CHCCS Moves Towards Selecting A New Superintendent

The members of the CHCCS Board of Education will have their work cut out for them this weekend as they assess the 44 applications received for the open position of district superintendent.

The North Carolina School Board Association is currently assisting the district during the search. A representative from the organization addressed the board in their meeting Thursday night.

“It’s hard to tease out who is a great application writer, who is a great interview, who is a great leader, who is a great listener,” a representative from the organization told to the board. “I don’t envy your decision, but we’re here to help.”

The school board association has been conducting surveys and waited to collect data about what the district wants to see before the board sees the applicants.

The board will release the names and applications around 5:30 Friday evening.

One board member said the principals she has talked to are looking for a superintendent that will be a strong leader.

“They are asking and begging for strong leadership,” she said. “Because from that they get stand on what their beliefs are and impart that to either teachers or community and parents.”

The board has already received the results of the survey, which includes nearly 1600 responses from parents, teachers and students, as well as nearly 1300 comments.

Board members emphasized a desire for a candidate with experience, strong communication skills and a commitment to the community.

“I think we need someone who can make sure the ship continues to run while we have the equity focus,” said board member Joal Hall Broun.

The board will have closed session September 26 to discuss the 44 candidates. During that meeting they will attempt to narrow down to an unspecified number of candidates who will be interviewed.

A representative from the school board association said the organization would be there to assist in the process.

Board members have previously expressed a desire to have a new superintendent take over in January.

Until a new superintendent is chosen, Dr. Jim Causby will continue his role as interim superintendent.

44 Applications Submitted for CHCCS Superintendent

The window for applications to serve as the next superintendent of the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School district has closed with 44 applicants from 17 states hoping to fill the role.

CHCCS officials say the applications will now be processed by the North Carolina School Boards Association and released to the CHCCS Board of Education in mid-September.

The CHCCS board has taken public input on what to look for in a new superintendent through board meetings, a public forum and an e-mail survey. Community members can attend another public forum on Saturday at Northside Elementary School to add their voice to the discussion. The forum at Northside is scheduled to begin at 1:30 Saturday afternoon in the cafeteria.

School officials have said they hope to have a new superintendent in place in January.

Dr. Tom Forcella retired as superintendent earlier this summer and Dr. Jim Causby has been serving in that role on an interim basis.

Glenwood Elementary Principal Moving to New Position at CHCCS

Dr. Darlene Ryan has been named the new executive director for curriculum and instruction for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools.

Darlene Ryan. Photo via CHCCS.

Darlene Ryan. Photo via CHCCS.

Ryan has served as principal at Glenwood Elementary since 2010. Prior to her tenure at Glenwood, Ryan held a position at the district level and several teaching positions in CHCCS and Chatham County Schools.

“We are very pleased to have someone of Dr. Ryan’s experience and passion helping to lead the district’s instructional efforts,” said Interim Superintendent Jim Causby. “She knows the challenges we face, and has a proven track record of great results. She is highly skilled at leading teachers and administrators to creative and viable solutions.”

Ryan is replacing Dr. Steven Weber, who recently accepted a position out of state.

Christopher Liles will move from assistant principal at Glenwood to the interim principal until a permanent replacement is named.

Ryan earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from UNC. She will begin her new role on September 15.

CHCCS Remains Near Top; OCS Sees Growth in State School Grades

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools remained among the top school districts in the state and Orange County Schools improved on last year’s numbers in the latest school grades.

The school grades were released on Thursday by the state Board of Education and are based primarily on standardized tests. A smaller portion of the calculation is also based on student growth from one year to the next.

CHCCS met or exceeded growth in 83 percent of schools across the district. That number is up from 72 percent last year and is above the state average of 73.6 percent from last year.

CHCCS also excelled with 89 percent of schools receiving an A or B grade from the state, compared with 83.3 percent from the previous school year. Statewide, 32.2 percent of traditional public schools and 40 percent of charter schools received an A or B letter grade.

The statewide graduation rate reached an all-time high at 85.8 percent. The CHCCS graduation rate was 90.2 percent, down from 91 percent the previous year.

The overall number of grade level proficient students in Orange County Schools jumped from 59 percent in 2014-2015 to 62 percent. That is above the state average of 58 percent. OCS also moved up in the district rankings from 36 to 27.

Efland-Cheeks Global Elementary School outscored its grade from last year by 12 points, good enough to go from a D to C letter grade. That improvement means OCS has no “Low Performing Schools” as identified by the state.

Also, no OCS schools dropped a letter grade from last year.

You can see the full grades from the state here.

CHCCS interim superintendent Dr. Jim Causby released a statement on the district’s performance.

“We are very pleased to see that our students are learning and growing. This is a wonderful testament to the great work of our teachers, and the tremendous support of our parents and community. However, the data shows that we still have plenty of room for improvement. We will come back to work tomorrow, and the next day, striving to help every student reach maximum potential.”

OCS superintendent Dr. Todd Wirt issued the following statement.

“I am very proud of our students and staff for their hard work and dedication as well as their openness to change. While we are encouraged by the gains we have made, we are more focused than ever on improving academic achievement for all of our students and working toward closing of achievement gaps that have persisted for too long.”

CHCCS Addresses Bussing Issues

Unfortunately for many around the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School district, stories like the one this resident told the Board of Education Thursday night have been common this school year.

“My granddaughter attends Smith (Middle School),” he said. “She had a field trip yesterday. She didn’t get to school in time for it, but they did hold (the bus).”

Due to a number of circumstances, the district has had a problem getting students to school on time to start the year.

Over the summer CHCCS hired a consultant to help update its bus route software, which was 10 years out-of-date. The consultants ran the program to generate new bus routes.

“As soon as we saw the routes we knew there were issues,” said interim superintendent Jim Causby. “But school was up on us so we had to go with what we had.”

Causby said some of the routes were too long wouldn’t get to their intended destination on time.

Parents have complained that buses are coming late to pick up students and in some cases missing students entirely.

Assistant superintendent Todd LoFrese said there have been a number of communication problems with in the software the district uses.

“Today I saw a situation where a kid didn’t have a bus stop merely because the street name was ‘whatever it was’ Ln.,” LoFrese said. “Instead of having a period at the end, it had a comma. The transportation software couldn’t read the comma so a stop was never created.”

Elementary school buses have been arriving on time, but middle school buses have been arriving late, causing the high school buses to come even later.

LoFrese said once the problem with the middle school buses has been fixed, the high school buses should arrive on time as well.

“That’s our priority, get kids to school on time,” he said. “After that we’re going to go back into all the routes and we’re going to look for whatever we can do for efficiency.”

The district has already implemented route changes for Friday and next Tuesday when kids return from a long weekend.

“We’ve apologized to everyone we can,” Causby said. “None of this was intended, but it was a circumstance where a number of different issues just came together.”

CHCCS Holds Community Forum For Superintendent Search

When it comes to the qualifications for the next CHCCS superintendent, members of the public have expressed interested in a person who is a good communicator and is committed to closing the achievement gap.

“That’s just a key issue, in regards to the achievement gap,” said one resident. “For all students to have a fair shot and a quality education no matter where they start.”

The Board of Education held a forum Tuesday night to receive public input on the upcoming search for a new superintendent.

Jim Causby has taken over as interim superintendent after the retirement of Tom Forcella.

The forum lasted nearly an hour and members of public brought up issues such as globalization and special needs education, but the most common topic was how to close the achievement gap.

“We have to have a leader who is willing to go out and engage the community,” said another resident. “Even hearing things that may not always be comfortable and may be downright hard to listen to.”

The forum was just one step in a process to learn more about what the public wants to see in the next superintendent.

Board chairman James Barrett said the school district has hired a firm to help with the search. The firm will be collecting all of the input the board receives and will present it to them in their meeting September 15.

“We’re going to take all of the input about what you all have said that you want to see in a superintendent and we’re going to create a profile,” Barrett said.

The board has yet to see any of the applications, which were being accepted until Thursday evening.

“We will put together a profile that says ‘this is the ideal person we’re looking for,'” Barrett said. “It may look like Wonder Woman, I don’t know. At the end of that meeting on the 15th, the organization will release to us all of the applications”

For members of the public who would like to give their input, public comment is accepted at every school board meeting. There is also an online survey that has been sent out, which will be open until September 7.

CHCCS Responds to Parent Concerns Over Bus Issues

The first few days of the new academic year have not been without stumbles for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools.

Power went out at Estes Hills Elementary on Monday, forcing the school to send students home at 11 o’clock the morning of the first day of school. The power outage was not the fault of the school district but was an issue with Duke Energy.

Parents were also sharing concerns on social media over buses not picking up their children on time, or at all in some cases.

The continued concern over buses on Tuesday drew a response from the CHCCS interim superintendent Dr. Jim Causby. Causby sent an e-mail and voicemail to parents with students in the district apologizing for the busing problem that “greatly exceeds years past.”

The CHCCS transportation website says there were “significant changes this year in an effort to make student transportation safer, more reliable, and provide a higher level of service.” But these changes resulted in many of the bus runs, stop locations and stop times to be altered from previous years.

As the bus issues began to pile up on Monday, parents also grew angry over the lack of communication from the district.

Causby said in his Tuesday correspondence that “the heavy volume of parent questions and concerns being called into our Transportation Office quickly filled up all voicemail boxes and resulted in frustration on the part of both parents and Transportation staff.”

Causby said that the district has now asked the technology team to increase the number of incoming phone lines. The district is also working to bring additional staff from Lincoln Center administrative offices to assist in manning the phones, according to Causby.

Causby said he would be sending another update within the next 24 hours.

Read the full e-mail from Causby below:

Dear CHCCS Families,
Another exciting school year opened yesterday. I have been out visiting schools and principals, and from all indications our students and teachers are off to a great start. However, I feel a need to update you on a few areas that did not go as planned.
First, we woke up on Monday to learn that Estes Hills Elementary had no power. I understand this school had electrical issues last year. Fortunately, yesterday’s power outage was not the fault of our school infrastructure. It was entirely on the shoulders of Duke Energy. We worked with them throughout the day and they got it fixed later in the afternoon. However, we did make the decision to send home the students at 11 a.m., primarily due to the lack of air conditioning. I am pleased to report that today has been a great day at Estes Hills. Classrooms are cool and students are learning.
The second big issue, and it is one that impacted almost as many people, is our transportation errors. While there are always problems on the first few days of school, the number of problems we have experienced this year greatly exceeds years past. There are a variety of reasons for this, but they all came together to create a perfect storm this year. Additionally, the heavy volume of parent questions and concerns being called into our Transportation Office quickly filled up all voicemail boxes and resulted in frustration on the part of both parents and Transportation staff.
To that end, we have asked our technology team to restructure the phone system to increase the number of incoming lines, and we are bringing in staff from Lincoln Center and schools to assist with manning these phones in an effort to increase our capacity to provide live assistance as needed. Now, of course, our Transportation leaders are working to resolve the bus route issues, and that is the bottom line goal. But in the meantime, we want you to know that we are working to get every route straightened out and to provide a greater level of customer service in the meantime.
Thank you for your continued understanding and support. I will call you again within the next 24 hours with another update. I hope you enjoy the remainder of your day.
Jim Causby
Interim Superintendent

CHCCS Board of Education Continues Search for Superintendent with a Public Forum

The search for a new superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education continues tonight at a meeting held at Chapel Hill High School at 7 p.m.

This process has been in the works for the past few months following previous Superintendent Tom Forcella’s retirement announcement in May.

The board and the community have discussed many requirements they would like the next superintendent to agree with as they move forward with many potential changes in the school district, such as the Equality Draft Plan and racial inequality concerns voiced at the board’s meeting in June.

“I want [the superintendent] to be able to look into any of the racial disparities that we have so far within our system,” said Joyce Powell, mother of both a graduate and current student in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. “I know the board has worked hard on putting forward some other implementations to help, but I think we can do a little bit better…every child matters, and to me, this is what this is all about.”

The board has since discussed the concerns and plan to set expectations regarding this matter for the new superintendent.  Other concerns that may or may not have been brought up at previous meetings are welcomed at tonight’s meeting.

The Board encourages public comment from all community members in hopes it will lead the board to a well thought-out candidate that is approved by everyone involved.

All parents and community members are also asked to complete a survey online for the board to present at the next North Carolina Board Association meeting on September 15.

Staff of CHCCS will be asked to complete a separate survey for the local board to present to the state.

The meeting held tonight will only be discussing the matter of finding a new superintendent; all other matters will be discussed at their next meeting held on Thursday, September 1.

Click the link to fill-out the survey.

CHCCS Eliminates 23 Positions In The School District

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has eliminated 23 full-time positions as a part of its 2016-2017 fiscal budget.

The cuts were made in response to the Orange County Board of Commissioners not granting the full request from the Board of Education to increase county funding for schools.

“The board made the tough decision in April, not knowing what our local budget would be, to change our supplement schedule and that has had a tremendous, tremendous effect on our ability to get staff in place for the start of the school year,” said assistant superintendent Todd LoFrese.

In order to remain competitive in the job market, the Board of Education chose to raise the supplemental income of teachers in the district.

The board made this increase official before county commissioners approved the fiscal budget, meaning that no matter what the commissioners chose to do, CHCCS would have to pay the increase.

Between this and mandatory raises from the state, the district needed $4.2 million to balance the budget.

The county commissioners gave an additional $2.7 million, leaving the district $1.5 million short.

“We’ve had to make reductions of more than $10 million over the past several years,” LoFrese said. “That left us with few options besides positions.”

Of the 23 full-time positions eliminated, 11 are elementary level media assistants, two are middle school gifted specialists, four are middle school physical education teachers, three are high school clerical positions, two are central office administrative positions and one is a central office staff member.

“We’ve done the best we can but utilizing parks, utilizing libraries, healthy living, that all comes from and is helped by the schools,” said board member Margaret Samuels. “Cutting that just seems counter-intuitive to what, as a Chapel Hill resident and an Orange County resident, we want to see in the people that live here.”

The PE teachers will keep their job for the upcoming school year, but unless there are changes to the 2017-2018 budget, will be let go when the year is over.

The district will also reduce utilities and school supply spending to help make up the $1.5 million deficit.

“Unfortunately we have to make a hard decision here,” said board member Pat Heinrich. “We definitely have a lot of trust that we have to regain with our employees about the decision that we’re making here today.”

Tom Forcella Attends His Final Meeting As Superintendent

Last week Tom Forcella participated in his last Board of Education meeting as Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools superintendent.

Chairman James Barrett and the rest of the board thanked Forcella for his five years of service in the district.

“I know that (Forcella) didn’t want a big public to-do,” Barrett said. “But we wanted to take a moment to say thank you for all that you’ve done.”

Forcella has been a part of the district since 2011 and has overseen major projects such as the creation of Project Advance and the bond referendum scheduled for November.

“I want to thank the board members for giving me the flexibility to do what we needed to do,” Forcella said. “I’ve had a great administrative team and a great group of principals on board.”

As a parting gift, current and former board members chipped in to give Forcella a picture of landscape in Chapel Hill to help him remember his time in the area.

“The board members, we don’t work with (Focella) every day, but (his) style and what (he) does for our kids impacts us a lot,” Barrett said.

He will officially retire at the end of the month.

Dr. Jim Causby will take over as interim superintendent while the district looks for a permanent replacement.