“Walk For Education” Hits Franklin Street Saturday

Saturday at 2 pm – rain or shine! – thousands of Chapel Hill-Carrboro students, parents, faculty and staff will take to the streets in support of education.

It’s the 19th annual “Walk for Education,” a major fundraiser for programs in the CHCCS district. Organized by the Public School Foundation, it’s involved students, parents and staff at all the district’s schools raising pledges to support a variety of important programs, including new technology and equipment.

The Walk begins at McCorkle Place, on campus on the east end of downtown Chapel Hill. Walkers will begin gathering at 12:30 – then at 2:00, they’ll begin walking down Franklin Street towards Lincoln Center, where there will be a carnival with food, fun, games and more until 6:00.

Public School Foundation Executive Director Lynn Lehmann and carnival co-chair Lyn Billings joined Aaron Keck Thursday on WCHL.


Chapel Hill Police will be closing Franklin Street downtown at 2:00 Saturday afternoon to allow the walkers to pass; they’ll open the street again as soon as the walk is done.

For more information on the Walk for Education or the Public School Foundation, visit this page.


CHCCS Students Continue to Score Highly on SAT

Newly released SAT scores for high school students across the state show that Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School students scored very highly on the college-readiness exam.

High school students in the CHCCS district scored 18 points higher this year on the Critical Reading and Math composite SAT score, at an average of 1201 – the highest value to date, according to Assistant Superintendent Magda Parvey.

“Of course, we were very proud,” she says, “but we also really paid attention to the fact that Critical Reading and the Math composite are the areas in which we did a lot better.

“We have been really focusing a lot of our professional learning activities for staff and for principals in that area. So we really feel like there’s a correlation between the increased scores in that area and the work we’ve been doing in our district with our staff and our leaders.”

Parvey says curriculum has been adjusted and focused in recent years after the adoption of Common Core in the Tar Heel state.

“We did start our work in that area so that teachers were prepared to teach the new standards,” she says. “And the new standards are a lot more rigorous than the old standards.

“We partnered with the Institute for Learning, out of Pittsburgh, and they have really helped us in terms of what curriculum looks like aligned to the standards.”

Parvey says Common Core holds students to a higher standard than previous curriculum.

“[Common Core] requires a lot of writing, a lot of problem solving, a lot of thinking,” she says, “and writing really improves your ability to demonstrate your understanding of what you’re reading.

“And in mathematics, similarly, we’ve had a lot of work that we’ve done with the IFL; we’ve done a lot of professional learning around math and, again, around critical thinking and problem solving.”

Parvey says it is important to the district that all students are prepared for the SAT as well as the next step in their lives, whatever that may be, when they graduate from high school. She adds the district has adopted policies to ensure all students, not just those with the resources, have access to material to better prepare themselves.

“We do also offer scholarships, or no fee, for students to be able to have practice through Princeton Review,” she says. “We’ve had a partnership with them and we’ve worked with Princeton Review and our AVID students – that’s one of the programs we have for our students who really just need some organization and that are college bound.

“They get, at a reduced cost or no cost, Princeton Review prep classes.”

Parvey says that level of assistance for all students extends beyond preparedness for standardized tests.

“We have changed what we do with all kids,” she says, “not just in honors classes, not just in AP classes. But we have changed our approach to instruction in all of our classrooms so that there is academic rigor that all students are being exposed to; so that they seek to take the SAT; they seek to be in honors classes.

“We’re really proud of that.”

The total number of seniors taking the SAT in 2015 increases slightly, but the percentage of seniors taking the exam in North Carolina fell from 2014.


Back to Normal at Culbreth Middle School After Tuesday Scare

Students at Culbreth Middle School are back in the classroom after the school was evacuated on Tuesday morning.

Chapel Hill Carrboro Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese spoke to the media following the evacuation of Culbreth Middle on Tuesday.

“At approximately 8:05 [Tuesday] morning, a piece of refrigeration equipment malfunctioned in our cafeteria,” he says, “and created a loud noise and a lot of smoke.”

The incident was sparked from a unit that contains juices and other drinks for students during the breakfast timeframe, according to Culbreth Principal Bev Rudolph.

“School opens at 7:50,” she says, “and from 7:50 to 8:13 students may go into the cafeteria for breakfast.”

School spokesperson Jeff Nash gave a little more detail on the cause of the anxious moments.

“The fire was inside the compressor, and it burned the little seal where the wires come in,” he says. “And so that caused the oil and the smoke to start going out.”

LoFrese added that school staff worked quickly to evacuate the cafeteria and set off the alarm, which led to the evacuation of the entire school.

“Both the fire department and police department responded immediately,” he says, “and did a great job assessing our situation, helping provide support in the cafeteria and beginning the ventilation process to clean out the smoke from the facility.

“EMS also responded, as we had some students and one staff member that were complaining about feeling dizzy or light-headed.”

LoFrese says those who were taken to the hospital were transported by ambulance and bus out of an abundance of caution. He says it was less than 10 students and one member cafeteria staff. There was no update available on any of their conditions, as of Tuesday afternoon.

The faulty piece of equipment had been removed by late Tuesday morning.


Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Score Highly

A new set of grades are out for public schools in the Tar Heel state.

The State Board of Education released preliminary information regarding student performance based on a variety of measures on Wednesday.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools registered three Cs, 11 Bs and four As across the district. Meanwhile the state board graded Orange County Schools at one D, nine Cs and two Bs.

Diane Villwock is the Executive Director of Testing and Program Evaluation for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools, and she says there were several highlights for the CHCCS system.

“100 percent of our schools received a grade of C or better,” she says. “And that compares to 72.2 percent of the public schools in North Carolina as a whole.

“The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools met 87.2 percent of their goals, while the state met 55.2 percent.”

Villwock says the school system is proud of these accolades but adds there are areas the district can improve upon, mainly closing the achievement gap.

“Some of those targets are based on all sorts of groups,” she says. Those groups include race, economically disadvantaged students, limited English proficient students and students with disabilities. Villwock says, “It’s really important for us to raise the achievement of those groups in order to meet these state targets.”

Villwock says the work to close the achievement gap is a process that includes every member of the school district.

“We’re working, as a central office, getting things organized for teachers and setting up training,” she says. “And then small cadres of people are coming out for training.

“And those people are going back and training at their schools.”

The overall ratios of As, Bs and Cs for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools was unchanged from last year, which was the first time the state board handed out letter grades to school systems. But three schools in the system were awarded a designation just introduced this year.

Carrboro High, East Chapel Hill High and Glenwood Elementary were awarded an A+ designation.

“The A+ is for schools who are both high performing and have very small achievement gaps compared to the state,” Villowck says.

While the numbers are useful in terms of setting and reaching goals, Villwock says the district would like to see the formula for the grades changed to place a larger emphasis on the growth of students from year to year, rather than the majority of focus being placed on test scores.

Villwock adds the high schools across the system had a very strong academic year.

“The five-year cohort graduation rate…was at 94.6 [percent], which is the highest in the state,” she says. “100 percent of our high schools met or exceeded growth.

“And we had 86 percent of our students meet the UNC System requirements on the ACT, and that was the highest in the state.”

Villwock says, while we are digesting this new data, it is important to remember the numbers can’t tell the whole story of school districts.

“The performance of teachers and relationships with students and how they impact kids’ lives all matter a great deal,” she says. “And those really aren’t measurable.”

You can view all of the school grades from across the state here.


Lack of State Budget Puts Schools in Holding Pattern

The lack of a budget from the state legislature is causing problems for local schools.

Todd LoFrese, Assistant Superintendent with the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School system, says there are many unanswered questions with the school year rapidly approaching.

“While, the General Assembly passed a temporary budget bill that allows the state to continue operations,” he says, “it doesn’t give us clarity around many of the things that we need to know about.

“And so it’s disappointing because it forces us to open school with a lot of unknowns.”

LoFrese says the highest priorities being put on hold by the lack of a budget agreement are salary increases, the driver’s education program, and funding for teacher assistants.

LoFrese says the assistants are critical for classroom success, in particular for the new teachers in the district.

“The misconception is that they just help out by making copies or collecting paperwork,” he says. “The reality is that they’re an instrumental support for our kids and for our students.

“And they support the teachers in so many different ways, whether it’s helping facilitate small group instruction [or] allowing a teacher to work with one group of kids while the teacher assistant is working with a different group of kids on a similar or different lesson.”

LoFrese adds the degree of variance between the two chambers of the legislature is making it very challenging to count on a certain amount of funding to go into the new academic year.

“The House and the Senate are in such different camps, in terms of their ideas around public education,” he says, “that it makes it very difficult to make assumptions about what the final product would be.

“Our approach, and we discussed this with the school board last month, is to hold on filling some positions at all of the school levels.”

Positions being held open include two teacher assistants at every elementary school district-wide and leaving some instructional support positions open at the middle and high schools in the system.

These positions operate on year-to-year contracts for employees. That translates to 22 teacher assistants who are awaiting word on whether they will have a position in the classroom later this month.

LoFrese says the district will accept enrollees in the driver’s ed program, but they will be alerting families a fee may be associated with the class if the funding is not provided by the state.

He adds once a budget is in place, the school system will work to act quickly to implement any changes.

“Depending on what those items are and where things end up,” he says, “we might be able to bring some people back right away.

“If it is on, perhaps, the more negative side, in terms of where things end up, we may need a Board of Education meeting before doing that.”

While there is a cloud of negativity and frustration with so many unknown factors leading into the school year, LoFrese says there is still excitement to welcome the students back.

“From the budget standpoint, it’s disappointing, and it’s discouraging,” he says. “Schools are having to organize and plan to do without services and support that we feel are really important.

“But in terms of the start of the school year, the kids and the staff all coming back into the buildings, it brings so much energy and so much excitement. Those smiling faces, the excited voices, the kids who are back from their summer vacation ready to learn, ready to grow – it’s a wonderful thing.”

The continuing resolution passed by the legislature will keep the government operating through August 31.

The first day of class in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School District is Monday, August 24.


2 New CHCCS Principals Approved

Two new principals were approved at the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Board of Education meeting on Thursday.

Coretta Sharpless was named Principal of Northside Eelementary and Bob Bales was named Principal of McDougle Middle.

Sharpless has served as the Assistant Principal at Northside since the school’s opening in 2013. She has also served as Assistant Principal at Estes Hills Elementary. Sharpless received her Master’s degree from UNC.

Bales has served as the Assistant Principal at McDougle Middle since 2012. He has also served as Assistant Principal, and a stint as Interim Principal, at Chapel Hill High.

Currently, 16 of the 20 CHCCS schools are led by principals who were hired from within the school district, according to officials.

The first day of classes in the city school district in Monday, August 24.


Latest Candidate Filing Info

The filing period for 2015 local elections opened up at eight o’clock Monday morning.

The latest official reports from the Board of Elections are listed below:

Chapel Hill:

Mayor: Mark Kleinschmidt*, Gary Kahn, Pam Hemminger.

Town Council (4 seats open): Lee Storrow*, Michael Parker, Paul Neebe, Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson.


Mayor: Lydia Lavelle*.

Board of Aldermen (3 seats open): Michelle Johnson*, Damon Seils*, Bethany Chaney*.


Mayor: Tom Stevens*.

Board of Commissioners (3 seats open): Evelyn Lloyd*, Mark Bell.


Mayor: Glendel Stephenson*, Robert Huey.

City Council (2 seats open): Patty Philipps*, Everette Greene*.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro School Board (4 seats open): Annetta Streater*, Rani Dasi, Theresa Watson, Margaret Samuels.

The filing period runs through July 17. Election day is November 3.

*- incumbent


Senate Proposes to Scrap Driver’s Ed

The state Senate’s proposed budget would scrap the requirement that 15-to-17-year-olds have to complete driver’s education in order to get a learner’s permit. That would mean young drivers, like everyone else, could get a learner’s permit after the vision and multiple choice tests.

In place of driver’s ed., the proposed budget increases both the number of supervised driving hours required and the number of correct answers needed to pass the written driving test.

It’s a proposal that doesn’t sit well with Todd LoFrese, Assistant Superintendent for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“We think it’s a public safety interest to make sure that students receive driver training,” LoFrese said. “It’s a public safety issue.”

Spruce Hill Republican Ralph Hise added the amendment after the Senate proposed to remove the $65 cap on driver’s ed. course fees and move driver’s education out of the public school system and into community colleges. The amendment, Hise said, is meant to ensure teens who can’t afford the drivers ed. fee or make it to a community college can still get a learner’s permit. LoFrese agrees with the sentiment.

“Not every county has a community college, and it’s difficult for students to get there,” he said.

But LoFrese says he hopes driver’s ed. remains both required and accessible to young drivers in public schools.

“Hopefully with the state budget process, it gets resolved and funding is provided for the program. But if it’s not, we need to be prepared to make the necessary changes,” he said.

The House has already passed its own appropriations bill. The two chambers and the governor will be in negotiations for weeks before they settle on a final budget.


Marble Maze Inspires Kindergarten Class

Many teachers will say their most important, and sometimes most difficult, job is keeping students engaged. That challenge has prompted one local kindergarten teacher to come up with an out-of-the box idea.

The covered-outdoor walkway outside Claire Ross’ kindergarten classroom at Estes Hills Elementary was the place to be on Friday afternoon as the group of young builders tried out their marble maze.

What started out as a project during the class’ fun-center activity, evolved into a massive structure of toilet paper rolls, duct tape, and masking tape – 318 toilet paper rolls to be exact.

Listen to the full story below:


Three months of work from enthusiastic five-year-olds resulted in a colossal zig-zag of four levels of the taped-together rolls.

Then came time for the trial run.

After a deafening countdown from 10, the marbles were off, barreling down the cardboard slope, dropping from level to level, accompanied with an enthusiastic “WOO” with each drop, and after a roughly 20-second trip….success! The marbles erupted from the other end of the tube, dinging a bell that had been set up as a finish marker, leading to celebratory screams from the group of youngsters.

After several runs, it was no longer just Ross’ “Rockets” in the breezeway, class after class came down to check out the kindergartner’s project.

Marble Maze_2

Ross says the best part of all of the hard work was all the children were engaged and learning without realizing they were doing schoolwork.

“That all of the children are working toward the same goal, and they’re all excited, and they’re all involved, and everybody is into it,” she points out as rewarding moments. “They’re all working, they’re all engaged, they’re all wanting to be part of the team that’s working on it at that time.

“They’re totally buying into it. They want to learn more.”

Ross says her class was able to accomplish a lot of their academic goals by putting them into this hands-on project.

“We’re working on addition, and we added together all of the smaller numbers,” she says. “Then they used writing because they’re writing about what they were doing and explaining their ideas.”

Ross adds Estes Hills is working toward more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) projects, and the marble maze incorporates many of those aspects.

For all of their hard work collaborating, all of the classmates got teamwork awards.

And the group of five-year old builders who learned what it means to be an engineer may have a new career aspiration.

Ross videoed the students throughout the project and created this documentary:


School Boards Ask Commissioners To Spend More Per Pupil

The two local school districts presented their 2015-16 budget requests to the Orange County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

The commissioners will take this information and decide how much money to allocate to each district. The county projects it will have about $94 million, about half of the county’s general fund revenues, to fund both school systems.

As compared to last year, Orange County Schools requested $81 more per pupil and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools requested an additional $302 per pupil.

Commissioners Board Chair Earl McKee said the “per pupil” dollars must be the same for both school systems, and an additional $302 per pupil would require a 3.5 cent property tax increase.

“Three and a half on top of the two cents last year is a fairly significant tax increase in a two-year span,” said McKee. “Our citizens, particularly those who have not had wage increases themselves over the last few years, are going to be impacted by that fairly heavily, particularly those that are on fixed incomes.”

Orange County Schools is requesting a county appropriation of $28 million. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools is requesting an appropriation of $47.5 million in county funds. A significant chunk of the projected revenue for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, $22 million, would come from a special district tax.

The state projects Chapel Hill-Carrboro public schools will have 150 fewer students in 2015-16, and Orange County public schools will have 170 fewer students.

“Do you have any sense on why the enrollment is declining?” Commissioner Mark Dorosin asked Del Burns, Interim Superintendent of Orange County Schools.

“The opening of a new charter school last year did have impact,” said Burns. “Orange County Schools lost about 125 students to that charter.”

The county commissioners will hold a 7pm budget work session on May 14 at the Whitted Building in Hillsborough.

The boards also discussed next year’s $125 million bond referendum to repair and renovate school buildings. On April 21, the commissioners voted to focus the bond package solely on repairing school buildings.

 2015-16 Numbers

Orange County Schools Estimated Student Population: 7526
Orange County Schools County Funding Request: $3652 per pupil

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools Estimated Student Population: 12,203
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools County Funding Request: $3873 per pupil

Charts from Orange County Schools.

Charts from Orange County Schools.