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.

Can Achievement Gap be Closed with SRO Funding?

For decades, area schools have been battling an achievement gap problem.

At Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board meeting, some said the 2015-16 budget should put more money into narrowing achievement gaps between groups of students – for example between white and black students.

Greg McElveen, chair of the NAACP Education Committee, spoke during public comment periods to suggest ways the district could reallocate funds to help students who lag in academic performance. He said the board should look at how the district funds school resource officers (SROs).

“We believe that given these tight times . . . perhaps we don’t need SROs in middle school,” said McElveen.

He said violence is rare in area middle schools, and rather than increasing payments for SRO services by $100,000 as proposed, the district could find other ways to ensure the safety of students.

School officials will look at data on how SROs are used in middle schools and whether SROs need to be in school buildings all day.

Board member Michelle Brownstein expressed concern about removing SROs from schools.

“We have set up what we’re doing now, in terms of crisis management, with them being there,” said Brownstein. “So if they’re not there, we have to make sure our principals, our admin and our teachers have what they need” to keep students safe.

According to Board Chair Mike Kelley, only half of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro schools have SROs.

School officials said the district is using strategies from Max Thompson, project director of Learning-Focused, to help increase student achievement.

Along with other specific requests, McElveen said the board should study initiatives that have been effective at supporting under-served students, such as supplemental math instruction. Then the district should implement those effective programs widely.

You can view the superintendent’s recommended budget here.

Upcoming budget calendar dates from CHCCS:

April 16    – Budget discussion and approval of budget to be submitted to the county
April 20    – Submit Board’s budget request to the county
April 28    – Joint meeting of school boards for budget presentations to the county

CHCCS Under Criticism Following Delayed Announcement

Many parents with elementary and middle school aged children in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools were upset Tuesday morning with the decision to, initially, go forward with classes. Officials then announced parents could pick up students early, but that buses would not be running until roads were safe.

WCHL’s Blake Hodge caught up with Jeff Nash from the Office of Community Relations:


UPDATE: Nash says all students were picked up from school, with the last few students being taken home by district transportation around 3 o’clock.

CHCCS Nominated for Green Ribbon

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School System has been nominated for a national award for the “green” programs they have implemented.

Two school districts in the state have been nominated for the Green Ribbon; the other being Cherokee County Schools.

Dan Schnitzer is the Sustainability Coordinator for Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools, and he says this is a relatively new program, being introduced in 2011.

Hear the full interview here:

“The U.S. Department of Education, a few years back, started Green Ribbon Schools program,” he says. “The Green Ribbon Schools program is specifically for schools working in the fields of sustainability and environmental education.”

Schnitzer says he believes the school system can serve as a model as more schools begin embracing ways to save energy and money. He adds one way the system has shown its commitment to environmentally-friendly programs is that his job exists in the first place.

Schnitzer says he is excited about the new projects being implemented, including composting leftover food.

“One of our big successes this year was we rolled out cafeteria composting in all of our elementary and middle schools,” he says. “It’s 14 schools. Every day we’ve got about 8,000 students who are composting their lunch. And the kitchen staff is composting their food scraps from back of the house.”

He adds, through December, those schools have composted about 113,000 pounds of food, keeping it out of landfills.

Schnitzer says this not only an environmentally-friendly solution, but it also affords an opportunity to teach the students in a real-world situation. He says one of the best parts of his job is working directly with the students so that the message gets passed along and doesn’t stop with measures taken to save the district money. Although, Schnitzer adds saving money on these areas allows more of those funds to be allocated back to the classrooms.

Schnitzer says momentum is building for more positions like his to be incorporated in school systems around the state.

“Granville County has a Recycling Coordinator. Durham [Public Schools] has recently hired a Sustainability Coordinator,” he says. “So, it’s growing. And, I think, part of that is because of the leadership of districts, like Chapel Hill – Carrboro, that take the risk on it.”

He adds that it is now just a waiting game to find out if the school system will be awarded the Green Ribbon.

“With Green Ribbon, the application has been sent on to the Department of Education,” he says. “We will hear back in April. They make a live announcement as to what schools and districts nationwide are awarded.”

If CHCCS receives the Green Ribbon, they will be invited to Washington D.C. for a July ceremony.

700,000 Minutes Of Reading? That’s The Goal At Northside Read-A-Thon

Northside Elementary School is holding its second annual Read-a-Thon.

This year’s theme is “Reading is Magical.” The Read-a-Thon is a weeklong event – it began with a kickoff event last Thursday – with two goals: to encourage kids to read and to raise money for the Northside PTA. (In keeping with the theme, school officials transformed the library into King’s Cross Station from the Harry Potter books – complete with handmade magic wands.)

Principal Cheryl Carnahan has challenged the students to read a combined total of 700,000 minutes. Each individual student has a goal of 1,000 minutes – that’s about an hour and a half of reading per day for the 10-day Read-a-Thon.

Carnahan and PTA member Claudia Fernandez spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck last week.


If the school meets the combined goal, Principal Carnahan will also perform a challenge suggested by the students. (Suggestions so far include swinging from the rafters and kissing a snake or a pig.)

CHCCS Board to Review Discipline And Suspension Rates On Thursday

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board will discuss student discipline and its disproportionate impact on minorities when the board meets on Thursday.

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.

Some of the most common infractions include aggression, defiance, disruption and disrespect. Officials note that the largest disparities between white students and black students are in infractions that are the hardest to define.

School board members will review the past two years of data on suspensions to see how the implementation of a positive behavior intervention program is changing the way discipline is defined and administered.

The school board meets at 7 o’clock at Chapel Hill Town Hall. You can read the full agenda here.

15 Apply For Vacant CHCCS Board Seat

Fifteen applicants have put their names forward to fill the vacant seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.

School board member Mia Burroughs is making the move to the Orange County Board of Commissioners after easily winning the race to represent District 1. The school board will appoint a replacement on December 4 to serve until the 2015 election.

Among the fifteen applicants, two have sought public office in the past.

Ignacio Tzoumas ran for a seat on the school board last year, finishing fourth with 14 percent of the votes cast.

Theresa Watson ran for a seat on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in the special election held last May. She came in second with 27 percent of the vote.

All applicants will answer board questions at an interview session Monday night scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Center on South Merritt Mill Road. The session is open to the public.

Here’s the full list of applicants the board will interview:
Anne DiBella
Desiree Cho
Gary Winzelberg
Greg Dye
Ignacio Tzoumas
Jennifer Clark
Jennifer Marsh
Joanna Cleveland
Katherine Worley
Kulwadee Yung
Mary Ann Wolf
Mary Litsilas
Rani Dais
Theresa Watson
David Saussy

CHCCS Seniors Succeed On SATs

SAT scores are in for 2014, and students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools scored well above the state and national average.

According to numbers from the College Board, the average Chapel Hill-Carrboro senior scored a combined 1183 on math and critical reading; the national average was 1010 and the statewide average was 1006. Including the essay portion, the average Chapel Hill-Carrboro senior scored a 1753; the national and state averages were both just below 1500.

And at Carrboro High School, the average score in 2014 was 53 points higher than the 2013 average.

79 percent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro seniors took the SAT – 710 students in all.