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.

PACE Students, Teachers Await Mid-August Decision

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.

Book Sparks Discussion About Teaching Diversity in OC Classrooms

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.

king and king“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.

Carrboro Charter School Battles to Stay Open

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.