Orange County Leaders Discussing Education Issues Thursday Night

The Orange County Commissioners will be holding a joint meeting with both local school boards on Thursday night to discuss education issues in the county.

The agenda is slated to discuss the Family Success Alliance, provide an update on school impact fees and discuss other issues in local public education.

The FSA is in the midst of it second year working with community members in different zones around the county identifying gaps in the education pipeline and working to close those gaps.

The two programs developed in the early years of the FSA include a summer Kindergarten Readiness Program, which has been implemented in partnership with the local school districts. A Navigator Program has also been established to help FSA-enrolled families to support their children’s education.

The meeting will also provide an update on the recently updated school construction impact fees.

The agenda also includes the discussion of other school-related topics including free-and-reduced lunch, teacher hiring and demographic changes.

The joint meeting with the Orange County Commissioners and school boards is set for seven o’clock at the Whitted Meeting Facility in Hillsborough.

Why Do They Devalue our Teachers and Schools?

Originally Published on March 7, 2016

Before Betsy and I moved from Florida to Chapel Hill years ago, we studied several potential destinations.

Where would be the best place for us to raise our three daughters?

We wanted to live in a community that offered good public schools and access to the arts.

Chapel Hill seemed like the perfect fit and it was.  The enrolled in Seawell Elementary School, then on to Phillips Middle, then Chapel Hill High School.  All excellent schools where their teachers were wonderfully engaged, caring and inspiring.

Back in the 70s, people in public office tended to support excellence in public education.  That’s changed, of course.  As Republicans have worked hard to undermine public education in every way they can.  Both here in Chapel Hill and across the nation.

When our nation was just getting started, John Adams insisted that people take responsibility for he called the education of a whole people and be willing to pay for it.

When people came to America from other countries for a better life, we all valued public education as a great way to educate them into productive citizens and create unity out of diversity.

These are worthy goals at any time.  Don’t, they still apply today?  Why are other nations educating their people better than we are?

Why are our elected officials bent on widening that gap?  Why are they working so hard to create alternatives for the privileged while destroying the opportunities for the rest of us?

Why do they devalue our best teachers?

Why are the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools, once the standard-bearer for public education in an enlightened state, now having to choose what to cut from their budget?

We know who got us into the mess.  Their priorities are wrong.  Their systematic obstruction of public education weakens an entire nation.

The misguided campaign has come home now to the once excellent schools of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

So, what are we going to do about it?

— Raleigh Mann


Have a comment or opinion you would like to share? Submit your commentary or column for the Commentators, on WCHL 97.9FM and

Vote For Folks Who Really Support Education and Educators

I don’t know about you, but I think education is one of the most important things a community can provide to its people.  I’ve got children who are in school here, and I’m betting you do too, or know neighbors who do.  And I’ve worked in schools most of my life and I’ve seen how hard teachers work and how committed they are to doing the best for our kids every day.

Which is why I have to scratch my head when I hear about how education is being talked about in this year’s elections.  Our governor is touting how the average teacher salary is above fifty-thousand dollars, which may be true depending how you move the numbers around, but the fact is that two-thirds of our state’s teachers make less than that, many of them WAY less than that.  There are so many of our good, experienced teachers who are either leaving the state for better paying jobs in other states OR taking on second jobs to keep their own families afloat.

The governor is also saying that our state has the fastest growing teacher salaries in the nation, but this has already been fact-checked and found to be not true.  Did the governor and the General Assembly do some creative budgeting to spend as little as possible but still be able to make these claims when election time rolled around again?  If you take into account that our state is still WAY below average in teacher salaries and per pupil spending, I think the answer is yes.

Our schools used to attract good businesses to our state, which attracted good employees, which added to our tax base.  Now they are having second thoughts because of the head-scratching education priorities of our governor and our legislature.  I don’t know about you, but I know I’LL think twice this year, and make sure I’m voting for folks who REALLY support education and educators.  Hope you do, too.

— Brian Thornburg


Have a comment or opinion you would like to share? Submit your commentary or column for the Commentators, on WCHL 97.9FM and

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education Approve Interim Assistant Superintendent

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has named an interim assistant superintendent of instructional services for the 2016-17 school year.

Dr. Rydell Harrison was approved at a meeting by the Board of Education on Wednesday to be the assistant superintendent.

The replacement was in response to Dr. Magda Parvey accepting a new position with the City School District of New Rochelle in New York.

CHCCS Board chair James Barrett said in a release that Dr. Harrison is the best person for the job.

“He is a skilled leader with proven results in the area of instruction, has great relationships with the principals and teachers, and brings a clear understanding of the challenges we will face in the coming year,” said Barrett.

Harrison is a graduate from Rutgers with a Master’s Degree from Duke and UNC-Greensboro as well as a Doctorate from UNC-Greensboro. Harrison started his education career as a music teacher in New Jersey.

He has 19 years of education experience, including serving as principal at both elementary and middle schools for Guilford County Schools. He also was the principal of Philips Middle School.

He currently serves as the Executive Director of Professional Development and Project ADVANCE.

In June, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools named Dr. Jim Causby to be their interim superintendent.

At CHCCS, Celebrating Local Volunteers

UNC-Chapel Hill has a well-earned reputation for public service, with thousands of students volunteering in our community every year – and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district is recognizing them during National Volunteer Week.

National Volunteer Week runs from April 10-16. CHCCS volunteer coordinator George Ann McCay says she actively recruits UNC students to help out in the schools every year – and the students respond, working with students all the way from kindergarten to graduation.

McCay brought two volunteers onto WCHL this week to discuss their experiences with Aaron Keck: Mary Whatley, who works with ESL students at Carrboro High School, and Hayden Vick, who works with first and third graders at Estes Hills Elementary.


If you’d like to volunteer in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, visit the district’s volunteer page or stop by the volunteer office above the PTA Thrift Shop on Main Street in Carrboro.

Democratic Candidates Bring Their Messages To Triangle Ahead of Primary

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders each gave speeches highlighting their differences on issues such as education and healthcare.

Clinton delivered her stump speech at Hillside High School in Durham on Thursday, saying she supports the Affordable Care Act and will try to extend coverage and lower cost as president.

“I also believe we should not start over. We should not in any way throw our country into a contentious debate about healthcare again,” said Clinton.

Sanders supports extending Medicare coverage and instituting a single-payer healthcare system. Sanders was a member of the Senate committee responsible for writing the Affordable Care Act and says it was a step in the right direction.

Sanders addressed a crowd at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh Friday afternoon.

“Now somehow or another every other major country on earth guarantees healthcare to all its people,” said Sanders.

Clinton said when she was working on education reform in Arkansas, she looked to North Carolina as a model for public schools. Clinton targeted the current Republican state government for their handling of public education.

“So what was in many ways an incredible success story that people looked at and wanted to emulate, we watched your Republican governor and legislature slowing eroding the base for public education in this state,” said Clinton.

Clinton said she wanted to raise teacher salaries and create a more professional teaching force. Sanders also spoke about education but focused on college tuition.

“Today’s economy requires more education. That is why I believe that we must, when we talk about public education in America, we must make public colleges and universities tuition free,” said Sanders.

Both candidates took stabs at each other as well. Clinton called out Sanders for supporting legislation in 2005 that protects gun manufacturers from liability when their guns are used in crimes.

“A law was passed a few years ago immunizing the gun companies and sellers from liability. I voted against it, my opponent voted for it,” said Clinton.

Sanders has made campaign finance reform one of the central issues of his campaign, highlighting that he does not have a Super Pac. He targeted Clinton for accepting donations from major corporations.

“You don’t have to be a PhD in political science to know that you cannot be an agent for real change in this country when you take huge amounts of money from the most power special interest,” said Sanders.

Sanders spoke against free trades agreements such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as advocating for limited foreign military interventions.

Clinton also spoke about issues like voting rights and climate change.

Both Sanders and Clinton advocated for job creation through infrastructure investment and equal pay for women.

In a recent WRAL poll, 57% of North Carolinians support Clinton versus 34% for Sanders. Support for Sanders is stronger among 18-34 year olds but Clinton has strong support among older voters. African Americans support Clinton almost 3 to 1 but Sanders does better than Clinton with Hispanic voters.

The North Carolina primary is March 15.

Volunteer This Year At CHCCS

Looking to volunteer your time for a good cause? Try Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

That’s the message CHCCS officials are sending out as the new semester gets under way. They’re hosting spring registration throughout January for UNC students who want to volunteer, with a booth set up at the student union from 10:00-3:30 on Thursday the 14th, Wednesday the 20th, Thursday the 21st, and Monday the 25th. CHCCS volunteers and partners coordinator Julie Hennis says the district does a recruitment drive at UNC twice a year – and typically pull in hundreds of volunteers.

Julie Hennis and CHCCS school reading partner specialist Christine Cotton joined Aaron Keck this week on WCHL.


Hennis says there’s a wide variety of volunteer opportunities in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools; volunteers give as little as an hour a week of their time, and district officials can tailor the experience to their needs and interests.

The recruitment drive on campus is geared to UNC students, but there are volunteer opportunities for everyone. (The district’s Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program is one of the best known, but there are many other ways to volunteer.)

For more information, contact the CHCCS volunteer office: visit this page for contact info, or stop by the office in the PTA Thrift Shop building in Carrboro.

Orange County Schools Board Chair Resigns

The chair of the Orange County School Board is resigning, less than a year after joining the board.

Dr. Debbie Piscitelli announced her resignation at a school board meeting this week. It’s effective immediately: board vice chair Brenda Stephens will take over as interim board chair, and the full board will select a new chair at its next meeting in December.

Piscitelli was first elected to the board in 2006 and served two terms. She decided not to run for re-election in 2014, but returned this March when board members appointed her to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Rosa Williams.

Piscitelli’s resignation leaves two vacancies on the seven-member board: Lawrence Sanders also resigned from his position less than a month ago. The district is already accepting applications to fill Sanders’ seat; the deadline to apply is December 2.

Back To School, OCRCC Keeps Kids Safe

Students and teachers aren’t the only ones heading back to school.

Volunteers from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center are also heading into local classrooms with their annual safety education programs, teaching kids to say no to bullying and unwanted touching from peers and adults alike.

The OCRCC has two education programs, “Safe Touch” and “Start Strong.” Designed for elementary schools, “Safe Touch” works to prevent child sexual abuse by teaching kids the difference between safe and unsafe touching and encouraging kids to “say no, get away, tell someone” if they experience unwanted touching or abuse. “Start Strong” is an anti-bullying program for middle and high schools – also designed to teach students the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

And the OCRCC also has a training program for adults: called “Stewards for Children,” the program sends volunteers to organizations that work with kids, to teach their staff to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse and take the proper steps when they see something. The national nonprofit Darkness to Light has recognized the OCRCC as a “Partner in Prevention” for this program.

OCRCC Community Education Director Rachel Valentine spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck this week.


For more information about the OCRCC and its in-school programs, visit

Storytelling Linked to Early Reading in African-American Children

New research from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute suggests oral storytelling skills might be particularly important for early reading in African-American children.

Researchers know that a preschooler’s ability to tell a story can predict their reading skills later in life. But Frank Porter Graham researcher Nicole Gardner-Neblett wanted to take that connection a step further.

“This link hasn’t been investigated by race and ethnicity and socioeconomic status in the past, and so we wanted to take a look and see, are there differences?” Gardner-Neblett said.

Gardner-Neblett and her co-author studied data from a national survey of more than 6,000 students. They compared the students’ oral narrative skills in preschool to their literacy in kindergarten. For most students, those early storytelling skills were not a predictor of kindergarten literacy. Except for one group.

“Only for African-American children did preschool oral narrative skills play a role in early language and in their later reading outcomes,” Gardner-Neblett said.

Gardner-Neblett says it’s hard to say why the link was present in African-American children but not in other groups. But it may have something to do with African-American culture.

“We can hypothesize that it has something to do with the historical importance of storytelling among African-American communities,” Gardner-Neblett explained. “But there’s not enough research to make a firm conclusion.”

While Gardner-Neblett says the link she found is significant, she’s not ready to use the study to give advice to educators.

“At this point the research is saying that there’s something different in terms of how oral narratives may be operating for African-American children. Or it may [work the same way in other groups] but just at an earlier stage [for African-American children],” Gardner-Neblett said. “But I think we need more research in order to give recommendations to teachers or parents as to what they should do.”

Next, Gardner-Neblett says she wants to look at literacy in students beyond the kindergarten level to see whether early storytelling skills have a long-term impact.