CHCCS Takes a Pass on Proposed Obey Creek School Site

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system is saying “thanks, but no thanks” to a proposed school site offered by Obey Creek developers.

The proposed Obey Creek site was marked as a potential school location several years ago on Chapel Hill’s land use plan.

Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, noted that in April 2014, the Board of Education approved a resolution for the Town Council to recognize that potential site, and to include that as party of negotiations with developers.

Later, the Council asked CHCCS if the school site offered by developers should be reserved.

The Board of Education has now come to a decision regarding Obey Creek.

“At a recent board meeting, the board passed a resolution thanking the Town Council for honoring that process,” said LoFrese. “The next was to communicate that we weren’t in reserving a school site. There are some challenges with the proposed area that was offered to the district as a school site.”

One of those development challenges, said LoFrese, is that the school would be difficult to access.

“There’d be an extensive bridge that would need to be constructed to cross over the creek,” said LoFrese.

In the final part of the resolution, the Board of Educations expressed that the Chapel Hill- Carrboro school system has other facility needs to address.

“We would be open to looking at other potential locations for where a school could be built,” said LoFrese. “We didn’t specify that it would be in the area that is currently proposed for development by Obey Creek. And the board also communicated that we have 10 older school facilities that have a lot of financial need.”

LoFrese said that it’s too early to estimate the impact the development will have on the school system, without a hard number of residential units to consider.

Right now, however, there are some spot-crowding problems that could be fixed, he said.

“Smith Middle School rises to the top of the list in my mind,” said LoFrese. “We had to close the school this year to new enrollment, even if you lived in the Smith zone. So we have some families who are being transported to either McDougle or Phillips, or Culbreth.”

LoFrese said there is still some breathing room at the elementary and high school levels. The next projected need for a middle school is in 2023.

In the meantime, said LoFrese, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system would like to expand older schools, while performing long-needed renovations.

That, he said, would further put off the need for new schools. He added that it could also create the equivalent of an entire new elementary school.

CHCCS Looks To Revamp Teacher Pay Plan

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools officials want to move away from longevity bonuses for teachers to a pay scale that rewards professional development. While that might mean more money for some educators, it could come at a cost to others.

“Some will be very upset, yet I think it’s the best thing to do, in the long-term, for teachers, so that you don’t have to go be an assistant principal in order to make more money,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member Jamezetta Bedford, speaking at a board meeting last week.

Last year the North Carolina General Assembly passed a budget that requires school systems to submit a plan for differentiated teacher pay. But CHCCS officials say they want to make sure the pay plan the district adopts will support the progress of all teachers, not just the top performers.

Board Chair Mike Kelley said the plan under consideration now meets that goal.

“A possible alternative that the state legislature could impose on us might look very ugly, but this to me seems like its homegrown- it comes from our professionals and it’s been developed and thought out in a way which is very careful, deliberative and not reactionary,” said Kelley.

A committee of teachers, staffers and advisors from UNC’s School of Education recently sat down to evaluate options for reconfiguring teacher pay.

They came up with a plan in which teachers would earn points for participating in professional development and get credit for rising student test scores. These points would then translate to salary increases.

But this could mean those teachers who don’t invest in professional development might lose out on potential pay raises, as longevity bonuses would no longer be guaranteed.

Still, given that many teachers have seen their compensation levels frozen for years, Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said the new plan might be better than the status quo.

“Their current reality is they’ve been standstill for six, seven years, and now the new model that the state has in terms of the salary schedule shows that raises come every five years,” LoFrese told the board. “So we’re trying to change that and we think this is a positive step in that direction.”

Superintendent Tom Forcella told the board last week the full financial details are not yet available, but administrators want to make sure it doesn’t cost the district more, or cause those currently employed as teachers to lose ground. Board Chair Kelley warned it might be tough to do both.

“Unless there’s new money for salaries- and that would probably have to come from the state in some fashion, because it is probably not likely going to come from the district- then there may have to be some redistribution of the funds that are available,” said Kelley.

The school board will discuss the plan further at the district’s planning retreat in February. Administrators will present a final proposal to the board in March.

Search is On for Burroughs’ Replacement on Board of Education

The Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools System is taking applications to replace outgoing member Mia Burroughs, who was elected Tuesday to the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Board of Education Chair Jamezetta Bedford began Thursday’s meeting at Town Hall by congratulating Burroughs on her election to the Board of Commissioners.

She added that the Board of Education has accepted Burroughs’ resignation, effective Nov. 30. Burroughs’ opponent in the race, Gary Kahn, also congratulated her during public comments.

Now begins the process of finding her replacement.

According to a North Carolina statute and CHCCS policy, the remaining members of a board must appoint a new member when there is a vacancy caused by resignation, death or other reasons.

The appointed person serves until the next board election.

A timeline for the selection process has been proposed, and it begins with advertising the position – on the CHCCS website, in a press release, in PTA newsletters, and among school improvement teams and community groups such as El Centro.

An information session for applicants will be held at 4:30 p.m. at Lincoln Center on Nov. 17. The board seems to be anticipating a big response, enough to raise concerns that the brevity of the meetings may not allow members to learn as much as they’d like to know about applicants.

“It’s really hard to get to know someone, even on a superficial level, when you’re across the room from them, asking these stilted questions,” said Board Member Mike Kelley.

Bedford assured everyone that additional insight would be provided by “a set of eight, in-depth questions for them to respond to, that we will have in advance to read, too.”

The deadline for submitting applications, to be delivered to the superintendent’s office at Lincoln Center, is Nov. 19.

Interviews will be held at Lincoln Center at 6 p.m. on Nov. 24.

Board of Education Member Michelle Brownstein said she hopes there can be some flexibility in the timeline, in case a small handful of finalists happens to present a tough choice.

“You have to do it publicly,” said Brownstein, “where you’re saying we’re actually going to delay doing anything, because we need to have more information, just like you might have to do for a superintendent search, or whatever.”

According to the timeline, Burrough’s replacement will be selected at the 7 p.m. Board of Education Meeting on Dec. 4 at Lincoln Center, and sworn in on Dec. 18.

The state constitution requires the appointee to be an eligible voter and resident in the district. He or she may not be otherwise employed by the board.

According to an agenda abstract for Thursday’s meeting, the school system is looking for someone with either professional or volunteer experience in education, preferably in the district.

Community volunteer work, knowledge of local school issues and flexibility to attend meetings are also considered important.

Convicted felons are ineligible, unless their rights of citizenship are fully restored. Applicants must also be upfront about potential financial conflicts of interest.

Environmental Measures Help Schools Save Money

The new sustainability coordinator for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools told the Board of Education on Thursday night how his environmental efforts are saving the school system more than $100,000 this year.

Sustainability Coordinator Dan Schnitzer said he analyzes three elements every time he starts a program or collaborates on a program – academic impact, environmental impact, and financial impact.

Schnitzer said he’s implemented measures to make schools more cost-efficient, including “literally rolling up sleeves and getting into some dumpsters.”

At the Board of Education meeting, Schnitzer said cost-cutting measures include reducing the number of dumpsters and frequency of dumpster pickups. “It’s one of those areas where no one complains and so we assume it’s not a problem,” said Schnitzer. “But we can probably do better, and we’ve been able to do that.”

Schnitzer also cut costs by upgrading from incandescent bulbs to more energy and cost-efficient LED bulbs. He said that all together these efforts resulted in $128,000 in savings.

He’s the first person to hold the job of sustainability coordinator, which is funded through a permanent utility budget reallocation. Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese said the savings from Schnitzer’s work exceeded his salary.

Shnitzer supported a composting program at Phillips Middle School. It was started by a group of students who call themselves the “Trash Terminators.” Now, students all across the school system compost their food scraps after lunch.

Superintendent Tom Forcella talked about eating lunch at Phillips last year.

“It was interesting seeing how the kids were very seamless in knowing where to put stuff,” said Forcella. “But I was really nervous because I was afraid of putting my container in the wrong place.”

OC Commissioners, School Boards Talk Bond Referendum

The Orange County Board of Commissioners met with the two local school boards Tuesday night in Hillsborough to discuss, among other things, moving forward with plans for a 2016 bond referendum.

“We can do things with alternate financing, and we’ve been doing it for a decade now,” said Orange County Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs, near the end Tuesday night’s genial joint meeting between the BoCC and the Boards of Education from Chapel-Hill Carrboro and Orange County.

“But we’re going to go to people, and we’re going to say, ‘Are you with us?’” he continued. “And if they say ‘yes,’ they’ll help us pay for it. That’s about as democratic a way to do it as I know.”

The combined school renovation needs of the two districts make up the bulk of identified projects that could benefit from a bond that may go on the ballot, either in May or November of 2016.

“We have currently, approximately between the county and the school system, about $500 million in projects, you know, that could potentially be on this bond referendum,” said Orange County’s Chief Financial Officer Clarence Grier. “We can’t fully fund all those. Schools alone have $330 million of outstanding deferred maintenance projects – older capital needs projects that need to be addressed.”

At a Commissioners meeting on Sept. 11, 2014, it was decided that the range would be between $100 million to $125 million. Orange County holds a AAA rating, and at current interest rates, Grier calculated the debt service at the lower figure to be 6.1 percent, or 4 cents on the property tax rate.

For $125 million, the debt service would be 4.67 cents on the tax rate.

Grier said borrowing would be staggered in amounts of $40 million, then $35 million, and then a final $35 million, issued biennially over four years.

He said that would make the debt more affordable, and lessen its impact on the budget each year.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese noted that, in his district, 10 school facilities have been identified as potential renovation projects.

LoFrese said that by adding capacity as part of renovations, getting the projects done could actually save some money by delaying school construction.

“If all of our projects were able to move forward, we would be able to pick up 555 seats at the elementary level,” said LoFrese. “That’s nearly an entire elementary school. Chapel Hill High would increase by 105 seats, a total of 660 seats in our school system.”

The total recommended cost for all the projects, said LoFrese, is $160 million. He added that getting all of them done in the next five-to-10 years would delay the cost of building a new elementary school for about 15-to-20 years.

After the meeting, LoFrese told WCHL that one of three schools would likely be prepared for shovel-readiness in 2016 if a bond referendum passed.

“Either Ephesus Elementary School, Seawell Elementary School, or the creation of a pre-K center,” said LoFrese. “Each of those would create a hundred additional seats of student capacity, which would push off the need for Elementary 12 by two years.”

Grier recommended starting the process of educating the public in August 2015, to get the referendum on the ballot in May 2016.

But others at the meeting recommended getting started much sooner, in the process of explaining to voters why taxes may go up again.

School Districts Discuss Cross-District Programs

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school districts are moving toward sharing educational resources across schools.

In other words, students from one district could take courses in another district.

Members of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Chapel Hill–Carrboro Board of Education, and Orange County Board of Education discussed the possibility Tuesday night at the Whitted Meeting Facility in Hillsborough.

The two districts have attempted cross-district enrollment in the past but factors like different schedules and travel distances led to low participation.

“I am extremely concerned about . . . equal educational opportunity and access,” said Commissioner Mark Dorosin. He expressed concern over one pubic school offering courses that another public school does not offer. He said schools should make certain courses available over the internet to give students in other schools an opportunity they would not otherwise have.

“I know there’s a multitude of AP courses that are only offered at Chapel Hill High, and that could be made accessible via internet to other students,” said Dorosin.

Members acknowledged that not all courses could be taught remotely. Orange County Board of Education Chair Stephen Halkiotis discussed the agriculture program at Orange County High School.

“There’s a quality group of teachers teaching the program,” he said. “It’s hard to do that online. To get the smell of a barn, to understand weighing a pig, you’ve got to get right in there with your rubber boots where the rubber meets the road or in this case, the rubber meets the pig poop.”

Members from each district agreed to keep the conversation moving forward.

Northside Elementary Earns Top (and Rare) Certification for Green Building

Northside Elementary School in Chapel Hill holds the distinct honor of being the first elementary school in North Carolina to receive LEED Platinum certification with the Green Building Certification Institute.

“This is LEED Platinum,” said Project Manager Ashley Dennis of Moseley Architects, during the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education meeting Thursday night. “What I want you to remember is that this is the first elementary school in the state; the second school in the state; the 20th in the nation; and only five percent of schools that achieve LEED achieve platinum. This is a big deal.”

Dennis and two of her colleagues presented a big round glass LEED Certification trophy to the Board of Education for their mutual achievement in building Northside Elementary School, which opened in 2013.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. The green certification program rates building projects on a point system for utilizing the best green-building practices.

Platinum is the highest level of certification, for building projects that earn 80 points or more.

Construction Administrator Steve Nally of Moseley Architects thanked the Board for its support and partnership in designing the sustainable 100,000-square-foot school, which reaches three stories.

Nally told the board that the old site of the Orange County Training School had all the “intangibles” he was looking for during a site search for Northside.

He said he wanted to help the neighborhood remain a place for families, and not just renters. He wanted to partner with alumni from the original Orange County Training School, and show that Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools was ready to re-commit to the site.

He said he’s glad that Moseley could partner with the Town of Chapel Hill to extend the Greenway Trail.

“When you think about sustainability, partnering with the community, walkability, all of those things are a part of it,” said Nally. “all those intangibles of Northside – that’s what made it great.”

Moseley Architects Energy Analytics Specialist John Nichols reviewed some of the “tangibles” of the project.

“What you may not have have noticed at the school is that very interesting underground rainwater system that saves about a million gallons of water every year,” said Nichols. “And so, that amount of water is actually the same amount that 10 U.S. households use in a year.”

Therefore, said Nichols, the system effectively offsets the water use of 10 households.

Nichols said that the deconstruction strategies used for existing buildings on the site during the construction process diverted 400,000 pounds of waste from the regional landfill.

He mentioned the school’s interior, which is lit by natural daylight, and added that the indoor air quality is “excellent.”

Before the Moseley folks posed for pictures with members of the Board of Education – and of course, the certification trophy – Ashley Dennis reiterated her company’s excitement about the achievement.

“You guys don’t do this every day,” said Dennis, “but we do, and we know what a big deal this is, and so, we’re very proud of you.”

NAACP Calls for Ouster of Assistant Principal at Chapel Hill High UPDATE: Assistant Principal Reassigned

NAACP members and local pastors are backing the angry mother of a 16-year-old boy in calling for the ouster of an assistant principal at Chapel Hill High School.

They’re calling Assistant Principal Julie Hennis “reckless” and “irresponsible” for the way she allegedly handled an alcohol-poisoning incident during summer classes.

“Had my son died, and I’d not even known it, what would they have been able to tell me?” asked Susan Headen, the mother of a 16-year-old African-American male high school student who, until recently, attended Chapel Hill High.

Headen told WCHL that on July 18, she arrived at Chapel Hill High School at 12:30 p.m. to pick up her son from summer school and take him to his part-time job at a veterinarian’s office.

She said he sat in the parking lot for about 20 minutes before she went inside to look for her son. There, she heard some frightening news from a school resource officer. Headen said the officer seemed surprised that she hadn’t received a call.

The officer told her that her son had suffered a seizure and bumped his head.

“I just stood there for a minute, and then I left and went to the hospital, where I found my son, with no name,” said Headen. “He was like a John Doe. They didn’t even know his name.”

She said she arrived at the Intensive Care wing of UNC Hospital to find her son unconscious, and attached to a ventilator. He had serious alcohol poisoning.

Even so, Headen said she had to drive back to Chapel Hill High School to pick up an incident report to bring back to hospital staff.

She said that when she arrived at the school, she spoke to Assistant Principal Julie Hennis, who was reportedly in charge that day.

Headen told WHCL that Hennis informed her that her son would probably be expelled for having alcohol on campus.

The worried mom spent the next 29 hours at the hospital, not knowing whether her son was going to make it. He did regain consciousness and recover, and has since transferred out of Chapel Hill High to Phoenix Academy High School.

Details have emerged since July 18. The student was reportedly found passed out in the school at around 9:50 a.m., three hours before his mom went looking for him. He was transported to the hospital by EMS technicians.

According to Headen, Assistant Principal Hennis did not notify her of the situation, but instead left a message with her other son to have his mother call the school. Hennis provided no details, said Headen.

Headen said that when she went back to Chapel Hill High days later for some explanations, she was told that that there was “no protocol” for handling such a situation during the summer.

News of the incident has outraged members of the local church community, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP has gotten involved. They’re asking for Hennis to be fired.

Ten pastors recently signed a letter to that effect that was sent to the CHCCS Board of Education. One of the signers was Minister Robert L. Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.

The letter also demands an investigation into the school resource officer on duty that day. According to Headen, the officer told her that “if this were a real emergency I would have gone,” when she asked him why he didn’t accompany her son to the hospital. The unconscious boy reportedly arrived there without an adult from the school.

At Thursday night’s meeting of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education, two members of the public spoke out about the incident.

One speaker, former Board of Education member Greg McElveen, adhered to the Board’s policy of not naming administrators, faculty or students during comments.

He made it clear, though, that he was criticizing Hennis, and he expressed disappointment to his old colleagues that she still has her job.

“There were clear standards of behavior and conduct that, no one disputes, were ignored and not followed,” said McElveen. “So, many of the facts are not in dispute. And despite that, it appears that that staff member may still be considered a valued employee in the district.”

Another speaker at the meeting, NAACP member Michelle Laws, spoke to WCHL outside the meeting room after she made her comments to the board.

She said she wanted to go on record to say this about the incident:

“Had this been a white child, and a black principal, without question – or assistant principal – without question, she would have been fired on the spot.”

Chapel Hill High School Assistant Principal Julie Hennis is white.

WCHL has reached out to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for comments about the issue, and we’ll keep you informed about any developments, as they happen.

UPDATE: Executive Director of Community Relations for CHCCS Jeffrey Nash told WCHL in an email that the school system declined to comment on the matter “to protect the names/reputations of the student and others involved.”

UPDATE:The News & Observer reported Friday that Hennis has been removed from Chapel Hill High School and will be reassigned.

Academic Integrity on CHCCS Board of Education’s Agenda Thursday

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education resumes meeting Thursday after a short break to discuss plans to promote and enforce academic honesty throughout the system.

According to a report via Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella’s office to the Board of Education, “the need for cultural change at the district’s high schools is urgent and apparent.”

That conclusion is at least partly based on the findings of a committee formed last year to focus on academic integrity throughout the school system.

The committee, which is co-chaired by an assistant principal from each high school, met frequently last year, and its work with concerned stakeholders to implement Strategy 3.4 is ongoing.

Strategy 3.4 is part of the school system’s Long Range Plan 2013-2018, which is posted on the CHCCS website. The plan is separated into five goals, and Strategy 3.4 states that the school system should “foster a renewed emphasis on academic and personal integrity.”

That item is listed under Goal 3, which reads: “The culture of CHCCS will be one that encourages innovation, risk taking, excitement for learning and personal growth in a trusting partnership with the community.”

The committee conducted nine focus groups during the spring semester. The groups consisted of students, staff and parents.

They were asked four questions: What is an appropriate consequence for violating the honor code? What is the desired outcome for disciplinary consequences? In what ways do consequences lead to desired outcomes? And: On what other aspects of the academic experience should integrity policies focus?

Parents and educators offered a variety of answers to each question, and some key themes emerged.

Academic integrity is an issue of culture, as much as it is an issue of learning, according to teachers, who offered that breaches of academic integrity can be caused by many factors. They mentioned peer pressure, competitiveness, stress and apathy, among others.

They also said that policies should be clear and consistent throughout the school system.

Some themes that emerged from parents who responded include the importance of communicating to students that cheating is “not a winning solution to the academic rigors of high school”; and that assignments should encourage critical thinking.

In June of 2013, a student-led survey of juniors and seniors shed light on academic pressure in the district’s high schools. Responders to the survey recommended dropping class ranking, holding students more accountable for online courses, and offering stress-reducing activities throughout the school day.

Cheating at Chapel Hill High School made national news back in 2008. Four students were suspended as a result of two cheating incidents. One involved the use of a master key that had apparently been passed down by graduating seniors for years, for the purpose of secretly entering a teacher’s office.

This week’s meeting of the Board of Education takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lincoln Center in Chapel Hill.

CHCCS School Board Cuts Custodial, Gifted Specialist and TA Positions

Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education expressed anger toward the Republican leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly Thursday night, before voting five-to-zero to approve a budget that cuts 22 teacher assistant positions.

“This is the first time in the 10-and-a-half years that I’ve been on the Board that there is significant job loss,” said CHCCS Board of Education Chair Jamezetta Bedford. “And also, some of our classes will not be taught.”

CHCCS Board of Education Chair Jamezetta Bedford did not hide her unhappiness regarding the budget she was about to vote for, and neither did her four voting colleagues at Thursday night’s Lincoln Center meeting.

“It’s an outrage that this is completely self-inflicted,” said Board member Mia Burroughs. “The state government reduced their amount of money they had to spend, with unnecessary tax reductions.”

Board member Mike Kelley made similar comments.

“I think the leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly are taking this state in the wrong direction,” he said, accusing those legislators of “shenanigans.”

Two school board members – James Barrett and Michelle Brownstein – were absent. So it was up to the remaining five to vote for cuts that included what Bedford called “the least evil choice” for trying to deal with a $911,000 budget shortfall.

With classes starting August 25th, the vote came just about down to the wire after the state legislature finally passed its budget a couple of weeks ago, in a drawn-out summer session that had even Republicans from the House squabbling with Republicans in the Senate.

In its $21 billion budget, the General Assembly moved $800,000 out of funding for teacher assistants, and will use that money to pay for more teachers.

For Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, that means cutting 22 teacher assistants in grades 4 and 5 from its budget.

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese said that while the state budget would allow Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools to shift some money back into hiring TAs if so desired, the legislature slipped in some additional rules that would have resulted in eight more teacher losses than the school system could handle.

LoFrese also poked holes in what he called the “rosy” picture of long-overdue teacher raises touted by legislative leaders.

Under the General Assembly plan, teachers with less than 10 years of experience could get raises as high as 18 percent. But teachers with 30 years of experience would get raises of .03 percent.

“Some teachers may get an additional six thousand dollars next year,” said LoFrese. “Other teachers may only get an additional 150 dollars.”

To lessen the pain for teachers on the low end of that deal, the CHCCS budget includes a one-time three-percent bonus.

Four-and-a-half gifted specialist positions will be cut in the upcoming school year, and some custodial positions will be transferred to contract work.

As bad as this all seems, Bedford said she fears more for what a school budget might look like next year.

“Depending on what the General Assembly does, it could be worse next year – far worse,” she said. “Because this is an election year. This is what they do to us.”