life.  Realistically, I find myself to be among the average teachers in Public Education.  I’m in the middle of my career, I have a family outside of school and I am part of the 52% of North Carolina teachers who have a part-time job. As I reflect on that last part I realize that through my 14 years of service, I have held a part-time job for all but a few months of my 14 year career.  Some of those jobs were to occupy time in my younger days; however, more recently, I needed them to help support my family.   Besides teaching, I have been a lifeguard, insurance salesman, a driver’s education instructor, and most recently, a pizza delivery driver and weekend umpire.

This time last year, my day started at 7:30 AM when I began my school day.  Throughout the day, I worked effortlessly teaching my students the importance of a healthy, active life, but also making sure I was developing the whole child by incorporating core content into my instruction.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I hosted a running club after school hours for more than 50 4th and 5th grade students.  Not for extra pay; because it’s important to my students, school and community.  Afterwards, I would go home and sleep for an hour maybe an hour and a half, because my day wasn’t over.  At 6 PM, I would arrive for a night shift delivering pizzas in another section of town, because I didn’t want to deliver to the houses of my students. I worked from 6 PM until at least 2:30 AM in the morning.

Only a few people outside of my family knew that I held this second job and hardly anyone at school knew.  I never let the second job affect my teaching; it was my first priority.  I carried that burden for nearly two years but that burden was even heavier on my family.  I missed valuable time with my wife and my four young children.  Instead of helping my 5th grader with homework after school, I had to catch a power nap.  Instead of taking them to practices after school, I was taking orders.

There are many teachers today who are going through the same struggles as I went through.  They will sacrifice everything for their family at home but also for their family at school.

Earlier, I stated that in my 14 years many things have changed and that’s true; however, not everything has changed.  My love for public education and my passion for teaching has not changed, it has only been ingrained even more deeply into my daily life.  Despite the side jobs, the pay, and the many other issues I can name, I still look forward to walking into my room and seeing the smiles on my students’ faces.  I love walking down the halls giving high-fives and silent waves.  Nothing will ever change that because that is what I’m called to do.

Today, we are gathered here to discuss issues that are facing public education; results that we will not necessarily see immediately, but possibly years down the road.  The decisions we make today will affect everyone who is sitting in this room, but the greatest group of individuals that it will impact are not.  Those individuals include the teachers, who are working tirelessly day in and day out, making sure they are prepared to give their students the tools needed to reach their highest potential.  It will also affect the students who will one day be sitting in the chairs that are currently occupied by all of us.

Throughout my tenure, as a teacher and as the New Hanover County Schools Teacher of the Year, it has been my mission to not focus on all the negative and friction that can sometimes surround politics and public education.  Rather, I try to focus on and highlight all the positive accomplishments in public education.  These accomplishments are a true testament to the diligence and perseverance of our teachers and to our profession as a whole.  A quote from the great George Lucas states, “Always remember your focus becomes your reality.”  My interpretation of that is – why not focus on the positive?

Over the past several years, teachers have seen funding cuts, class sizes and paperwork grow, and a dramatic decrease in the number of future teachers in the college of education.  Now, there is discussion about cutting areas such as Physical Education and Arts Education in order to have caps on classroom sizes.  Despite all of this static, teachers all over the state continue to wake up each day and take on the world, because they know they are making a difference in the lives of our children. They also believe that public education is the best avenue for equipping our children and future leaders with the skills necessary to reach their highest potential.

Teachers in North Carolina, especially in New Hanover County, are seeing amazing results in the growth of our students.  The state graduation rate has increased every year since 2006.  In 2006, the graduation rate was 68.3%; however, in 2015, we successfully graduated 85.6% of our high school students.  Here in New Hanover County, we have been witness to the hard work of both the teachers and the students through steadily increasing test scores.  From the 2015 school year to the 2016 school year, our EOC scores for grade level proficiency grew by over 2% and our EOG scores gained over 1% of growth.  These consistent results are a testament to the hard work and dedication from all of our teachers and the resilience of our amazing students.

The policies that we put in place in the near future will have the most dramatic impacts on the children who are diligently working at their desk right now.  I have no doubts that everyone in this room wants what is best for each one of those students.  Our policies and beliefs might differ, but the end result is the same, giving the best possible education for all of our kids, so they can reach their full potential.  So the question becomes how can we achieve that end result?

First, we need to make sure that the funding is there for our students.  Our students can only succeed when we set them up for success and provide them with the resources they so desperately need.  When we compare our current budget to the 2010-2011 fiscal year, we see there has been a decrease in funding for students with limited English proficiency, classroom supplies, teacher assistants, and many other areas.  Our state’s population is growing at an alarming rate, yet we are not taking the necessary steps to cover the increase in population while managing our current student body.

Secondly, we have to make teachers feel appreciated and valued.  When someone feels valued and appreciated, productivity and success soars.  We see it every day in our classrooms with our students.  While there has been efforts to increase starting teacher salaries, our veteran teachers haven’t seen that same effort.  A recent ad claimed average teacher pay is $50,000; however, as a teacher with a Master’s Degree in Health Education and 14 years of experience, I make $47,000 and will top out at $51,000 with 30 plus years of experience.

According to NC policy watch, teacher pay in North Carolina currently ranks 49th for teacher wage competitiveness. We have discouraged advancing a teacher’s education by eliminating Master’s pay, no longer covering the cost of obtaining National Board Certification, and tenure is a thing of the past.  The list goes on.  That list, along with slashing classroom funding, is not showing teachers you have their backs. However, I know many teachers that are going to go back to school for an advanced degree, regardless of the cost, because it will make a difference in the lives of their students.  I also know that teachers find a way to make up for the cut in classroom supplies by reaching into their already depleted pockets; again, because the students need it, and more importantly, deserve it.

Finally, we have to look forward to the future of public education. We have to encourage and develop future educators.  We can do this by bringing back the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program that developed and nurtured many of our wonderful teachers in North Carolina.  This program lays down the foundation for our most promising teacher leaders.  It provides them with the building blocks that are needed to reach the next generation of students and the skills needed to help make them successful educators.  It also shows a young college student that public education is vital to the success of North Carolina, and they can be a part of something bigger than themselves without staring at a decade of student loan debts.

In closing, Public Education is the cornerstone of a successful and prosperous North Carolina.  By choosing to support public education, we will provide our future leaders with the skills, resources and confidence they need to reach their maximum potential.  North Carolina needs to be the shining example all other states look to.  I believe our teachers have the dedication and determination, and our students have the ability and intellect to be the beacon in the dark.  We just need the pillars of our community and state to hold us high for all the world to see.

Thank you and have a blessed day.

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This Christmas – Give the Gift of Mentoring

by Valita Quattlebaum, APR, NHCS Chief Communications Officer

“It takes a village to raise a child.” African Proverb

In this Christmas season, as our thoughts turn to gift giving and celebrating, we should be reminded that one of the greatest gifts we can give to the children in our community is the gift of a quality education. At New Hanover County Schools, we work hard to ensure that we have high-quality educators, our 43 schools are clean and well maintained, and we serve 19,100 nutritious meals daily. However, no matter how great our staffs or the systems we use, we cannot do it alone. We rely on the people in our community who support us by serving as volunteers and mentors in the schools. Volunteers and mentors gave nearly 20,000 service hours this academic year, however, as we seek to improve, more assistance is required.

Mentors are critical in our schools where our neediest students attend. We have 41% of our students who receive free and reduced lunch. Some of them won’t have enough food to eat over the long Christmas break. For some of our 901 homeless students, there won’t be presents under the tree or even their own beds in which to sleep. We have hundreds of students whose parents cannot adequately provide for them for a variety of reasons. For some children in our schools, this season of joy becomes a time of sadness and a reminder of the poverty and lack in their lives.

Fortunately, education is a bright spot and a way for students to climb out of poverty. A mentor can be a powerful person to help a student. Mentors are a source of encouragement and strength. For example, someone who was successful in school can show a student how to do the same. They can encourage a student to find anchoring activities such as sports, the arts, clubs or to connect with teachers that can help them want to stay in school.

At a recent meeting with Glen Locklear, principal of the JC Roe Center, he commented on the powerful impact the few mentors he has are making in the lives of some of his students. Currently, he has about four mentors from the LINC Program, but many more mentors are needed. Schools across the district such as New Hanover High, Virgo, Williston, Freeman, Snipes, Alderman, Gregory, Sunset Park and Winter Park have similar needs.

Being a mentor can mean different things based on a school’s particular needs. It can be as simple as having lunch with a student once a week and having meaningful discussions to help him stay on track and make wise choices. Mentoring can mean assisting with reading or sharing a particular skill that you may possess. For instance, at Roe, we are looking for someone who can give martial arts instruction because many of the students have expressed an interest in it. If learning karate can create a spark in a student and help him or her avoid trouble, it is well worth our efforts to find this type of mentorship for our students.

What greater way to give back to our community than to give of yourself, your time and talents to help improve the life of a student? If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please connect with us, and we’ll help you get started. Contact Frankie Pollock in the Public Relations Division at (910) 254-4319 or email frankie.pollock@nhcs.net.

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2014 NHCS Bond Update

By: Eddie Anderson, Assistant Superintendent for Operations

It’s been two years since voters in New Hanover County overwhelmingly passed a $160 million bond referendum to improve our school facilities and enhance the educational experience for all students. Safety, security, and modernization of our existing facilities are the primary focus of the bond program. New construction, additions, and renovations also increase classroom space to serve the growing student population and provide educational facilities for 21st Century learning. The projects are proceeding on schedule, and the 2nd anniversary is a good opportunity to provide the following update.

District-Wide Technology Improvements
To improve safety and security at all of our school campuses, cameras are being added as part of the bond program. Phase one of the camera installations has been completed. Cameras at all schools will be completed by mid-year of the 2019-2020 school year. Additionally, the network infrastructure is being upgraded to provide faster wireless and internet access, and a more robust, reliable network will be supported. This work will be completed by 2018-2019 school year. The bond program also includes beginning the district-wide transition to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). All new schools will be constructed with VoIP; and all administrative offices will be converted by the end of 2016.

District-Wide Building Systems/Infrastructure Improvements
Roof replacements, HVAC system improvements, upgrades and improvements to our building controls, and removal of asbestos containing materials in our schools are included to provide for safe, energy efficient facilities. Since beginning our energy management program in 2011, we have been able to reduce energy use, and subsequently, reduce our energy budget by over $1 million. This has been achieved primarily through education, awareness, and a change in users’ practices. However, we have also aligned our capital improvements to maximize the benefits of the program. Our focus is to maximize the efficiency of building envelopes, while simultaneously improving the operating efficiency of systems within the buildings. As a result, facilities operate with reduced energy costs and maintain safe, comfortable environments for learning.

Roof replacement projects have been completed at Sunset Park and Carolina Beach elementary schools. At Pine Valley Elementary School, we’ve implemented a roof resurfacing project that will extend the life of the roof until a complete replacement of the facility occurs in a future building program. Roofs at Trask Middle, Roland-Grise Middle, Hoggard High and Laney High schools will be completed as part of major renovations to those facilities. Roof replacement is planned for the International School at Gregory and New Hanover High School, and a roof coating will be applied at our Veterans Park schools to extend the life of those roofs. These roof projects will be completed in the upcoming years of the program.

HVAC improvement projects have been completed at Eaton, Codington, and Bradley Creek elementary schools, and Johnson Pre-K Center. The cooling tower was replaced at Veterans Park, and the HVAC and building controls are currently being upgraded within each school at the campus. Additional HVAC equipment and controls projects will be completed at several other schools during the next few years to continue our efforts to improvement operating efficiency and reduce energy costs.

High School Additions and Renovations
To meet today’s educational program requirements, additions and renovations at three of our high schools are included in the bond program and are currently under construction. These projects are expanding the existing facilities, improving vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow, and are incorporating district-wide technology and building system improvements to provide safer and more efficiency facilities. Work on all three campuses is underway.

Originally constructed in 1967, Hoggard High School is receiving improvements designed to provide much needed additional space and update the existing building systems. The work will be completed by the start of the 2017-18 school year and includes construction of a new main gymnasium, renovations to existing classroom buildings, and an expansion of the cafeteria.

Laney High School is also receiving much needed additional space and improvements to its infrastructure that was initially constructed in 1976. A new main gymnasium, media center, and renovations to the existing classroom building are underway and will be completed for the commencement of the 2017-18 school year.

At New Hanover High School, renovations of the George West Building are in progress and will also be completed for the start of the 2017-18 school year. This facility was originally constructed in 1954 and houses science labs, Career and Technical Education classrooms, the band room, and the ROTC program. Renovations will restore the building infrastructure and modernize these educational spaces. In addition, HVAC improvements at Brogden Hall are also underway. These improvements will be completed by the end of the current calendar year and will expand air conditioning to the gymnasium.

Middle School Renovations
Major renovations to Myrtle Grove, Roland-Grise, Noble, and Trask middle schools are included in the bond program, and we are preparing to begin the design for the first phase of these projects. These renovations will include repair or replacement of outdated building systems and components; improvements to bring the facilities into compliance with local and state building codes, ordinances, and regulations; site improvements for improved vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow; and improvements to create safe, modern, and appropriate learning environments. The design team selection for Myrtle Grove and Roland-Grise middle schools’ renovations will soon occur; the building and site improvements are scheduled to be completed by August 2019. Renovations at Noble and Trask middle schools are scheduled to be completed by August 2020.

Elementary School New Construction and Additions
The new Porters Neck Elementary School is currently under construction. There are two new projects to replace Blair and College Park elementary schools, and they are scheduled to bid early next year. To save time and money, prototype school designs are being utilized as the basis for the new elementary school projects. Porters Neck Elementary School and the replacement school for College Park Elementary will utilize a modified version of the prototype design for Castle Hayne Elementary School, while the replacement school for Blair Elementary will be based on the prototype for Snipes Academy of Arts & Design. The new Blair Elementary School facility will include an auditorium, similar to the one at Snipes Academy, which will be shared with Noble Middle School.

Construction of Porters Neck Elementary School is proceeding on schedule and will be completed early 2017. Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, for a total of three school years, the Porters Neck facility will be utilized as a “swing site” for Blair Elementary during their building replacement project. Construction for the new Blair Elementary School is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2017 and will be completed in early 2019. Upon completion, students will return to their new school and Porters Neck will open with its own population of students for the 2020-21 school year.

The building replacement project for College Park Elementary School is in the final stages of the design process and will bid early next year. Construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2017 and be completed in early 2019. The Sidbury Road facility will serve as a “swing site” for College Park Elementary School during construction. Construction will be completed and College Park students and staff will return to their new school for the start of the 2019-20 school year.

Additions and renovations are also planned for Wrightsville Beach Elementary School, which currently has more classes located in mobile units than are accommodated within the school building. In addition, classroom space is also leased from the adjacent Wrightsville Beach Baptist church. The additions and renovations will eliminate the mobile units and the need to lease classroom space, bringing everyone under one roof. Design and construction will be completed to permit the reopening of the school in August 2021.

During its construction phase, Wrightsville Beach Elementary will attend the new Blair Elementary facility for the 2019-2020 school year, while additions and renovations are completed at their school. Blair Elementary School will reopen with its own student population for the 2020-21 school year.

As you can see, many projects are well underway to improve our existing schools and to provide new facilities to meet the needs of a growing student population. We are very fortunate to have a phenomenal team of designers and contractors, and the NHCS Facility Planning & Construction staff overseeing all of these projects. Construction projects are always a challenge. The daily logistics of construction on active school sites is an even bigger challenge. These folks have not only met that challenge, but have also been able to keep projects on schedule and under budget.

The current bond is the first step to fulfilling NHCS’ facility needs. The state’s Facility Needs Survey that was completed in 2015 identified over $390 million in new construction, renovation and modernization needs. While we celebrate the success of the current bond program, many needs still exist and are unfunded. We must continue to find ways to fund projects to meet the growing population of students in our County, and to provide safe, efficient and educationally adequate facilities. We thank the citizens of New Hanover County for their support and the confidence they have entrusted in us to facilitate the success of all students!

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Expanding Opportunities for Students with Online Learning

by Wendy Kraft, NHCS Online Learning Supervisor

Mandarin Chinese, AP Human Geography, Digital Photography, and Honors Forensic Science are just some of the 150+ online courses to choose from in New Hanover County Schools (NHCS).  Currently, students are accessing approximately 1,600 online courses this semester alone.

Through the implementation of our online learning program, NHCS has continued to expand its opportunities for students at the middle and high school levels.  Our district utilizes North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) courses, along with a locally-created support structure to ensure that every student is positioned for success.  Participation in these online courses is free of charge for NHCS students.

In 2015-2016, our district proudly reported a 93% pass rate for initial credit online courses, which was 7% higher than the state average. The Credit Recovery pass rate for the district was 63%, which was 6% higher than the state.  NHCS remains the 3rd largest user of NCVPS courses in the state, behind Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake counties.

Several common questions arise when considering online courses:  Why take an online course? What does my child need to know to be successful? What supports are available? How can I be involved in my child’s online learning experience?  How do we enroll into an online course?

Let’s unpack these questions….

  • Why take an online course? High school students may take an online course because the content may not be offered on campus, such as many of the World Language courses and Advanced Placement (AP) offerings.  Other students opt to take an online course because it allows them greater flexibility in scheduling.  Still, others seek to take an online course in addition to their already full high school schedule as a means of accelerating.  Students often refer to this as taking a “5th block” class. NCVPS also offers Credit Recovery courses, which allow students who have failed a course to work at their pace to recover the credit towards graduation.  Online courses are also available to support students in the Occupational Course of Study pathway. At the middle school level, students may be interested in one of the middle school content elective courses not offered on their campus, or they may be approved to access a high school course to accelerate their pace in high school.  Note: Middle school students who access a high school course while in middle school earn high school credit for the course, but this course does not contribute toward high school GPA.
  • What does my child need to know to be successful in an online course? Online courses are not easier; they cover the same content…just in a different format.  Our online courses are web-based, so students can login and work anytime, anywhere.  NCVPS courses are taught by certified teachers and have classmates that may live across the state.  It’s a neat way to interact with peers outside of our community.  Students should dedicate 90 minutes a day, per course for semester courses and 45 minutes a day for year-long courses.  Logging in daily and regular participation in the online course is expected.  The online teacher will provide the student with feedback on their work, assist the student by explaining things when needed, and will work to connect the student with their peers through discussion forums.  However, the student will need to notify the teacher if they are struggling…you can’t raise your hand in an online course.  So, students are encouraged to use the tools embedded in the course and when in doubt, contact the assigned NCVPS teacher.
  • What supports are available? As with any course, the teacher is the best source of support.  Additionally, NCVPS offers Virtual Buddies and Peer Tutoring sessions for all courses. Several courses, such as World Language courses, integrate a weekly, live coaching session as well.  As a district, NHCS is committed to ensuring that we are wrapping our online learners in layers of support.  Each school has an E-Learning Advisor to ensure that students are appropriately advised and scheduled for optimal success in the online courses. There is an NCVPS lab on each campus. It is facilitated by a Virtual Academy Coordinator, who supports students with navigation, progress monitoring and advocating efforts.  Between the resources available, both online and those available on campus, we are confident that NHCS students are positioned for optimal success!
  • How can I be involved in my child’s online learning experience? All NCVPS courses are now taught in Canvas.  This platform allows parents to sign up in the child’s course as an “Observer.”  With the observer role, parents can log in and view their child’s online classroom – exploring the instructional delivery, grading practices, work submitted and have a direct connection with their child’s online teacher. Just as with any face-to-face course, NHCS strongly encourages parents to become involved in their child’s online learning experiences.
  • How do we enroll into an online course? To explore online course options that might be a strong match for your child, please contact his/her school counselor or E-Learning Advisor.  Click here for a listing of school E-Learning Advisors.

For program information, please visit http://www.nhcs.net/onlinelearning/ or contact NHCS Online Learning Supervisor Wendy Kraft at wendy.kraft@nhcs.net or 910-254-4235.

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Making the Call

As a child growing up in Maine, I would be glued to the TV when snow started to fall and wonder if a snow day was pending. As a superintendent, I have a new perspective on weather calls. Modern technology has added a new twist on this with the advent of things such as texting and social media. When my son was still a high school student, he would get numerous 5 AM texts from friends, who wanted a scoop on weather calls. The district’s number of Twitter followers, as well as my Twitter followers, jumps every time there is a major weather event. I also have several students, who email me before every potential weather event. After a decision is made, inevitably there will be someone who doesn’t like the decision.

Given the recent storm – Hurricane Matthew – I thought I would take this opportunity to explain what goes into making the call. Once we are concerned that a weather event may happen, we begin to look what meteorologists, law enforcement, county emergency management and others are predicting. Often that data is clear, and we make the call as early as possible. Sometimes the data is iffy and too close to call. In both insistences, the primary factor is student safety. Can we get students to and from school in a safe manner? This is followed by – Can staff get to and from school safely? We have a large number of staff members who drive into New Hanover County from counties as far away as Onslow, Duplin and Bladen.

I cannot give enough praise for the work of organizations such as the National Weather Service and the New Hanover County Emergency Management Team under the direction of Warren Lee. They provide invaluable information and support, as we try to make a decision about weather and school closing. Local media also plays a role in the decision making process. We start getting calls from the media early, so that they can inform their viewers. As much as possible, we try make the decision the evening before an event. With that said, Mother Nature is not always cooperative. Hurricane Matthew is a prime example. The storm’s predicted course altered significantly early on, and we decided to dismiss early on that Friday due to the change. We wanted to give parents and employees a chance to make plans and preparations.

Another consideration, especially here in hurricane country, is the possibility that our schools will serve as shelters. Several of our schools are equipped with backup generators for this purpose. School administrators and custodial staff at these schools work around the clock if they are activated as a shelter. The decision to open schools as shelters comes from the New Hanover County Emergency Management Office.

After the weather event, the next question is – How fast can we get students back into school? Again, student safety is the prime consideration. Our principals check their buildings and Operations personnel are tackling issues and preparing the schools so that we can resume school. Our Transportation teams are out checking roads to make sure buses can roll and roadways are safe. Our goal is to get students back in the classroom as quickly as possible. Extended closings impact childcare, community calendars, access to meals, and much more. Many of our parents are working parents, and missing multiple days can create a hardship for them. For some of these students, the only hot meal they receive is when they are in school.

While staff and students may celebrate the unanticipated break, parents want to maintain their routines. All of this can and does lead to confusion and frustration. That is not the intent, but comes with the territory when trying to predict the weather. We will always put student safety first when making a weather call, and we will always try to give parents as much notice as possible.

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New Hanover County Schools Continues to be a Top Performer at the Local, Regional and State Levels

Recently, the State released the student performance data for districts across the state. The NHCS Testing Department has broken down the data. This information will be shared with the Board of Education during its October Regular Board Meeting on Tuesday, October 4th. I wanted to take a moment prior to the meeting to share the comparison data. As a district, we benchmark ourselves against a number of different groups. One area is the southeast regional data. Other areas of comparison include similar-size districts and urban districts. Finally, we look at how we are doing compared to charter schools in the area.

This first series of charts show how NHCS compares to various districts on End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests.

The following data chart shows NHCS compared to surrounding districts. As you can see, we continue to be the top performing district in the area.

This data holds true when you also compare us to districts of similar size.

This chart shows us the compared to the other urban districts.

This second series of charts shows how we compare on the ACT, which is a national exam. Once again, NHCS outperforms the region by a considerable amount.

We also outperform districts of similar size.

When compared to other urban districts, only Union County performs better on the ACT.

This final chart shows how all of the schools in the district rank. This includes local charter schools. As you can see, nine of the top 10 schools are New Hanover County Schools; only one charter school is in the top 10. Douglas Academy only has data for third grade, so the comparison there is difficult.

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Raising the Age for Students, Raising the Bar for School Systems

This week, our traditional students returned to school and most were excited to be back in the classroom. Unfortunately, there is a group of students who are simply waiting for their 16th birthday. This is the minimum legal age for students to drop out of school. While serving as Superintendent in Catawba County, North Carolina, we began to have discussions around the dropout age. I was pleased to see that the conversations continued after I left, and the two neighboring city systems – Hickory City Schools and Newton-Conover City Schools– agreed to pilot raising the dropout age from 16-years-old to 18-years-old. This change seems only logical, 16-year-old students are not ready to make that kind of life-changing decision. This is also being recognized by the state in other areas. The justice system appears to be moving to increase the age of when a person can be charged as an adult. Why shouldn’t schools move in this direction too?

To reiterate my point that a 16-year-old student is not ready to make that kind of life-altering decision, one MIT study found one-fourth of potential dropouts remain in school because of compulsory attendance laws. The same study also found that the overall enrollment rate among 16-year-olds is lower in states that allow students to dropout at 16. Research shows that those who stay in school earn at least 10% more on average.

Raising the dropout age will not solve all problems and is not a panacea. Raising the dropout age will require schools to address the issues that led to students dropping out. These issues include boredom, frustration and their academic struggles. School systems will need to create programs for these students. Here in New Hanover County Schools, we have implemented programs such as the Career Academy at the Mosley Performance Learning Center and the JC Roe Center to help address these and other concerns.

I believe the benefits of staying in school outweigh any potential cost. I urge our local leaders to support increasing the graduation age. I would welcome NHCS joining the current pilot and increase the dropout age from 16 to 18.

Dropout facts (Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy)

• Dropouts are less likely to have a job and those who do, earn less, on average, than high school graduates.
• Dropouts are more likely to depend on public assistance.
• Dropouts, especially young men, are more likely to be incarcerated.
• Dropouts are less likely to marry and are more likely to become single parents.
• Dropouts are less likely to be actively engaged in civic activities, including voting in local and national elections and volunteering for civic organizations.

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A New Year, A New Plan

Within just a few weeks, the 2016-2017 school year will be in full swing. To help set the direction for the upcoming year, the New Hanover County Board of Education has adopted a new strategic plan – Vision 2016-2020. This plan was created with input from a wide range of stakeholder groups that included parents, employees, students, local leaders and members of the community. The strategic plan will guide New Hanover County Schools into the foreseeable future – 2016 through 2020. A new mission statement is a part of the plan, and it clearly sets the tone heading forward with the idea of providing superior education and skills preparation. The NHCS Mission Statement is:

The mission of New Hanover County Schools, in collaboration with our parents and the community, is to strive to provide children with an opportunity for a superior education in a safe and positive learning environment where they are prepared with the skills to succeed.

After the mission statement, Vision 2016-2020 centers around five major themes:


I want to explore each of these in more details.

The first area – HIGH-QUALITY EDUCATION – focuses on our ability to continue to deliver high-quality education to all students in NHCS. The major points here include:

Continue to outperform both regional and comparable districts within the state on state accountability measures.
• Consistently meet or exceed academic growth at all of our schools.
• No schools identified as low-performing under the state accountability models.
• Increase the number of learning opportunities for students through the integration of flexible learning spaces, technology and inquiry-based problem learning and non-traditional learning.

The second major area is ENVIRONMENT and our ability to provide and maintain safe, respectful and secure learning environments where citizenship is valued. The major points here include:

Maintain security at campuses (hallways, stairwells, buses, cafeterias, mobile classrooms, common gathering areas for students outside, etc.).
• Provide students with greater intervention and crisis support, including additional alternatives to suspensions, such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools (HEARTS), In-School Suspensions (ISS) and the JC Roe Center for long-term suspensions.
• Ensure that schools develop and maintain a culture of mutual respect that allows students to learn and employees to work to their optimal capacity.

The next major area is PARTNERSHIPS. The goal here is to strengthen family, community and business partnerships through mutual collaboration and communication. The major points are:

Increase effective community communication through the use of annual Community Forums to present “State of the NHCS” report.
• Host parent and community-centered informational meetings on each of the topics addressed in this goal to share, educate, and gather input, strengths, areas of improvement, updates, funding, etc.
• Continue to solicit public opinion, feedback, and district information through forums, the district website and social media regarding initiatives, programs and student opportunities.
• Create/expand Partners Program to increase expertise, trust and shared responsibility for student success.
• Advocate for public school resources at the State General Assembly.

The next major goal centers on TALENT DEVELOPMENT. We must recruit and retain highly-qualified employees that implement and support district goals to ensure academic excellence for all students. The major points here are:

Recruit highly-skilled employees from diverse backgrounds that can provide rigor, relevance, and engaging learning experiences for all students.
• Provide teachers and administrators with a system of highly-effective, competency-based professional development.
• Ensure that support staff positions are allocated to adequately support the social, emotional and academic needs of students.

The final goal centers on LIFELONG LEARNING. Our goal is to improve access to high-quality and relevant Career-Technical Education courses, which prepare students for lifelong learning and employment through the development of adaptable skills and knowledge. The major points are:

Expand pathways to graduation by increasing pathway options for students that integrate coursework, work-based learning experiences and hands-on experiences, so that students develop competencies, skills and attitudes for success beyond high school.
• Increase engagement and partnerships with local industries that extend beyond traditional partnerships to ensure continued relevance of Career-Technical Education courses.
• Ensure that learning is rigorous and focused on college and career-ready expectations, and students are afforded the opportunity to work collaboratively on tasks that are relevant and application based.

The goals of this plan are ambitious, but given the incredible talent here in NHCS, I have no doubt that we can and will achieve these goals. So, as we head into the 2016-2017 school year, I am excited to see all of our students return and launch the new strategic plan - Vision 2016 – 2020 - to ensure their success.

The full plan can be seen here: http://www.nhcs.net/board/StrategicPlan.pdf.

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