“Untold Stories Of Pearl Harbor”

Franklin Roosevelt described it as “a date which will live in infamy”…but there’s still a great deal about Pearl Harbor that isn’t widely known.

Chapel Hill High School history teacher and author Bill Melega is giving a free lecture on “The Untold Stories of Pearl Harbor” Saturday, January 23, from 10:30 am to noon at the SECU Family House in Chapel Hill. Melega will share personal stories of survivors, talk about the events leading up to the attack, and answer frequently asked questions.

Bill Melega (and Sondra Komada of the SECU Family House) spoke this week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Melega is the author of “Bringing the Great War Home, Volume IV,” part of a series on World War I, as well as an SAT review book for Barron’s Publishing. He’s also been widely recognized for his teaching skills: he was CHHS Teacher of the Year in 2007-08, and in 2010 he was named the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Citizenship Teacher of the Year.

The lecture is free, but space is limited. To reserve a spot, email Sondra Komada: sondra@secufamilyhouse.org.

Located at 123 Old Mason Farm Road, the SECU Family House provides low-cost housing for patients at UNC Hospitals, as well as their families.


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.


Michelle Brownstein Resigns From CHCCS Board of Education

Dr. Michelle Brownstein, who has been a member of the CHCCS Board of Education since 2009, announced her resignation Monday morning.

Michelle Brownstein

Michelle Brownstein

“I highly value the time I participated as a member of this board and thank the voters for their support in the past two elections,” Brownstein said in her resignation letter, which was sent December 28, 2015. “It has been an honor to serve the public in this manner.”

The Board of Education is next scheduled to meet on January 21 and they will discuss the process to appoint Brownstein’s replacement.

“Speaking on behalf of the board, we appreciate Brownstein’s service and concerns for, as noted in her letter, the quality of education for all the district’s students, especially those who are struggling,” chairman James Barrett said.

Three new board members voted to name James Barrett board chair in early December, outvoting Brownstein and the two other senior members.

At the December meeting, Brownstein had a warning for the new members before the vote for chair. “I want to caution us to avoid tearing down something of value until we are certain we have something of value to replace it with,” she said.

Brownstein also pointed out, at the December meeting, that the board found itself in uncharted waters.

“The seven of us find ourselves in an unprecedented situation,” she said. “The chair seat is vacant, due to retirement, and three of us have just been sworn in and are working very hard to successfully jump on this moving bus.

“The other four completely empathize with this situation. Turns out we also are on a steep learning curve, because we’re trying to figure out what it takes to be a good board with three new board members. And a functional board.”

A link to a full copy of Brownstein’s resignation letter can be found here.

You can submit any comments or concerns by emailing the board at allboardmembers@chccs.k12.nc.us.


Estes Hills Food Drive Helps Families Over Holidays

Lots of kids in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district receive free and reduced-price lunch. But when school is not in session, that option isn’t there – and that can place an added financial burden on families that are already struggling to make ends meet, particularly around the Christmas season.

Every year, Estes Hills Elementary School conducts a school-wide food drive, “Food for Friends,” to collect nonperishable items for families in the school community. School social worker Betsy Booth spearheads the operation every year, with the help of volunteers. She says more than 100 Estes Hills students qualify for free and reduced lunch – and anything the community can do for those kids and their families over the winter break would help make it a merrier Christmas all around.

Betsy Booth spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck this week.


The “Food for Friends” drive began in November and runs until this Friday, December 11. Everyone’s invited to bring donations to Estes Hills Elementary School, located at 500 Estes Drive in Chapel Hill.


For CHCCS Board, It’s Dasi, Samuels, Streater, Heinrich

There are going to be three new faces on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board after Tuesday’s election.

Newcomers Rani Dasi, Margaret Samuels and Pat Heinrich were all elected to the CHCCS Board on Tuesday, along with incumbent Annetta Streater.

Full results here.

Rani Dasi was easily the top vote-getter with 6,989 votes – more than any other candidate in any race in Orange County this year. More than half of Orange County voters cast ballots for Dasi, even with seven other candidates in the race.

Margaret Samuels and Annetta Streater took second and third, respectively; Samuels won 5,618 votes and Streater won 5,369.

Samuels spoke with WCHL following her election:


The real race, though, was for the fourth and final spot, which came down to the wire between newcomers Pat Heinrich and Theresa Watson. In the end, Heinrich took the final spot with 4,445 votes – beating Watson by only 208, less than six tenths of a percentage point.

Streater spoke with WCHL following her re-election:


Former Carrboro Alderman Joal Hall Broun came in just behind in sixth, followed by incumbent David Saussy (who was running for the first time after being appointed to the board less than a year ago). Newcomer Gregg Gerdau finished a distant eighth.

With the district facing a number of major challenges, the new school board will have to hit the ground running with very little overall experience. That was going to be a challenge no matter what the outcome on Tuesday, though – as two of the longest-tenured board members, Mike Kelley and Jamezetta Bedford, elected not to run for reelection this year.


CHCCS Works on Teacher Salaries With Project ADVANCE

Chapel Hill- Carrboro City Schools is continuing to investigate new ways to pay teachers and support staff through Project ADVANCE.

Project ADVANCE is a new system that CHCCS is working on that will award raises to teachers who continue their professional development through classes or other learning opportunities.

Executive Director Rydell Harrison presented some of his plans for Project ADVANCE  to the CHCCS Board of Education last week

“Is there really a connection between years of service and student learning,” he said. “The answer to that question is no there is not and this unfortunately sends a confusing message about what’s most important.”

Under the current system, CHCCS teachers receive raises based on how many years they have been teaching. Harrison said he believes Project ADVANCE could be the solution to this problem.

“The way it works is that teachers and support staff will earn credits by participating in professional learning,” he said. “Then those new practices are implemented in the classroom by working with students and that’s another level of points and then finally once we see the impact and look at student outcomes we’re able to award additional credits.”

Once a staff member earns a certain number of credits, they will move to a higher level on the pay scale.

“This allows teachers to move to the higher end of the salary schedule that we currently have in a more accelerated time frame,” he said. “And we hope that this would help us recruit and retain strong teachers.”

He is working towards implementing the system for all teachers starting in August of next year, but is still creating many of the specifics, including how to bring teachers into the system that are already in the district and what exactly the levels of pay will be.

He will continue to present his plan to the board as the year goes on.

Board member Andrew Davidson said the board will support the project in any way it can in order implement the program next school year.



“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.


Rain Or Shine, “Tiger Chill” Is On At CHHS Saturday

Rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, tiger beats hurricane.

The threat of heavy weather this weekend is causing postponements and cancellations of events across the Triangle, but Chapel Hill High School is going forward with their annual “Tiger Chill” carnival on Saturday, with proceeds to benefit teachers’ professional development and other programs at the school.

(One accommodation to the weather: organizers are moving Tiger Chill inside.)

The carnival features inflatables, games, food trucks, live music and more. It runs from 4-8 pm at Chapel Hill High School; there’s a cost to play the games but admission is free.

Sondra Komada is the co-founder and organizer of Tiger Chill. She stopped by WCHL on Friday and spoke with Aaron Keck.


Forum Saturday Will Tackle Equity, Excellence At CHCCS

The “achievement gap” has been a major issue in our local schools for years, even decades. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is generally recognized as one of the very best in North Carolina (if not the best), but there’s a persistent disparity between rich and poor, and between whites and minorities, when it comes to test scores, graduation rates, and the other measures of academic performance. That disparity is wider in CHCCS schools than in many other districts. And there’s also a “gap” in discipline as well: students of color are more likely to be punished or suspended for infractions than their white peers, even when both commit the same offense.

Educators, administrators, staff, parents, and everyone else involved in the schools have long been concerned about those persistent “gaps.” But while the district has committed a great deal of resources and effort to tackling the problem, actual progress has been frustratingly minimal.

What are the next steps? How can our schools move toward equity and make real progress in closing the achievement and discipline gaps, while maintaining the excellent quality that the district is known for?

Members of the community are invited to a community forum on this topic Saturday, September 26, from 1-4 pm at Northside Elementary School. Co-sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, Organizing Against Racism, the CHCCS Multicultural Student Achievement Network, and the CHCCS PTA Council, the forum is called “Achieving Equity and Excellence in Our Schools: Challenges and Opportunities.” Everyone’s invited to offer feedback, hear from others, and be a part of the ongoing effort.

Greg McElveen of the CH-C NAACP (a former school board member) and Wanda Hunter of Organizing Against Racism joined Aaron Keck on WCHL this week to discuss the forum and the larger issue.