Lawyers wrapped up their arguments Tuesday in a hearing to determine whether a Carrboro charter school will remain open. But students and teachers at PACE Academy won’t know for several weeks whether they will be able to return to PACE in the fall.
After a meeting at PACE Academy, PACE student Addison Edwards takes a stack of papers from Jamie Bittner, his school’s occupational therapist.
“This is his paperwork for career and college promise,” Bittner says waving the stack of forms. “His GPA is outstanding, his SAT scores are outstanding, so he’s going to be taking community college courses while attending—hopefully PACE next year.”
Bittner says “hopefully PACE,” because it’s up in the air whether PACE will be open for Edwards to come back to in the fall.
In May, the State Board of Education voted not to renew the school’s charter over concerns about poor attendance records and non-compliance with some regulations for teaching students with disabilities. The school appealed that decision to the Office of Administrative Hearings.
After 4 days in court, it rests for Judge Phil Berger Jr. to decide if PACE will get to keep its charter. That has PACE student Jerry Garfunkel worried about where he’ll be in the fall.
“It’s scary to think about,” Garfunkel says. “I don’t really know where I’m going to go, or what I’m going to do.”
PACE says its mission is to serve students in grades 9 through 12 who aren’t thriving in traditional public schools. Half of PACE’s students have autism or other mental health diagnoses. Many are teen mothers, and some are homeless or former dropouts. Garfunkel says he came to PACE because the traditional public school environment was much too stressful for him.
“I thought I was going to end up in the UNC psych ward if I stayed there any longer,” he says. “I almost had a mental breakdown in my study hall class.”
Garfunkel says the smaller class sizes and nurturing environment at PACE suit him much better.
“The people here are understanding, the students here are very kind, the teachers here are extremely qualified for their jobs,” he said. “I’ve just been going from like D’s and F’s to A’s. It’s incredible.”
Berger will deliver a judgment by August 13—less than two weeks before the start of the school year. PACE Assistant Principal Jane Miller says that means she and the other administrators aren’t just hoping for the best, they’re planning for it too.
“Rhonda, Jamie and I are still operating as if we are going to open on August 25,” Miller told a room of concerned parents, students, alumni and teachers. “Because if we don’t plan enough, we simply wouldn’t have enough time once we get the decision that affirms we stay open.”
At the same time, PACE administrators say they have a contingency plan. Miller says she and other staff members will spend the next weeks helping families identify traditional public schools, private schools and home-school groups in case PACE closes.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/pace-students-teachers-await-mid-august-decision/
Former Efland-Cheeks Elementary School teacher Omar Currie stood before a full audience of adults at the Chapel Hill Public Library and read a children’s book: King and King, a story about two princes who fall in love and get married.
Hear Currie’s full reading of King and King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland at the Chapel Hill Public Library below:
While Wednesday night’s reading ended in applause, Currie received a much different response after he read the book in his third-grade classroom in May. Several parents complained to Currie and the school about his decision to read the fairy tale in class.
Currie eventually resigned, he says, because he didn’t get the support he needed from his principal or the school district during the controversy.
“After my reading of King and King, the first thing that was said to me was, ‘We could have dealt with this as a disciplinary issue,'” Currie said. “So my career was put out there, as if to threaten me and to say, ‘Oh, well you need to back off and not move forward with anything.’”
Wednesday night at the library, Currie’s reading kicked off a panel discussion about teaching diversity in the classroom. Kathleen Gallagher, researcher at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, was on the panel. She says Currie made the right decision in reading a book that included gay characters.
“It’s our responsibility to educate children for this anti-bias perspective—for cultural competence,” Gallagher said. “We can’t prepare children for all the diversity that they’re going to encounter, but we can prepare them to have that open space—that third space—to think about it and reflect on it and be open to accepting.”
But panel members acknowledged there are many barriers to teaching diversity effectively. UNC Library Science Professor Brian Sturm says it can be difficult to find books like King and King that depict diverse characters.
“In the publishing arena in North America, particularly in the United States, you find that it is still predominately white; it is still predominately male.”
Currie says in his case, he needed support from his principal to shield him from angry parents. Gallagher says Currie’s principal needed support as well—from the school district.
“Every level needs to create this safety for conversations about diversity,” Gallagher said. “And when one falls apart, the whole thing falls apart.”
Currie won’t be teaching in Orange County, or North Carolina. He says he’s taken position at an elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/book-sparks-discussion-about-teaching-diversity-in-oc-classrooms/
PACE Academy will fight in court Tuesday to keep its doors open.
Teachers, students, parents and alumni of PACE Academy gathered at the State Board of Education building Monday morning. They were there to protest the Board’s decision to revoke PACE’s charter.
The state’s Charter School Advisory Board recommended PACE be closed due to concerns about low attendance, financial problems and compliance issues. But protest organizer Stephanie Perry says she believes those concerns are unfounded.
“Over the past two years, PACE Academy has been aggressively targeted by the Charter School Advisory Board in a very unfair way,” she said.
Perry says the advisory board did not take into account the school’s unique population when making its assessment. PACE serves students in grades nine through twelve. The school says half of its students have mental health problems or learning disabilities and that many of its students are teenage parents and former drop-outs. Perry says that means many PACE students take classes on a nontraditional schedule and weren’t there when advisory board members came out to check the school’s attendance
“Because of the vocational curriculum, a lot of the students have on-the-job training and internships,” Perry said.
PACE has appealed a May decision by a State Board of Education review panel that revoked the school’s charter. Senate President Phil Berger’s son, Judge Phil Berger Jr., will hear arguments beginning Tuesday.
This is the second time PACE has had its charter on the line. The school’s charter was nearly revoked in 2013 over similar concerns.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/carrboro-charter-school-battles-to-stay-open/
The General Assembly passed a stop-gap spending measure Tuesday. The bill keeps the government funded until mid-August while the chambers grapple over the final budget. But the measure does nothing to ease the concerns of 8,500 teacher assistants whose jobs are now in limbo.
North Carolina teacher assistant Melinda Zarate has spent the last several summers on edge.
“It’s just very nerve-wracking,” Zarate told reporters. “Imagine not knowing whether you were going to have a job in a couple months. And yeah, that happens in business too. But for teacher assistants, this happens every single year.”
The Legislature has made frequent cuts to teacher assistant positions since the 2008 recession. This year, despite a budget surplus, the Senate’s budget proposes axing another 8,500 teacher assistants. That would leave schools with less than a third of the teacher assistants they had before the recession. Those cuts don’t sit well with Lisa Caley, a parent of a child with special learning needs.
“Our public schools today are focused on educating every student, and TAs are working to provide the individualized instruction to make that happen,” Caley said. “That means they’re assisting with kids who need remediation, with students who are on grade level and students who are above grade level, to make sure that lessons are differentiated to meet all students’ needs.”
Teacher assistants and their advocates argue their instruction is needed in today’s classrooms.
“Things have become so individualized in our schools, that we don’t do a lot of whole-class instruction—teachers standing in front of a group of kids just delivering trying to fill their heads,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella said. “It’s more about breaking kids up into small collaborative groups.”
Senators who support the cuts say reducing the number of teacher assistants will allow the state to hire more teachers and raise teachers’ starting salaries. The House’s budget also proposes raising teacher salaries, but it does not cut assistants. Todd LoFrese, Assistant Superintendent for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, says his district is eagerly awaiting a final budget.
“We’re going to have to take a good look as we develop our budgets if teacher assistants are reduced at the state level again: What are our options? Do we have any options, because those are really big numbers that they’re talking about making in the Senate budget,” LoFrese said.
The two chambers have until August 14 before stop-gap funding expires. In the meantime, thousands of teacher assistants can only guess whether they’ll return to the classroom in the fall.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/thousands-of-nc-teacher-assistants-in-limbo/
Orange County children may be the healthiest in North Carolina, according to child-advocacy nonprofit NC Child. But a closer look at Orange County shows that the block you grow up on may matter more than your county.
Orange County is the wealthiest and most educated county in the state, and overall its children are the healthiest. Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger says that’s not a coincidence.
“The more highly educated you are, the more likely you are to have a professional job that provides you with health insurance, time off to go to the doctor, time off to take your kids to the doctor and a living wage,” Bridger said.
But Orange County’s wealth and college degrees aren’t divided equally among all its residents. Census estimates show wide socioeconomic gaps between adjacent blocks.
“Even though Orange County in the aggregate is doing well, there are pockets of poverty and places where people are struggling that rivals any other place in the state,” Bridger warned.
Bridger says the greatest health disparities within Orange County often come down to disparities in education. There are areas in the county where two-thirds of third-graders are reading below grade level. The county says it’s working to improve health outcomes by closing the education gap through a project called the Family Success Alliance. The program replicates an initiative out of Harlem in New York City.
“They’ve basically said ‘anything a child needs from before she or he is born to the time he or she has a job after they’ve graduated from college, we want to provide it.’ And so we want to replicate that here so that we are able to ensure that every child in Orange County can succeed, regardless of where they live,” Bridger said.http://chapelboro.com/news/health/large-disparities-exist-even-in-states-healthiest-county/
Public schools across North Carolina are entering their final weeks of the year, and that means it’s testing time for students. But with childhood obesity on the rise, schools face pressure to balance test preparation with the need for physical activity throughout the school day.
You can listen to the story below:
At Perry Harrison Elementary School in Pittsboro, several fifth-grade girls are playing foursquare on the basketball court, and Brynn Dodge is on a winning streak.
State policy stipulates public elementary and middle school students are guaranteed at least 30 minutes a day of physical activity, and the state encourages schools to provide several hours a week of physical education. Researchers cite recess and P.E. as important tools in the fight against childhood obesity.
According to the CDC, childhood obesity rates doubled during the past 30 years and quadrupled in teenagers. As U.S. kids’ waistlines grew, teacher Laura Fenn watched as their time for school recess and P.E. shrank.
“I was a fifth-grade teacher for a long time, and over the course of 10 or 15 years, time for P.E. and recess was continually cut or eliminated,” Fenn said. “And the kids are just so miserable sitting inside all day long. But with all the focus on testing and achievement, a lot of times, time for P.E. or recess gets replaced with classroom instruction.”
Several years ago, Fenn came up with a solution to the increasingly sedentary school day. She started recording her lessons so her students could listen to them while they walked outside.
“The kids loved it because they got to go outside. They thought they were getting out of something,” she said. “It really tapped into a learning style that many students didn’t know that they had. And so students who were not successful in a traditional setting, all of a sudden, their kinesthetic, auditory learning style was really tapped into, and they were able to participate more and really feel like a successful learner.”
In 2011 Fenn launched a podcast of pre-recorded lessons called “The Walking Classroom.” It’s being used in 700 schools across the U.S. One of those schools is Perry Harrison Elementary. The school received “The Walking Classroom” as a donation from Briar Chapel, local real-estate development company. Brynn Dodge tried it out in her class this year.
“It was a cool way to get out because we were exercising while we were learning things,” Dodge said.
Zion Verinder is a sixth-grader at Margaret B. Pollard Middle School, which also received a “Walking Classroom” donation. He said he liked the podcasts.
“It’s a nice addition to everything,” he said.
But, Verinder says, he’s not a fan of being outdoors, for the walking classroom or for recess, especially when it’s hot.
“They make us walk around the soccer field,” Verinder complained. But his mother, Julie Wagner, sees things differently.
“See I love that, as a parent,” Wagner said. “They really have the kids get up, and they have to walk around and do laps. And I live close to the school, so I see all of them, even eighth-graders, seventh-graders and sixth-graders, walking around the school and going out to the fields.”
Verinder thinks he’s getting enough P.E. He said he has the class twice a week for the rest of the year.
“That’s wonderful,” Wagner responded. “I’m so glad you have P.E., but I wish you had P.E. every day.”
Like most parents in North Carolina, and the U.S., Wagner has to settle for a few hours a week.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/local-schools-explore-solution-to-sedentary-school-day/
Many teachers will say their most important, and sometimes most difficult, job is keeping students engaged. That challenge has prompted one local kindergarten teacher to come up with an out-of-the box idea.
The covered-outdoor walkway outside Claire Ross’ kindergarten classroom at Estes Hills Elementary was the place to be on Friday afternoon as the group of young builders tried out their marble maze.
What started out as a project during the class’ fun-center activity, evolved into a massive structure of toilet paper rolls, duct tape, and masking tape – 318 toilet paper rolls to be exact.
Listen to the full story below:
Three months of work from enthusiastic five-year-olds resulted in a colossal zig-zag of four levels of the taped-together rolls.
Then came time for the trial run.
After a deafening countdown from 10, the marbles were off, barreling down the cardboard slope, dropping from level to level, accompanied with an enthusiastic “WOO” with each drop, and after a roughly 20-second trip….success! The marbles erupted from the other end of the tube, dinging a bell that had been set up as a finish marker, leading to celebratory screams from the group of youngsters.
After several runs, it was no longer just Ross’ “Rockets” in the breezeway, class after class came down to check out the kindergartner’s project.
Ross says the best part of all of the hard work was all the children were engaged and learning without realizing they were doing schoolwork.
“That all of the children are working toward the same goal, and they’re all excited, and they’re all involved, and everybody is into it,” she points out as rewarding moments. “They’re all working, they’re all engaged, they’re all wanting to be part of the team that’s working on it at that time.
“They’re totally buying into it. They want to learn more.”
Ross says her class was able to accomplish a lot of their academic goals by putting them into this hands-on project.
“We’re working on addition, and we added together all of the smaller numbers,” she says. “Then they used writing because they’re writing about what they were doing and explaining their ideas.”
Ross adds Estes Hills is working toward more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) projects, and the marble maze incorporates many of those aspects.
For all of their hard work collaborating, all of the classmates got teamwork awards.
And the group of five-year old builders who learned what it means to be an engineer may have a new career aspiration.
Ross videoed the students throughout the project and created this documentary:http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/marble-maze-inspires-kindergarten-class/
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/
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/
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
|Chapel Hill High||A||87||Exceeded|
|E Chapel Hill High||A||87||Exceeded|
|Estes Hills Elem||B||74||Met|
|FPG Elem||C||55||Did Not Meet|
|Morris Grove Elem||B||84||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|
|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/