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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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.

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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.

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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/.

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