Merging Orange County School Districts Not ‘Worth the Squeeze’

While our community works to find a way to provide housing options to every family that would like to live Orange County, former Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt brought up an idea during the WCHL Community Forum that has been volleyed about in our community before as a potential solution.

Kleinschmidt said that merging the Chapel Hill – Carrboro and Orange County School Districts would alleviate some of the pressure on housing “at least between northern and southern Orange.”

Kleinschmidt said he thought that the benefits of merging the school districts would go beyond helping to provide more affordable housing.

“I think that would have enormous impact not only on housing prices,” Kleinschmidt said, “but I also believe it would have an impact on our ability to address the achievement gap.”

When speaking, Kleinschmidt cited former Orange County Commissioner Moses Carey, who brought up the idea in the early-2000s.

Current Commissioner and former Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School board member Mia Burroughs said she would support that idea, under certain circumstances.

“I would feel very strongly that we should merge if I felt that we had a severely disadvantaged school district among the two,” Burroughs said. “But I don’t think we’re there.”

Chapel Hill – Carrboro Superintendent Tom Forcella said that, while the school districts remain separate, there has been an increased level of collaboration between the two.

“I think the gains we would get, maybe, out of merging or consolidating, I think a lot of those things can be addressed if we really get creative and think about the things that we can share and do together.”

Orange County School Board chair Donna Coffey said a study was commissioned in 2001 that said merging the districts would raise the cost to Orange County residents as a whole.

“The study revealed that it would not save dollars and cents if you will,” Coffey said. “Because in order to merge the districts, state statute says you have to lift the per-pupil spending to the higher of the two districts that you merge.”

Coffey said the study said that would result in a “significant” tax increase, adding “at that time it was 18 to 20 cents, I believe.”

“Moses Carey was cited in the earlier conversation as being the one who brought this up,” Coffey said. “And I will quote Moses saying, ‘the juice’ at that point ‘did not appear to be worth the squeeze.’”

Former Educator and Chapel Hill Alderman R.D. Smith Passes Away

Former Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen member and local educator R.D. Smith has passed away.

Smith served as a teacher and assistant principal in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School System for more than 30 years, in addition to his more than 20 years of service on the municipal board.

Smith Middle School is named in honor of R.D. and his wife Euzelle.

Smith recently turned 98 years old and was honored as a Hometown Hero.

The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the R. D. Smith fund c/o the Chapel Hill – Carrboro Public School Foundation, P.O. Box 877, Carrboro, NC, 27510.

Services will be held at two o’clock on Saturday, April 9, at First Baptist Church

George Ann McKay: Hometown Hero

George Ann McKay is Wednesday’s Hometown Hero.

She is a volunteer specialist with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Volunteers assist students for one to two hours a week.  You can be an ESL (English as a Second Language) volunteer where you help students learn Engligh.  There is also a program called School Reading Partners where you can support reading instruction.

Learn more about how you can volunteer at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

You can nominate your own Hometown Hero.  WCHL has honored local members of our community everyday since 2002.

CHCCS Wins National Recycling Award

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools has been named the national district winner of Keep America Beautiful’s Recycle-Bowl, according to the school system.

A release says Recycle-Bowl reaches nearly 700,000 students and teachers in 1,266 schools across 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Dan Schnitzer is the Sustainability Coordinator for CHCCS, and he says, “Winning this competition is a testament to the dedication of our teachers, administrators and students to care for their environment, reduce waste and ensure a healthy future.”

The competition was held over four weeks last fall culminating on November 15 – America Recycles Day.

Four million pounds of recyclables were recovered during the 2015 competition. Officials say that prevented the release of more than 5,700 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and the reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from more than 950 passenger cars.

While CHCCS won the District Division in the national competition, Egg Harbor Community School in New Jersey was crowned the national champion. Egg Harbor recycled 50 pounds of material per student and teacher during the competition.

Egg Harbor City Community School of Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, was crowned national champion of Recycle-Bowl, recycling 50 pounds of material per student and teacher during the competition.

Keep America Beautiful president and CEO Jennifer Jehn said in a statement:

“Recycle-Bowl provides teachers with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into classroom curricula through experiential learning as well as a way to introduce recycling into a school’s general operations. CHCCS exemplifies the goals and mission of Recycle-Bowl. It’s inspiring to see students across the country becoming so enthusiastic about recycling and conserving our planet’s natural resources.”

Jewish Families Call For CHCCS To Stop Saturday School

We all have memories of sledding and snowball fights on the days we were fortunate enough to have school canceled as a child, but for some students, the snow day is a little more complicated.

“In the Jewish faith, the Sabbath or Shabbat, begins at sunset on Friday and continues to Saturday evening,” Rabbi Jennifer Feldman said. Shabbat is essential to the rhythm of Jewish life. School on the Sabbath forces Jewish students to choose between their religious commitments and their secular education.”

Feldman, along with other members of the community, spoke in front of the CHCCS Board of Education, to discuss the dilemma that Jewish parents go through when schools have to hold classes on Saturdays to make up for days canceled by snow.

“Our students should not have to choose between Jewish observance and academic progress,” she said. “Jewish students and their families should not be forced to choose between communal celebration and public education. Jewish teachers should not have to choose between their job and their religion.”

So far, the school system has not had to hold class on Saturday this academic year, but did so twice in 2015. Feldman and Jennifer Weinberg-Wolf asked the board to create working groups to help come up with possible solutions.

“Because of the pressing time issue we feel and immediate task force to look specifically at the 2016-2017 calendar is imperative,” Weinberg-Wolf said. “In addition, were requesting that the board or administration convene an ongoing working group to look at the calendar for the district as a whole.”

Board member Andrew Davidson said he was in favor of the working groups and wanted to get community involvement as well.

“Our community has demonstrated an understanding of the challenges we face, rather than asking us to shoehorn an unworkable no Saturday school policy,” he said. “I think they recognize the challenges we recognize which is it’s going to take more than just a simple policy. It’s going to take some work and some community input.”

The issue becomes more complicated due to a law passed in 2012 that creates hard start and end dates for North Carolina public schools. They are not allowed to hold classes after the Friday closest to June 11.

Call For Volunteers: CHCCS Wants You!

Are you looking for an opportunity to make a difference in your community? Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is calling for volunteers.

Volunteer specialist George Ann McKay says hundreds of local residents volunteer in the schools every year – many of them parents, many of them just community members (some as old as 100!) who want to chip in. There’s a wide variety of ways you can help out, depending on your interests; McKay says you can volunteer as much time as you’re able – even as little as an hour or two a week.

McKay stopped by WCHL last week and spoke with Aaron Keck.


The CHCCS volunteer office is located at the PTA Thrift Shop building on Main Street in Carrboro, if you want to stop by and become a volunteer. You can also call the office at 919-967-8211, or find them online at this link.

Seven Applicants Interview for Open Board of Education Seat

Candidates for the open position on the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Board of Education made their cases Thursday night.

Seven applicants participated in a joint interview for the seat that was left opened when Michelle Brownstein resigned in December.

The applicants answered a wide range of questions, including closing the achievement gap, dealing with parent concerns, working with the County Commissioners and voting for the bond referendum.

Mary Anne Wolf currently works at NC State as the Director for Digital Learning Programs. She has children at the elementary, middle and high school levels in the school district. She said she disagreed with the board’s recent implementation of the math Common Core standards.

“I think our implementation in math was actually very detrimental to some kids because our curriculum was not quite ready. And I know there was a lot of push from the state and a lot of reasons for it but I think we probably could’ve taken a little more time and probably helped a lot of kids in their math foundations,” said Wolf.

Hector Rosario is a math professor who recently moved to North Carolina. He has since started a volunteer math tutoring program in the area. He spoke about bringing his tutoring program to kids in the district who have been taught a “sense of inadequacy” and to give those kids confidence. Rosario also advocated for the improvement of ESL instruction. He said he began learning English when he was 14.

Theresa Watson is a graduate of Chapel Hill High School. For over 20 years she has worked with local organizations like the Chapel Hill Board of Adjustment and the Carrboro Planning Committee. Her ideas for closing the achievement gap relied on not letting kids fall behind at a young age.

“I bring to the board the ability to work with the school, the parent and in the community and without all of those elements combined together you will always feel disjointed,” said Watson.

Ashton Powell is a biology instructor at the North Carolina School of Science and Math and will soon be appointed to their board of trustees. He has two children attending Carrboro Elementary. When asked what programs he might change he said he would consider cutting athletic programs to put more funds towards dual immersion language courses.

Allen Buansi is a recent law school graduate and now works as a civil rights lawyer for Democracy NC. He is a graduate of East Chapel Hill High. He said he hope to close the achievement gap by having college students and volunteers serve as role models.

“One thing I did was to bring in tutors and mentors, some of whom looked like them, people who they could look up to and maybe inspire a possibility that they could see for themselves for what they could become,” said Buansi.

Erika Lipkin moved to North Carolina from New York 6 years ago. She has worked as a consultant and is a certified public accountant. When asked about a recent school board decision she disagreed with she mentioned the redistricting by the school system. Lipkin said the redistricting at her daughter’s school made it harder for a sense of community to form because the students attending the school lived so far apart from each other.

Joal Hall Broun has worked on the Carrboro Board of Alderman and has served on the board for the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. She voiced her support for after-school programs as a way to help kids stay out of trouble. Broun also said scrutinizing our expectations of students is important for closing the achievement gap.

“Do you expect that child because he does not look or she does not look like someone else, do you expect them to do well? So the expectation is that all students should do well,” said Hall Broun.

The board is expected to make a decision at their next board meeting on February 18.

Marcus Paige Reads to Chapel Hill Third Graders

Students at Rashkis Elementary School gathered on Wednesday to hear from special guests encouraging them to read.

About 100 eager third graders filed into the library at Rashkis for a special guest reading to cheer on the students during the read-a-thon going on at the school.

Marcus Paige and David Fountain with students. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Marcus Paige and David Fountain with students. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Duke Energy North Carolina president David Fountain was joined by senior Tar Heel basketball player Marcus Paige to read to the students. Fountain and Paige read ‘Salt in His Shoes’ about the struggles of a young man who turned out to be legendary Tar Heel basketball player Michael Jordan.

Paige spoke to the third graders about the importance of reading.

“My mom is an English teacher in high school,” Paige told the students. “So she always made me read, ever since I was you guys’ age.”

He told the students that he knew the teachers were asking the students to read as part of the read-a-thon, but added he hoped they would learn to enjoy reading.

“Reading is basically the foundation of your entire education,” Paige told the eager listeners. “When you get to college, you read a lot of books and a lot of articles and a lot of journals. And if you enjoy it, it makes it a lot easier and it makes you able to get more information from what you read.”

The event was part of Duke Energy Reading Days to promote childhood literacy. Duke’s North Carolina president David Fountain said the utility felt this was an important area to emphasize.

“Duke Energy has long been a supporter of education in North Carolina,” Fountain said. “And we feel like it’s particularly important for young students to be able to have the skills to succeed later in life.

“And that’s why we focused on early reading as an area that we wanted to support.”


Rameses with students. Photo via Blake Hodge.

While the students were certainly happy to see Paige, the Tar Heel basketball star, there was no doubt he finished second as the most popular person to the third graders behind UNC mascot Rameses.

CHCCS Board Talks Race

How to change the culture around race in our schools was the topic at Thursday’s school board meeting.

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School Board met to hear a presentation from the Campaign for Racial Equality in Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools, a group made up of parents, teachers, administrators and other members of the community.

The campaign passionately presented an overview of their 88 page report analyzing inequality in the school system.

Their report was based on data from the school system about student achievement with the purpose to see why, overall, African – American and Latino students do not do as well as white students.

In Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, black students make up just 11 percent of total enrollment, but account for 39 percent of all out-of-school suspensions and 41 percent of in-school suspensions. Latino students are 14 percent of the school population but make up between 19 and 22 percent of suspensions.

“The primary objective of this group is not to say there is a problem but to work with the district to achieve result to the problem,” said Greg McElveen who spoke for the campaign for racial equality.

But he said previous efforts haven’t been enough. The coalition cited the growing achievement gap between white students and students of color as evidence that the systems previous initiatives to improve equality have not worked.

“We were a bit surprised but we might know the reason that the gap hasn’t been reducing but increasing,” said McElveen.

The most important aspect to making our schools more equal, said Wanda Hunter, is changing the culture in our schools.

“When our children come to school and they see that it’s all white kids in this class and all kids of color in this class, they’re already getting some messages that we aren’t even meaning to teach them but you know we are creating that culture,” said Hunter.

Changing the culture is a lot more difficult to do than simply changing staff or sending administrators to half-day seminars on racial equality said Hunter. But both the campaign and members of the school board, like Rani Dasi, recognized the work it will take.

“Everyone needs to commit that this work is so important that we will not leave because of hurt feelings, we will not leave because of disagreements. We will continue to focus on the outcome which is making a better outcome for our children,” said Dasi.

Much of the group’s presentation tried to identify in what ways race is creating an unequal environment for students. They also voiced their desire to be involved in a long term process with the school board.

But they did propose an immediate suggestion, a online database or “dashboard” that would measure progress towards racial equity. Some of the board members, like Andrew Davidson, took interest in this idea.

“If we can be honest and take a fresh look, what works? What doesn’t? Obviously we want to put our eggs in the basket of what does work,” said Davidson.

How exactly they would track their progress isn’t clear. But the coalition emphasized that it will take more than a few workshops to change racial attitudes.

“Changing culture is not a check-off in a box, saying I’ve attended. It is an immersion of reflection, critical analysis and repetitiveness around new information,” said Stephanie Perry, a member of the campaign.

The coalition’s proposals were far reaching and as they stressed, are efforts that really need to last a lifetime. But Perry said that the solution to solving the problem begins with something simple.

“I think that we begin with dialogue. The revolution is dialogue, it is real communication,” said Perry.

The School Board seemed eager to go forward and begin work on this issue but it remains to be seen whether efforts will be successful in making the public school experience equal for all kids, regardless of race.

Volunteer This Year At CHCCS

Looking to volunteer your time for a good cause? Try Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

That’s the message CHCCS officials are sending out as the new semester gets under way. They’re hosting spring registration throughout January for UNC students who want to volunteer, with a booth set up at the student union from 10:00-3:30 on Thursday the 14th, Wednesday the 20th, Thursday the 21st, and Monday the 25th. CHCCS volunteers and partners coordinator Julie Hennis says the district does a recruitment drive at UNC twice a year – and typically pull in hundreds of volunteers.

Julie Hennis and CHCCS school reading partner specialist Christine Cotton joined Aaron Keck this week on WCHL.


Hennis says there’s a wide variety of volunteer opportunities in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools; volunteers give as little as an hour a week of their time, and district officials can tailor the experience to their needs and interests.

The recruitment drive on campus is geared to UNC students, but there are volunteer opportunities for everyone. (The district’s Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program is one of the best known, but there are many other ways to volunteer.)

For more information, contact the CHCCS volunteer office: visit this page for contact info, or stop by the office in the PTA Thrift Shop building in Carrboro.