East Chapel Hill High School Responds to Alleged Sexual Assault

A Chapel Hill mother is warning other parents after she says that her 15-year-old daughter, who is a special needs student, was sexually-assaulted at East Chapel Hill High School.

The mother told WRAL, on Friday, that two East Chapel Hill High School students forced her daughter to perform sex acts and recorded it on video.

There are no police reports or search warrants publicly available about the incident at this point, but Chapel Hill Police are investigating the alleged incident.

CHPD Lt. Josh Mecimore says, “We have an ongoing investigation involving a juvenile victim and juvenile suspects which occurred at ECHHS.”

The mother chose to remain anonymous to protect her daughter’s identity, but she told WRAL that she found out about the video from a friend whose daughter ha seen a video of the alleged assault.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School officials say they are aware of a video that has been circulating on social media and that they are cooperating with the police investigation.

The following message was sent out to parents of East Chapel Hill High School students on Sunday evening, according to school system spokesperson Jeff Nash.

“Good afternoon. This is Eileen Tully, Principal of East Chapel Hill High School. Friday night, our school was mentioned in a television news story centered on a student-initiated sexual assault allegation.

I wanted to take a moment today to remind our school community that this type of behavior, or any actions that bring harm to our students, will never be tolerated in our school. This matter is extremely concerning.

In the case at hand, I am limited in what I can tell you, but rest assured we took appropriate action at the school with those involved and immediately contacted the Chapel Hill Police for assistance. This matter is currently under investigation by the police department and we are cooperating with them fully.

Thank you for listening and enjoy the rest of your weekend.”

The mother told WRAL that her daughter had since switched schools but that she was still being bullied as students at the new school have seen the video as well.

We will continue to update this story as more information is made available.

This is the latest in a series of events that have drawn criticism at East Chapel Hill High.

In May, emotions were high after students at East Chapel Hill took a photo holding Confederate battle flags while on a class field trip. The picture was posted to Instagram with the caption “South will rise.”

Chapel Hill Police were also called to East Chapel Hill in June for a possible overdose when four students ranging from 14 to 18 years old required simultaneous medical attention.

And in October, homophobic graffiti was spray painted on the school targeting the school’s Queer-Straight Alliance.


Estes Hills Student Receives Letter from President Obama

A local kindergartner got the attention of the most powerful person on the planet recently.

Sanaa Horton was a kindergartner in Claire Ross’ classroom at Estes Hills Elementary, in May, when they had a writing assignment. Sanaa decided she would write a letter to President Barack Obama.

“He helps our country. He helps the people that were poor. He takes care of America. That is why I love my President,” she recited on Tuesday in her first-grade classroom.

Listen to the story below:

She was reading her letter to the President because, as she was about to find out, the President had written back. President Obama sent a letter back to Sanna as well as pictures of the President, the first family and the first dog, Bo.

Sanaa Horton receiving gift package from President Barack Obama with her Kindergarten teacher Claire Ross. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Sanaa Horton receiving gift package from President Barack Obama with her Kindergarten teacher Claire Ross. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Ross read the response from the President to a class of eager listeners.

“Hearing from young people like you inspires me each and every day,” the President’s letter reads. “And I’m glad that you took the time to share your thoughts. As a nation, we have no higher priority than making sure the doors of opportunity are wide open for you and your generation. And, as President, that is a promise I will never stop working to keep.”

Ross says she has checked her mail with anticipation every day since sending the letter to the White House in May and adds it was emotional to receive the response on Monday night.

“I literally just cried and smiled at the same time,” Ross says, “and ran all the way home.

“I was truly running up the sidewalk, smiling and crying at the same time. [Sanaa] wanted it so much, and she worked so hard. And it came full circle.”
Ross adds she knew the moment would mean a lot to Sanaa, but Ross says she was excited to see what it meant to all of the other students.

“I hoped that all of the kids would feel inside that they can do anything that they put their mind to,” she says. “That we’re all here to help them. All the teachers here are here to support them and help them and help them reach their goals and dreams.

First-grade students at Estes Hill Elementary looking at items in gift package from President Barack Obama. Photo via Blake Hodge.

First-grade students at Estes Hill Elementary looking at items in gift package from President Barack Obama. Photo via Blake Hodge.

“It’s very heartwarming.”

Tamara Horton is Sanaa’s mother. She says she was shocked to hear the news from Ross that the President had written back to her daughter.

“I was like, ‘What?’ and [Ross] was like, ‘Yeah! I’m so excited and [Sanaa] is going to be so excited to when she sees it,” Horton recalled. “It’s touching as a mother.”

While Tamara was a bit surprised to hear back, she says Sanaa never had a doubt.

“She was like, “I knew he was going to send me a letter back,” Horton says. “For her to have that confidence that he was going to send something back is awesome.

“I’m having a proud-mama moment right now.”

They hadn’t picked out a place to display the fruits of Sanaa’s hard work around the house just yet, but that undoubtedly won’t take very long.


Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Candidate Forum

It is election season and candidate forums are helping voters decide who they will cast their ballot for this year.

Eight candidates are running for four open seats on the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Board of Education; two incumbents are not running for re-election.

A CHCCS debate on Monday night presented by the PTA Council, Chapel Hill – Carrboro NAACP and the Special Needs Advisory Council was aired live on WCHL.

Listen to the debate below:


Municipal races in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough will also be on the ballot this fall.

Early voting begins on October 22. Election Day is November 3.


“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