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?

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Top NC Superintendents Speak about Importance of Recruiting and Retaining Great Teachers

The following is a position paper prepared by the superintendents of the largest districts in North Carolina. New Hanover County belongs to this consortium.

Is North Carolina doing the best job possible in attracting, recruiting, training and retaining great teachers? Like all sectors, education is only as good as its workforce – and in North Carolina, we know we’re losing teachers to other states every day. Our teacher salaries are 48th among 50 states in national rankings, and $10,000 below the national average. What message does this convey about the value we place on teaching?

All of us know that great teaching is the heart and soul of public education. But great teaching doesn’t just happen. It is the result of careful planning and strategic design in multiple areas: compensation, recruitment, evaluation, training and working conditions.

The current low teacher salaries put us at a competitive disadvantage and hurt teacher morale. They also shortchange our children by giving them less skill and attention in the classroom than they need and deserve. And that, in turn, hurts all of us by hindering our growth as a community and as a state.

Gov. Pat McCrory and our General Assembly have said they will work to raise starting salaries for teachers during the short session. It’s a good starting point for this work. Our leaders have the opportunity to take critical steps to enhance the teaching profession in North Carolina by adopting a five-year plan to make NC teaching salaries regionally competitive.

But the salaries of all teachers in North Carolina, not only those entering the profession, must be addressed. Too many teachers leave the profession in the first decade of their careers. We urge our leaders to collaborate with superintendents, school leaders and teachers. We have a great opportunity to do what is right on a very important topic and, in doing so, ensure that North Carolina remains a leader in K-12 public education.

Improving the quality of teaching in North Carolina starts with making us regionally competitive, and then nationally competitive in terms of salary. The low starting salary in our state hinders our ability to attract strong candidates, particularly young teachers. We must pay our teachers competitively so that we can compete for the best teachers. This need is urgent. Our state needs to get to nationally competitive salaries within the next five years.

Compensation is one part of a clear need for better support and management of the teaching workforce. Higher standards, new learning technologies and the need for graduates with more highly developed skills – all of these have placed greater demands on public school teachers and administrators than ever before. North Carolina’s vision for the future of the teaching workforce must meet these demands while preparing for even broader ones. Public school graduates must be ready for the workforce so that our state and regional economies can continue to grow.

A comprehensive approach to transform the teaching profession must address these areas:

Recruitment: Attract top high school graduates into teaching.
Preparation: Prepare teachers for the rigors of the classroom.
Induction: Ensure that every teacher has effective support during onboarding to become successful in the first year.
Development: Advance high-quality and essential professional development.
Career pathways: Establish roles for master teachers.
Compensation: Benchmark teacher compensation against other leading professions.

To strengthen the teaching profession, we must invest in the future. We must work with colleges and universities, as well as our state legislators and our public school administrators, to ensure that teachers get the support they need along the career trajectory.

Teacher pay is one of many substantial challenges our state faces to strengthen and support education. We will need to work together to find the answers to these challenges – and it appears that our state leaders are ready to begin. Working together, we can restore teaching to the iconic, revered profession that is once was and should be now – one recognized for the critical role it plays in our children’s future.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Explanation for Recent Two Hour Delays

Dear Parents,

I don’t need to tell you that it has been unusually cold for our region over the past few days. For this reason, New Hanover County Schools decided to operate on a two-hour delay on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. We understand that there are always going to be differences of opinion any time we make a weather call and we are aware of the inconvenience it causes and disruption to the family schedule. We want you to know the primary reason we decided the delays were necessary is based on an overabundance of caution and concern for our students and staff.

When temperatures plummet into the teens, bus travel for our students can become dangerous. Opening schools on the delayed schedule allowed transportation and maintenance staff time to prepare buses and facilities before school started. Consider these statistics. The district operates 177 buses on a typical school day with approximately 4,000 bus stops. The buses travel 13,000 miles each day. Transportation crews arrived early to ensure that all buses started and would operate safely and properly in the frigid temperatures. During extremely cold weather, some diesel-powered engines will experience difficulty with starting. The extra time allowed buses that had dead batteries to be jump started.

Additionally, the district maintains 47 facilities, with 43 of them being schools. Maintenance staff also came in early to ensure that the mechanical infrastructure at each site was operating properly. The two hours gave us a little extra time to rectify any HVAC issues before students and staff arrived. Malfunctions were found and we were able to fix them quickly. We did not want to send students into frigid classrooms.

A local news station manager compared the decision of most school districts in the region to do a two hour delay to that of a private school which decided to operate on their normal schedule. To compare a large public school district to a small private school where the students are car riders, is an unbalanced comparison at best. NHCS will continue to make the safety of our students and staff our top priority.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

New Hanover County Schools: Outperforming Area Charter Schools

I must confess that I am a news junkie. I am constantly listening to, reading or following various news feeds. One news story that recently grabbed my attention was that charter schools are outperforming public schools on the new state assessments. Something about this did not sound right, so I decided to dig deeper and look at how our schools here in New Hanover County stack up against our local charter schools.

Let me first say that I am a fan of charter schools as lab schools and schools that address a specific community need. In our region, we have several charter schools that serve students from New Hanover County and surrounding counties. These schools include Cape Fear Center for Inquiry (CFCI), Wilmington Prep, Charter Day School and Columbus Day. Two others opened this year, but with only a limited number of grades and students.

When compared to the district’s schools, charter schools’ performances are mixed at best. None of the charter schools have a performance composite above 70%. NHCS has eight schools that exceeded 70% and another four are over 60%. Only one of the local charters, CFCI, would make our top 10 list. If you look at their performance composite related to subgroups, the data is even more revealing. None of the area charter schools would be in the top 10 with the scores from the Caucasian subgroup (CFCI would be 13th). When looking at the African-American subgroup performance, no charter school would rank in the top 20 compared to NHCS. In terms of working with our economically disadvantaged students, CFCI does not have a subgroup, and only Charter Day would be in the top 10; the other two charters’ performance would rank in the bottom half of NHCS data.

I would like to reiterate what I said at the beginning of this article. Charter schools have value as lab schools and implementing new concepts. They also serve as other school options for parents to consider. I also believe charters schools help keep public schools on their toes by providing alternatives. However, I am not ready to concede that they are better schools. It is important to remember that these schools bear little resemblance to the district as a whole. CFCI, Columbus Day and Charter Day have significantly fewer minority students and students who are economically disadvantaged. Wilmington Prep has more minority students than NHCS. None of the charter schools have more than 1% of their students identified as Limited English Proficient compared to 3.5% for NHCS in that category.

The performance of charter schools is mixed, and when compared to actual schools in our district, their performance, at best, can be described as average. For the vast majority of students, the best place for high quality education is in a traditional public school. If you want to delve further into the data, I would suggest you log onto the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s website: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/accountability/reporting/.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

The New Picture of Career and Technical Education

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to the new inductees of the Vocational Honor Society. These are some truly talented students who are taught by some of the best teachers in the state. I thought I would share my remarks as part of my latest blog post. The list of inductees is included at the end of the post.

“I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak here tonight and it is my honor to help recognize some of New Hanover County’s most talented students. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is an often overlooked part of our educational program. I frequently speak to local civic groups and I am asked ‘why don’t we have vocational programs in our schools?’ My answer is that we do, and that they are some of our most rewarding classes taught by some of the best teachers, who bring a wealth of experience to the job. They teach some of our best students, as evidenced by those gathered here tonight.

The old picture of CTE was metal and wood shop, brick laying or trades, and was for students who weren’t going to college. The new picture of CTE includes some of these traditional trades, but is so much more. Students today may be doing computer networking, high-end graphics, medical training, culinary arts and engineering. Many of the students here today will use the skills learned in these classes to help them in community college, four-year colleges and the workforce.

As the world changes, the skills these students have learned while in New Hanover County Schools will be their building blocks for a successful life. While in CTE classes, students are exposed to a variety of learning opportunities. These classes:

• Are hands-on;
• Require higher order thinking skills;
• Require the ability to solve problems;
• Require real-world problem solving;
• Expose students to some of the latest and best technology.

These skills will be especially important in the future because the students here today will enter a very different labor market than our generation. Here are some interesting facts related to this:

• Among college students who graduate with a four-year degree, only two of three will find employment related to their field of study.
• Among college students who graduate with a professional credential, (e.g., for teaching, engineering, or accounting), only one in two will find related employment.
• A four-year degree no longer guarantees a high income.
• Technical employment is the fastest-growing segment of the labor market.
• Most technical work will not require a four-year college degree. Only 25 percent of all technical work requires a four-year or graduate degree. The fastest-growing piece of the high-skill, high-wage technical workplace is occupations that require an associate’s degree.

That means the students here today may have an advantage over their peers because of the skills they have learned through our CTE programs. Our CTE programs will help students enter the next phase of their lives ready for whatever changes are coming.

So let me close by congratulating all of the students being recognized tonight and to again say thank you to teachers who have helped educate these students.”
NATIONAL TECHNICAL HONOR SOCIETY INDUCTEES

Erik Davis Akeyson
Edward Joseph Albrecht III
Geraldo Altamirano
Marissa Barbe
Jesus Barboza
Chloe Alexus Benjamin
Cameron Thomas Cairney
Stacey Cherry
Jason William Cronin
Taylor Alexis D’Eramo
Fernando Gutierrez
Tommy Harris
Alana Marie Harvey
Caroline Noel Haywood
Sarah Rose Hodge
David Lee Hodges
Joshua David Hodges
Colton Lawn
Logan Carroll Matthews
Adrianna Lee Mayberry
Autumnlee Barden Meyer
Iris Monahan
Nicholas Ryan Parker
Dakota Franklin Perryman
Caroline Alyece Puckett
Malcolm Parker Rackley
Tara Alicia Schwagerl
Emily Margaret Sprenger
Freeman Statum
Jadiah Taylor
Holly Tyndall
Peter Nicholas Vogiatzis
Hannah Elaine Wagner
Malika Williams
Cassidi Williamson
Trey Wyatt
Destiny Wynn
Kristen Leigh Young

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Community Violence and How it Impacts Students

On a typical Friday, the average student will get into a car or on a bus anticipating the start of a fun weekend at home. He will probably get the chance to play outside with his family, watch movies, play video games with his friends, and overall, have a fun, enjoyable weekend. For some students, though, the weekend means stress, fear, pressure and worry because of where they live and the violent people and activities that surround them.

Within recent months, we have seen a wave of gang-related violence in Wilmington that produces ripples far beyond just those involved in the actual shootings. For a growing number of students, going home on a Friday means being closed in their apartment or home all weekend in fear of being caught outside when the violence erupts. Instead of a fire evacuation plan, they have a “safe place to run and hide plan” when the bullets start to fly. Some students may be sent to stay with relatives or friends who live in safer areas. Most inter-city children, by the time they enter high school, have seen the use of weapons, guns or other acts of violence against people in their neighborhood or school.

After a tough weekend in the neighborhood, a Monday morning at some schools can look like a triage unit as school employees care for the students’ emotional wounds. Administrators, teachers, counselors, and mental health professionals are trying to help students deal with the distress that comes with living in a violent neighborhood. The school is often the only place they feel safe. While there, these vulnerable students tend to act out their fears. They may be anxious, fearful or withdrawn, internalizing their problems, and keeping their fears inside. On the other hand, the children may act out and be aggressive, seeing these actions as the only way to solve problems or get attention.

Research shows that children who have been exposed to violence show impaired cognition, including memory, learning and school performance. Students who witness or live with violence have trouble controlling aggressive impulses and are more likely to have discipline issues. In neighborhoods with high rates of community violence, many families experience chronic stress and worry. Regardless of how young the children are, they are deeply impacted by the heightened emotions and the overwhelming sense of fear that surround them. The longer students are exposed to these violent conditions, the harder it becomes for their behavior and cognitive issues to improve. For teachers who are helping these students cope, it can be a trying experience.

What can schools do to address this problem? I believe we need to take a multi-faceted approach that includes strong mental health services, gang resistance training and early intervention. If we fail to act, we will feed the cycle of violence and have to deal with the fallout for decades.

Here in New Hanover County Schools (NHCS), programs such as pre-school, GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training), specialized programs and strong mental health support must be continued to help support the needs of all children, especially those are most impacted by community violence. If we can get to children early through pre-school programs, we can help students have a positive start by building a strong academic foundation and providing continuous violence prevention strategies. We must work with local law enforcement and their in-school programs designed to keep students out of gangs. NHCS will continue to implement and focus on supportive neighborhood resources like the Blue Ribbon Commission at D.C. Virgo Prep Academy. We will form strong community partnerships that help to address students’ home needs, as well as the school needs. We must explore other innovative programs that show our young men and women alternative and positive ways to living healthy, productive lives; and those ways are found through education.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

October is Bullying Prevention Month

There’s a timeless holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” that is a favorite of many because most can relate to one, if not, several scenes in the movie. One character in the movie that many may recognize is the bully – Scut Farkus. He had yellow eyes and most of the children cowered at the sight of him. By the end of the movie, the main character – Ralphie – musters up the courage to face Scut Farkus because he had enough of being intimidated and “bullied” by him.

“A Christmas Story” takes place in the 1930’s, nearly 80 years ago, and unfortunately in 2013, there are still too many Scut Farkuses – bullies – in schools throughout the country. Bullying is no longer just taking another kid’s lunch money; it comes in several forms including cyber, physical, social and verbal bullying – effecting children of all ages. It’s time to face this age-old problem and stand firm, just like Ralphie, against bullying.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) is stepping up to bring awareness in hopes of eliminating this issue in schools. To kick-off National Bullying Prevention Month, NHCS will participate in Unity Day – Wednesday, October 9th. All students and employees are encouraged to wear orange on Unity Day to show their support to stop bullying acts and to bring awareness to bullying prevention.

During the 2012-2013 school-year, NHCS data reflected that only 1.5% of nearly 26,000 students utilized the district’s reporting system that is currently in place. Nationally, 28% of students between the ages of 12-18, reported that they are bullied during their time at school. Other types of Office Disciplinary Referrals (ODRs) indicate that we still have much work to do for making students and parents aware of the procedures for reporting bullying. Many of our schools are implementing various programs and classroom lessons that include by-stander training and other strategies to empower students to address bullying. Every school has a designated Bullying Investigator who is available to investigate all suspected cases of bullying.

NHCS is committed to providing safe, civil and productive environments for all students. The problems brought on by bullying are serious, long-lasting and impact the sense of community in our schools. NHCS recognizes that everyone has a responsibility to raise their voice in awareness of Bullying Prevention, and the district’s goal is to build awareness, not just in October, but throughout the 2013-14 school year.

Parents are encouraged to educate themselves about bullying and bullying prevention. More information is available via a variety of web sites:

http://www.nhcs.net/support/

http://www.pacer.org/bullying/

http://www.pacerkidsagainstbullying.org/#/home

http://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html

In addition, NHCS’ Behavior Support Specialist Judy Stubblefield is available to support parents’ concerns about bullying. Ms. Stubblefield can be reached at (910) 254-4188 or judy.stubblefield@nhcs.net.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Clearing Up Some of the Misconceptions about Education Funding

The topics that seem to be on the minds of many as we head into a new school year are funding and salaries. Politicians and pundits on both sides are offering their opinions. Recently, I was interviewed by a local news station. They asked me questions for about 10 minutes and then used about one minute of the interview for their news story. It is hard to get the full picture in that short amount of time. I am not complaining because that is the nature of TV news, though I do not consider it as the best medium for explaining complex issues. I want to take time, here, to address the issues of school funding – teacher pay in particular.

Teacher Pay:

One of the biggest disappointments of this budget is the lack of respect for teachers. The budget crisis has taken a toll on this vital profession. According to State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson, school districts have had to eliminate over 17,000 positions between 2008 and 2012. Of this figure, 6,178 positions were laid off. The 2013-15 budget eliminated the following:

• Approximately 5,200 teaching positions and increased class sizes in grades 3-12.
• Master’s degree pay incentive going forward for teachers who go back to college to improve their teaching skills.
• Tax credit for teachers who spend out of pocket money for class supplies.

There are stories in every county where a school’s or district’s Teacher of the Year has had to leave their position because their pay could not sustain their families.
Currently, North Carolina ranks 46th in teacher pay below our neighbors South Carolina (38th), Virginia (30th) and Tennessee (40th). When you factor in inflation, North Carolina ranks worst in the percentage change in average salaries from 2002-2012 with a loss of 15.7%. There has been one salary adjustment in the last seven years. A starting teacher makes $31,000 compared to $40,000 for a starting teacher in Tennessee. It would take a North Carolina teacher 15 years to catch up to that figure.

With this as a starting point, recruitment will become a huge issue for districts in the future. Without Master’s degree incentive pay, we will not be able to attract strong out-of-state candidates. With our low salary schedule, we will see some of our brightest choose other professions. When I see Teacher of the Year winners leave I am very concerned about the message that sends to future educators. When you eliminate strong programs such as Teaching Fellows, you can only wonder where North Carolina’s priorities are.

School Funding

As a state, we rank 45th in per pupil expenditures, not an enviable place to be. One of the current arguments being expressed by politicians is that the state of North Carolina funds the schools at a higher rate than most other states and that the local government should pick up more of the cost. While technically true, it is misrepresented how school funding works. In most states, the burden of funding schools falls to the local property tax owner. That is why a state like New Hampshire has a much higher property tax rate than North Carolina. In New Hampshire, the median homeowner pays about $4,600 in taxes versus $1,200 for the median homeowner in North Carolina.

In other states, the local school board has primary control over the operations of the schools. In North Carolina, our State Constitution places the responsibility for operating schools at the state level. The state has the constitutional mandate to fund the day-to-day operations of the school. Local county governments can and do supplement this, and here, in New Hanover County, they have been very supportive of public education. Unlike other states, North Carolina school boards have no taxing authority.

Another argument about the budget is that North Carolina has spent more on education than last year. In simple terms again, the answer is yes – there are more dollars – but we have more students. There are a number of items such as vouchers included, and the number is not adjusted for inflation. According to the NC Justice Center:
The truthful answer is that in dollars adjusted for inflation and the state’s growth, North Carolina will spend $534 million less in the next fiscal year than it did in 2008. It’s true that spending in raw dollars has increased, but it has not kept up with inflation and it has fallen behind the state’s needs as its population has grown.

Consider these other facts about the state budget:

• Since 2008, funds for technology, dropout prevention, staff development and ABC awards for high-performing schools have been eliminated and not restored in this budget.
• Funding for textbooks has been cut over 80% since 2010.
• Over 3,800 teacher assistant positions have been eliminated.
• Teaching fellows, a proven teacher recruitment program, has been eliminated.

Here in New Hanover County, we will hold the line on the budget thanks to a fiscally conservative approach from our Board of Education, central office and the strong partnership that we have with our County Commissioners. This partnership has helped us weather the recent fiscal crisis, but we have reached a point where there are no painless cuts left. Education is an economic multiplier for our district, and we must be willing to commit to make sure it is a priority here and at the state level. Without a strong school system staffed by talented teachers, we will lose a vital piece of our economic growth.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off