Proud to be a Principal by Dr. Lauren Kefalonitis

In honor of National Principals Month, New Hanover County Schools’ Principal of the Year, Dr. Lauren Kefalonitis, has prepared this week’s blog. Dr. Kefalonitis is principal of Bradley Creek Elementary School.

As a school leader, our top commitment is to improve student learning.  However, a positive school culture can enhance the learning environment by encouraging greater collaboration, effort, and productivity.

Maya Angelou said, “People don’t remember what you said but how you made them feel.” I believe this speaks to the importance of a school’s culture for both students and staff.  Bradley Creek Elementary School is a diverse learning community that welcomes students from various backgrounds and socioeconomic levels.  Creating a positive, student-centered learning environment that not only fosters academic excellence but also promotes cultural acceptance, which is at the center of our core values.  Establishing such core values and revisiting them frequently has allowed them to become a fabric within the make-up of our school.

As we celebrate National Principals Month, I reflect on the hard work and dedication of New Hanover County Schools administrators.  Regardless of where their schools are located within New Hanover County, each principal is confronted by their own set of challenges.  Although from afar, the chairs, desks, and books may look similar, each school’s culture is unique.  Each principal works to build relationships, understand their community, and construct the most positive student-centered culture.

Unfortunately, all too often, students throughout NHCS, as well as our country, are exposed to community trauma. In recent days, school culture has become a foundation of support for numerous students for this reason.  Although each circumstance is very different, the need for a consistent, loving, and welcoming environment is always the same.  Students and their families are confronted with situations that are much more than sounds bites or a series of new stories; these incidents produce tangible worry and concern.  Principals work to create a school community that wraps their arms around those who may be frightened or troubled by providing a loving and nurturing environment for all children.  We work to not “toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world” but rather educate “children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless” (L.R. Knost).  All school stakeholders, including families from all backgrounds, come together to offer assistance when needed and to support the school community.

Just as Bradley Creek has its own distinctive culture, so does each of the fellow 45 schools in our district.  Whether it is through home visits, family nights, or community events, principals throughout NHCS work to provide families a safe, positive, inquiry-rich environment that is often present after the hours of 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  I am incredibly proud to work beside and learn from each of these amazing individuals. I am honored to call them my peers, mentors, and friends.  Together, we create environments where students are excited to enter, parents feel welcomed, and teachers feel eager to conquer the day.

New Hanover County Schools Principals

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Nourish NC – Makes It Happen by Dr. Tim Markley

This past week, I had the privilege to speak at the annual Nourish NC gala. It was great event that raised support and awareness for a more than worthy cause – childhood hunger. The information that was presented during the gala is worth sharing with the entire education community. So, I have decided to post it here as part of my Superintendent’s Blog. The facts are staggering and to some may be surprising, but regardless of how advanced our society has become, children – right here in New Hanover County and across the country – struggle with hunger each and every day.

“Make It Happen”

I am pleased and honored to address the important role that the Nourish NC is playing to help reduce hunger through its backpack initiative. When Steve reached out to me to speak tonight, he asked that I share some words of wisdom. I am not sure I fit the bill as a wise man, but I can share some data about childhood hunger and how it impacts us daily here in New Hanover County.

The problem of childhood hunger cannot be underrated. There are currently 15.7 million children living in poverty. That is more than 1 in 4 children. Overall, over 16 million struggle with hunger. These children live without food in insecure households and struggle with hunger throughout the year.

Over 20 million school-age children get a free or reduced-price lunch on an average day. There are another 10 million children, who are eligible for school breakfast, who do not receive it. Children who struggle with hunger are at greater risk for health problems. They are sick more often, recover more slowly and are more like to be absent from school. They experience more headaches, colds and infections.

Children who are hungry are more susceptible to obesity and its harmful effects, which will last well into adulthood.  Children ages 0 to 3 do not learn as much and as fast as children who are well nourished; they also develop at a slower rate.

Here in New Hanover County, 41% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch – more than 11,000 children. Along with this, we have over 900 students who are identified as homeless. In some of our schools, as many as 25% of students will change schools during the year because they cannot afford housing. This type of stress can only exacerbate the effects of hunger.

School children who face hunger are more likely to be retained and repeat a grade. These students have significantly higher levels of behavioral, emotional and academic problems. They also tend to be more aggressive and anxious. High poverty schools have a higher rate of students who are identified as special education.  Teens who do not get enough to eat are more likely to be suspended from school and have difficulty getting along with others. This is just a short list of problems that students face when they do not know where their next meal is coming from.

It is no surprise that when I look a school grades issued by the State that they are more of a reflection of the community’s poverty than of academic potential. When you are worried about where your next meal is coming from, you are less likely to worry about homework assignments or about paying attention in school. That does not mean you don’t want to learn or aren’t learning, it just means you have another obstacle to overcome.

Every year, New Hanover County Schools selects a theme to help bring focus to the school year. This year, we choose the theme of MAKE IT HAPPEN. This comes from a quote by Laney Alum Michael Jordan who once said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

Nourish NC is one of those organizations that does more than wish it would happen. It is an organization that MAKES IT HAPPEN. They are working to alleviate these terrible hunger statistics. They serve students in 38 schools and reach nearly a 1,000 students each week and during holiday and summer breaks. In their nine year history, they have continued to expand their outreach and now serve students in after school programs and in numerous community-based programs.

The Nourish NC operation is pretty amazing. Last November, all of our school principals visited the Nourish NC warehouse as part of the district’s United Way campaign kickoff. The principals had the opportunity to see in person the difference the organization makes in the lives of our children.  They packed food that would go home that evening with students in their schools. Our counselors can attest to the impact of Nourish NC and the support it provides for our students. The simple act of handing out backpack meals makes it happen for students in our schools.

I hope you will join Nourish NC tonight in MAKING IT HAPPEN for children in New Hanover County.

Here is a link to Nourish NC - – so that you can learn more about the program!

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NHCS Cares: Showing Support for Victims of Hurricane Harvey

by Tufanna Thomas and Valita Quattlebaum

Eaton Hurrican Harvey Donation Photo.jpg

Eaton Elementary students displaying money raised from their Coin War.

Most of us have never seen anything like Hurricane Harvey. After the monster hurricane’s devastation, thousands of people across Texas and along the Gulf coast have been displaced and many have lost everything. Now, there is another massive storm, Hurricane Irma, that has ravaged several Caribbean islands and parts of Florida. New Hanover County Schools is doing its part to demonstrate the compassion we feel for the people, especially the students, staff and faculty of the Houston area schools.   Schools and departments in NHCS have answered the call for help and have been actively coordinating charitable efforts. Here are some examples from across the district:

  • Anderson and Bradley Creek elementary schools are partnering to adopt Monahan Elementary School in Houston. Anderson recently held a Hats for Houston day, to raise funds for the school, with plans to have a loose change drive in the coming weeks. Central Office staff contributed to the Hats for Houston drive as well. Bradley Creek is sponsoring a school-wide spirit week to raise funds. All monies raised will be sent to support Monahan. Students can participate by giving $1 a day or $5 for the week.

Hats for Harvey - Anderson.jpg

Anderson Elementary School students and staff participating in Hats for Houston Day.
Hats for Harvey - District Staff.jpg
Central Office staff participating in Hats for Houston Day.
  • Rachel’s Challenge has helped Noble Middle School connect with Arnold Middle School in Cypress, Texas. As a school community, Noble will collect items and send them to Arnold Middle School immediately and throughout the year to show compassion and support.

  • SEA-Tech High School is working with Gallena Park CTE Early College High School and their principal, Dr. Jeff Hutchinson, to provide for individual student needs after final assessments. Initial estimates include 1/3 of the student body has been displaced to shelters and neighboring cities. Four staff members have suffered total losses.

  • Williston Middle School is holding a homeroom donation challenge to raise funds for Hurricane Victims.

  • Ogden Elementary School has school spirit week, the week of September 11th and students, who participate donate $1.00.  All proceeds go to the American Red Cross for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

  • College Park Elementary School is supporting the families in Texas through their Outstanding Wise Leadership Clubs. The Leadership Club is called “Paint Business!” It was started with a mission heart to support those that are suffering as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The goal is to empower the students in the club to be giving, mindful of others, and also create a spirit of entrepreneurship in students. Also, participation in the club allows students to feel the joy that stems from serving others. It is College Park’s hope that their beautiful paintings will produce income to give to Hurricane Harvey victims. The first product is hand-made signs!  The club is working with its partners from Samaritan’s Purse to sell their paintings. All proceeds will go to the families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

  • Myrtle Grove Middle School’s FCA held a donation drive for victims of Hurricane Harvey September 5-8.  All money will be donated to the American Red Cross and Houston Food Banks.

  • Carolina Beach Elementary students in Mrs. Abel’s class, along with CBES staff, donated supplies for Hurricane Harvey relief. Parents sent in items as well.

  • Wrightsboro Elementary School has multiple charitable projects occurring: second grade students in Mrs. Valle-Greene’s classroom listened to a news article about Hurricane Harvey, then brainstormed ideas as to how people like them could help those affected. They came up with ideas such as sending firefighters and Coast Guard members from our area to help with the rescues and having yard sales to raise money to donate to victims of the hurricane. In class, they wrote cards to the children of Houston. The cards will be sent to Lemm Elementary, where students are being relocated to a nearby high school while the school is repaired.  Third grade students in Ms. April Lee’s classroom have adopted a third grade classroom from a school in Houston. Ms. Lee’s classroom is collecting supplies and by the teacher’s request from Houston, sending many encouraging notes to her students.

  • Eaton Elementary School, for the week of September 5th-11th, had a COIN WAR to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. All money raised will be donated directly to the Houston Independent School District, to help the schools and students start the year off in a positive way! Each grade level at Eaton competed against the other grade levels to raise the most money! Grade levels also made curriculum connections in lower and upper grades by having the students practice sorting, grouping, and counting coins/money!! In just the first two days, close to $1,000 was raised! It’s the perfect way for Eaton Elementary  to continue their #BeKind school mission!

  • Lake Forest Academy is partnering with Ashford Elementary School in Houston, Texas.  They have collected donations of school supplies and will be creating a “Helping Hands” banner to welcome the students at Ashford Elementary when they return to school.

  • Murrayville Elementary School students are picking up the call for help. After the recent devastation from Hurricane Harvey, the students in 5th Grade wanted to help others. Teacher Elizabeth Budd heard of the ‘Adopt a Classroom’ initiative put on an educational blogger ‘Sun, Sand and Second Grade’ and thought it would be the perfect fit. The initiative matches teachers around the country with teachers in Texas, who lost their classrooms in the recent destruction from Hurricane Harvey. Teachers then work with students to collect materials and supplies needed to get that classroom back up and running. Supplies will be shipped out as soon as the schools are assessed and are ready to begin classes again. The students are looking forward to connecting with their peers in Texas and writing them letters of encouragement to show their support.

  • Ashley High School Athletic Department saw Coach Sampson’s (Men’s Basketball Coach at University of Houston) tweet, reaching out to universities, colleges, and high school athletic teams to donate clothing. All teams participated and supported Houston by collecting clothes, and Ashley staff delivered boxes of clothes to the post office to be shipped to Texas.

  • Isaac Bear Early College High School students and staff will donate contents to “Flood Buckets” until Thursday, October 5, 2017.  This school wide effort is under the leadership of the Interact Club to help the hurricane victims who were affected adversely by Hurricane Harvey.  Isaac Bear will come together and join in the efforts with other people across the nation to help those in need.  Each homeroom will collect, organize, and pack items in a 5-gallon bucket with resealable lids, and whichever homeroom has packed the most buckets will receive a reward of their choice. The School hopes that addressing this crisis where people were affected adversely will bring everyone closer together and make a stronger community.

  • Trask Middle School is having a “Coin War” to raise funds for victims of Harvey.  Funds for Harvey will be donated to the Texas Diaper Bank.

Red Cross Donation Information:

To donate by phone or to get assistance with your donation, please contact 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669).

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Make It Happen! by Dr. Tim Markley, Superintendent

On August 28th over 26,000 students will begin the 2017-2018 school year here in New Hanover County Schools. This annual ritual never ceases to amaze me, because public education is the true melting pot of our Country. Public education is the great equalizer that allow students from any background to be successful. Public education is an unwritten contract between citizens and parents that we will educate every child that comes through our doors. Regardless of the needs, we welcome ALL New Hanover County students.

Some of these students are easy to teach and eager to learn, while many others may be more challenging and need greater help, encouragement and support. As public schools, we welcome all of these students and promise to educate them to reach their full potential.

This requires the support of the entire community and New Hanover County has always risen to the challenge. Our community has never turned down a school bond, and our elected officials have always ensured that our students have more than just the basic resources. For that, we say THANK YOU, and we promise we will put those resources to the best possible use.

My passion for public education was shaped by my own experiences; both of my parents were high school dropouts. Despite this, they both understood that as the world was changing, an education was critical to being successful. Along with my parents, there were some incredible teachers who made a difference in my life. Those teachers instilled a love of learning that is still within me today. For a child like me, whose parents never visited my schools, this made a huge impact in my life. This still happens in our schools every day…teachers making positive, life-changing connections with our students. Encouraging words and supportive actions can be found in our classrooms.

This year, we adopted the theme – “Make It Happen” because that is what public education is all about – make it happen for students. The phrase comes from one of New Hanover County’s most famous public school graduates, Michael Jordan.

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen,” Michael Jordan – Laney High School Class of 1981.

Here in NHCS, teachers do MAKE a difference in the lives of students. They MAKE IT HAPPEN for students every day!

Welcome back and have a great school year!

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New School Year Offers New and Improved Facilities

By Leanne Lawrence, NHCS Director of Facility Planning & Construction

New pencils?  Check.

New backpack?  Check.

New elementary school? Check!

Parents, while you’ve been busy checking off your list of back-to-school items, New Hanover County Schools has been busy checking off our own list!  The last few months have been exciting as our contractors put the finishing touches on new buildings and additions.  We can’t wait for you to see what has been prepared for your students!

Porters Neck Elementary School is the newest addition to the New Hanover County Schools family of facilities. We’re proud to open the doors to receive students from Blair Elementary School who will call Porters Neck home for the next three years while Blair receives an “extreme school makeover”.  Demolition of the existing Blair Elementary will begin later this month, with construction of the new building starting right on its heels.

Porters Neck Elementary School

Blair students will be greeted by their new principal, Rebecca Higgins-Opgrand, as she guides them through spaces filled with vibrant color and ample natural light.  Sails suspended in the entryway, or the “gallery” as we like to call it, seek to inspire students to harness the power of education, just as seagoing vessels channel the energy of the wind.

Principal Maria Madison and her outstanding Wise Leaders from “The Park” – College Park Elementary School – will be receiving their own school makeover.

Demolition for College Park Elementary School is also scheduled to begin this month, with construction to be completed in the summer of 2019.  Similar to Blair, the new College Park Elementary School will be constructed on its current site, once demolition of the existing building is complete.  While the existing school is being removed and the new one constructed, students and staff of The Park will be safely nested at their temporary school site located at 5301 Sidbury Road.  They’ll resume classes at their new campus in the fall of 2019.

The hearts of Laney and Hoggard high school students will swell with pride at the sight of their new gymnasiums.  With seating capacities of 1,600 at both facilities, fans will enjoy watching their favorite teams compete in these state-of-the art venues. In addition, athletes will enjoy the use of the new locker rooms and support spaces, including a renovated weight training room at Laney and new fitness classroom at Hoggard.

The new media center at Laney is certain to inspire students to create, collaborate, and exceed expectations.  Totaling 11,100 square feet, the space is comprised of individual and group study areas, as well as a café/ lounge seating area.  With WiFi points throughout, students can access the technology they need to facilitate their educational endeavors.

At Hoggard, the cafeteria has been expanded to serve the growing student population. Individual kiosks are stationed around the cafeteria offering options for breakfast and lunch against the backdrop of designs influenced and inspired by the ocean, the natural habitat of the modern Viking.

New Hanover High School, we didn’t forget about you! We’re pleased to share that Brogden Hall now has air conditioning. In addition, as part of the 2014 Bond Referendum, the George West building received renovations to approximately 41,200 square feet of classroom space, including the band room, shop classes, science classrooms, as well as the ROTC building.  We’re also in the process of completing improvements to the cafeteria serving line.

Numerous other repairs and renovations occurred throughout the district, such as roof replacements at Carolina Beach and Pine Valley Elementary Schools and heating and air conditioning improvements at Johnson Pre-K, Bradley Creek Elementary, and Veterans Park. We’ve also added a new Northern Transportation Division, near the temporary site for College Park Elementary School at Sidbury Road.  From this new facility, school buses will serve students living in the northern region of the county.

These behind-the-scenes upgrades rarely make the headlines, but they do make the educational experience better for all.  They also help improve the energy efficiency of the facilities and overall district operations.

In the midst of all of these facility changes and improvements, we hope that the warm smiles and friendly hellos from NHCS staff members shine the brightest as we welcome students to begin the 2017-18 school year. WELCOME BACK!

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Virtual Learning Reality

By Sarah Gubitz, NHCS Online Learning Supervisor

Online learning is one of the most recent trends in both public and private education. Deciding if virtual learning is the best fit for your student can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.  New Hanover County Schools has utilized online learning for over 10 years, and the growth of this learning platform is phenomenal.  Here are some quick statistics about virtual learning in our district:

  • The number of online enrollments has grown from 640 in 2011 to 3,500 in 2017.
  • The pass rate for students taking courses for first time credit is 93%.
  • Over 150 courses are offered including honors, Advanced Placement (AP), multiple world languages, and a variety of electives that may not be offered in a traditional face-to-face format.
  • NHCS middle school students earned high school credits for 658 online courses in 2017.

In addition to offering a variety of courses, online learning allows the district to offer more personalized learning opportunities to our students.  We now offer multiple, innovative opportunities that allow for options other than the traditional school day.   High schools now offer flexible scheduling with early morning courses or online learning that can be done off-site, if the student demonstrates success and responsibility.  Students, with principal approval, can opt for a half day or full day of online learning to meet their needs and work toward earning their diplomas.  This is especially important to students that are highly involved in activities outside of school that may require travel or more flexibility in their schedules.  NHCS recently graduated its first student that never stepped foot onto a school campus for traditional instruction, taking the majority of her courses as online courses throughout her high school experience.

Because of the unique needs of students in our district, NHCS began its e-Academy in 2016-2017 as a way to partner with homeschool families and students.  The school allows for students to access courses that they would otherwise have to pay for themselves.  One 2017 e-Academy graduate accessed Advanced Placement (AP) courses that she desired to take, which enable her to have a flexible schedule so she could continue her volunteer work at a local hospital.  She plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill as an Honors student in the fall.  Learn more about this student, Kari, here.

Dual enrollment is also an option for homeschool families.  Students can enroll for two or more courses at the high school each semester and take electives that may be difficult to find elsewhere.  Dual enrollment student, Sariah, did just that so she could access ROTC during her senior year; she plans to join the military.  Sariah’s schedule included ROTC, an online course, and her homeschool courses.  The flexibility of her schedule allowed her to continue pursuing her modeling interests and making her related appointments during the traditional school day. Sariah’s story is linked here.

NHCS is expanding dual enrollment options to include middle school opportunities for homeschool families for the fall of 2017.  Homeschool families can partner with NHCS to access a minimum of two courses a semester (online or traditional) at no cost.   Dual enrollment students will also be able to take End-of-Grade tests that allow for homeschool families to benchmark and gauge academic progress as an added benefit.

Personalizing your secondary school experience through online education doesn’t stop here.   We have students that have gone, or are planning to go abroad, for enrichment or family reasons for a semester or a year. NHCS Online Learning has been able to continue to provide a rigorous and personalized class schedule through our online opportunities for these students.  These students benefit by being able to keep the pace with their peers and not lose a year or semester of school progress.

While there is no replacement for the classroom teacher and the high-quality education that is provided in NHCS classrooms, there is an innovative and alternative approach that can be explored depending on the individual needs of our students.  It is also likely that today’s students will take one or more online classes at the post high school level as well. According to the 2015 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, 28% of students take at least one online class while in college.

As the needs of our students continue to grow and expand, NHCS will continue to evolve its virtual program.  To learn more about online learning, dual enrollment, or the e-Academy, please contact NHCS Online Learning Supervisor Sarah Gubitz at

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It’s That Time Of Year! NHCS Summer Library Programs Create Opportunities For Year Round Learning!

by Jennifer LaGarde, Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist & Lead School Library Media Coordinator

Research has shown that when students read over the summer, they come back to school better prepared for the challenges of a new school year. In fact, reading just five books during summer break can altogether prevent the “summer slide,” (or a regression of reading ability over the summer months).

The US Department of Education recommends the following tips for helping students maintain healthy reading lives over the summer:

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

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

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

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

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

New Hanover County Schools will host summer library programs at seven sites this summer beginning Monday, June 26, 2017 and ending on Tuesday, August 15th to help parents engage their NHCS students in these types of reading activities. The NHCS Summer Library Program will be held at Alderman, Anderson, Bradley Creek, Castle Hayne, Murrayville, and Pine Valley elementary schools and also Trask Middle School.

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

  • Coding and Robotics

  • Big fun with Drones!

  • Lego MakerSpaces

  • Stop Motion Animation

  • 3-D Printing

  • New Hanover County Public Library Book Talks with “Miss Margaret”

  • Lots, lots more!

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

1.”Top 5 Ways to Prevent Rusty Summer Readers” United We Serve. The White House. n.d. Web.

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Thank You for Another Successful Year!

Dear NHCS Employees:

As we celebrate the last day of the 2016-17 traditional school year, I would like to extend my appreciation to ALL New Hanover County Schools employees for their hard work in making this another successful year. Whether leading a classroom or working in a supportive role, EVERY employee plays an important role in making us a premier district, in both the region and the state. With the continuous changing tide of education and competitive career choices, we work very hard to offer our students a current and rigorous education that will prepare them for their after graduation choices – career-ready, community college, 4-year university or military enlistment.

This year was a busy year with several new programs and initiatives underway. We continued our work on establishing the first Career-Technical High School in the region. I am pleased to report that in partnership with Cape Fear Community College, SEA-Tech will open in August 2017 on the CFCC North Campus with over 40 students to launch its inaugural year. The 2016-17 school year also welcomed the start of the International School at Gregory, expanding the district’s Immersion Programs in both Spanish and Mandarin. The NHCS E Academy was launched, which has increased the district’s online learning opportunities for students; including the area’s homeschool and private school students. These and other educational programs help to enhance our students’ learning opportunities.

Dr. Markley Reads with Freeman Student

In addition, we continue to improve our graduation rate, with the highest rate of over 83% achieved in the 2015-16 school year. I am very optimistic that our 2016-17 scores and graduation rate will surpass last year’s results.

Looking ahead to the 2017-18 school year, we will celebrate the opening of three new buildings – Porters Neck Elementary and the performance gyms at Hoggard and Laney high schools – all of which were made possible by the 2014 School Bond. Blair and College Park elementary schools will be temporarily relocated as the construction begins on these schools’ new facilities. We are anticipating over 26,000 students to fill our schools. I know that each of these students will receive the best education possible, and NHCS will continue to be a leader in public education.

So, as you say your good-byes to students and co-workers and are eagerly anticipating your summer to begin, take a moment to congratulate yourself on ALL that you have accomplished this school year. For the positive impact that you have made on your students; the encouraging words and support that you have shared with colleagues; or raising the bar on your professional growth, be proud of what your have completed this year.

Enjoy the summer break…you have gone above and beyond the call of duty to educate and support the students of NHCS. I look forward to seeing our Year-Round teams in July and our traditional folks back in August!

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Musings from a First Year Teacher by Alex Schaivone

Alex SchaivoneAs the 2016-17 school year is coming to a close, a first year teacher – Alex Schaivone – shares her insightful blog – Musings from a First Year Teacher – about her experiences as a beginning teacher. Mrs. Schaivone teaches English in the Lyceum Academy at New Hanover High School.

Her blog may also be found on

During my internship, I was blessed with a wonderful partnership teacher who taught me more about teaching than I could possibly learn in any education class. In that year, I learned how to teach my content, but I also learned much more. In the first few months of my internship, my partnership teacher passed along a wonderful essay from the blog Cult of Pedagogy, “Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers.” This essay centers around the need for new teachers to find their marigolds, or those teachers who are “encouraging, supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity.” It warns of walnut trees, those who may have become bitter or hardened over the course of their careers, and instead encourages young teachers to seek out those who provide support and positivity. The ideas presented in this essay have stayed with me through this year and have proven to be both true and incredibly valuable.

This year, I have encountered both marigolds and walnut trees. I have learned a great deal about teaching, and almost as much about simply being a good person. In fact, some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned weren’t related to teaching English at all but somehow made me a better English teacher. Here are a few pieces of knowledge that I’ve gained this year that will endure far beyond the last day of school.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

This may seem quite apropos as an English teacher, but it resonates with me far beyond the literal idea of books and their respective covers. Coming into the school where I completed my internship, I had formulated quite a few preconceived notions about the students, other teachers, and the school community based on the opinions of others. Despite this, I tried my best to approach this year with an open mind and was pleased to find out that most of these notions were actually huge misconceptions. In fact, many of those “bratty students” have turned out to be some of the most wonderful people in the world and have impacted my life tremendously.

It’s okay to be human.

I learned very quickly that you will become emotionally invested in your students. Laugh with them, maybe even cry with them, and always celebrate their successes. Embrace the highs and the lows equally.

Never underestimate the power of a compliment.

One of my favorite moments from this year came in a phone call with a parent. While discussing her student, the mother let me know that every time I compliment her daughter in some way– maybe it’s about her cute shoes that day or perhaps it is an “I’m so proud of you!” after a presentation- she comes home excited and eager to tell her. It was in that moment that I realized the power of something so small.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

I will be the first to admit that I once was a self-care skeptic. I rolled my eyes through the required self-care class I took in graduate school, thinking I had much more important things (like lesson planning and grading) to do than take time for myself. I didn’t think that those things could wait, but this year has taught me otherwise. My “me time” has become just as important to me as my work because, at the end of the day, you really can’t pour from an empty cup. I hit a point this year where I realized that if I am drained- physically, mentally, or emotionally- I am no good to my students. You have to fill your own cup first.

Find your tribe.

I have often heard other teachers talking about “finding their tribe,” but I never truly understood how important this is. I couldn’t have survived this year without having a tribe of my own. Surround yourself with colleagues who care about you and support you. Find people who laugh with you on good days and make you laugh on bad days.

Looking back on this first year, I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to say thank you– thank you to the mentors, the friends, and the colleagues, the ones who answered countless questions (some of which probably were quite silly looking back), the ones who were there to talk (and vent) after a long day in the classroom or a lesson that didn’t quite go as planned, and the ones who have reminded me day in and day out that yes, being a teacher is hard, but worth it.

To the veteran teachers who have taken newbies like myself under your wings, continue to seek out opportunities to help nurture and guide those who are just beginning. Continue to be patient, open, and honest with us. And most importantly, continue to be the teachers, mentors, and friends that you once needed as a first-year teacher. Even when it’s easy to become a walnut tree, continue to be the marigold.

To the brand new teachers, those who have just turned those tassels and are ready to embark on your next great adventure, embrace your first year of teaching with open arms. You will feel overwhelmed at times, but you, too, will survive. You will learn to love and laugh more than you thought possible. You will bend until you feel like breaking, but your own resiliency will amaze you. And when all else fails, have confidence in knowing that even on your worst days, you are still important, valuable, and perhaps even some child’s best hope. As you enter your building for the first time (and continue to walk through those doors for the next 184 days), seek out those marigolds. Let them instill in you love, passion, and a zest for teaching. Those marigolds will get you through the next year when every textbook fails.

“And when all else fails, have confidence in knowing that even on your worst days, you are still important, valuable, and perhaps even some child’s best hope. “

And lastly, to my fellow first-year teachers almost second-year teachers, we survived! Whether it was a good year or a bad year, your first year has almost come to a close. It’s time to relinquish that “first-year teacher” title and pass it on to someone new. It’s now your turn to be someone else’s marigold. Continue to carry with you the lessons you have learned over the course of this year and never stop finding new reasons to love your craft and your students. -Alex Schaivone, NHHS

Also, if you’d like to read the article mentioned by Alex, check it out here:

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2017-18 Budget Request

This is the time of the year that we work on finalizing our budget for the upcoming school year. A critical step in this process is our request to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners for local funding.

This year, our request is more critical than ever. In this edition of my blog, you will see the letter that was sent to the County Commissioners outlining the district’s budget request and the rationale for our financial needs.

On May 2, 2017, the Board of Education approved the following County Funding Request:

  • Operating Request of $76,525,302 ($2,750 per pupil) – 4.5% Increase
  • Capital Request of $3,500,000
  • Special Pre-K Request totaling $487,422

While the school system is very appreciative of County support, I need to inform you that our request of $2,750 per student is essential due primarily to the domino costs associated with the State budget and associated teacher/staff increases.  The recommendation of $2,670 leaves the school system $80 per student short, or $2.1 million short of maintaining the excellent school system we have in place.  The Capital Outlay request is $1.5 million short, leaving the school system in a precarious position, especially in the area of technology. There is no other significant source of funding for this critical need.  In other words, $2,750 is close to break even for us, and Capital Outlay is a choice of how we support our students.

The following memorandum provides historical data, as well as a summary of this budget request and the impacts of State decisions.  Even at $2,750 per student, the district plans to use a significant amount of the fund balance to make this budget work. This will drive the available funds to 6% or less than one month of reserves.

While the State has increased funding over the last several years, it has not returned to pre-recession levels of funding. The two charts below clearly show that when adjusted for inflation, we are significantly behind pre-recession levels.

Inflation Adjusted General Fund Appropriation for NC Public Schools

Inflation Adjusted Per-Pupil General Fund Appropriation for NC Public SchoolsHere in New Hanover County Schools, we have also been trying to return to pre-recession funding levels. Our goal four years ago was $2,700 per student, which was close to the 2008 per-pupil levels. We have not reached that level yet, and again, the proposal falls short of this level.  The State’s recent rapid efforts to increase education spending, especially for teachers’ salaries, has rendered the $2,700 goal insufficient. Their large increases over the last three years have outpaced our efforts to reach the $2,700 goal. Teacher raises and increased cost for insurance, retirement and other non-discretionary items will have a $3.1 million impact on our budget. Our request of $2,750 per pupil represents a break even proposition at best. Any amount below this will require significant cuts to current programs.

Operating Budget Summary

County funding represents 87% of our General Fund and 28% of our total Operating Budget. The current total Operating Budget is $259.2 million, of which 76% is used for Instructional Purposes. Four percent (4%) of the County Appropriation is transferred to Charter Schools.

Salaries and benefits for 3,623 positions, 711 of which are locally funded, equal 82% of the budget.  Most pay schedules are determined by the State and also apply to locally paid staff.  In addition, 13% of County funding is used to supplement teacher pay for both state and locally paid teachers. Over the past 10 years, benefits costs for retirement and health insurance have increased 132% and 47%, respectively, and currently, represent 16% of our operating budget.  While the total number of positions has grown 5% during this 10-year period, enrollment growth has increased 11%, resulting in higher class sizes and less classroom support.

Almost all of the 4.5% requested operating increase would be used to funds anticipated state raises and associated local salary increases.  This request would be used in combination with a proposed increase in fund balance appropriation for the following Operating Budget Priorities:

  • State salary and benefit increases estimated at $3.1 million.
  • Various operating costs of almost $1 million to include SEA-Tech Year 1 Operating Costs; Board Scholarship Fund (year 3 of 4); and cost increases anticipated for Workers Compensation, utilities, leases and technology support.
  • Essential Expansion Requests totaling $366,000 to expand support for JC Roe Center, Head Start, and additional Custodial months of employment.

K-3 Class Size

There has been much discussion about K-3 class size reduction, which has now been postponed for one year by the State Legislature.  Our original plan was to absorb the estimated increase of 48, K-3 classroom teachers by eliminating enhancement and instructional support positions, but we are now somewhat optimistic that the State may fund art, music, and physical educations positions separately in 2018-19.    We will continue to develop a transition plan to deal with changes associated with K-3 class size reduction, including space and enhancement allotments, to prepare us for full implementation in 2018-19.

Formula Changes

The proposed budget includes net reduction of 14 positions.  The following positions will be eliminated to help offset the cost of raises and other essential needs.  Reductions include:

  • 3 Assistant Principal Positions (small schools would share)
  • 5 AIG Teacher Positions (small schools would share)
  • 12 High School Teachers (increasing class size by 1)
  • Phasing out Elementary Technology Assistants over two years. For the first year, 13 will be eliminated and replaced with 11 Area Technical Coordinators.
  • Certified Secondary In-School Suspension teachers to be replaced with non-certified staff through attrition.
  • Non-certified Graduation Coaching positions to be eliminated through attrition.

Fund Balance Appropriation

We acknowledge the concerns expressed by County Commissioners in regards to our Fund Balance Reserve.  Our current budget includes a recurring appropriation to prevent growth of the reserve, and this year’s budget includes a 7% reduction in the reserve from $17.2 to $15.9 million.  Funds would be used for a combination of one-time and recurring needs, including State bonuses for locally paid staff, furniture and equipment replacement, and contracted maintenance including painting and repair projects. A detailed list is enclosed with the supporting documentation.

The rationale for maintaining Unassigned Fund Balance includes:

  • Providing for contingencies such as rising costs, emergency situations, and unfunded state and federal mandates, many of which can occur after the County Budget is approved.
  • Providing cash flow to cover federal funding for the first quarter of each year.  While federal funds are awarded to be used for the 7/1-6/30 fiscal year, the Department of Public Instruction does not generally release those funds for our use until October of each fiscal year.
  • With 82% of our operating budget used for salaries and benefits and less than 1 month of operating budget in reserve, it is critical to maintain a minimum balance to meet payroll in the event of a mid-year state or federal funding freeze or reduction, both of which have occurred in past years.

Capital Outlay

The Proposed Capital Outlay Plan for next year will be funded with a combination of revenue sources to include County Appropriation, State Lottery, State Equipment Reserve, Sales Tax Revenue and General Fund balance (furniture and equipment only).  The $3.6 million County Appropriation would fund the following projects, none of which are eligible for lottery funding:

1. Replacement of walk-in freezer at the Johnson Pre-K Center.

2. Window and rooftop unit replacement at Howe Pre-K Center.

3. Relocation of two mobile classrooms from Blair Elementary to Noble Middle School.

4. Purchase and installation of five mobile classrooms (2 – Murrayville and 2 – Parsley elementary schools and 1 – JC Roe Center).

5. Replacement of three Maintenance vehicles in poor condition.

6. Replacement of outdated desktops, laptops and iPads that are not effective to repair or upgrade.

7. Pre-K expansion furniture and facility upgrades.

Lack of full funding will greatly impact our ability to upgrade outdated classroom technology.  We are trying to implement a replacement schedule of seven to nine years for desktops, and five to six years for laptops and iPads, all of which are well beyond the normal life cycle of this type of equipment.  For the past few years, the State has been moving towards digital learning, but State funding has not supported the technology equipment needs for our Digital Learning Plan.  Local support is needed to insure the appropriate classroom resources are available.

Special Request for Pre-K Expansion

Pre-K expansion would allow us to serve 45 additional students beyond those funded by the State NC Pre-K and the Federal Head Start programs.  These students will be served at our Mosely site. The request includes recurring funds of $372,470, equivalent $14 per pupil for Charters, and a one-time request for furniture and facility upgrades of $100,000.

Charter Schools

All County appropriations and other local revenue, such as fines and forfeitures, are shared with regional charter schools on a per pupil basis using 1st month enrollment.  Local funding is based on the address of the child rather than location of the schools, so we currently transfer local funding to eight charter schools in the area.  This year’s distribution of County revenue was based on $2,662 per pupil.


The recommended funding of $2,670 per pupil would leave us $2.1 million short of our funding plan, and it would most likely result in additional position reductions that would be necessary to fund the mandated raises and unavoidable cost increases.  Enclosed is detailed documentation to provide additional justification for this request.  We will be glad to meet with you to discuss our needs and answer any questions you may have.

We sincerely thank you for your continuing support of the students in New Hanover County. We are extremely fortunate to live in a county where education is a high priority for our citizens and leaders.  A high-quality school system is a strong block to the economic foundation of New Hanover County.

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