The Alternative

Trailers cost more to maintain and create safety issues.

In addition to supporting student growth, the bond will renovate and update facilities such as the George West Building of New Hanover High School, pictured here.


One of the most common questions that I am asked when speaking to groups about the upcoming School Bond is – what happens if this doesn’t pass? It is a great question, and one that I want to explore a bit in this week’s blog. Before I get into it, I need to share a few facts.

First, when students returned to school this year there were 450 more than expected. The state estimated our student population would increase, but we exceeded their estimate by 450 students. This is the fifth year in a row in which that has happened. The second fact to consider is that we ended last year with 84 mobile units and that number continues to grow. We added new units to Bradley Creek this year. Every year that I have been here, we have had to add mobile units or rented classroom space to accommodate overcrowding. Finally, we opened another school this year – College Road Early Childhood Center – to accommodate overcrowding at Bellamy Elementary. Even with this addition, we could not remove trailer units at the school; they need the additional classroom space.

The circumstances described above offer a bit of insight into what would happen if the School Bond fails. There would be overcrowded classes, more mobile units and constant line shifting to address increased student population. Growth will continue; we are the third fastest growing area in the state and building permits are at pre-recession levels. One only has to drive around the county to see the evidence of this. To address the growth without a bond will mean that schools will have to use non-classroom spaces such as the library, office space, storage areas and the hallways as instructional spaces. This is already happening at some of our schools.

No bond means even more trailers will be needed. We already have trailers that are well past their expected usefulness. I have told people that a number of our trailers are older than the teachers who use them. Using a trailer as a classroom is not a good use of your tax dollars. Trailers cost more to maintain and are more likely to have mold issues than brick and mortar schools. The situation at Bellamy Elementary last year highlights this concern. Finally, trailers create unique safety issues. Students have to leave the unit and enter a building that more than likely is locked. The cafeteria, gym, media center, office and specials classes are all located inside of the school.

Without a bond, line shifting will be an ongoing event as different areas grow as we have to shift attendance lines to address the growth. This will become an annual event. We have already had to make small shifts the last two years. Each of these moves brings a major disruption in the lives of our students. With the bond, there will be one major redistricting in 2019 when the elementary construction projects are complete.

Beyond these concerns, I worry what message a failed bond would send to businesses that are considering locating here in New Hanover County.

The bond slogan is Our Kids, Our Community and Our Future. Your vote on this bond will define that future for both the kids and the community.

In addition to supporting student growth, the bond will also renovate and update facilities such as the George West Building at New Hanover High School, pictured here.

There are more than 85 trailers in use in NHCS.

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The Tax Impact of the Education Bond May Surprise You


On November 4th, New Hanover County residents will vote on a $160 million school bond. The proposed bond will help address a number of needs that New Hanover County Schools is facing – Safety, Technology and Growth. Today, I want to talk about taxes and what passing this bond means to your bottom line.

Any bond has a potential tax impact. Over the life of this bond, the average tax impact is estimated to be about 3 cents on the tax rate. What does this mean for a homeowner in New Hanover County? If you own a home valued at $200,000, the estimated tax impact would be $60 per year or about $1.15 per week – less than the price of a small cup of Starbucks coffee.

A look back at previous school bonds provides some interesting insights. Going back to 1995, we have approved bonds that had potential tax implications. However, there was no actual tax increase enacted. This does not mean there won’t be one now, but it does show that impact may not be as great as shown on the ballot. Additionally, the current school bond debt is decreasing considerably. This year alone the payment of past bonds has decreased by $911,471.

There are a number of factors that can mitigate the tax impact. One of these is property values. If property values increase, then the tax rate could be lower. The county is currently doing a major revaluation that could affect the tax rate. After the recent recession, it would not be unreasonable to anticipate property values increasing. Another factor that affects the tax rate is the general financial health of the county. New Hanover County has a very conservative debt policy that limits the amount of debt the county can carry. This conservative approach has helped the county achieve an AAA bond rating. This is the highest rating possible and one that only a few counties in the state possess. The Local Government Commission sets the limit each county can borrow and New Hanover County is well below that limit.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and the New Hanover County Board of Education have been very frugal with the taxpayers’ dollars. Thus, the credit rating for our county is very good, which keeps the bond rates very low. Therefore, the impact on the taxpayer for this bond should be minimal.

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The 2014-15 State Budget for Education: A Confusing Mishmash

I am not sure there is a good way to describe the recently adopted state budget other than to call it “a confusing mishmash.” There are some things to celebrate in the new budget, but there are also a lot of things to be concerned about as we move into the 2014-15 school year. I want to take a few minutes here to review some of the key provisions and offer my perspective.

Teacher Pay: The budget offers an average raise of 7%, though this is the key point; 7% is not the flat raise across the board. Instead, the raises are heavily weighted at the front end of the pay scale. Those at the upper end of the scale received very little. They also complicated the matter by rolling longevity into the scale. There was no movement on the issue of paying extra for advanced degrees. Teachers with advanced degrees will be grandfathered in, but those not enrolled in a master’s program cannot receive pay for an advanced degree. While I applaud the significant raise for new teachers and those at the front of the scale, I am very concerned about the message it sends to our veteran teachers. These veteran teachers are often the teacher leaders in their schools and are a critical component of student success. A pay raise of less than 1% for some of these teachers will drive them away from the profession or to teach in other states.

Teacher Assistants: The spin around this issue is another example of political gamesmanship. The official announcement is that no teacher assistant positions were cut. What was not announced is that a large portion of this funding was in the form of non-recurring dollars. Non-recurring dollars are one time monies that cannot be budgeted going forward. Additionally, much of the TA fund was moved to the reduce class size teacher allotment, which forced many districts to choose between teachers and teacher assistants. We will not cut teacher assistant positions this year, but we will have to fight this all over again next year when the budget process begins for 2015-16.

Drivers Education: The budget calls for continuing Driver’s Education this year, but eliminates funding next year. It does allow for a fee increase to $65 for the 2014-15 school year. There is no way to fund the program next year at that rate. My hope is that this is addressed in next year’s budget, but we will have to wait and see.

Textbooks: There was an increase of sixty-two cents per student for textbooks. I am not sure what exactly you can get for an extra sixty-two cents. The last year textbooks were fully funded was in 2009 when we received $67.15 per pupil. The new allotment of $14.88 is 78% less than the 08-09 formula.

Non-Teacher Raises: Non-teachers received a raise of $500 for the year compared to a $1000 for other state employees. Again, the message here seems to be that the legislature values their work less than other state employees.

Planning Allotments: One change in the budget that has not received significant attention is the change to how school systems handle projected enrollment increases. In the past, growth funding was part of the continuation budget. The state planned for the growth and allocated positions based on that projection. Under this budget, they will no longer automatically fund growth. This change means that districts will not know if they have the positions or dollars to meet new growth demand. Instead, the process is at the whim of the legislative budget writers. It could force districts to choose between addressing growth and maintaining the current level of service.

Other Budget Items: There was a 3% decrease to central office administration and 1% decrease for transportation. Any funds remaining for the Teaching Fellows Program were eliminated. They did, however, find additional money for school vouchers. This means your tax dollars will subsidize even more private schools that do not meet the same standards as public schools.

What is not in the Budget: There are several items that were talked about but did not make it into the budget. One was the Governor’s proposed career ladder, which I believe would have benefited all teachers. There were no changes to the tenure law that was passed last year.

I have always believed that a budget is a person’s or organization’s philosophy in actions. Looking at this budget, one could conclude that the current state government does not value teacher assistants and veteran educators and is not willing to commit to the long-term needs of the students in North Carolina. While there was some progress, I can only hope that in the long session there will be real substantive progress for the students in our state.

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2014 Graduation Speech- Flag Day


Board Chair Don Hayes during his service in the Vietnam War.

Every year at graduation, we hear a lot of great speeches from students, principals and others. This year, one speech stood out for me. That speech was the acceptance of the class speech by Board Chair Don Hayes. Don is a veteran who takes a lot of pride in his country and his service during the Vietnam War. As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, I thought I would share his remarks with you. With his permission, I have reprinted them here.

On behalf of the Board of Education, I would like to welcome everyone here to graduation. Congratulations to the Class of 2014! We celebrate with you and your families as you celebrate this graduation day; a graduation day, that also happens to be Flag Day. Now, as a former history teacher, I think I need to say a few things about Flag Day. Two hundred and thirty seven years ago today, the 2nd Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution of 1777 in order to establish an official flag for the new nation.

There have been observances over the years, but Flag Day was not officially signed into law until President Truman did so in 1949.

What I want to share with you is part of a Flag Day address delivered by Secretary of the Interior, Franklin Lane, on June 14th, 1914. Secretary Lane is a having a conversation with the flag and the flag is telling him what makes up the flag.

“The work that you do, that is the making of the flag. I am whatever you make me, nothing more. I am your belief in yourself, your dream of what you may become.

I live a changing life, a life of moods and passions, of heartbreaks and tired muscles.

Sometimes I am strong with pride when honest work is done. Sometimes I droop, for then, purpose has gone from me and cynically, I play the coward. But always, I am all that you hope to be and have the courage to try for.

I am song and fear, struggle, and panic and ennobling hope. I am the day’s work of the weakest man and the largest dream of the most daring.

I am the Constitution and the courts.

I am the battle of yesterday and the mistake of tomorrow.

I am the mystery of the men who do without knowing why.

I am no more than you believe me to be and I am all that you believe I can be.

I am what you make me, nothing more.

I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.

My stars and my stripes are your dreams and your labors.

They are bright with cheer, brilliant with courage, firm with faith, because you have made them so out of your hearts; for you are the makers of the flag, and it is well that you glory in the making.”

Today, you graduate. How will you contribute to the continued making of the flag in the future? Is it higher education or a full time job?

Some of you have decided to serve your country by joining the military and I would like to recognize you for that future service. We live in perilous times, and we thank those that have served, those that serve today and those that will have the honor to serve. Those decisions to serve make this Flag Day and this graduation possible.

God bless you, and remember graduates, when you see that flag waving in the breeze, it represents you and all that you can become.

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The Continued Politics of Education

The Senate released its budget yesterday, and the highlight of that budget was an 11% average raise for teachers. That was the good news and is clearly a step in the right direction. The 11% will go a long way to making North Carolina competitive with other states.

Now with that said, there is a political aspect to this that cannot be overlooked. Teachers have to make an educational version of Sophie’s Choice and decide if they want to give up career status (tenure) in order to get that raise. If they choose to keep tenure they will remain on the old scale. As an ardent observer of politics, this is an audacious move and I am interested to see how it plays out. As a superintendent, I am worried what message it sends to teachers and forces them to choose between principle and pocketbook.

Beyond the teacher pay raise, there is little to celebrate in this budget. The biggest loss is to the teacher assistant ranks. The proposed Senate budget cuts teacher assistants by 50%. For New Hanover County Schools that could translate to possibly 100 fewer positions. This group has borne the brunt of budget cuts over the last several years. They are a critical part of what happens in the schools today. Given the increased emphasis on reading and assessment, they play a vital role in the day-to-day instruction of students. The image of a TA grading papers is no longer the reality. As we work to differentiate and personalize instruction, they are a critical part of that process.

Along with cuts to TA’s, there is a reduction to the transportation budget, no extra funds for instructional supplies, no funds for technology and a 30% cut to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The cuts to DPI will mean that state-mandated services will be pushed down to the local level and increase our costs.

So we need to celebrate that the legislature heard the message that teachers need to be paid better, but we must be concerned that the trade off is the continued undermining of the remainder of the educational system. We need a strong public school system in order to make our state a viable economic force heading into the future.

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A Tribute to an Old Friend by Dr. Rick Holliday

The New Hanover County Schools lost one of its legends recently. Coach Joe Miller hung up his whistle for the last time. Much has already been said about the amazing career that he had here at New Hanover High School as one tough football coach. Later, he served as our system’s athletic director. You have already heard about how much Coach Miller was respected around the state and the nation. Anyway, much will be made of all of his accolades and they are many indeed. But I would like to present him as my friend and colleague. You see, when I came to New Hanover County back in the early 80′s, Joe was well on his way to becoming the legend that we know today. His New Hanover High School football teams were feared by everybody they played. I was a young coach at another county high school and openly I showed my bluster by saying that there wasn’t anything special about him (this was usually when he was beating our brains out) while secretly wanting to be just like him. He was a coach’s coach.

Coach Miller had many successful teams with several players going on to play in college and at the highest level in the professional ranks. But what made him successful was his work ethic. You were not going to out work him. Many coaches have mastered the art of looking busy while not getting much done. This was not Joe Miller. His work was purposeful and his results were quality. Loud and sometimes just a little profane, he was often mistaken for being somewhat of an intimidator. But that was just him. He wasn’t putting on a show. Seemingly afraid of nothing, his players and assistant coaches would have fought hell with a water pistol if he had asked it of them. That was the other side of Joe. He truly cared about people. He knew his players’ parents by name and often their siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts. It was hard for him to go anywhere in town for a quiet evening with his family because he knew everyone and everyone knew him. Of course they all wanted to talk to Coach Miller. He has probably given more advice about life than most psychologists.

And then, there were the old guys. Joe did his best to take care of all the old retired coaches here in town. When the hurricanes would come, Joe would load up his supplies and go see what he could do to repair the storm damaged homes of these old warhorses. And when the time came, as it always did, he took care of their widows. He always made sure these guys always had a free pass to the games. There were no questions as far as he was concerned. This was the least he could do to honor those who came before him. In today’s world, we don’t always take the time in our busy lives for these folks. With Joe, there was no excuse.

Yes, there will be others that come after Joe, but none will be like him. A sports talk show was discussing people who might be on the Mount Rushmore of whatever sport they were talking about. When we are talking about who will go on the Mount Rushmore of New Hanover County Schools Athletics, Coach Joe Miller is in the conversation. I’ll let others argue about the other three places. Rest easy, old friend.

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Another Week on the Educational Roller Coaster

It has been an interesting week in North Carolina Education with two major announcements. First, a judge in Guilford County placed an injunction on the 25% rule and teacher tenure. Second, a legislative committee studying Common Core recommended scrapping the whole thing and starting over. Both actions are just continuations of the year-long power struggle that has been taking place in North Carolina. Both actions have generated a lot of discussion and deserve a closer look.

People need to understand that the ruling from Guilford County has two parts. One is the 25% rule and the other is about tenure rights. In regards to the 25% percent rule, our School Board was the first to pass a resolution against it and is to be commended for their leadership. Opposition to the 25% rule is not about being opposed to merit pay, but is instead rooted in the way it is being implemented. This proposal is not merit pay. Those who take the 500 dollar bonus would have to give up their tenure rights in exchange for the money. The 25% rule is also a onetime event; there is no top 25% to be recognized the next year. This is simply an inducement to get teachers to forgo their tenure rights. There were also no criteria for how to identify the top 25%, which added to the confusion. Additionally, the bonus does not reflect the collaborative nature of education. It pits teachers against each other and discourages sharing of information and ideas. A better system would reward high performing teams or schools for their efforts. In business, the success is a collaborative effort and that is true in education as well.

The second major part to watch for in the Guilford ruling is the impact on tenure. The question is whether the legislature can take tenure from those who already have it. This is a legal issue that will have to be played out in court. No one doubts they can change the rules for new teachers to eliminate tenure. A better compromise would have been to allow those with tenure to keep it and eliminate it for new teachers coming into the profession. This is what happened to principals when tenure was eliminated for them.

The other big news of the week is the recommendation to eliminate Common Core in North Carolina and have our own standards. North Carolina has been working to implement these standards now for several years and administered the first round of testing last spring on these new, more rigorous standards. To do away with them now raises a lot of concerns, especially since the proposed legislation creates another layer of government with a new commission that is outside of the education department. This has the potential to neutralize the State Board of Education and will only further politicize education in North Carolina.

If this bill passes, there will be other hurdles to overcome as we receive significant federal funding. The state made promises when it agreed to take Race to the Top funding– what happens to that funding? Will the federal government restrict funds? It recently eliminated the No Child Left Behind waiver for Washington State. That could happen here as well. The other hurdle is what replaces Common Core? In Indiana, the first state to repeal Common Core, the new standards look a lot like Common Core standards. Is this real change or good political theater?

Instead of creating a new commission and rewriting standards, we need to fix the real issue here which is the assessments. We have created a huge testing monster which is being linked to Common Core, but in reality has nothing to do with it. We now test teachers with exams so that it can become part of their evaluation. These tests are poorly designed and lack validity. Teachers feel pressure to have their students pass these tests and this narrows and stifles the curriculum. Instead of playing politics with education let’s work to really improve the system.

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Regional Teacher of the Year’s – Melissa Gillespie – Legislative Breakfast speech

Congratulations to 2013-14 NHCS Teacher of the Year and Regional Teacher of the Year – Melissa Gillespie, a Social Studies Teacher at Laney High School. Mrs. Gillespie was recognized at the North Carolina 2014-15 Teacher of the Year Banquet on Thursday, April 3rd. Though a fellow Regional Teacher of the Year was awarded the State honor, NHCS is very proud of Mrs. Gillespie – her outstanding accomplishments, her commitment to education and her passion for teaching. Mrs. Gillespie presented the following speech during NHCS’ 3rd Annual Legislative Breakfast on February 18th. Congratulations, Mrs. Gillespie on being a leader in education!

An educator once told me during my internship that “policy makers only want teachers to be seen and not heard.” It took me some time to understand the importance of such a statement and I certainly understood what that individual meant when I entered into my 10th year of teaching at the beginning of this school year. I was fortunate to have New Hanover County Schools send me to a national conference last week that focused on strategies that helped Beginning Teachers in the classroom. There were educators from all over the United States and five countries at this conference. Of course, everyone always asks “Where are you from?” When I replied “NC” the look on their faces and responses were astounding. I was consistently asked “Why would you stay and teach in a State that doesn’t value its educators, or education, for that matter?” I always replied, “Because I believe in public education, our teachers, and our students…because my district and school believe in me…and I love my job”

I do believe that the face of education is changing and that teachers have found their voice and are not afraid to speak loudly. Teachers are on the verge of a grassroots movement that has the potential of revitalizing and revolutionizing education in the state of North Carolina. Teachers are not afraid of the challenges that we face. We are determined, strong, and fighting for a cause. We are here to fight the good fight for our schools and students. And, we must always remember to place our students first.

Society expects schools to prepare students to participate in our democracy. Yet, many citizens believe that our schools are failing. Public perception about the quality and value of teachers and schools are at an all time low. Educators in North Carolina do not feel valued, but they continue to give 100% in their classrooms every single day. This is evident in our county: the academic performance of students in New Hanover County is impressive–we are above the NC state average and outperformed all of our surrounding counties. Our graduation rates have exceeded the state average for three years in a row, and last year, we boasted a graduation rate of 82%. We accomplished this in the face of adversity, while continuing to work on our craft. NHCS has a total of 400 National Board Certified Teachers.

I “grew-up” in the corridors of Laney High School, because I am surrounded by a consistent administrative team, amazing educators, dedicated parents, and inquisitive students. Laney provides an amazing environment conducive to learning.

I believe NC’s biggest problem is the quick departure of beginning teachers in our profession. This revolving door cannot be fixed through recruitment strategies alone. Beginning teachers enter the profession believing they will make a difference but leave because they realize they are expected to become testing technicians. This high turnover rate harms student achievement. In addition, the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training of new teachers drain resources that might otherwise be spent on program improvement or working conditions. This increases the workload of experienced in-service teachers because they are usually called upon to bear most of the responsibilities associated with mentoring new teachers. As a result, teachers are left with little time to develop meaningful lessons. What is the solution? It is simple: invest in teachers, provide support, and strengthen pre-service teacher programs at the University level. Thankfully, NHCS has an amazing Beginning Teacher Support Program. NHCS believes strongly that effective support to help new teachers begin their careers is in the best interest of every person connected with the schools. We believe that providing that support requires interest, caring, and other personal and professional contributions from all members of the school community. Based on the belief that quality mentors are a critical key to the success of beginning teachers, NHCS created a system that provides needed emotional, instructional and organizational support for beginning teachers and each novice teacher is assigned a qualified and well-trained mentor.

Also, NHCS is partnered with UNCW and the Watson College of Education to recognize outstanding beginning teachers. Eleven NHCS beginning teachers were nominated by their principals, and then selected by the WCE, as Beginning Teacher Promise of Leadership Award recipients. These teachers were chosen based on their commitment to teaching diverse learners, their use of technology in the classroom, and their potential for leadership. The award is designed to provide professional growth opportunities, along with additional support from WCE faculty members. This Beginning Teacher Support Program and partnership are some of the reasons NHCS’ teacher turnover rate is well below the state average.

Author Neil Postman stated, “Public education is not important because it serves the public, it is important because it creates the public.” Society expects teachers to prepare our youth to learn the skills needed to became an engaged and informed public. And my biggest fear is that students are beginning to feel the negative effects of the revolving teacher door in education and this very public discussion about the “teacher v school.”

We need to remind the policy makers that the only way to remain competitive in a global economy is to invest in our human capital and generate 21st century skills needed in the workforce. Investing in teachers is a direct way to invest in our students (the human capital of our nation). At the same time, teachers will not see true educational reform from a salary increase alone (even though we need to address teacher pay and begin a real discussion–not receive token pay raises for specific groups). We must all be willing to admit that education cuts overwhelmingly affect the well being of the student more than that of the educator. Our nation’s future economy depends on the current investments in our overall educational system. Failure to acknowledge this connection will lead to an even greater increase in our society between the haves and the have-notes. We cannot abandon the ideology that education is the great equalizer. As educators we must nurture a culture of inquiry through learning, leading, and creating. This remains the one advantage of American students–we are innovative risk takers that excel in ingenuity.

NC was once a “shining star” in education. We are now at the bottom of the education pyramid. The future of education in NC is to make sure that NC remains in the educational forefront–pre-service programs are failing to fill seats throughout NC’s University systems–and this will lead to a serious teacher shortage in our state. We need a change. We need real hope. We have a voice and nothing else to lose–this is how real change begins. Our overall outcome is the success of ALL students–parents, teachers, administrators, etc. I will continue to advocate for my students–they are the reason I show up for work everyday. I made a decision to remain in education for the long haul. I am willing to fight the good fight. But, are you?

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When Education Becomes a Political Football

One of my functions as a superintendent is to take directives from state legislators and the Department of Public Instruction and turn it into action at the local level. I have to clarify the often unexplainable and make sense of the sometimes irrational. Recently, this has become even more difficult, and as a result, teachers and administrators are frustrated by issues they have little control over. Two recent events I think highlight this problem. The first is the passage of Read to Achieve and the implementation of the requirements of this law. The second is the change from a 4-point scale to a 5-point scale for End-of-Grade and End-of-Course exams.

Read to Achieve: A short while back, legislators saw fit to pass a bill called Read to Achieve that requires all third graders to pass a reading test before they can be promoted to fourth grade. Unfortunately, there was little detail in the bill and a lot of problems with the execution. The implementation of the bill coincided with the adoption of a new, harder third grade test. This meant that more third graders were less likely to be proficient on the EOG than previously thought.

On the pre-test, almost 70% of students failed. To provide a fix for this, DPI created a portfolio process that that would require up to 36 short tests throughout the year. Third grade teachers were frustrated that they had less time to actually teach reading and that the portfolio process began in January of the year. Superintendents complained that the DPI process was overly burdensome and that the state would not be able to pay for all of the summer school slots that were needed for those students who would be required to attend because they had not met the proficiency requirements of the law. The legislators then blamed DPI and the process was eventually changed. For principals, the rules and directions for this whole process changed more often than the weather. A final change was just introduced that promised to make the process even more muddled. This is my second example.

New Achievement Levels: Since the inception of state mandated testing we have used a four point grading system with a Level 3 and Level 4 indicating passing or proficient. For the first time in years we had a state system and federal system that were reasonably aligned. With this most recent change, we now have a five point scale with three through five being passing or proficient in the state accountability model. We did this by lowering the passing score. I am truly frustrated by this, it sends the wrong message. Why was this done? I am not sure; I do know it sends the wrong message about what we do. Last year we implemented a new harder test and took our lumps publically about the scores. This happens every time we adopt more rigorous standards. We adjust and rise to meet the challenge. With these new cut scores, more students, especially third graders, will be deemed proficient and thus not be required to attend Read to Achieve Summer Camps. Additionally, when the state issues grades for schools, there will be fewer schools identified as failing schools. This new five point system is also out of alignment with other accountability standards, which will only count a score of four or five as “Proficient.” For high schools that administered End-of-Course test in the fall, DPI will have to go back and adjust those scores.

All of this is what I believe is the inevitable result of politicizing education. For centuries, our educational system provided the best road to advancement. Millions upon millions of students attended public schools and gained the skills needed to be successful and productive citizens. Teachers had the respect of their communities and were leaders in the community. Education was the advancement in America. Each year, we educated and graduated more students than the year before. In times of national crisis, we turned to public education to find solutions. Sputnik is a prime example of this; we feared that Russia had a scientific edge, so we worked to improve our science education programs in public schools. We believed in the value of public education and understood that it transformed our country. It still does that but because of politics we do not want to see it. Our schools are still the best tool for raising people out of poverty, meeting social challenges and being a strong driver of economic development. Our answer to those critics of public education should not be lowering of standards, but instead, we should meet the challenge head on. Our public schools offer the best choice for any child. Here, in New Hanover County, the best performing schools are not charter schools or private schools but are public schools. Finally, we do this without turning away any child. We do this without regard to the student’s background, race, disability or income level.

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Behind the Scene: NHCS Operations Team Explains How Their Preparations led us through the Storm

by Julia LaBombard, NHCS Supplemental Services Supervisor, Operations Department

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for spring! I don’t want to see any more snow, sleet, ice, or freezing rain. Our days are busy enough without the added headaches foul weather events cause and especially for the folks in Operations. We spend hours strategizing on how best to deal with inclement weather as there are many “unknowns” before a storm hits, so planning for them (as much as we can) is important to both the response and recovery of buildings and services.

On February 10th and 11th , staff from Maintenance Operations, Child Nutrition, Facility Planning, Purchasing and Transportation rallied together to prepare for the storm and set plans in place for the post-storm recovery. Tasks we normally don’t think of, such as having salt on hand in anticipation of icy sidewalks or transferring food to deep freezers so it would last through power outages, were taken care of. Communications were established with the National Weather Service and the County Emergency Management Office so information could be relayed to schools and departments in a timely manner. Schools that serve as shelter sites were also put on notice that there was a possibility of shelter activation, which brought about another set of tasks.

On Wednesday night, February 12th, we still had 22 schools without power. Additionally, it became evident that we would need to open some schools as shelters. Shelter operation began Wednesday evening. Transportation was on standby to back up Wave Transit to transport people to shelters if needed and Purchasing was ready to open up the warehouse to provide whatever supplies were needed.

Despite a lack of power for many at home, employees in these Operations departments made it to work on Thursday, February 13th, to start assessing the damage from the storm and to make preparations for the recovery. NASA would have been proud of our tactical measures! Teams from Maintenance Operations and Facility Planning visited each site and reported in on the status of power, water, HVAC, roof leaks, fallen trees or wires and communications. At the same time, Transportation employees were out checking bus routes to make sure the roads and school parking lots could be safely navigated. Principals, custodians and Child Nutrition staff reported for duty at the shelters, prepared to provide refuge for 20 or 200. By the end of the day on Thursday, all services had been restored to the schools.

The fact that we were able to recover services with only a two-hour delay on Friday was a small miracle due in large part to the hard work and dedication of NHCS employees in Operations. For most, things went back to normal on Friday, but Operations continued their post-storm activities with the closing of the one remaining shelter and picking up a lot of storm debris!

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