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.



Meet Pittsboro, CHCCS Candidates In Forums Thursday

Election Day is approaching! Come learn about the candidates at a pair of forums on Thursday, September 24, both hosted by the League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham, and Chatham Counties.

The first is for Pittsboro voters: the LWV is hosting a forum for Pittsboro mayoral and town council candidates from 6-8 pm in the auditorium of the Agriculture Building at 65 East Chatham Street. (You’l be able to register to vote at the forum too.)

The second is for Chapel Hill/Carrboro voters: a forum for CHCCS school board candidates from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

LWV Voter Services chair Krishna Mondal joined Aaron Keck on WCHL Monday to discuss the two forums.


For more information on the two forums or on the League of Women Voters, visit LWVODC.org.


Orange County Is Wealthy, But Poverty Still Widespread

Orange County is one of the wealthiest counties in North Carolina, but poverty is still a major issue.

How widespread is it?

“3,820 children in Orange County live in poverty,” says Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson, quoting numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. “That’s a lot of children waking up in one of the richest counties in the state of North Carolina, in poverty.”

As of 2013, the latest available data, about 3800 Orange County children were living in poverty – about 13.4 percent of all Orange County kids. On the plus side, that’s down from a peak of 4800, or 17.4 percent, at the height of the recession in 2010.

“We’ve been bending down, and that’s really good news,” says Nelson.

But not every measure of childhood poverty is trending down. Nelson says the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch is still on the rise, in both of Orange County’s school districts.

“Orange County Schools (is) at 43 percent, up from 32 percent in 2006-07, (and) Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is also on the increase, from 21 to 28.2 percent,” he says. “This number is not showing that trend down in poverty.”

And while the number of families receiving food and nutrition services (food stamps) is down slightly, it’s still significantly higher than it was even in the midst of the recession. 6,087 Orange County families receive food stamps today – down from a peak of 6,533 in 2013, but virtually unchanged from four years ago and well up from 4600 in the middle of 2010.

“The recession is long over, and yet this number (has) continued to grow,” Nelson says.

Nelson says the recent decline is good news, but the long-term trend is still sobering. In 2007, prior to the recession, only 2,900 Orange County families received food stamps. That number has more than doubled.

Orange County’s overall poverty rate is 15.5 percent, slightly below the 17.9 percent rate for the state as a whole – and surprisingly, more than 23 percent of Chapel Hillians live in poverty. Nelson says the student population skews that data a bit, but “I don’t want to discount that we do have poor students too, who really are struggling to make their way through college or community college.”

And he says the percentage of children living in poverty is a reminder that this is a very real issue in our community, students or no students.

Nor is a decline in poverty necessarily an entirely good thing. Nelson says there’s a correlation between the improving economy and the drop in poverty – but correlation does not equal causation. Is Orange County’s childhood poverty rate declining because poor families are moving out of poverty? Or is it because poor families are simply moving out of Orange County?

Nelson says it’s not clear. But there is one more troubling statistic. In the year 2000, according to the Urban Institute, there were 1,839 housing units in Orange County that were available for “extremely low income” households – or households making less than 30 percent of the county’s median income. At the time, Orange County had about 6,000 households fitting that description.

As of 2013, Orange County still had about 6,000 “extremely low income” households – but the number of available housing units had dropped almost in half, from more than 1800 down to 1,022.

Nelson says we’re seeing that trend in every county in the region.

“And I did some math – do you know what your wage is if you make minimum wage, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you never take a vacation or a sick day?” he says. “It’s $16,500.”

Thirty percent of Orange County’s median income is $20,300 – so there are about six thousand households in Orange County making less than or barely over minimum wage (some of them students but not all), and the number of available housing units for those families has been shrinking rapidly for more than a decade.

Nelson made those comments last month, delivering his annual State of the Community report.

You can check out the full report here.


“TigerLinks” Helps Freshmen Transition To High School

Back-to-school time is always exciting, but it can also be a tough transition for students – especially students moving from middle to high school.

But at Chapel Hill High School, teachers and students have joined forces to help incoming freshmen make that transition a successful one.

They’re doing it through a program called TigerLinks – which pairs incoming first-year students up with juniors and seniors who serve as informal mentors throughout the year. Improving on an earlier mentoring program, TigerLinks launched last year and continues into year two this week.

The idea, say organizers, is to improve grades, reduce behavioral issues, and help shrink the everpresent achievement gap as well.

Teachers Tom Stanfa and Myles Aitken are in charge of the program, along with Randy Trumbower, William Melega, Veena Rajan, and assistant principal Anna Hipps. Nearly a hundred juniors and seniors serve in mentoring roles: the program pairs them up and assigns them to groups of 10-13 incoming freshmen.

Tom Stanfa and Myles Aitken joined Aaron Keck on WCHL last week, along with student mentors Jade Martens and Hanna Siekiersky.


CHCCS Hires New Principal For Phillips Middle School

Tomeka Ward-Satterfield

Tomeka Ward-Satterfield

Phillips Middle School has a new principal: Tomeka Ward-Satterfield.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board approved the hire at a meeting Thursday night. Ward-Satterfield has been assistant principal at East Chapel Hill High since 2009, after working more than ten years as a teacher, counselor, and administrator in Durham and Alamance Counties.

The board also approved two other hires at the same meeting: Ileana Herrera is the new assistant principal at Chapel Hill High School, and Scott Fearrington is the district’s new director of transportation.

Herrera is coming to the district from Chatham County Schools. Fearrington has been with the district for 17 years; he’s served as Community Schools Program Supervisor since 2011.


Races Heat Up For CHCCS, H’boro Town Board

We’re almost through the filing period for local elections – and on Wednesday, four new candidates added their hats to the ring.

Incumbent David Saussy and challenger Pat Heinrich are now officially in the race for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School board. Saussy is running for his first full term; he was appointed to the Board last December to fill the seat left vacant by Mia Burroughs when she got elected to the Board of County Commissioners.

Saussy and Heinrich join incumbent Annetta Streater and challengers Rani Dasi, Theresa Watson, and Margaret Samuels in what is now a six-person race for four open seats on the board. Two other incumbents, Jamezetta Bedford and Mike Kelley, haven’t announced their intentions yet. (Bedford, though, has previously indicated that she was not planning to run again.)

And the race for Hillsborough Board of Commissioners also heated up Wednesday with two more candidates: incumbent commissioner Brian Lowen and challenger Ashley DeSena.

DeSena currently works as operations coordinator for the Pope Center for Higher Education, but she spent nearly five years as program coordinator at the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough from 2010 until this February. She also serves as vice chair of Hillsborough’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Also in the race for Hillsborough town commissioner: incumbent Evelyn Lloyd and challenger Mark Bell.

See the full list of candidates who have filed to date.

The filing period ends on Friday at noon.


Schwartz, Samuels Throw Their Hats In The Ring

There’s another candidate in the race for Chapel Hill Town Council: David Alan Schwartz filed to run for office on Monday.

Schwartz has been recently active with the group Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT. He’s the sixth candidate to file to run for Town Council – joining Michael Parker, Paul Neebe, Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson, and incumbent Lee Storrow.

There are four seats up for election on the Council this year – one of which is vacant, following Matt Czajkowski’s departure earlier this year. In addition to Storrow, the other two incumbents are Donna Bell and Jim Ward; they haven’t announced their intentions publicly yet.

Elsewhere, there are now four candidates in the race for a seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board.

The terms of Mike Kelley, Jamezetta Bedford, Annetta Streater and David Saussy expire this fall. To date, Streater is the only incumbent who’s filed to run for re-election.

The challengers are Rani Dasi, Theresa Watson, and now Margaret Samuels. Samuels is president of OE Enterprises, which provides job training services for people with disabilities.

Dasi is a business analysis manager at Lord Corporation, as well as a board member for The Walking Classroom.

Theresa Watson has worked for years as a youth mentor. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in May 2014.

See the full list of candidates in Orange County.

The filing period continues through Friday for those seeking office on the Chapel Hill Town Council, Carrboro Board of Aldermen, Hillsborough Town Board and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board.


CHCCS Officials Hope To Skip Saturday School Next Year

A new school year will be upon us before you know it, and everyone involved is hoping for a more gentle winter this time around – if only to avoid any controversy about makeup days.

Virtually two weeks of instructional time were interrupted for students of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in the last year due to bad weather.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said that a state calendar law that prohibits adding makeup days any later than the Friday closest to June 11 has made scheduling unnecessarily difficult.

LoFrese said that CHCCS will try its best in the next school year to avoid stoking controversy by adding Saturdays, and Memorial Day, as makeup days.

“We brought recommendations for calendar revisions back to the school board,” said LoFrese, “and the board approved those revisions for this calendar as well as next year’s calendar, to make some changes to try to give us a little more buffer – more options in the spring, when we may need those days the most.”

Many dates on the schools calendar have been added from March through June as possible make-up days, and those have been arranged in order of priority.

The days that are likely to be the most controversial, he added, have been put near the bottom on the list of options.

“Knock on wood, hoping that we don’t have something like we’ve had in the past, we’re pretty confident that even if we do have a rough winter, that many of the challenges we faced this year, we’ve put steps in place to avoid having those next year.”

LoFrese said that school board members will continue to discuss options such as increasing time in the instructional day.

And school system administrators will continue talking to lawmakers in Raleigh.

“We’re going to continue to advocate with our local legislators, and advocate at the state level for more flexibility with the calendar law,” said LoFrese.


Confederate Flag Photo Sparks Big Turnout, Long Discussion at School Board Meeting

TV news cameras were squeezed into a packed room at Thursday night’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education meeting.

Many at Town Hall were outraged by a recent Instagram photo that has made national news. Two East Chapel High School students are shown waving Confederate flags, with the caption “South will rise.”

“The flag – the Confederate flag – there’s nothing cute about it, and how dare some of you try to whitewash it,” said NC NAACP Executive Director Michelle Laws as she spoke at the podium during Thursday night’s public comments.

She, like many others in attendance, was there to call for employees of the school system to better educate themselves on cultural sensitivity, so that they can pass those lessons on to students.

The Instagram photo, which has now become national news, was taken during an annual trip to Gettysburg, where East Chapel Hill High School students re-enact Pickett’s Charge, a disastrous battle for the Confederate Army.

One senior from East Chapel Hill High stood during Thursday’s meeting and gave her account of the Gettysburg re-enactment. She said the two students in the photo were simply the last left standing, as they were instructed.

Ron Creatore, the father of one of those students, had already defended his daughter on Wednesday, during a heated exchange with Laws at a news conference.

At Thursday’s meeting, he said that his daughter has been vilified and threatened for holding an object that never seemed to outrage the local community before.

“To my knowledge, there has never been any kind of uprising in the community about the fact that the Confederate flag appears three times in a book that’s being used in our school system,” said Creatore.

He also mentioned a piece in a 2012 issue of the ECHO – East Chapel Hill High’s student newspaper. It was titled “The Confederate flag is heritage, not hateful.” Creatore noted that the author of the piece suffered no consequences.

Greg McElveen, chair of the NAACP Education Committee, said the Gettysburg incident exemplifies the failure of the school system to teach in a “culturally relevant and equitable way.”

“Instructing students to make the charge … is almost like going to a concentration camp and asking the students to pretend that they are guards,” said McElveen.

Eighteen-year-old Taliana Tudryn, a senior at Carrboro High School, drew the night’s biggest ovation.

She spoke about the realities of being a student of color in public high schools, where AP classes are mostly white.

“We struggle with Ferguson, and Baltimore, and Durham, and Mike Brown, and Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner alone, in small groups” said Tudryn. “We may even go to marches and face riot officers and sound cannons, and witness others being beat by batons.

“Then, we come back into the classroom, and our white peers, our teachers, our administrators are silent.”

Tudryn shared some student proposals: annual assemblies at middle schools and high schools, with interactive presentations exploring systemic racism; and requiring teachers to attend Racial Equity Institute Workshops.

CHCCS Superintendent Tom Forcella concluded the discussion, first by noting that the school system needs to take a closer look at how social media affects students’ lives before they reach high school.

“First and foremost, I do believe our entire staff needs to take responsibility for addressing issues that seem unfair to any individual or sub-group,” he said.

As for individual consequences and disciplinary measures within the school system, Forcella reminded the audience that those must remain private.