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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The Ripple Effect of the Opioid Epidemic

New Hanover County and supporting agencies recently produced a public service announcement about the ripple effect of the region’s opioid epidemic. As you will see, the epidemic is having a serious impact on our community, including NHCS students.

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Virtual Reality is a Reality!

by Jeannie Timken, NHCS Instructional Technology Specialist

At the end of last school year, I was introduced to the possibilities of virtual reality in education through an experience at NCDLCN led by Jeff Crews and Dean Phillips of Beyond the Chalk. I need to add here, that these were the two who introduced me to the Sphero. (You can read all about what THAT did for our district inthis blog post.) I immediately knew that this would be another avenue to make the abstract more concrete for learners in our district, but I needed to learn more. And I needed investors.

I’m not talking about financial backers, here.  Fortunately, after the campaign to get Spheros in the district proved to be a worthwhile investment, I was given a small budget – a terrifying and truly amazing thing. I just needed a few visionary educators who saw the potential impact this technology could have to transform learning experiences for their students – those are the investors I’m talking about.

In the fall of 2016, The William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation offered a Digital Learning Series.  Dozens of teachers from schools across our district, with the encouragement of their building administrators, applied for the handful of seats we reserved for two of the two-day workshops: Google Tools for Today’s Schools andDigital+Physical Learning = ENGAGEMENT. If selected, we would cover the cost of the workshop and their sub on the days that they would miss school.  In exchange, they would offer PD for teachers to share what they learned.

I clearly underestimated the return on this investment.

Three teachers went to the Digital+Physical Learning = ENGAGEMENTworkshop. After day one, I know I had found my investors.  They were on fire to bring what they had learned back to their classrooms – a pretty normal side effect of professional development at the Friday Institute. Teachers know that when you bring movement into a lesson, the concepts “stick” with students. This is nothing new. But this workshop made them feel like they could really do what they learned – we already had the Spheros that were part of the workshop, but how could they take students on virtual field trips? And how could they share this with others in the district?  This workshop started the conversation.

​We immediately began collaborating in a shared Google Doc – we added resources we found about devices, viewers, and apps.  Google Expeditions was a high priority.  We knew that Google Expeditions could not be facilitated on our BYOD network, so we searched for viable alternatives.  We have iPads in the district and a management system in place for those devices so we opted for iPod touch devices – twelve of them.  We also knew that the traditional Cardboard viewers had a few downfalls.  Then there was the process for checkout and use – so many pieces of the Virtual Reality (VR) puzzle to fit together. Let me break it all down…

Devices: We selected the 6th generation, 32 GB iPod touch. In conversation, we discussed the possibility of creating content with these, not just consuming it.  Content creation is phase two of this virtual reality vision, but we needed to plan for it from the outset.  Also, some of the apps require tours to be downloaded. We needed space for the content. We ordered a simple and relatively inexpensive high impact armor case for each to help protect the devices and keep them securely in the viewers. Foreach device, that put us around $260.00.

Viewers: We tried a few on for size.  We had STUDENTS try them out. That is how we landed on the ones we did.  Too often we forget that students are our ultimate investors – we can’t overlook their input on theirlearning experiences.  The Cardboard viewers we are used to seeing are made of paper or plastic coated paper.  They are usually an adventure in origami. But to us, the down side we were most concerned with was clean-ability.  As these would be shared, we needed to disinfect between uses to try and cut down on the spread of germs – especially since this was rolled out at the height of cold and flu season!  We found a relatively inexpensive viewer on Amazon for $16.00.  It also had a head strap – we removed those. Why?  Let’s be honest here: lice can be a problem.  While the head strap can be a fun addition, I have yet to encounter a single teacher to complain about their removal as it was intended to prevent the spread of lice.  We do have the head straps stored and available upon request when hands-free is a necessity due to special needs.  Also in that vein, we also have a couple of open viewers and even one with adjustable lenses that could accommodate needs should they arise.

Process: We have had requests for “PD on VR” – well, that PD turns into a conversation and time spent plearning (playing+learning).  Our emphasis is on the process.  How will you use this to enhance the content of your lesson?  We ask questions.  We weigh the pros and cons of different apps. We share what has worked for other classrooms.  Each VR set is in its own box (from the Dollar Tree) – headset, iPod and charger.  The only guideline sheet we have now is a set of suggestions like

  • have students wash hands or use hand sanitizer before picking up the devices
  • wipe the headsets down after use – especially the face ring
  • work with the school tech to charge the devices in a secure location at the end of the day
  • have a plan for movement as it can be disorienting for some
  • think about having students bring earbuds
  • know which student has which VR set
  • have a plan for misuse

Our guidelines are about the equipment – the teachers are the content experts!

The first professional development to include our Virtual Reality sets was at the end of January.  There were two on the same day.  The facilitators shared the checkout information with participants and the requests have come almost non stop since then! We have a Google form on our websitenext to the equipment availability calendar.  Teachers simply fill it out and tell us about how they hope to use virtual reality as part of their instruction and we do our best to accommodate their requests. Most days, we pick up the devices and take them straight to another school.

This is a new adventure for us. These VR pioneers are leading the way for others.  At the moment, most that are using VR with students are doing so in small groups using a rotation model to make sure all students get the experience.  I’m eager to see how this evolves  Will teachers step back and have directions and expectations posted at the station to guide students? Will students be creating their own 360° videos to demonstrate their learning and to teach others?

​NC Governor Roy Cooper recently visited one of our schools and spent some time with these students who were exploring a volcano that day.  Looks like they were all engaged!  Who knows what the third graders in the image below will be doing with VR (or more advanced technology for that matter) in a few years.  I look forward to finding out what the real return on this investment will be.

NC Governor Roy Cooper exploring a volcano through Google Expeditions with third grade students.

NC Governor Roy Cooper exploring a volcano through Google Expeditions with third grade students.

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K-3 Class Size: The Impacts of Not Addressing the Issue

by Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley

Recently, the North Carolina House of Representatives, in a rare show of bipartisanship, unanimously passed House Bill 13 – a bill to fix concerns with the current class size restrictions.

New Hanover County Schools has continued to reduce local K-3 allotment formulas, as the state has reduced class size.  The current local formulas are two higher than the state in       K-3; one higher in Grades 4-5.  The K-3 differential funds 50 of 72 art, music and PE teachers, and the 4/5 differential supports seven more.  To implement the state restrictions for next school year using projected student numbers, we anticipate the need for 47 additional K-3 classroom teachers.

Outlined below is the anticipated local impact of the K-3 Class Size change reflected in NC G.S.115C-301 (effective 7/1/17), which requires the LEA average class size to equal the funded teacher allotment formula and sets Individual Class Size Maximums to three above the formula.  The N.C. House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 13, which would limit the K-3 class size average to three above the allotted amount and the individual class size max to six above the allotted amount.

As K-3 class size allotments were reduced over the last few years, the class size requirements stayed the same, creating situations in which additional state positions were not used as intended by the legislature.  HB 13 would correct the problem using the traditional model for class size requirements of +3 for LEA average and +6 for individual class size maximums.  This model allows local flexibility to provide enhancement positions with state funding and to organize classes appropriately by grade, since students don’t arrive to school in groups equal to the formula.

It is also important to know that the +3 +6 model was used to apply to all grade levels, but was changed in 2011 when the legislature removed all class size limitations in grades 4-12, keeping K-3 the same. LEA’s across the state have been working in cooperation with NCASA to provide documentation to the Senate to show how positions are used, showing that class size reduction has been taking place.

We are looking at several different budget scenarios that will have to be considered if the Senate does not approve HB 13; all of the options would require the district to reduce the number of art, music and PE teachers. This most likely would be done through our Reduction in Force (RIF) policy. This RIF would impact 25 or more current teachers.

In additional to the budget impact, we are extremely concerned about the classroom space limitations. We have compared teacher projections with available space in each elementary school, and 13 schools do not have space for 30 of the 47 additional K-3 classrooms.  This analysis assumes we are already using any mobiles units, art rooms, music rooms, computer labs and any other spaces larger than 600 sq. ft. as regular classrooms.

We ask that the Senate support HB 13 or a similar fix to this problem.  Timing is also critical because if a RIF is necessary, teachers will need to be notified no as soon possible.

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Shining a Light on NHCS’ Beginning Teachers

by NHCS Rookie Teacher of the Year Lindsey McDermott

Educator, author, and speaker, Angela Maiers says, “We were created for significance, and for us to perceive that we don’t matter is both dangerous and terrifying.  When people know that they matter and their genius is needed by the world, hearts and minds change.  Worlds change.”  This is exactly why we started the NHCS Rookie of the Year program…to shine a light on the great things that are happening in beginning teachers’ classrooms and applaud their hard work and significance.

On February 7, 2017, New Hanover County Schools partnered with the Wilmington Downtown Rotary Club to recognize our first annual Rookie of the Year.  At our first annual banquet, five finalists shared their reasons why they choose to teach every day.

Each of us knows that education is an ever changing world with many challenges. However, our five Rookie of the Year Finalists remind us of the joy and passion that we take with us into our classroom every day.  In fact, we are able to see in the speech below from the NHCS 2017 Rookie of the Year, Ashley High School Teacher Lindsey McDermott, her passion for the profession and purpose in the journey.

“First, I would like to thank the Wilmington Downtown Rotary Club for this wonderful lunch and for sponsoring the whole Rookie of the Year program. I feel truly honored to be a part of this day. I would also like to thank Marcia and Andrea for all of the hard work they put into supporting the Beginning Teachers throughout the entire county. I wouldn’t be here without all of your dedication to the BT program. I would also like to thank Mr. McCarty for being a wonderful principal and for supporting and listening for the last two years.

It’s funny actually- I used to say that you couldn’t pay me to go back to high school, but apparently not only can you pay me to go back- you don’t have to even pay me that well and I’ll go back.

All joking aside, putting the terms of why I continue to teach into a five minute speech is virtually impossible. I think my fellow finalists can agree to that. I’ve had amazing teachers during my years as a student and I am actually lucky enough to teach beside many of them as I also graduated from Ashley High School myself. Those teachers continue to teach me things every single day. But I’ve also had a few very bad experiences with teachers- I think we can all say that. Not every teacher is a good one.

The experience that stuck with me the longest was my fourth grade English teacher. I loved English class. We would read a chapter or two for homework at night and then discuss character analysis, tone, themes- all sorts of stuff. I just loved it. I always wanted to share my opinions on the readings, and I was the first one with my hand in the air as a volunteer. But one day, I left my reading book at home. I informed my teacher at the beginning of class and he dismissed me as if it was no big deal at all.  BUT the minute class started, he asked for everyone who had forgotten their book to raise their hand. Well, naturally, I was rather confused. I had just told him that I had forgotten my book so what was going on? So, I raised my hand and so did two other students. He took all three of us into the hallway and made us each stand in a corner with our noses on the wall.

Humiliation does not even begin to describe I felt as I stood with my nose in the corner for the entire class period. I had left my book at home because I wanted to read more than just the assigned reading. That night I didn’t even want to look at that book–I hated it. All because my teacher did not take the time to find out why I had left my book at home–he didn’t care. So I felt as if he did not care about me either. The remainder of that year–I didn’t put my hand up. I wasn’t interested in the readings. I did not volunteer to answer questions. My teacher took so much away from me because he did not take the time to try to build a relationship with me. He put me in a corner instead.

Today, I teach because I want kids to know that there is someone in their life who will never put them in a corner. Someone who will ask questions about their life and build relationships with them that go beyond the classroom door. For a lot of my students teachers are the only people who encourage them and want more for them.

I teach so that my students–my kids– feel like they “can do” and not “can’t do”. I teach so that they will go on to college or find a job that makes them truly happy. So… everyday when I go into Ashley High School, I strive to build bridges and make connections with each of my students as individuals. THIS is why I teach.”

Clearly, each teacher plays a significant role, positive or negative, in a student’s life.  Every day, teachers can make or break a student’s view of school–forever.  It’s your choice–how will you shine a light on your students’ greatness?

Rookie of the Year- Congratulations to Lindsey McDermott (center) on being named NHCS Rookie Teacher of the Year. The program, sponsored by the Downtown Wilmington Rotary Club, honors beginning teachers with less than three years of experience.

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#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

Christmas tree in Superintedent's Office

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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