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.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Will Pay Employees a Living Wage

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School system has been recognized by a local non-profit for paying its employees a living wage.

Orange County Living Wage has been compiling businesses and organizations that pay employees a living wage, which is defined for Orange County as $12.75 per hour or $11.25 per hour for employees covered by health insurance. Other communities have similar non-profits pushing for employers to pay a living wage.

OCLW says that the school system makes up the largest living wage employer to date in the organization’s registry.

In order to qualify, 72 employees in the CHCCS system – mostly custodians and bus monitors, according to OCLW – were given raises of $1.30 per hour. A release from OCLW says the combined raises totaled $36,000 over the course of the year. Orange County Schools was recognized as a living wage employer last month.

Newly-elected CHCCS board chair James Barrett said in the release:

“We’ve heard from many parents about how frustrated they feel when district staff can’t afford to live within our community, and it goes against our traditionally-expressed values. Paying a living wage is, simply, the right thing to do—and the smart thing to do, from a business perspective. That’s a lesson I’m happy for our students to learn through our example.”

The living wage in Orange County is calculated off the compensation that employees need in order to meet “their most basic needs” while free of government assistance, including costs of housing.

A total of 48 businesses, municipalities and public school systems, with a combined employment of over 4,000, have been recognized by OCLW as paying their employees a living wage.

The combined wage increases total $276,240 over the course of the year, according to OCLW.

You can see a full list of the recognized employers here.

Help Recognize a Local Teacher

Do you know a teacher that deserves some extra recognition? The Chapel Hill – Carrboro Public School Foundation is looking for nominations for five Teaching Chair Awards.

“The nominations are open to the community. Anyone can nominate a teacher, their peer, their principal, their students, their parents,” said Lynn Lehmann, Executive Director of the Public School Foundation.

The awards come with a $1,000 prize and the winners will hold the chair for two to three years, depending on the award. The awards will recognize a teacher at the elementary, middle and high school levels as well as awards for using technology in the classroom and teaching exceptional children.

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro Public School Foundation offers grants to teachers to help fund projects and programs that otherwise would go unfunded. They also help low-income students who need assistance with extra-curricular and summer programs.

The foundation awards 10 different multi-year teaching chairs; this year five of those awards are open. The teachers will receive a $1,000 prize every year they hold the chair.

After the nomination process, a committee of teachers, students, administrators and parents will interview the nominees and select the winners.

“They come for the interview, they’re asked to bring a portfolio of their work of a lesson plan, of an innovative teaching method that they use in the classroom,” said Lehmann.

The Teaching Chair Awards began the early ’80s. Since then the foundation has given dozens of awards. Lehmann hopes the awards motivate teachers to stay in the area.

“Our philosophy about recognizing teachers and about awarding teachers is for excellent teacher retention,” said Lehmann. “We hope that by offering awards to outstanding teachers that they will feel valued in the community, valued at their school and valued at their district.”

Eligible teachers must have three years of experience in Chapel Hill- Carrboro City Schools. Nominations are due by January 31 and can be submitted at Public School Foundation.

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.