Fundraiser Will Support Kids “Learning Outside”

You’re invited to come out to a private nature preserve on Sunday, April 12, to help support a local program that connects kids to the natural world.

The program is called Learning Outside, and the event is called “Meadow Lark”: it runs from 3-6 pm at Triangle Land Conservancy‘s Irvin Nature Preserve, with guided hikes, nature activities, food and drinks from local establishments, and bluegrass music by Big Fat Gap.

It’s all to benefit Learning Outside, a non-profit that provides children with “time spent outdoors learning, exploring and discovering in the natural world” (according to its website). All of its programs take place at the Irvin Nature Preserve, located on 269 acres just west of Carrboro.

Last year, Learning Outside provided full scholarships to 20 percent of the children who attended its programs; they’re hoping to meet or exceed that number this year. Meadow Lark is its first fundraising event.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Susan Reda of Learning Outside.

The Irvin Nature Preserve is located at 2912-B Jones Ferry Road. Tickets are $40 for adults, $12 for kids 18 and under. You can buy tickets online at LearningOutside.org – or just donate to the cause, if you can’t make it to the event itself. (100 percent of ticket proceeds from Meadow Lark will go to scholarship programs.)

http://chapelboro.com/news/non-profit-news/fundraiser-will-support-kids-learning-outside/

CHCCS Teams with Verizon to Provide At-Risk Students with Internet Access

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools and Verizon are teaming up in an effort to bridge the achievement gap.

120 students throughout the four high schools in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro School District will receive a Google Chromebook laptop. To open up access to the internet with that device, the students will also receive a MiFi Jetpack from Verizon that will work as a mobile hotspot for internet service over Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

School Superintendent Dr. Tom Forcella says, to be able to find a solution, the school system first had to recognize there was a problem.

“One gap that became apparent was the fast-growing technology gap,” he says. “We had become a school district with two distinct groups of children; those who are digitally connected, and those who are not.”

So to bridge that gap, the school system has partnered with Verizon through the school’s Community Connection Program.

Darren Bell, the Coordinator of that program, says this will allow the students to have access to their learning materials at any time.

“We are actually tearing down the physical walls that are the schools,” he says. “Through the usage of our technology, students can now access their digital learning environment 24/7, access communication with teachers, and also other resources all the time.”

Chapel Hill High School Assistant Principal Al Donaldson says it is important that the student assistance does not end simply by providing the technology.

“[We need to have] check-ins with the student, and check-ins with the family,” he says. “In terms of: how often are they using their materials? What kinds of roadblocks students are running into?”

Sarahi Gamboa Ramirez is a senior at Chapel Hill High School and is also taking classes at Durham Tech. She is doing all of this work with help from the Community Connection Program.

She says her success in high school, and her collegiate classes at Durham Tech, is due to the help she has received from the program. Gamboa Ramirez is working toward becoming a nurse.

Program Coordinator Darren Bell says the rollout of the second phase of the pilot program is underway to 120 students. He adds, at the end of next year, they hope to expand the program to middle schools and eventually to elementary schools in the system.

The cost incurred for the current rollout is an estimated $80,000. Bell says that number is expected double as the expansions continue. That funding is coming from the local and state levels.

Superintendent Forcella says these measures will help level the playing field for all of the students in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro School System.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-teams-verizon-provide-risk-students-internet-access/

Letter Grades Given to NC Public Schools

Schools across North Carolina received letter grades from the Department of Public Instruction on Thursday.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools, as a whole, outperformed their counterparts across the state under the new guidelines gauging school performance.

The new standards, pushed for by the General Assembly, weighted 80 percent of a school’s grade based on their achievement score, in the form of end-of-year testing, and 20 percent on student growth.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Forcella says he would like to see the weight of the score adjusted.

“The one detriment of the grading system is that it’s 80 percent focused on strictly test score,” he says. “The Superintendent’s Association – and I believe our school board – and what we’re looking for in Chapel Hill is to have a higher percentage of the grade to consider student growth.”

The term “growth” here is referring to student development over the course of an academic year.

Forcella says he believes momentum is building for adjustments to be made to the grading scale.

“In the first year of anything it’s always a little bit more difficult,” he says. “The more they can include a variety of variables, besides just the test score, it’ll give you, I think, a truer picture of how schools are doing.”

Wake County Democratic Senator Josh Stein filed a bill, on Wednesday, to alter the evaluation of a school’s performance. Under the newly proposed legislation, growth would account for 60 percent of a school’s grade and achievement would make up the remaining 40 percent.

Forcella adds it is important to help disadvantaged students be on level ground with their peers in a learning environment.

“It’s only equitable to have the same opportunities for all kids, especially with technology,” he says. “They can check online at home for their assignments. And many teachers have blogs and share information and provide information online.”

To help bridge that technology gap, Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools have teamed with Verizon to offer laptops and internet service to some of those students that do not have access to the technology at home.

You can see the full breakdown of Chapel Hill – Carrboro and Orange County Schools’ performances below:

School                                               Grade                  Score                 Growth Expectations

Carrboro Elem B 74 Met
Carrboro High A 85 Exceeded
Chapel Hill High A 87 Exceeded
Culbreth Middle B 79 Exceeded
E Chapel Hill High A 87 Exceeded
Ephesus Elem B 77 Met
Estes Hills Elem B 74 Met
FPG Elem C 55 Did Not Meet
Glenwood Elem B 81 Met
McDougle Elem B 75 Met
McDougle Middle B 81 Exceeded
Morris Grove Elem B 84 Exceeded
Northside Elem C 69 Met
Phillips Middle B 82 Exceeded
Rashkis Elem B 78 Met
Scroggs Elem B 79 Met
Seawell Elem A 85 Exceeded
Smith Middle B 82 Exceeded
A L Stanback Elem C 55 Did Not Meet
Cameron Park Elem B 76 Exceeded
Cedar Ridge High B 70 Did Not Meet
Central Elem D 48 Did Not Meet
CW Stanford Middle C 65 Did Not Meet
Efland Cheeks Elem C 56 Met
Grady Brown Elem C 69 Met
Gravelly Hill Middle C 58 Met
Hillsborough Elem B 73 Met
New Hope Elem C 64 Exceeded
Orange High C 67 Did Not Meet
Pathways Elem C 68 Did Not Meet

You can view the full report here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/letter-grades-given-nc-public-schools/

MBA@UNC Ranked #1 Online MBA Program

The Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC has brought in another number one ranking.

For the first time ever, U.S. News & World Report ranked online MBA programs. And MBA@UNC is checking in at the top spot.

Doug Shackelford, Dean of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, says they were excited to be at the top of the list

“We started the program in 2011,” he says. “Our mindset, from the very beginning, was there are a lot of great MBA prospective students for whom coming to Chapel Hill might not be very easy. But they would love to get an education from us.”

The program has grown to more than 630 students, who represent 47 states and 35 countries.

Shackelford says that the program is ideal for those who travel on a regular basis, those who are working overseas – including a large military contingency – and those who do not have access to a higher-quality education, wherever they may be.

He adds that it was important to structure the program in a way that would not compromise the education being offered, the faculty teaching the course, or the students enrolled.

Shackelford says we are spoiled in the Triangle with so many high-quality options for a higher education.

“There are a lot of places, in this country and around the world, where you can’t find a top-quality education for hundreds of miles,” he says. “We’re able to bring a top-tier MBA education to those people.”

Shackelford says the program affords students virtual classrooms to meet and correspond with each other and the teacher, adding students all around the world may be taking part in the class together during completely different portions of their day.

He says this model allows classes to be taught in the same way they are on campus.

To build camaraderie among students in the classes, quarterly meetings are held; students are not required to attend every meeting, but they must attend a certain number to graduate. Shackelford adds two of these meetings are held outside of the U.S., one at a location in the country, and every December the students are brought to Chapel Hill.

“We’re building Tar Heels all around the world,” he says. “When we bring them here [Chapel Hill] in December, they raid the student store and buy up everything blue they can find.

“Last year we had [more than] two hundred students able to attend a basketball game.”

He adds he is excited to see what the future holds for this form of education.

“We feel we’re on the verge of where the future’s going,” Shackelford says. “I feel this program is a little bit like the first time you ever saw a cell phone.”

http://chapelboro.com/news/higher-education/mbaunc-ranked-1-online-mba-program-country/

UNC Ranked Best Value Education in Country

UNC is checking in atop a national ranking for the 14th year in a row.

Carolina offers the best value of any public school in the country, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, which publishes the annual list.

“UNC ranks number one for both in-state and out-of-state [students],” says editor Sandra Block. “UNC is just a bargain for what you get.”

Block says that UNC’s ability to provide financial aid to students is paramount to maintaining their positioning on the top of the list, but there are other factors – including “[the] student-faculty ratio, [the] admission rate – which is 27%, very competitive – [and] undergraduate debt, [which] is lower than average.”

Block mentions that UNC is the top ranking public university on the combined public-private value list, checking in at number 22. She says the list is dominated by private universities because of the amount of financial aid at the disposal of the schools – including one just down the road from UNC.

“Duke is number 10 on our combined list,” she says.

Both UNC and Duke excelled at graduating their students in four years. Duke has a four-year graduation rate of 87%, while Carolina’s is 81%.

Block adds that public universities face some obstacles that private institutions don’t – including state budget cuts.

The recent revelations of academic irregularities at UNC involving student athletes have dominated headlines in the academic world. Block says that they did factor that into their study by removing those students and rerunning the numbers to recalculate the graduation rate.

“Not to downplay the seriousness of the scandal,” she warns, “(but) statistically it wasn’t significant.”

Block says that, overall, the state of North Carolina, in particularly the Triangle, is very well represented on the list. UNC tops the list for in-state and out-of-state students at public universities. Duke checked in at number 10 on the combined public-private list, and North Carolina State University ranked 12th on the public university list for in-state students.

http://chapelboro.com/news/higher-education/unc-ranked-best-value-education-country/

Zones Chosen By FSA Council To Create Pipeline to Success for Children

The Family Success Alliance Council has chosen two of the six geographic zones to enact a pilot program with the goal of creating a pipeline of success for children living in poverty.

Dr. Michael Steiner, with UNC Health Care, announced the selection following a committee vote.

“Congratulations to Zone 4 and Zone 6, and the Family Success Alliance will look forward to continue working with you and starting the next steps of the process.”

Zone 4 represents central Orange County, specifically between I-40 and I-85. Zone 6 covers a densely populated area from downtown Chapel Hill to Highway 54.

Representatives from the six zones that were being considered for the pilot program gave their pitch to the council during a special meeting, on Tuesday evening.

Delores Bailey, from the non-profit EmPowerment, represented Zone 6. In her pitch to the council, she focused on a need of young children in the community.

“There’s been a major setback in the Head Start program,” she says. “And that alone has been responsible for the groundwork and young people growing. If we’re missing that Head Start piece, we’ve got to have resources that wrap around what we’re missing from there.”

Zone four was campaigned for by Aviva Scully from Stanback Middle School and New Hope Elementary’s Rosemary Deane.

Deane says that during some community events they were able to break down barriers and establish a cumulative goal for the area.

“During our forum, we had families from all over come together. You could see a common vision of what they want for our community,” she recalled.

They are looking to calm some of those concerns with the help of pilot program from the Family Success Alliance Council.

One common theme developed throughout the meeting. No matter which zones were ultimately selected, the ball was rolling and each zone would have the support of the zones that were not chosen.

As for those zones that were not selected, Orange County Health Department Director Dr. Colleen Bridger cautioned that this was a pilot program, so there was no firm timeline for involving the other zones. But she made clear the intention was to do so.

“We need to try it and see how it goes. And then as soon as we can, we want every single zone to be involved in this.”

Doctor Bridger adds that the zones that were not selected will be encouraged to continue their work, and the council will be able to provide some guidance following their next meeting in February.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the pilot program will immediately go into action in zones four and six. Feedback from the success of these programs will be documented and passed along to other areas throughout the community to encourage similar efforts.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/zones-chosen-fsa-council-create-pipeline-success-children/

UNC Shows More Detail On Transcripts

UNC transcripts will now tell more than just about the student whose grades are being represented.

The News and Observer’s Jane Stancil wrote this weekend of the new design at UNC’s flagship university, which is attempting to combat the issue of grade inflation that has grown since the middle of the 20th century.

The new transcripts show a median grade of classmates, the percentile range, the number of students in the class section, and a new measure, the schedule point average (SPA). This form of measurement shows just how rigorous the course load is that the student took.

Carolina’s new transcript is supposed to allow graduate schools and employers be able to better choose the great from the good.

Grade inflation has been a national issue, and a study in the Teachers College Record in 2012 found the most prevalent areas were in elite private universities followed by the flagship campuses.

http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/unc-shows-detail-transcripts/

UNC System President Praises GA’s Work On Budget

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend

Tom Ross

Tom Ross

UNC System President Tom Ross praised the North Carolina General Assembly for it’s attention to higher education with the signing of the 2014-15 budget, signed into law Thursday morning by Governor Pat McCrory. The reception wasn’t as rosy on the Pre-K-through-12 level.

President Ross released a statement shortly after the passage, reading, in part: “There is a lot to appreciate in this budget, including the first new investment by the General Assembly for parts of our strategic directions initiative and the support of the New Teacher Support Program.”

“We continue to focus on our responsibility to produce a well-equipped talent force for our businesses and our communities,” President Ross said. “Highly talented faculty and staff are critical to these efforts. As other states continue to reinvest in higher education, our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff will only get more challenging. We look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly next session to address the issues that will hinder our State’s future competitiveness.”

The New Teacher Support Program’s goal is to cater to each young educators individual needs in order to make sure they are on the path to success.

Despite an average of seven-percent increase to teachers’ salaries in primary education, there are still concerns among educators.

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 and those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18 percent increase.

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Representative Graig Meyer of Orange and Durham counties told WCHL Wednesday, after the announcement of Budget Director Art Pope’s resignation, that he’s also concerned about future budget decisions because there is now an $800,000 to $1 billion deficit that will have to be accounted for during 2015-16 budget talks.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/unc-system-president-praises-gas-work-budget/

Gov. McCrory Signs Common Core Changes Into Law

RALEIGH – Common Core curriculum standards for North Carolina schools will be rewritten under a bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.

Gov. McCrory signed the bill Tuesday along with four others. He said the Common Core bill does not officially repeal the federal standards but will review and improve them.

North Carolina is now one of five states that have changed or removed the Common Core standards from schools and are creating new state-specific ones.

The law directs the State Board of Education to rewrite the Common Core standards for the North Carolina’s K-12 schools. A new 11-member standards advisory commission will be formed to make curriculum recommendations to the board. Common Core, which schools began testing two years ago, would remain in place until the new standards are completed.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/gov-mccrory-signs-common-core-changes-law/

Common Core Elimination Bill Moves Forward

The Common Core curriculum standards that dictate what’s taught in grade school classrooms across the state are on their way out.

Gov. Pat McCrory signaled that he would sign a compromise bill that the House passed Wednesday and Senate signed off on it last week. The House approved the bill, 71-34, to rewrite the statewide curriculum to better tailor it for North Carolina students.

“I will sign this bill because it does not change any of North Carolina’s education standards,” McCrory said in a written statement. “It does initiate a much-needed, comprehensive and thorough review of standards. No standards will change without the approval of the State Board of Education.”

Both chambers had competing bills on how to change the state’s curriculum, but came to a compromise that allowed the state to potentially use some materials from the Common Core program that are effective.

The bill “melds the two versions quite well,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. “We are not taking anything off the table from the standpoint of being able to access the best ideas in the country to ensure that we have high academic standards.”

The bill directs the State Board of Education to rewrite the Common Core standards for the state’s K-12 standards. A new standards advisory commission would be formed to make curriculum recommendations to the board. The bill does not bar the commission or State Board from integrating current Common Core standards with the new ones. The commission would be made up of 11 members, some appointed by legislative leaders, one by the governor and others by the State Board of Education.

Common Core, which schools began testing two years ago, would remain in place until the new standards are completed.

The curriculum standards were developed by the nation’s governors and school chiefs and have been approved by more than 40 states. But North Carolina and a handful of other states are responding to complaints from teachers, parents and conservative advocates that the standards are causing confusion and leading to the use of curriculum that is age-inappropriate.

The state Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday they support the curriculum rewrite and that it brings predictability and certainty to education in the state.

“This is a significant step toward a reasonable approach to make standards higher and our top priority is pushing for the absolute best academic standards for the state,” said Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber, in a statement.

Educators and families on both sides of the aisle have been complaining about Common Core and ask that it be replaced, said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.

“The bottom line is it’s a terrible system. There may be some good things about it and though this bill will allow them to sue those things if they need to,” he said. “It’s not something we should have ever accepted.”

Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, said repealing the rules is a solution in search of a problem, sends a bad signal and puts an unfair burden on schools, teachers and parents, who already invested and trained with Common Core.

“Why are we really doing this?” she said. “Is this really to better education or is this more political in nature? I worry that this is more political.”

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/common-core-elimination-bill-moves-forward/