Beyond Zip Codes…the Voices of Our Children

During the recent 8th Annual Legislative Luncheon, NHCS Principal of the Year and Principal of Anderson Elementary - Krista Holland – presented a video speech – Beyond Zip Codes – the Voices of the Our Children. The powerful video highlights Mrs. Holland’s childhood and how one inspiring teacher helped to guide her path. Students from throughout the district share their zip codes and how they ALL have the opportunity to be successful.

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What Do You Do With a Chance?

Last week during NHCS’ 8th Annual Legislative Luncheon, NHCS Teacher of the Year and Southeast Region Teacher of the Year – Christy Howe – presented the following speech.

This is the question posed by one of my favorite picture books written by Kobi Yamada. The story is about a young boy who encounters a chance. At first, he does not know what to do with it. He is curious but afraid. When he does finally take the chance, he fails, and feeling foolish he resolves to never try again. Over time, the boy is saddened to find that the more he ignores his chances, the less they come around. Finally, he decides to let his excitement for what’s possible overcome his fear of what could go wrong and he takes a chance – a big one. He learns that when a chance comes your way, you take it because it is an opportunity that may never come again. When a chance comes, you take it because it just might be the start of something incredible.

Christy Howe, NHCS Teacher of the Year & Southeast Region Teacher of the Year

This book speaks to me because we are a part of something incredible, public education, and this is our chance. Education is one of the most important ways in which we take responsibility for shaping our community today and designing the future of our society tomorrow. Education builds capacity in others and equips its citizens to effectively navigate and improve the world in which we live. Education lifts up and empowers learners so that they can, in turn, do the same for others. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which one can use to change the world.”

Changing the world is a weighty task, but it is also a tremendous opportunity. In this room today are educators, elected officials, and invested members of our community. Each of us is here because we value education and want to create opportunities for children.  We may work towards this goal in different ways and capacities, but we are better and more effective when we work together. The power to affect meaningful change in the lives of children is through our collective efforts. My goal today is not to offer answers, but to ask questions and spark discussions that will improve the learning experiences and lives of our children.  My hope is that today is just the beginning of an ongoing, rich discussion between educators and public officials designed to improve the lives of every student in every school.

There are two questions in particular that I’d like to lift up for consideration today. The first is how can we identify, develop, and celebrate the diverse talents of our students? The current focus on standardized measures of achievement and accountability has narrowed our definition of intelligence. A limited vision of success marginalizes our students who are not interested or do not excel in these areas. Furthermore, a narrow definition does not equip our students with the array of future-ready skills they need, such as the ability to think creatively, resolve conflicts, and lead with empathy.

What we measure in our schools influences the types of learners and educational ecosystems we create. While standardized test data is easier to capture, it may not measure or develop the skills we value most, such as collaboration, perseverance, problem-solving, and service to others. As award-winning educator David Guerin states, “Academic skills are only a piece of the complex tapestry of what it takes to be successful.” Our kids are multidimensional; we do them a disservice now and in the future, if we attempt to reduce them to a single score.

So, let’s talk! How can we reimagine our current accountability systems so that they reflect what we truly value?  How can we ensure that the messages we send to our students, teachers, and schools are truly aligned with our vision? Our world is not static and neatly packaged. It is exciting, complex, and continually changing. Let’s work together to be sure our evaluation systems are the same.

The second question I’d like to elevate today is in regards to teachers. Research shows that an effective teacher is, more than any other variable, including students’ socioeconomic status, the greatest impact on student learning.”  So how can we be sure to recruit, retain, and energize high-quality teachers?

In order to attract high-quality teachers, we can take greater ownership of the narrative being told about public education. The work being done every day in public schools is impressive! We are creating life-long learners and leaders who are equipped to make a positive impact on our community in the future and today.  We need to intentionally share and celebrate the wonderful work we do. Our stories give those who are not in schools a glimpse of the magic that happens every day. By sharing our passion, purpose, and impact with others, we can re-write the story that is often told about public education. Let’s work together to create a unified voice that illustrates and honors the value of our profession.

How do we retain and energize the teachers we already have? How do we develop their talents and feed their passion for the profession? The teachers I know are constantly striving to grow and learn so they can create improved experiences and outcomes for their students. If we value life-long learning, reflective practice, and continual growth, we must support teachers seeking to improve. Dr. Katie Martin, the author of Learner Centered Innovation, argues that “teachers’ practices are shaped by their experiences both past and present, and these are mirrored in their classrooms.  If we don’t prioritize authentic, relevant learning experiences for educators, how can we ensure our students have deeper learning experiences?”  Educators can lead the way in transforming our schools, but we can’t do it without meaningful support. Excellence should be encouraged and incentivized; educators who pursue advanced degrees in an effort to improve their craft and create better learning experiences for students should be compensated for their expertise. This investment not only benefits teachers, but serves students, schools, and our community as well. As educator Dr. Amy Fast says, “In order to be effective for our students, we need to make sure the system is maximizing teachers’ potential as well.”

So, what do we do with a chance?  We take it. This is our chance to not only shape the future but to redesign the present; we can work together across diverse networks to make a positive difference in the lives of our children and the future of our community. This is our chance to identify and develop the diverse talents of our students and to reimagine accountability measures so that they represent the diverse talents we need and value. This is our chance to invest in teachers and their passion to improve. Together we can be the change our students need. So let’s work together in a unified way to make it happen. Our kids deserve it.

1 Mandela, N. (2003).”Lighting Your Way to a Better Future [Transcript]. Retrieved from
2 Guerin, D. (2017). Future Driven. United States of America. Book Layout.
3 Hattie, J.A.C. (2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved from
4 Martin, K. (2018). Learner Centered Innovation. United States of America. IMPress.
5 Fast, A. (2016). It’s the Mission Not the Mandates. United States of America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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Gratitude and Hope After the Storm

by Valita Quattlebaum, APR

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

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

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

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

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

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NHCS Storm Stories

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

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Leading the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting Back to the Business of School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggestions from the NHCS Instructional Team

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

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

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

Beginning of class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle or during class

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

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

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

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

End of class

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

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

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

Online learning platforms

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

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

Here to serve!

The NHCS Instructional Team

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NHCS Storm Stories – Bringing School Families Together

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

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NHCS Storm Stories Series Continues

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

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

#buildingastrongfoundation #nhcsstrong

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NHCS Storm Stories

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

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

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

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It’s Never Firecrackers Here

by Dr. Tim Markley, Superintendent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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