Sprinting Through Education To What End?

Your children are sprinting through primary and secondary education to get the right answer, but do they know why, and is the system that’s in place pointing them in the right direction?

“When I asked them, ‘do any of you truly care about what you’re learning?’ every head around the table went down,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella says he meets with students in the system on a monthly basis and recently asked them what motivates them to go to school on a daily basis. The answers were always: ‘to get good grades so I can go to college and get a job’. “One girl picked up her head and said, ‘but we wish we did.”

East Chapel Hill High School counselor Kristin Hiemstra says students have learned which path will get them the best grades, but that’s not necessarily making them think about the solution.

“They’re just not necessarily prepared to be able to say, ‘wow, now I’m in charge, and I’m ready to take the reins,’” Hiemstra says. “It’s kind of like, ‘well now what do I need to do; how do I get an A now?’ And it’s like, ‘well you can’t get an A that way.’”

Taking Advanced Placement (AP) and college courses in high school sends the students into college with credits already earned.

UNC Parr Center for Ethics Director and Faculty Chair Jan Boxill says the model that tells the students to do so isn’t teaching them the tools that prepare them, especially for critical thinking.

“They think they should major in business, or they think in high school they need 30 hours to come into UNC,” Boxill says. “We have found, and I have found personally, anecdotally, that sometimes students who come in with too many hours really are not ready for college, surprisingly. And the one area that they’re the worst at is writing.”

Hiemstra says, at least at UNC, admissions standards are changing.

“We have seen and heard from Dr. Farmer, that they’re really doing—and we’ve seen it in our admissions—this really cool, kind of wholistic evaluation of a student that is not necessarily fully academic-based, which doesn’t mean you’re getting lesser students,” Hiemstra says. “It just means that they’re not looking at the intensity of, ‘did you have 12 APs? Wow, maybe you took eight, but you did all this other really cool stuff, and they seem to be really looking to bring in diversified students.”

Dr. Stephen Farmer is the director of undergraduate admissions at UNC.

Penny Gluck is the Executive Dean of Orange County Operations for Durham Technical Community College. She  says technology has greatly changed the landscape of education.

“I teach critical thinking every semester, and that’s one of the continual struggles the entire semester,” Gluck says. “‘Okay, you’ve read this, you’ve read this, but tell me what you think about that and what’s significant, what’s important—being able to take all sides.”

Boxill says the art of communicating has been lost. She says students are coming to her without basic writing and creative thinking skills.

“This is why I fear online education,” Boxill says. “You don’t have the interaction. Engaging, talking, having to critically think about things together, not individually always, but together. I think that’s what high schools can do best. Granted, there’s a whole lot of things that prevent that, because there’s so many things you have to teach; there’s only so many hours in the day.”

With the release of Common Core Standards, parents were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to help their children with their work because it’s not the way they were taught. Boxill says that may be to the students advantage if the parents work with them.

“You know how they help their kids?” Boxill asks. “Talking, actually reflecting. So it might have some accidental (affect). But I do think that that would be a plus for universities and colleges to have students who have gone through the Common Core as a process, not as a curriculum.”

Educators are in agreement that students strive to learn and that pushing them to learn can only do good.

Boxill says, in the end, the educators have to be trusted to do their very best with the students.

“I think we’ve lost a lot of respect for teachers, both college and high school, and respect for those who are training our future leaders,” Boxill says. “We’ve got to give people the respect to be able to do what they do best.”

***Listen to the College Education Forum Hour***

Click here for all of the 2014 Community Forum stories.


New And Young Leaders Learning To “Disagree Well”

CHAPEL HILL – Orange County has seen a great deal of recent political turnover, with a newer, younger generation of legislators and community leaders emerging to replace the old.

But how do those new leaders navigate the political realm? How do they make a difference, in institutions still dominated by older legislators and older ways?

“I walk in, first of all, as a student – a student of the game,” says newly appointed State House Representative Graig Meyer. “How am I going to play this game? What do I need to learn? Who do I need to align myself with? Who do I need to emulate? Who do I need to stay away from?”

First-term Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils agrees, adding that finding one’s place involves not only the need to learn how to play the game – but also the chance to elevate the discourse.

“One of the things that I found myself doing – while not intending, necessarily, to do it – was to come to the role with a kind of posture of wanting to demonstrate how to disagree well,” he says. “I think that, in itself, has value.”

Other young or first-term legislators agree that ‘being the new guy’ also offers a rare opportunity to shake things up.

“I think all of us who are new elected officials have one opportunity, which is to really see how things have been done and to ask questions about why,” says first-term County Commissioner Mark Dorosin. “Why do you do something like this? Why is it like this? And maybe that’s the right way to do it, but you have the opportunity to say, ‘Explain it to me – and in doing so, explain it to the constituents.’”

Fellow first-termer Renee Price agrees. “If I have to say something that’s going to ruffle somebody’s feathers, I’m sorry,” she says. “Well, no, I’m not sorry, really.”

And first-term Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer says she can also take advantage of her status as a demographic outsider as well.

“I’m an immigrant,” she says, “so sometimes I can say things that other people are too embarrassed or have been told all their lives you can’t say in polite company.”

Palmer, Price, Dorosin and Seils all occupy seats on elected boards that serve Orange County alone – so all four can say their own values adhere fairly closely to those of their fellow board members.

Not so Meyer, a Democrat in the Republican-dominated General Assembly. “I just drove back from Raleigh,” he says, “and I was in an education policy hearing…(and) most of the people in the General Assembly don’t know a darn thing about education. And I cannot believe they’re making some of the decisions that they’re making.”

Among other things, he says, those decisions include a continued reluctance to raise teacher pay – and, on Thursday, a task force recommendation to eliminate the Common Core standards.

Those moves and others have left him frustrated, Meyer says – and it can be no less frustrating for new and young officials seeking to make change in Chapel Hill.

“We’re a progressive community – (or) at least we like to think we are,” says Laura Morrison, the associate vice president for membership at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. “That’s an issue we often don’t talk about because it’s not fun and we don’t like to talk about it.”

But despite the frustration, Meyer says it’s possible to be hopeful for the future, simply by looking back to the recent past.

“On the days that I’m mad and angry – and today sitting in chambers was one of the worst days that I’ve had – I tend to think about Terry Sanford and Bill Friday,” he says. “Those gentlemen came out of World War II together…and they decided that they were going to fight racial segregation and build the prosperity of this state based on having a strong public education system.

“And there is no reason why today’s leaders shouldn’t be able to come together around the same goal of building our long-term prosperity on a well-educated populace and the ability to stand up against the continued existence of institutionalized racism and other forms of inequity.”

And it’s that hope that sustains local leaders – young and old and newcomer and veteran alike – as they continue to push for change.

“Change is hard,” says Dorosin. “It’s very frustrating. But, you know, every day you start to push the rock up the hill – and you hope that today, it gets all the way to the top.”

And in the end, Renee Price says, that activism pays off in its impact on people.

“There’s something very interesting that happens, I think every single time I’ve had a meeting (where) I’ve been frustrated,” she says. “The next day someone will call me up, or they’ll see me in the grocery store, and they’ll just say ‘thank you.’

“And you know…it makes it worth it.”

Dorosin, Morrison, Price, Meyer, Seils and Palmer made those comments in the “Tomorrow’s Newsmakers” panel of the 2014 WCHL Community Forum.


Costs Up, Partnerships Down, But “People Want To Live Here”

Affordability, taxes, housing, solid waste, economic development, and the future of Carolina North and Rogers Road: all longstanding hot-button issues in Orange County, and all requiring strong partnerships between the local municipalities as well as UNC.

Orange County leaders say the time is now to make those partnerships stronger.

“One of our major issues is to renew the strength and vitality of our partnerships with the municipalities,” says Barry Jacobs, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “I think we’ve lost touch to some degree.”

At the center of the conversation is the eternal question of affordability: how to manage the cost of living while preserving a desirable community, in a space with little room to grow.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt says that’s often an issue in college towns – and it’s certainly the case in Chapel Hill.

“University towns are very, very highly sought after,” she says. “I try every day to recruit faculty and staff and students…of course they’re concerned about price of living, (but) mostly we hear that people want to live here. So I think we are still on the positive side of this equation: this is a very high-choice place.”

But with that desirability comes a number of challenges – including, perhaps most notably, the cost of housing. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says those costs are worth it: “I sometimes look around (my house) and think, wow, for this price I could be in a much bigger place in Durham,” he says, “but I’d rather be in Chapel Hill.”

And while higher property values still mean Chapel Hillians are paying more dollars in taxes, Kleinschmidt notes that Chapel Hill’s property tax rate is actually lower than many of our neighboring communities.

Still, the cost of housing is a strain, one that makes it difficult – if not impossible – for many people to live in Chapel Hill. And not only Chapel Hill: Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens says the affordability question is affecting his community as well.

“We’re seeing rising costs (too),” he says. “It’s a little bit less expensive to live here, so we’re finding families move out (of Chapel Hill-Carrboro) and folks wanting to be in Hillsborough – (but) as prices go up, we’re finding a lot of our families are moving to Mebane.”

The housing crunch has driven local leaders to explore creative policies for developing more affordable housing in all of Orange County’s municipalities.

But as Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle points out, housing is not the only factor driving the cost of living.

“We’ve studied extensively the interplay between transportation costs and affordable housing,” she says. “A typical income earner spends anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their income on transportation – owning a car, taxes, insurance, and so forth.”

That, she says, gives local leaders a strong incentive to develop housing downtown – so residents don’t need vehicles to get to and from work. Kleinschmidt adds that he’s equally proud of Chapel Hill’s fare-free bus system, which also keeps the cost of living down.

Taxes too are a primary concern – and local leaders are quick to point out that they’ve managed to maintain services while avoiding tax increases, even through the long recession. (Lavelle says she expects Carrboro to maintain that streak this year too.) But Barry Jacobs says that, at the end of the day, it’s just as important to preserve the services that make Orange County a desirable place to live.

And the most important of those services, he says, is education.

“We’re proud of public education (and) we’re going to fund it to the best of our ability,” he says. “Going through the recession, and then having a state legislature that’s attacking public education, we have actually raised the per-pupil funding…and in the last 20 years we’ve built 14 schools in this county. And three of them were high schools. Those are expensive suckers…

“And that’s part of what makes this an attractive community. That’s what draws people here. It’s a double-edged sword, to use a cliché.”

But Jacobs adds that the need for education spending must be weighed against the concern for affordability – particularly the fact that many Orange County residents are seniors on fixed incomes.

And so the question returns to partnerships: town, county, and UNC officials working together to promote efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve the standard of living. Local leaders agree that’s already happening (if slowly) on the issue of Rogers Road remediation, and Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt says he’s confident it will also happen on the issue of solid waste: “I think we’re going to come together with a solution,” he says, “(and in) four, five, six years, we’re going to have a site for a transfer station that we’re all going to use.” (Kleinschmidt says there are several attractive candidates for that site in the northern part of Chapel Hill, including one off Millhouse Road.)

It’s also happening on the question of economic development, where UNC is actively partnering with the towns and county on projects ranging from the LAUNCH entrepreneurial incubator to the redevelopment of 123 West Franklin, the former University Square – though Chancellor Folt says little is happening right now when it comes to Carolina North. (“We’re really not having any active plans there right now,” she says. “It’s really not at the top of the list.”)

In the end, though, while local leaders seem to agree that municipal partnerships have been stronger, there’s also a shared commitment to strengthening them in the months and years to come.

“How we should go forward is together,” says Jacobs.

Folt, Jacobs, Kleinschmidt, Lavelle, and Stevens made those comments during the “Town and Gown” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum; they were joined on the panel by outgoing UNC student body president Christy Lambden.


Education Town Hall: Salary

Four North Carolina legislators will hear the financial concerns of educators and members of the community Monday night at Culbreth Middle School.

Senator Valerie Foushee, Representative Verla Insko, Representative Graig Meyer, and Representative Jon Hardister will be in attendance.

Assistant Professor of Law at UNC, Deborah Gerhardt, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA Council President, Jeff Hall, spoke with Ron Stutts on the WCHL Monday Morning News about the town hall meeting.

***Listen to the Interview***


Homeownership, Scholarship, Taxes And Snow Days

Are you thinking about buying a home? Wondering how you can afford it?

Chatham Habitat for Humanity and EmPOWERment are co-hosting a two-part Home Buyer’s Education Workshop in Pittsboro, on Thursday, March 6 and Thursday, March 13 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. You’ll learn tips for shopping for homes and mortgages, how to financially prepare, and how to maintain your home after you’ve bought it.

The workshop takes place at 467 West Street in Pittsboro. It’s free and open to the public; dinner, door prizes and child care will be provided. To RSVP, contact Amanda Stancil at EmPOWERment by calling 967-8779, or Anna Schmalz Rodriguez at Chatham Habitat by calling 542-0794.


Congratulations to Casey Rimland, a medical and doctoral student in the UNC School of Medicine who was recently named as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

Created with a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship provides students with a three-year full scholarship to study at Cambridge University in England. Between 80 and 100 Gates Scholarships are awarded annually; Rimland is the second honoree from UNC.

Casey Rimland is originally from Charlotte and graduated from UNC-Charlotte in 2011. She’s also a thyroid cancer survivor, having been diagnosed in her first year of medical school.


To compensate for all the snow days, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board has updated the district’s class schedule for the rest of the school year.

There were three remaining days on the district’s calendar that were set aside as delayed-opening days, but all three have now been changed to regular school days. Those three days are March 13, April 10 and May 8 – all originally delayed opening, but now functioning as regular, full school days. Students should report to school at the regular time.


Congratulations to the AVID students from Smith Middle School, winners of this year’s sixth annual Black History Knowledge Bowl!

The event is sponsored every year by the Mu Omicron Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. It’s a competition between students at Culbreth, McDougle and Smith Middle Schools who participate in the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination). This year’s Knowledge Bowl took place at Culbreth Middle School on February 22; Smith took first and Culbreth took second.


Results are in for the Town of Chapel Hill’s Community Survey, and the numbers indicate that—for the most part—residents are extremely happy with the town’s services.

More than 90 percent of residents who responded say they’re satisfied with the town’s fire department, library, and trash collection services; more than 80 percent say they’re satisfied with Chapel Hill’s park maintenance and police department. Those numbers are “well above regional and national benchmarks,” according to a release from the Town.

On the down side, residents said they were most concerned with traffic congestion and “how well the Town is preparing for the future,” and also said the Town could do a better job providing affordable housing and “access to quality shopping.”

You can check out the full results at TownOfChapelHill.org/survey.


It’s tax season—and if you need tax forms, the Orange County Public Library is offering select forms for free. Those forms include the 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, Schedule A, Schedule B and Schedule SE.

In addition, the Orange County Department on Aging is offering its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program—VITA for short—which provides free income tax preparation for qualifying individuals with low- to middle-incomes, regardless of age or county of residence.

For more information or to find out if you qualify, visit OrangeCountyNC.gov/aging/VITA.asp.


UNC has received a grant of more than $40 million from the National Institutes of Health, to fund a global clinical trials unit working to treat and prevent the spread of HIV.

The grant will fund five clinical research sites through the year 2021. Three of those sites are located in North Carolina; the other two are located in Africa, in Malawi and Zambia.

UNC received $430 million in external funding for HIV research between 2008 and 2012. The university is ranked as one of the top 10 programs in America for HIV/AIDS research.



WCHL To Host Teacher Pay Forum Friday

Teachers in North Carolina schools are among the lowest-paid in the nation, and state and local officials say that’s having a crippling effect on the quality of education in the state.

Governor Pat McCrory recently unveiled a plan to increase teacher pay, but school leaders say it’s not enough – and this week, State Representative Graig Meyer told WCHL that morale among teachers is lower now than he’s ever seen it in his career in public education.

Friday on the Afternoon News, WCHL will host a special forum on the teacher-salary issue. Aaron Keck will be joined by Arasi Adkins, the executive director of human resources at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools; Mary Gunderson, the district’s coordinator of teacher recruitment and support; and Christoph Stutts, a teacher at Carrboro High.

The forum will begin at 4:06 p.m. Tweet us your questions and comments @WCHL and we’ll address them in the discussion.


We Can Afford More Math Textbooks

As an engineer, I have had a lot of math education in my life, everything from multiplication tables to systems of partial differential equations.  I was quite successful in these classes due in part to the good fortune of innate ability, but also, I firmly believe, because for every class I had a textbook of my own filled with helpful explanations and examples.

I frequently tutor my children and my friends’ children in math and have being doing so for years. As such, I believe I have sufficient data to make a few valid conclusions. I have no doubt that having a textbook increases understanding and improves performance for every student, irrespective of ability. The value of a textbook is amplified for students who either do not have an adult or older sibling at home to help out or (and this is a big one) do not have the fine motor skills required to transcribe a large volume of detailed notes during class. If my observations are correct, then there is an easy solution to improving math scores in North Carolina: buy more textbooks.

Consider Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools, the best funded and highest performing school district in North Carolina. To be diplomatic, our supply of math textbooks is deplorably bad. My children have been provided with their own textbook at most 50% of the time. Sometimes the teacher may have 30 of them, enough to allow the students to refer to them in class, but not to bring one home at night. Since home is where homework happens, this is where reference and examples from the textbooks are most needed. When these situations occur for my children, I find out what textbook is being used in class and then order a used one on amazon.com, often for as little as $5.00. I am certain that buying these books improves my children’s grades and standardized test scores. As such, my actions and expenditures are contributing to the stubbornly persistent achievement gap between students from homes with higher and lower socio-economic statuses.

If we are not providing textbooks to students here in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, I can only imagine the sad state of affairs in school districts with even lower levels of per-student funding. The North Carolina General Assembly is currently making the situation even worse. State funding for textbooks has dropped from $67.15 per student in 2008 to $14.26 per student in 2013. Several times now, I have attempted a cogent sentence to close out this paragraph on the absurdity of this. Words have failed me, so I will simply let the numbers speak for themselves.

I have often heard those opposed to more funding for education, be it textbooks or salaries for our hard-working teachers, claim that we “just can’t afford it.” Let’s evaluate that statement and let’s do it with math. I submit that the best measure of the prosperity of our state, or any state for that matter, is gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.  The graph below shows the North Carolina per capita GDP from 1977 to 2011 in constant 2005 dollars. The reason for using constant 2005 dollars is to eliminate the effect of inflation, making this an accurate measure of the growth of the wealth of our state.

NC Per Capita GDP

Since 1977, inflation-adjusted per capita GDP has almost doubled from $22,000 to just over $40,000 per person. Good work, everyone.

This is an impressive achievement and ranks North Carolina 31st among the states with a per capita GDP in 2012 dollars of $42,884. Of the states commonly referred to as “The South,” only Virginia, with its concentrated wealth near Washington, DC, and Louisiana, with revenues from the oil industry, have higher per capita GDPs than the Tar Heel state. The generally accepted driving force behind our relative prosperity in the region has been a commitment to education, a commitment which is slipping away.

Despite being ranked 31st in per capita GDP, with total annual expenditures of $8,312 per student, North Carolina ranks 46th in per student education funding. Mathematically speaking, these numbers indicate that we are choosing to allocate a lower-than-average amount of our resources to education compared to other states. Consider Alabama: at $36,333, they rank 46th among the states in per capita GDP, yet they devote $8,813 per student for education, $500 more per every student than we do!

Let’s calculate what spending per pupil in North Carolina would be if it were at the same ratio to GDP as in Alabama.  In this case, education spending in North Carolina would be:

$8,312*($42,884/$36,333) = $9,811 per student.

This would move North Carolina into an effective three-way tie with Iowa and Oregon for 26th place, just behind Montana.

I can find no way to look at these numbers that suggests that we don’t have the resources to buy more textbooks. This is especially true for math. Since calculus doesn’t change, the same books can be used for many years, which helps to lower the cost per student through reuse. So the next time someone tells you that we “just can’t afford” more education funding, please send them a link to this column.

Have a comment or question?  Use the interface below or send me an email at commonscience@chapelboro.com.


New Office, New Services In 2014 For El Centro

The year 2014 is going to mean big changes for at least one prominent local nonprofit—starting in January with a new office.

“We’re finalizing the last steps…(and) we’re hoping to be fully open to the public on January 6,” says Natalia Lenis, community specialist and office coordinator for El Centro Hispano—one of the largest organizations in town dedicated to serving Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s growing Latino community.

El Centro is moving closer to downtown Carrboro, from Carrboro Plaza to 201 West Weaver Street. President and CEO Pilar Rocha-Goldberg says the move will make the office easier to reach—and it will also enable El Centro to expand its already-wide array of services.

“Basically what we do is try to integrate the Latino community to the community at large,” she says. “And we do it through education, health, community organizing, and direct support services.”

Among other things, El Centro is planning to host a bilingual summer camp in 2014—and Rocha-Goldberg says they’re also hoping to expand their education and tutoring programs with a new computer lab as well.

It’s all with the aim of helping first- and second-generation Latinos integrate into the larger community, find jobs and access needed services—issues that Lenis says all revolve around language.

“If I don’t speak the language, how am I going to find out what services are available to me?” Lenis says. “Sometimes even going to school or trying to be in touch with (their kids’) teachers is really hard for them. So everything goes around language.”

That language barrier (often coupled with a lack of documentation) also contributes to what Rocha-Goldberg identifies as a critical problem for the Latino community, particularly among day laborers: namely, employers who take advantage of their employees.

“They call them to work but then they don’t pay them,” Rocha-Goldberg says. “So we have…a lot of issues with that.”

Rocha-Goldberg says a new worker’s center, also slated for this year, should help address that issue.

El Centro Hispano has two offices in Carrboro and Durham, with a staff of 20 employees who work with about 10,000 people—including 2,000 in Chapel Hill-Carrboro. It offers most of its services free of charge.


CHCCS Teachers Face Loss Of Tenure: “It’s An Insult”

CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro teachers, administrators and school board members aren’t happy about the loss of job protection rules for educators. Nonetheless, school officials are drafting a plan to comply with new state laws that end teacher tenure.

Chuck Hennessee, a Culbreth teacher and president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators, addressed the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board last week.

“You all know there are so many inherent things wrong with this law,” said Hennessee. “It’s built on the premise that only 25 percent of our teachers would deserve a contract, when we know that in this district, 94 percent of our teachers are proficient or above. It’s an insult to us as teachers.”

Starting next August, teachers with more than four years of experience can no longer be awarded career status, and those with career status will lose it by 2018. Instead, schools will offer most teachers one-year renewable contracts.

But school districts across the state are also tasked with identifying the top 25 percent of educators and offering them four-year contracts with annual raises of $500.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins told the school board that unofficial polling among local teachers revealed little interest in the plan. So far, only 77 teachers have indicated they’d accept the four-year contract if offered.

Regardless of how many choose to sign the contracts, the district must make the offer to 200 teachers by next June.

School board member Annetta Streater called the plan “laughable.”

“So all we have to do is offer documentation to some authority that ‘here’s who we offered it to’ and half of them decline, then it’s done?” asked Streater. “What is the point of this?”

Although the contracts come with bonus money, the General Assembly has not allocated funding for those bonuses for future years. The board agreed that the district can’t afford to pick up the tab if state funding falls through.

“I feel strongly that we cannot promise to have this money, so it needs to be contingent on the state funding in the contract,” said Board Chair Jamezetta Bedford.

Administrators and school board members questioned the wisdom of the changes approved by the legislature as part of the budget bill this summer.

Adkins said the state requires the district to use a teacher evaluation tool to assess proficiency, but she and others stressed the evaluation is being misapplied.

“It’s a tool for teacher growth,” said Adkins. “It was never meant to compare teachers to each other.”

Teachers who fail to qualify as proficient are subject to dismissal. Supporters say the new rules will make it easier for school systems to dismiss under-performing teachers, but opponents worry it will drive more educators out-of-state or into other fields.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has already filed a lawsuit challenging the law. East Chapel Hill High School history teacher Brian Link is among the plaintiffs. He says the option of career status for teachers was one of the factors that drew him to move to North Carolina four years ago.

Teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district have until March 1 to put their names in for consideration for a four-year contract. The signing deadline is June 30, 2014.


CHCCS Officials Say Minority Teachers Face Unfair Scrutiny

CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools recruited a record number of minority teachers this year, but administrators worry some are being singled-out unfairly.

The Human Resources department of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School system is celebrating its recent accomplishments this year, including recruiting a record-breaking 260 teachers to staff the new Northside Elementary and the Frank Porter Graham bilingual magnet.

Teacher Recruitment Coordinator Mary Gunderson told the school board last week that total includes 51 minority teachers.

“We have the largest number ever of teachers of color hired for the district at 51,” said Gunderson. “That’s definitely a record-breaking number. We’re very, very happy about that.”

In 2012, African-American, Asian and Latino students made up 47 percent of the student body in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. School officials have long sought to increase diversity in the classroom by hiring teachers who reflect the make-up of the wider community.

But administrators say they’ve heard of a disturbing trend that’s making some minority teachers in the district feel less welcome.

“The teachers of color felt that they were being treated differently, negatively, than non-teachers-of-color,” said Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins. “This was particularly true of new teachers, who, as we mentioned, we worked so hard to recruit in the first place.”

Adkins said some minority teachers she talked to felt a handful of parents were putting them under a microscope.

“In many cases the overwhelming majority cited a small number of prominent parents- in some cases it was just one or two parents- who were negatively targeting them in subtle ways,” Adkins told the school board. “For example, questioning their credentials or nit-picking teaching strategy, teaching style, et cetera. [There were] complaints filed with the administration without talking to the teacher first.”

Though she noted that many new teachers struggle with similar problems, Adkins said minority teachers in particular seemed to be singled out for criticism. In the past year, Adkins told the board she’s received three requests to document teacher credentials, each time for an African-American educator.

That’s triple the number of credential requests she received in the four years she worked for the Alamance-Burlington school system, a district twice the size of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system.

“Our teachers of color are subjected to more scrutiny than non-teachers-of-color, and that’s simply not fair, not just and not right,” said Adkins.

To combat this trend, administrators have launched a support group for minority teachers in the district and are collaborating with a variety of professional organizations for educators.

Adkins says it’s also important for the entire community to recognize the problem.

“We’re going to enlist the support of our great parents who recognize the signs of inequity, to work to drown out the small number of voices who are determined to target teachers and administrators of color,”said Adkins. “I want to highlight that, because it really is a small number of people. [For] the overwhelming majority of our parents and community members, this is probably alarming and disturbing to them too.”

This comes to light at a time when the district is already struggling with a rising number of teachers leaving the district. The teacher turnover rate in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system has increased to 14.47 percent this year- the highest it has been in nearly a decade.

Adkins cited North Carolina’s low teacher salaries as a prime reason that many educators leave for jobs in other states or other professions. Currently, the state ranks 46 in the nation for teacher pay.