New School Year Offers New and Improved Facilities

By Leanne Lawrence, NHCS Director of Facility Planning & Construction

New pencils?  Check.

New backpack?  Check.

New elementary school? Check!

Parents, while you’ve been busy checking off your list of back-to-school items, New Hanover County Schools has been busy checking off our own list!  The last few months have been exciting as our contractors put the finishing touches on new buildings and additions.  We can’t wait for you to see what has been prepared for your students!

Porters Neck Elementary School is the newest addition to the New Hanover County Schools family of facilities. We’re proud to open the doors to receive students from Blair Elementary School who will call Porters Neck home for the next three years while Blair receives an “extreme school makeover”.  Demolition of the existing Blair Elementary will begin later this month, with construction of the new building starting right on its heels.

Porters Neck Elementary School

Blair students will be greeted by their new principal, Rebecca Higgins-Opgrand, as she guides them through spaces filled with vibrant color and ample natural light.  Sails suspended in the entryway, or the “gallery” as we like to call it, seek to inspire students to harness the power of education, just as seagoing vessels channel the energy of the wind.

Principal Maria Madison and her outstanding Wise Leaders from “The Park” – College Park Elementary School – will be receiving their own school makeover.

Demolition for College Park Elementary School is also scheduled to begin this month, with construction to be completed in the summer of 2019.  Similar to Blair, the new College Park Elementary School will be constructed on its current site, once demolition of the existing building is complete.  While the existing school is being removed and the new one constructed, students and staff of The Park will be safely nested at their temporary school site located at 5301 Sidbury Road.  They’ll resume classes at their new campus in the fall of 2019.

The hearts of Laney and Hoggard high school students will swell with pride at the sight of their new gymnasiums.  With seating capacities of 1,600 at both facilities, fans will enjoy watching their favorite teams compete in these state-of-the art venues. In addition, athletes will enjoy the use of the new locker rooms and support spaces, including a renovated weight training room at Laney and new fitness classroom at Hoggard.

The new media center at Laney is certain to inspire students to create, collaborate, and exceed expectations.  Totaling 11,100 square feet, the space is comprised of individual and group study areas, as well as a café/ lounge seating area.  With WiFi points throughout, students can access the technology they need to facilitate their educational endeavors.

At Hoggard, the cafeteria has been expanded to serve the growing student population. Individual kiosks are stationed around the cafeteria offering options for breakfast and lunch against the backdrop of designs influenced and inspired by the ocean, the natural habitat of the modern Viking.

New Hanover High School, we didn’t forget about you! We’re pleased to share that Brogden Hall now has air conditioning. In addition, as part of the 2014 Bond Referendum, the George West building received renovations to approximately 41,200 square feet of classroom space, including the band room, shop classes, science classrooms, as well as the ROTC building.  We’re also in the process of completing improvements to the cafeteria serving line.

Numerous other repairs and renovations occurred throughout the district, such as roof replacements at Carolina Beach and Pine Valley Elementary Schools and heating and air conditioning improvements at Johnson Pre-K, Bradley Creek Elementary, and Veterans Park. We’ve also added a new Northern Transportation Division, near the temporary site for College Park Elementary School at Sidbury Road.  From this new facility, school buses will serve students living in the northern region of the county.

These behind-the-scenes upgrades rarely make the headlines, but they do make the educational experience better for all.  They also help improve the energy efficiency of the facilities and overall district operations.

In the midst of all of these facility changes and improvements, we hope that the warm smiles and friendly hellos from NHCS staff members shine the brightest as we welcome students to begin the 2017-18 school year. WELCOME BACK!

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Virtual Learning Reality

By Sarah Gubitz, NHCS Online Learning Supervisor

Online learning is one of the most recent trends in both public and private education. Deciding if virtual learning is the best fit for your student can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.  New Hanover County Schools has utilized online learning for over 10 years, and the growth of this learning platform is phenomenal.  Here are some quick statistics about virtual learning in our district:

  • The number of online enrollments has grown from 640 in 2011 to 3,500 in 2017.
  • The pass rate for students taking courses for first time credit is 93%.
  • Over 150 courses are offered including honors, Advanced Placement (AP), multiple world languages, and a variety of electives that may not be offered in a traditional face-to-face format.
  • NHCS middle school students earned high school credits for 658 online courses in 2017.

In addition to offering a variety of courses, online learning allows the district to offer more personalized learning opportunities to our students.  We now offer multiple, innovative opportunities that allow for options other than the traditional school day.   High schools now offer flexible scheduling with early morning courses or online learning that can be done off-site, if the student demonstrates success and responsibility.  Students, with principal approval, can opt for a half day or full day of online learning to meet their needs and work toward earning their diplomas.  This is especially important to students that are highly involved in activities outside of school that may require travel or more flexibility in their schedules.  NHCS recently graduated its first student that never stepped foot onto a school campus for traditional instruction, taking the majority of her courses as online courses throughout her high school experience.

Because of the unique needs of students in our district, NHCS began its e-Academy in 2016-2017 as a way to partner with homeschool families and students.  The school allows for students to access courses that they would otherwise have to pay for themselves.  One 2017 e-Academy graduate accessed Advanced Placement (AP) courses that she desired to take, which enable her to have a flexible schedule so she could continue her volunteer work at a local hospital.  She plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill as an Honors student in the fall.  Learn more about this student, Kari, here.

Dual enrollment is also an option for homeschool families.  Students can enroll for two or more courses at the high school each semester and take electives that may be difficult to find elsewhere.  Dual enrollment student, Sariah, did just that so she could access ROTC during her senior year; she plans to join the military.  Sariah’s schedule included ROTC, an online course, and her homeschool courses.  The flexibility of her schedule allowed her to continue pursuing her modeling interests and making her related appointments during the traditional school day. Sariah’s story is linked here.

NHCS is expanding dual enrollment options to include middle school opportunities for homeschool families for the fall of 2017.  Homeschool families can partner with NHCS to access a minimum of two courses a semester (online or traditional) at no cost.   Dual enrollment students will also be able to take End-of-Grade tests that allow for homeschool families to benchmark and gauge academic progress as an added benefit.

Personalizing your secondary school experience through online education doesn’t stop here.   We have students that have gone, or are planning to go abroad, for enrichment or family reasons for a semester or a year. NHCS Online Learning has been able to continue to provide a rigorous and personalized class schedule through our online opportunities for these students.  These students benefit by being able to keep the pace with their peers and not lose a year or semester of school progress.

While there is no replacement for the classroom teacher and the high-quality education that is provided in NHCS classrooms, there is an innovative and alternative approach that can be explored depending on the individual needs of our students.  It is also likely that today’s students will take one or more online classes at the post high school level as well. According to the 2015 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, 28% of students take at least one online class while in college.    http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/2015SurveyInfo.pdf

As the needs of our students continue to grow and expand, NHCS will continue to evolve its virtual program.  To learn more about online learning, dual enrollment, or the e-Academy, please contact NHCS Online Learning Supervisor Sarah Gubitz at sarah.gubitz@nhcs.net.

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It’s That Time Of Year! NHCS Summer Library Programs Create Opportunities For Year Round Learning!

by Jennifer LaGarde, Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist & Lead School Library Media Coordinator

Research has shown that when students read over the summer, they come back to school better prepared for the challenges of a new school year. In fact, reading just five books during summer break can altogether prevent the “summer slide,” (or a regression of reading ability over the summer months).

The US Department of Education recommends the following tips for helping students maintain healthy reading lives over the summer:

  1. Let your child choose what they want to read – or be read to – for 30 minutes each day. Children are much more likely to engage in material that interests them rather than materials that are forced on them.

  2. Use language and reading opportunities throughout the day. Talk often with your child and point out reading materials wherever possible:  on menus, magazines and newspapers, signs, brochures, maps, guidebooks, smartphones, ipads, etc.

  3. Make daily reading a social event. Get the whole family to join in with their own books or take turns reading the same book aloud. Include telling stories as well.

  4. Connect reading to other summer events. If you take your child to the zoo, think about reading a book about animals before and afterward. This will place your child’s reading within a larger context.

  5. Make reading a lifestyle choice. Keep books all around the house to cultivate an atmosphere of reading, and set an example by reading yourself. Children need good models of reading books, magazines, or newspapers.

New Hanover County Schools will host summer library programs at seven sites this summer beginning Monday, June 26, 2017 and ending on Tuesday, August 15th to help parents engage their NHCS students in these types of reading activities. The NHCS Summer Library Program will be held at Alderman, Anderson, Bradley Creek, Castle Hayne, Murrayville, and Pine Valley elementary schools and also Trask Middle School.

Students at participating sites received a personal invitation that included the dates and times of when their school’s library will be open. However, ANY NHCS student is allowed to participate in any program and checkout/return materials at any of the participating locations. NO registration is required. Simply checkout the calendar to find out what sites are open and make plans to attend!  In addition to checking out reading materials, each location will host a variety of activities including:

  • Coding and Robotics

  • Big fun with Drones!

  • Lego MakerSpaces

  • Stop Motion Animation

  • 3-D Printing

  • New Hanover County Public Library Book Talks with “Miss Margaret”

  • Lots, lots more!

Please visit the NHCS Summer Reading Program website for a complete schedule and calendar of events.  We look forward to seeing you there!

1.”Top 5 Ways to Prevent Rusty Summer Readers” United We Serve. The White House. n.d. Web.

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Thank You for Another Successful Year!

Dear NHCS Employees:

As we celebrate the last day of the 2016-17 traditional school year, I would like to extend my appreciation to ALL New Hanover County Schools employees for their hard work in making this another successful year. Whether leading a classroom or working in a supportive role, EVERY employee plays an important role in making us a premier district, in both the region and the state. With the continuous changing tide of education and competitive career choices, we work very hard to offer our students a current and rigorous education that will prepare them for their after graduation choices – career-ready, community college, 4-year university or military enlistment.

This year was a busy year with several new programs and initiatives underway. We continued our work on establishing the first Career-Technical High School in the region. I am pleased to report that in partnership with Cape Fear Community College, SEA-Tech will open in August 2017 on the CFCC North Campus with over 40 students to launch its inaugural year. The 2016-17 school year also welcomed the start of the International School at Gregory, expanding the district’s Immersion Programs in both Spanish and Mandarin. The NHCS E Academy was launched, which has increased the district’s online learning opportunities for students; including the area’s homeschool and private school students. These and other educational programs help to enhance our students’ learning opportunities.

Dr. Markley Reads with Freeman Student

In addition, we continue to improve our graduation rate, with the highest rate of over 83% achieved in the 2015-16 school year. I am very optimistic that our 2016-17 scores and graduation rate will surpass last year’s results.

Looking ahead to the 2017-18 school year, we will celebrate the opening of three new buildings – Porters Neck Elementary and the performance gyms at Hoggard and Laney high schools – all of which were made possible by the 2014 School Bond. Blair and College Park elementary schools will be temporarily relocated as the construction begins on these schools’ new facilities. We are anticipating over 26,000 students to fill our schools. I know that each of these students will receive the best education possible, and NHCS will continue to be a leader in public education.

So, as you say your good-byes to students and co-workers and are eagerly anticipating your summer to begin, take a moment to congratulate yourself on ALL that you have accomplished this school year. For the positive impact that you have made on your students; the encouraging words and support that you have shared with colleagues; or raising the bar on your professional growth, be proud of what your have completed this year.

Enjoy the summer break…you have gone above and beyond the call of duty to educate and support the students of NHCS. I look forward to seeing our Year-Round teams in July and our traditional folks back in August!

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Musings from a First Year Teacher by Alex Schaivone

Alex SchaivoneAs the 2016-17 school year is coming to a close, a first year teacher – Alex Schaivone – shares her insightful blog – Musings from a First Year Teacher – about her experiences as a beginning teacher. Mrs. Schaivone teaches English in the Lyceum Academy at New Hanover High School.

Her blog may also be found on http://educationcelebrationela.blogspot.com/

During my internship, I was blessed with a wonderful partnership teacher who taught me more about teaching than I could possibly learn in any education class. In that year, I learned how to teach my content, but I also learned much more. In the first few months of my internship, my partnership teacher passed along a wonderful essay from the blog Cult of Pedagogy, “Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers.” This essay centers around the need for new teachers to find their marigolds, or those teachers who are “encouraging, supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity.” It warns of walnut trees, those who may have become bitter or hardened over the course of their careers, and instead encourages young teachers to seek out those who provide support and positivity. The ideas presented in this essay have stayed with me through this year and have proven to be both true and incredibly valuable.

This year, I have encountered both marigolds and walnut trees. I have learned a great deal about teaching, and almost as much about simply being a good person. In fact, some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned weren’t related to teaching English at all but somehow made me a better English teacher. Here are a few pieces of knowledge that I’ve gained this year that will endure far beyond the last day of school.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

This may seem quite apropos as an English teacher, but it resonates with me far beyond the literal idea of books and their respective covers. Coming into the school where I completed my internship, I had formulated quite a few preconceived notions about the students, other teachers, and the school community based on the opinions of others. Despite this, I tried my best to approach this year with an open mind and was pleased to find out that most of these notions were actually huge misconceptions. In fact, many of those “bratty students” have turned out to be some of the most wonderful people in the world and have impacted my life tremendously.

It’s okay to be human.

I learned very quickly that you will become emotionally invested in your students. Laugh with them, maybe even cry with them, and always celebrate their successes. Embrace the highs and the lows equally.

Never underestimate the power of a compliment.

One of my favorite moments from this year came in a phone call with a parent. While discussing her student, the mother let me know that every time I compliment her daughter in some way– maybe it’s about her cute shoes that day or perhaps it is an “I’m so proud of you!” after a presentation- she comes home excited and eager to tell her. It was in that moment that I realized the power of something so small.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

I will be the first to admit that I once was a self-care skeptic. I rolled my eyes through the required self-care class I took in graduate school, thinking I had much more important things (like lesson planning and grading) to do than take time for myself. I didn’t think that those things could wait, but this year has taught me otherwise. My “me time” has become just as important to me as my work because, at the end of the day, you really can’t pour from an empty cup. I hit a point this year where I realized that if I am drained- physically, mentally, or emotionally- I am no good to my students. You have to fill your own cup first.

Find your tribe.

I have often heard other teachers talking about “finding their tribe,” but I never truly understood how important this is. I couldn’t have survived this year without having a tribe of my own. Surround yourself with colleagues who care about you and support you. Find people who laugh with you on good days and make you laugh on bad days.

Looking back on this first year, I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to say thank you– thank you to the mentors, the friends, and the colleagues, the ones who answered countless questions (some of which probably were quite silly looking back), the ones who were there to talk (and vent) after a long day in the classroom or a lesson that didn’t quite go as planned, and the ones who have reminded me day in and day out that yes, being a teacher is hard, but worth it.

To the veteran teachers who have taken newbies like myself under your wings, continue to seek out opportunities to help nurture and guide those who are just beginning. Continue to be patient, open, and honest with us. And most importantly, continue to be the teachers, mentors, and friends that you once needed as a first-year teacher. Even when it’s easy to become a walnut tree, continue to be the marigold.

To the brand new teachers, those who have just turned those tassels and are ready to embark on your next great adventure, embrace your first year of teaching with open arms. You will feel overwhelmed at times, but you, too, will survive. You will learn to love and laugh more than you thought possible. You will bend until you feel like breaking, but your own resiliency will amaze you. And when all else fails, have confidence in knowing that even on your worst days, you are still important, valuable, and perhaps even some child’s best hope. As you enter your building for the first time (and continue to walk through those doors for the next 184 days), seek out those marigolds. Let them instill in you love, passion, and a zest for teaching. Those marigolds will get you through the next year when every textbook fails.

“And when all else fails, have confidence in knowing that even on your worst days, you are still important, valuable, and perhaps even some child’s best hope. “

And lastly, to my fellow first-year teachers almost second-year teachers, we survived! Whether it was a good year or a bad year, your first year has almost come to a close. It’s time to relinquish that “first-year teacher” title and pass it on to someone new. It’s now your turn to be someone else’s marigold. Continue to carry with you the lessons you have learned over the course of this year and never stop finding new reasons to love your craft and your students. -Alex Schaivone, NHHS

Also, if you’d like to read the article mentioned by Alex, check it out here: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/marigolds/

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2017-18 Budget Request

This is the time of the year that we work on finalizing our budget for the upcoming school year. A critical step in this process is our request to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners for local funding.

This year, our request is more critical than ever. In this edition of my blog, you will see the letter that was sent to the County Commissioners outlining the district’s budget request and the rationale for our financial needs.

On May 2, 2017, the Board of Education approved the following County Funding Request:

  • Operating Request of $76,525,302 ($2,750 per pupil) – 4.5% Increase
  • Capital Request of $3,500,000
  • Special Pre-K Request totaling $487,422

While the school system is very appreciative of County support, I need to inform you that our request of $2,750 per student is essential due primarily to the domino costs associated with the State budget and associated teacher/staff increases.  The recommendation of $2,670 leaves the school system $80 per student short, or $2.1 million short of maintaining the excellent school system we have in place.  The Capital Outlay request is $1.5 million short, leaving the school system in a precarious position, especially in the area of technology. There is no other significant source of funding for this critical need.  In other words, $2,750 is close to break even for us, and Capital Outlay is a choice of how we support our students.

The following memorandum provides historical data, as well as a summary of this budget request and the impacts of State decisions.  Even at $2,750 per student, the district plans to use a significant amount of the fund balance to make this budget work. This will drive the available funds to 6% or less than one month of reserves.

While the State has increased funding over the last several years, it has not returned to pre-recession levels of funding. The two charts below clearly show that when adjusted for inflation, we are significantly behind pre-recession levels.

Inflation Adjusted General Fund Appropriation for NC Public Schools

Inflation Adjusted Per-Pupil General Fund Appropriation for NC Public SchoolsHere in New Hanover County Schools, we have also been trying to return to pre-recession funding levels. Our goal four years ago was $2,700 per student, which was close to the 2008 per-pupil levels. We have not reached that level yet, and again, the proposal falls short of this level.  The State’s recent rapid efforts to increase education spending, especially for teachers’ salaries, has rendered the $2,700 goal insufficient. Their large increases over the last three years have outpaced our efforts to reach the $2,700 goal. Teacher raises and increased cost for insurance, retirement and other non-discretionary items will have a $3.1 million impact on our budget. Our request of $2,750 per pupil represents a break even proposition at best. Any amount below this will require significant cuts to current programs.

Operating Budget Summary

County funding represents 87% of our General Fund and 28% of our total Operating Budget. The current total Operating Budget is $259.2 million, of which 76% is used for Instructional Purposes. Four percent (4%) of the County Appropriation is transferred to Charter Schools.

Salaries and benefits for 3,623 positions, 711 of which are locally funded, equal 82% of the budget.  Most pay schedules are determined by the State and also apply to locally paid staff.  In addition, 13% of County funding is used to supplement teacher pay for both state and locally paid teachers. Over the past 10 years, benefits costs for retirement and health insurance have increased 132% and 47%, respectively, and currently, represent 16% of our operating budget.  While the total number of positions has grown 5% during this 10-year period, enrollment growth has increased 11%, resulting in higher class sizes and less classroom support.

Almost all of the 4.5% requested operating increase would be used to funds anticipated state raises and associated local salary increases.  This request would be used in combination with a proposed increase in fund balance appropriation for the following Operating Budget Priorities:

  • State salary and benefit increases estimated at $3.1 million.
  • Various operating costs of almost $1 million to include SEA-Tech Year 1 Operating Costs; Board Scholarship Fund (year 3 of 4); and cost increases anticipated for Workers Compensation, utilities, leases and technology support.
  • Essential Expansion Requests totaling $366,000 to expand support for JC Roe Center, Head Start, and additional Custodial months of employment.

K-3 Class Size

There has been much discussion about K-3 class size reduction, which has now been postponed for one year by the State Legislature.  Our original plan was to absorb the estimated increase of 48, K-3 classroom teachers by eliminating enhancement and instructional support positions, but we are now somewhat optimistic that the State may fund art, music, and physical educations positions separately in 2018-19.    We will continue to develop a transition plan to deal with changes associated with K-3 class size reduction, including space and enhancement allotments, to prepare us for full implementation in 2018-19.

Formula Changes

The proposed budget includes net reduction of 14 positions.  The following positions will be eliminated to help offset the cost of raises and other essential needs.  Reductions include:

  • 3 Assistant Principal Positions (small schools would share)
  • 5 AIG Teacher Positions (small schools would share)
  • 12 High School Teachers (increasing class size by 1)
  • Phasing out Elementary Technology Assistants over two years. For the first year, 13 will be eliminated and replaced with 11 Area Technical Coordinators.
  • Certified Secondary In-School Suspension teachers to be replaced with non-certified staff through attrition.
  • Non-certified Graduation Coaching positions to be eliminated through attrition.

Fund Balance Appropriation

We acknowledge the concerns expressed by County Commissioners in regards to our Fund Balance Reserve.  Our current budget includes a recurring appropriation to prevent growth of the reserve, and this year’s budget includes a 7% reduction in the reserve from $17.2 to $15.9 million.  Funds would be used for a combination of one-time and recurring needs, including State bonuses for locally paid staff, furniture and equipment replacement, and contracted maintenance including painting and repair projects. A detailed list is enclosed with the supporting documentation.

The rationale for maintaining Unassigned Fund Balance includes:

  • Providing for contingencies such as rising costs, emergency situations, and unfunded state and federal mandates, many of which can occur after the County Budget is approved.
  • Providing cash flow to cover federal funding for the first quarter of each year.  While federal funds are awarded to be used for the 7/1-6/30 fiscal year, the Department of Public Instruction does not generally release those funds for our use until October of each fiscal year.
  • With 82% of our operating budget used for salaries and benefits and less than 1 month of operating budget in reserve, it is critical to maintain a minimum balance to meet payroll in the event of a mid-year state or federal funding freeze or reduction, both of which have occurred in past years.

Capital Outlay

The Proposed Capital Outlay Plan for next year will be funded with a combination of revenue sources to include County Appropriation, State Lottery, State Equipment Reserve, Sales Tax Revenue and General Fund balance (furniture and equipment only).  The $3.6 million County Appropriation would fund the following projects, none of which are eligible for lottery funding:

1. Replacement of walk-in freezer at the Johnson Pre-K Center.

2. Window and rooftop unit replacement at Howe Pre-K Center.

3. Relocation of two mobile classrooms from Blair Elementary to Noble Middle School.

4. Purchase and installation of five mobile classrooms (2 – Murrayville and 2 – Parsley elementary schools and 1 – JC Roe Center).

5. Replacement of three Maintenance vehicles in poor condition.

6. Replacement of outdated desktops, laptops and iPads that are not effective to repair or upgrade.

7. Pre-K expansion furniture and facility upgrades.

Lack of full funding will greatly impact our ability to upgrade outdated classroom technology.  We are trying to implement a replacement schedule of seven to nine years for desktops, and five to six years for laptops and iPads, all of which are well beyond the normal life cycle of this type of equipment.  For the past few years, the State has been moving towards digital learning, but State funding has not supported the technology equipment needs for our Digital Learning Plan.  Local support is needed to insure the appropriate classroom resources are available.

Special Request for Pre-K Expansion

Pre-K expansion would allow us to serve 45 additional students beyond those funded by the State NC Pre-K and the Federal Head Start programs.  These students will be served at our Mosely site. The request includes recurring funds of $372,470, equivalent $14 per pupil for Charters, and a one-time request for furniture and facility upgrades of $100,000.

Charter Schools

All County appropriations and other local revenue, such as fines and forfeitures, are shared with regional charter schools on a per pupil basis using 1st month enrollment.  Local funding is based on the address of the child rather than location of the schools, so we currently transfer local funding to eight charter schools in the area.  This year’s distribution of County revenue was based on $2,662 per pupil.

Summary

The recommended funding of $2,670 per pupil would leave us $2.1 million short of our funding plan, and it would most likely result in additional position reductions that would be necessary to fund the mandated raises and unavoidable cost increases.  Enclosed is detailed documentation to provide additional justification for this request.  We will be glad to meet with you to discuss our needs and answer any questions you may have.

We sincerely thank you for your continuing support of the students in New Hanover County. We are extremely fortunate to live in a county where education is a high priority for our citizens and leaders.  A high-quality school system is a strong block to the economic foundation of New Hanover County.

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The Ripple Effect of the Opioid Epidemic

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

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Virtual Reality is a Reality!

by Jeannie Timken, NHCS Instructional Technology Specialist

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

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

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

I clearly underestimated the return on this investment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shining a Light on NHCS’ Beginning Teachers

by NHCS Rookie Teacher of the Year Lindsey McDermott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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