Solarize Chapel Hill To Help Bring Solar Power To CHCCS Schools

The Solarize Chapel Hill initiative could soon be helping local students learn to harness the power of the sun.

The effort encourages homeowners to work together to earn group discounts on solar panels for residential use. Now, for each home that goes solar, money will be donated to build educational solar arrays at Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools.

Homeowners who enroll will vote for their school of choice, and if enough families participate in the program, the school with the most votes will have a solar array installed where students can regularly access it.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools are already constructing one such array at McDougal Middle School. A dedication will take place Friday, October 24 at 1:30 in the afternoon.

If you want to learn more about Solarize Chapel Hill you can attend an information session at 7 p.m. on Monday, October 27 at Chapel Hill High, or visit

CHCCS Students OK After Orange County Bus Crash

A Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools bus collided with a car Tuesday afternoon at the intersection of Bethel Hickory Grove Church and Jo Mac roads in Orange County.

No injuries were reported, but the back of the sedan was crushed. The driver reportedly reversed after missing the turn onto Jo Mac, causing the bus to rear-end the car.

The 37 students from McDougle Elementary were transferred to another bus then taken back to the school to wait for their parents.

CHCCS Board Seeks Public Input on Memorial Day as Makeup Day

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education wants to get more public input before members will consider taking Memorial Day off the list of inclement weather days.

Fred Black

Fred Black

“I interviewed leaders in every surrounding district,” said U.S. Army veteran Fred Black, a well-known Chapel Hill community leader. “And they were shocked, quite frankly, when they heard that you had school on Memorial Day. And one of the even went so far as like, ‘Well, that’s Chapel Hill.’ And that upsets me.’”

Thursday night’s work session at Lincoln Center wasn’t the first occasion for members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education to hear from Black about schools being open on Memorial Day during the 2013-14 year.

Black voiced similar outrage at the June 5, 2014 meeting. On May 23, he appeared on WCHL’s “The Commentators,” where he slammed what he called the “disrespectful” and “embarrassing” decision to use Memorial Day as a makeup day for inclement-weather closings.

“To say that bad weather this winter is the cause is disingenuous,” said Black, during his radio segment. “The cause is that the school board put Memorial Day on their list of makeup days in the first place. The staff that recommended this, and the board members that accepted it without comment should be ashamed.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese recalled that the schedule was impacted 12 times by bad weather last year. Six school days were canceled. Delayed openings and early dismissals on six others accounted for 18 hours of lost instruction time.

“Due to all the inclement weather, we exhausted all of our designated days on the calendar last year,” he said.

That meant going back in the spring and modifying the calendar. Delayed opening days were canceled, and the school year was extended by as many days as the staff could identify. One of those was Memorial Day.

Black wasn’t the only person to contact the Board of Education to complain about the decision, and so the matter was reopened. It prompted a lengthy discussion about scheduling challenges, and what some board members called inflexible state parameters.

According to a state law passed in 2012, the school year must start no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26, and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. Some exemptions are granted with waivers.

Board member Mia Burroughs suggested exploring different options to fit each year, in an effort to keep Memorial Day as a guaranteed school holiday.

“I do believe that we should try to change this away from Memorial Day,” she said.

But Board of Education Chair Jamezetta Bedford and other members said Memorial Day should remain a makeup day of last resort.

She said that less than 10 members of the public have complained about it.

Bedford also conceded that Memorial Day school openings are disrespectful to those who have served, and some who died, in the service of their country.

“But I am an Army brat,” said Bedford. “My four uncles all served. My dad served. My other two uncles served. My grandfather served and was gassed in World War I.

“So I wouldn’t intend to be disrespectful.”

She added that having classes on Memorial Day could actually present an opportunity to teach kids about sacrifices made for this country.

The matter was tabled until there’s more input from the public.

An agenda abstract for Thursday’s meeting includes a list of inclement weather options proposed by the CHCCS staff.

Asst. CHCCS Superintendent Explains Change in ‘Culture of Instruction’

An assistant superintendent for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools says the “culture of instruction” is improving for African-American and economically disadvantaged students this year.

“Children need to see and understand that when you have a challenge, that you work through it,” said Magda Parvey, assistant superintendent for Instructional Services for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. “That’s what smart people do. Things don’t necessarily come easy to you.”

As The News & Observer reported on Sept. 5, Parvey and Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella expressed dismay over disparities in results for end-of-grade and end-of course tests that had just been released.

The federal goal for 60.9 percent of white students in grades 3-through-8 to score a Level 4 or 5 in end-of-grade reading tests had been exceeded by 24.8 percent in CHCCS.

The bad news is that black students in the system did not achieve the federal 33 -percent goal for the same test. Only 31.7 percent scored a Level 4 or 5, and only 29 percent of economically disadvantaged students hit the mark.

Parvey responded by saying that the “culture of instruction” at Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools needed to change, to address the problem.

Speaking recently with WCHL, Parvey talked more about what that means for the 2014-15 school year. She said the school system will focus on planning.

“High-performing schools that have all students performing well, including students in subgroups – such as our special education students, our students of color – they plan,” said Parvey. “And not only do they plan, they plan using backward design.”

Backward design, she said, involves planning with the outcome as a starting point, and then working back from there.

“First, looking at what will students be able to do as a result of your instruction at the end, and planning backward from that,” said Parvey, “so that your tasks are aligned with the outcome.”

According to Parvey, CHCCS instructors are working to instill a growth mindset in students whose self-image may be holding them back.

She said that some kids get the mistaken impression early in life that tough subjects come easily to more advantaged students. As a result, they may give up, thinking they’re not smart enough.

Parvey said the message needs to get through, that if you exercise your brain, and work through difficult tasks, you will get smarter.

She said that while Common Core standards offer the kind of rigor that put young minds through those paces, the school system must also be ready to pre-teach some “foundational skills” to students who need extra help.

Parvey added that despite recent action by the Republican-led General Assembly to replace Common Core, she doesn’t envision a drastic change that will hinder such efforts.

“I would say that there may be some changes,” said Parvey. “But I believe that they’re going to be minor changes, simply because of all the efforts that have been put into implementing the Common Core.”

Parvey downplayed the recent loss of more than 20 teacher assistants in the district, as a result of cuts in the state budget.

She said that interventionists are still available to help struggling students. Literacy coaches are also there to help teachers close the achievement gap, she added.

“We value our teacher assistants, and the role that they play in classrooms, and helping teachers,” said Parvey. “But we also feel that there’s a lot that happens in the classrooms, through the classroom teacher as the instructional leader that helps to close that gap.”

Half of CHCCS teachers surveyed for a 2014 report said they lacked sufficient instructional time to meet the needs of all students.

Parvey said she agrees.

“That’s fair to say, that we need to provide teachers more time to plan,” said Parvey. “That’s something that I think that they’d be spot-on about.”

Save Money, Help Local Teachers

Help raise funds for teachers at Estes Hills Elementary School – and you can save some money for yourself as well.

It’s the “Earn to Learn” fundraiser, created by Estes Hills bookkeeper Michelle Hoover (a former WCHL employee). Twenty dollars buys a coupon book, with deals at a variety of local restaurants, stores and other establishments – and the proceeds go to fund professional development training for Estes Hills teachers.

Hoover joined Aaron Keck on “Aaron in the Afternoon” to discuss the fundraiser, along with Estes Hills teacher Alex Kaji and teaching assistant Savada Gilmore.

To purchase a coupon book, stop by Estes Hills Elementary School on weekdays from 7 am to 3 pm – or contact Hoover at 942-4753, extension 30222.

Orange, CHCCS Districts Ready for New School Year

The new school year begins Monday, and top administrators of Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County Schools say they’re excited about new initiatives.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Dr.Tom Forcella spoke to WCHL about a convocation with school staff that was held on Thursday.

“We spoke to all staff about our direction for this year,” he said. “People are very excited. We’re in the second year of our long-range plan. We have some new initiatives that I think will make a big difference in the school system.”

There are no new schools opening this year, and Forcella said that does make things a little easier.

Last year, Northside Elementary opened for the first time, as well as the Frank Porter Graham Dual Language Magnet School in the district.

“It was a little bit more that we had on our plate last year,” he said.

Forcella also reminds local drivers to be start being mindful again about kids waiting for buses in the morning, and getting dropped off in the afternoon.

“I just urge everyone to be careful and to really watch themselves as they’re traveling on the road,” he said.

Interim Deputy Superintendent of Orange County Schools Dr. Pam Jones sent this message to WCHL on Friday:

“There will be excitement and anticipation in the air on Monday morning as traditional classrooms reopen for over 7,500 Orange County students,” she wrote. “As always student safety will be of utmost concern. We ask each driver to honor our students and teachers as they embark on the new year by being particularly watchful when approaching a yellow bus and driving through school zones.”

Supply Store Benefits CHCCS Teachers

School’s almost back in session, and teachers are getting ready – which, in many cases, means paying out of pocket for essential school supplies.

Many teachers – here and nationwide – say they spend hundreds of dollars of their own money each year for supplies, without which their classes couldn’t run.

But this week, some teachers in the CHCCS district will get a bit of a break – thanks to the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club, which has operated a “Teacher Supply Store” every year since 2008. This year, 440 teachers will receive a $75 voucher to shop in the store – open for two days this Wednesday and Thursday – for supplies ranging from pens and pencils to facial tissues.

Daniel Corley of the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club spoke to WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the Tuesday afternoon news.

The Teacher Supply Store is open Wednesday from 2-6 pm and Thursday from 2-5 pm at the American Legion Hut in Chapel Hill. CHCCS superintendent Tom Forcella will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday at 2:00.

CHCCS Faces $900k Budget Gap And Loss of 22 TAs

With the new state spending plan in place, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are facing a nearly one million dollar budget gap.

The $911,000 shortfall means the school board will consider a plan to cut four and a half gifted education specialist positions at the elementary level and transfer some custodial staff to contract work.

Because of state budget cuts, the district could lose 22 teaching assistants. Legislators shifted the $800,000 that would have paid those assistants to fund classroom teaching positions in an effort to lower class size.

While school systems have some ability to shift that money back to TAs, Chapel Hill-Carrboro administrators say the state has put limitations on the exchange that don’t make it feasible for the district. School officials plan to reallocate teaching assistants in grades 4 and 5 and hire more teachers instead.

While the state budget provides more money for most teachers, veteran educators and other school employees are not likely to see much of pay raise. In response, CHCCS administrators are asking for $2.5 million to make sure all public school employees get at least a three percent raise.

This newest version of the local budget was released on Tuesday and no final decisions have yet been made.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board will meet at 7 o’clock at the Lincoln Center on Thursday to vote on the 2014-2015 budget proposal. You can read the full agenda here.

CHCCS Still Working On Budget

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board members gather Thursday night to vote on the upcoming year’s budget.

The district’s website projected posting the budget proposal late last week, but due to the delay by the North Carolina Legislature on its budget decisions, the district pushed the release date to Monday. However, the proposal, which has one hour of the nearly four-hour meeting set aside for it, wasn’t posted to the district’s website until Tuesday morning.

Many concerns swirled around the General Assembly’s budget as teaching assistants were in danger of losing their jobs. Last year, in response to state budget cuts, CHCCS hired new teaching assistants on one-year contracts that the district paid for using reserve funds. School officials said the district ran out of the reserve funds to cover the shortfall, and they waited to see what, if anything, the state would do to help pay for teaching assistants.

With the passage of the $21.1 billion state budget, teaching assistants should be safe. However, some teachers aren’t happy with the final numbers.

Though some called the new budget “historic” for putting $282 million towards education, some educators themselves have criticized the new teacher pay plan.

That’s because longevity pay, the bonus once awarded to teachers with more than ten years of experience is no longer guaranteed. Instead, the new plan caps teacher salaries at $50,000 for those with more than 25 years in the classroom and rolls longevity pay into the base salaries.

This has some long-term teachers estimating their raises at closer to 2-4 percent, while starting teachers will receive a seven-percent boost. Those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18-percent increase.

Local Teachers Lukewarm On New Pay Plan

With the start of the school year looming, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Human Resources department is racing to fill teaching positions. Local administrators had been forced to put some hiring decisions on hold over the summer while state lawmakers haggled over a new spending plan.

Though the recently approved budget agreement provides more certainty, Teacher Recruitment Coordinator Mary Gunderson says there’s still a sense of unease among educators.

“The big piece that I see that’s different than in years past is just this sense of worry about the future of teaching in North Carolina, worry over how competitive North Carolina will be with other states,” says Gunderson.

The district has hired more than 130 teachers in the past two weeks, and while that number is about average for the district, she says she’s seen more teachers declining job offers than before, and some of those who have already accepted job offers have changed their minds.

“We have had more than usual in terms of candidates declining offers, and I think that’s symptomatic of what’s happening at the state level with dissatisfaction with what’s happening with teaching salaries,” says Gunderson. “To date, I’ve had 23 candidates decline offers, and then, unfortunately, I’ve had another 12 candidates accept an offer and then a few weeks or even a few months later change their minds and take another offer.”

Gunderson says this makes it particularly hard to hire teachers in high-need areas like math, science and exceptional education.

“In some of the high needs area, as we move farther into the calendar, those pools have much smaller numbers of teaching candidates who are available for positions, so as we move later into the summer, fewer and fewer of those candidates are available and seeking positions.”

Gunderson says many of those seeking employment elsewhere are looking at other school systems, private schools, charter schools, or new professions altogether.

North Carolina’s low teacher pay has been a political hot button in recent weeks, as the exact percentage of proposed pay raises was one of the major sticking points between lawmakers trying to reconcile the House and Senate budget plans.

Ultimately, the General Assembly settled on a new pay scale for teachers that offers an average seven percent raise. However the actual amount varies widely depending on experience. New teachers will see a seven percent increase, and those with five years experience will see as much as 18 percent. But veteran teachers could see as little as one percent. Some say the plan to cap salaries at $50,000 and do away with longevity bonuses shows a lack of respect for those with decades of classroom experience.

“I just spoke with a candidate this morning who has 28 years experience and she says ‘You know, it’s just sad for someone in my position that my experience is not valued in the current state salary system,’ and that’s really a true statement,” says Gunderson. “When the pay scale raises are dramatically different -this year the range is huge, all the way from one percent to 18 percent- it really is hard to separate that from a sense of value when you’re one of the people who just gets the one percent raise.”

Some hiring decisions are still up in the air as the final local school budget has yet to be approved. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools board meets next week to hash out the details. Board members are expected to pass a budget on Thursday.