Citizens Voice Racial Equity Concerns at Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board Meeting

To combat racial inequities in education, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are seeking a superintendent willing to align their priorities with that of the local citizens and school board.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ Board of Education met last Thursday at Lincoln Center to listen to concerns from local citizens and make any changes necessary to current documents, including those regarding the application for a new superintendent. Tom Forcella, the current superintendent, is set to retire August 1 after working in the district for five years.

Also included in the conversation were concerns about the Equity Plan Draft, which was presented Thursday as well. The draft sought to end racial inequity in schools by creating an inclusive culture that would work to eliminate the achievement gap.

But as community members reflected upon their experiences in the school system, many expressed desires for a revised plan.

Of those who spoke during the comments section, several voiced their hope for a superintendent that would make significant progress to close the achievement gap and dissipate present stigmas surrounding race in education.

“I want [the superintendent] to be able to look into any of the racial disparities that we have so far within our system,” said Joyce Powell, mother of both a graduate and current student in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. “I know the board has worked hard on putting forward some other implementations to help, but I think we can do a little bit better…every child matters, and to me, this is what this is all about.”

The school system has had its successes in the past, with three high schools ranking highly in the state. But according to Samantha Cabe, local attorney and mother to children in the school system, those labels don’t reflect every child’s experience, especially minority children.

Cabe said that her children, who are not in the minority, may go on to succeed academically without any changes, but she also said they may be harmed by their childhood friends being denied opportunities for advancement.

“They will be harmed by an environment where both achievement and discipline are dependent on skin color…I hope that this board will really focus on finding a superintendent that makes [changing] this a priority because we have the opportunity in this district, with our strong focus on academics to be high schools one, two and three but we have to address our system as a whole…from the top down, from the superintendent down, have an attitude that is about a love of learning and a love of their community and a love of their neighbors. And I mean all neighbors.”

The board then had a closed discussion to revise the superintendent application, addressing citizens’ concerns about the Equity Plan. In it, they attempted to make explicit expectations for the incoming superintendent.

“In the discussion about equity tonight, for example, do we need to beef that up in this particular application?” asked Allison Schafer, director of policy for the North Carolina School Board Association. “I know that was a focus of the board’s, and that was useful for us to hear that.”

The rest of the board agreed, noting the importance of taking citizen concerns into account.

“I’d actually like to see that in the number one provisionary of educational leadership along with the understanding of equity factors and influence of equity on educational outcomes,” said board member Rani Dasi.

Seven Applicants Interview for Open Board of Education Seat

Candidates for the open position on the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Board of Education made their cases Thursday night.

Seven applicants participated in a joint interview for the seat that was left opened when Michelle Brownstein resigned in December.

The applicants answered a wide range of questions, including closing the achievement gap, dealing with parent concerns, working with the County Commissioners and voting for the bond referendum.

Mary Anne Wolf currently works at NC State as the Director for Digital Learning Programs. She has children at the elementary, middle and high school levels in the school district. She said she disagreed with the board’s recent implementation of the math Common Core standards.

“I think our implementation in math was actually very detrimental to some kids because our curriculum was not quite ready. And I know there was a lot of push from the state and a lot of reasons for it but I think we probably could’ve taken a little more time and probably helped a lot of kids in their math foundations,” said Wolf.

Hector Rosario is a math professor who recently moved to North Carolina. He has since started a volunteer math tutoring program in the area. He spoke about bringing his tutoring program to kids in the district who have been taught a “sense of inadequacy” and to give those kids confidence. Rosario also advocated for the improvement of ESL instruction. He said he began learning English when he was 14.

Theresa Watson is a graduate of Chapel Hill High School. For over 20 years she has worked with local organizations like the Chapel Hill Board of Adjustment and the Carrboro Planning Committee. Her ideas for closing the achievement gap relied on not letting kids fall behind at a young age.

“I bring to the board the ability to work with the school, the parent and in the community and without all of those elements combined together you will always feel disjointed,” said Watson.

Ashton Powell is a biology instructor at the North Carolina School of Science and Math and will soon be appointed to their board of trustees. He has two children attending Carrboro Elementary. When asked what programs he might change he said he would consider cutting athletic programs to put more funds towards dual immersion language courses.

Allen Buansi is a recent law school graduate and now works as a civil rights lawyer for Democracy NC. He is a graduate of East Chapel Hill High. He said he hope to close the achievement gap by having college students and volunteers serve as role models.

“One thing I did was to bring in tutors and mentors, some of whom looked like them, people who they could look up to and maybe inspire a possibility that they could see for themselves for what they could become,” said Buansi.

Erika Lipkin moved to North Carolina from New York 6 years ago. She has worked as a consultant and is a certified public accountant. When asked about a recent school board decision she disagreed with she mentioned the redistricting by the school system. Lipkin said the redistricting at her daughter’s school made it harder for a sense of community to form because the students attending the school lived so far apart from each other.

Joal Hall Broun has worked on the Carrboro Board of Alderman and has served on the board for the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. She voiced her support for after-school programs as a way to help kids stay out of trouble. Broun also said scrutinizing our expectations of students is important for closing the achievement gap.

“Do you expect that child because he does not look or she does not look like someone else, do you expect them to do well? So the expectation is that all students should do well,” said Hall Broun.

The board is expected to make a decision at their next board meeting on February 18.

CHCCS Board Begins Search for New Member

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School Board looked to the future at Thursday’s meeting.

The board covered a lot of ground, discussing new building projects, closing the achievement gap and deciding the process for filling a school board vacancy.

Bill Mullen, Director of Facilities, presented the district’s 10 – year plan for building improvements. The greatest needs are for renovations to older facilities, like Chapel Hill High School and the Lincoln Center.

“If we go back to our plan of redirecting our funding towards our older schools, this takes off for the next few years worrying about new schools,” said Mullen.

The idea was entertained to include a food pantry run by the Inter – Faith Council and a health clinic on the Lincoln Center property. Collaboration between the local organizations and the school board interested some but board member Rani Dasi voiced concern about the potential security issues.

“I do have concerns about the food pantry and kitchen. Our number one responsibility is to safety and security for our students and we would really need to think about how this would work and we want to understand parent issues around this concerning our ability to control who is coming to campus,” said Dasi.

Bringing a food pantry and health clinic to the school property will be discussed further at later meetings.

According to Mullen, the timeline for the new projects depends on the results of the state bond referendum later this year. Approval of the bond would speed up the projects. The proposed new Lincoln Center will not be complete until 2018.

The board also heard a presentation from the Multicultural Student Achievement Network, which works to learn more about the achievement gap between white and minority students in our schools. Students like Gabby Demonte talked about what they gained from a conference the group attended last fall.

“Not only did we learn skills from this conference but we learned more about the achievement gap and the roots underneath the problem,” said Demonte.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools is one of the first schools districts to have this organization.

The discussion about the achievement gap isn’t new to the school board. During their last meeting, they heard a presentation from the Campaign for Racial Equality, which focused on ways the school system can address race.

The final item of business was an important one, how to best fill the vacancy on the school board.

Board members discussed the selection process and the qualities they are looking for in a new board member. Board Chair, James Barrett said since many of the current members are in their first publicly elected role, it might be helpful to add someone with policy experience.

“Should we tweak this criteria any to recognize that we do have a unique need at this point in time for more public service and involvement and experience in policy?”

The board expects the selection process for a new member to begin early next month and the new member to begin serving in March.

2013 CHCCS Candidate Profile: Ignacio Tzoumas

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board candidate, Ignacio Tzoumas (pronounced JEW-mas), says equity will be his biggest focus if elected. He says the district has to adapt to serve the ever-changing landscape.

“About 20 years ago, our school system (had) about 4,000 students, and now we’re at 12,” Tzoumas says. “Soon we’ll be at 20. The prerogative now is to restructure and modernize our school system so that we can give the best education to all our students that’s a very diverse population.”

WCHL’s Ran Northam spoke with Tzoumas about his seeking election to the School Board and how he believes he’ll best serve the students and parents of the district.

***Listen to the Interview***

Four candidates are contending for three seats on the school board.

Tzoumas and Andrew Davidson are the newcomers in the election as Shell Brownstein and James Barrett are seeking re-electoin. The newcomers agree that—while they agree with a lot of what Superintendent Tom Forcella is doing—they want to be a voice coming from someone other than who helped in his hiring.

“I think everybody is behind a lot of his strategies,” Tzoumas says “But, as a board member, we’re expected to make sure that he is hitting all the points that he has put out as his roadmap.”

Between now and Election Day, we’ll be previewing each of the candidates one-on-one.

For more on Tzoumas, click here.

Pitt County School Board Under Fire By Parents

Photo by Doug Wilson

PITT COUNTY – The case of Everett V. Pitt County School Board has brought a lot of attention to Greenville, NC and the PittCountySchools and could have implications for statewide changes.

Last Monday, lawyers squared off in federal court over a 2011 student assignment plan that many parents say re-segregated several schools in the district.

Nearly 60 years after the U.S Supreme Court struck down segregation in public schools, Pitt county remains on federal supervision until it reaches unitary status.  Civil rights attorney Mark Dorosin says this is not an isolated school district.

“There are a number of counties and school districts across the south that are in a similar position to Pitt County, that is school districts that have been under court order for many years, and are still under court order” Dorosin said.

Achieving “unitary” status means that Pitt County School Board would no longer be under federal supervision to ensure desegregation. Dorosin says this case could have effects on other districts in the south that have not received unitary status.

“The ruling itself will be contained directly to impacting Pitt County,” Dorosin said “but the whole process and how the court handles the allegations I think are being watched closely by education advocates and school districts across the region”

Several families have joined forces with the Coalition to Educate Black Children as plaintiffs against the district.  Dorosin says they hope to end some of the current changes that they feel have re-segregated schools.  He says many people both in Pitt County and other counties are watching this case to see the results.

“Some folks who live in those districts, on both sides of the issue, the school districts themselves and the parents whose children attend those schools are watching this case to see whether the decision will have any bearing on how they should proceed toward unitary status in their districts” Dorosin commented.

Judge Malcom Howard will make the final decision in the next few weeks on whether Pitt County Schools have tried to desegregate and create unitary status.

CHCCS Chair Fears Coming Budget Cuts

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board chair Michelle Brownstein is running for re-election and says the state-level cuts that will affect the 2013-14 budget will have deep impacts on local schools, especially with around 80 percent of the budget going to personnel.

“Our state government, at least with the budget they just passed, while I’m waiting for the final translation of that from our budget office, I’m concerned that we’re going to end up not having the funds to keep all the positions we have,” Brownstein says. “It’ll mean bigger classrooms, less teachers, less support for teachers.”

Brownstein says that one of her biggest accomplishments as chair of the school board is raising awareness about illiteracy and instituting programs to improve reading ability among students.

“I think that’s critical, in terms of making sure all kids can then get a year’s worth of growth,” Brownstein says. “And then the kids that are behind, which is really important, need to get advanced growth, and the only way they’re going to be able to do that is if they can read well.”

Brownstein says her other biggest accomplishment on the board is hiring Thomas Forcella as the CHCCS superintendent. She says his plans for the future of the area are the same as hers and he has only begun to implement them.

“He’s starting his third year now and that really is right when he’s going to begin to execute his long-range plan that’s going to move our district forward, I think, on multiple levels,” Brownstein says.

As a first-term member of the board, Brownstein says that she herself has only begun to implement her vision as CHCCS board chair.

“Being on the board just one term barely gets you going,” Brownstein says.

Election Day in November 5.

2013 Elections

Municipal and School Board Elections Get New Challengers

ORANGE COUNTY – More locals are jumping into the race to represent you each day with less than two days until the filing period ends.

***Listen to the Story***

Andrew Davidson filed Wednesday to run for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools board and Meighan Lela Carmichael filed Tuesday for the Hillsborough board of commissioners.

Davidson is running for one of the three available seats on the school board. Current board member Gregory McElveen, whose term expires this year, says he will not run for re-election.

Davidson has been chair of the Frank Porter Graham School Improvement Team for the past year and was a member of the team while the school was transitioning to a dual language program.

“Serving during the year where that decision was made and then being the chair during the transition year, I think, is about as relevant as experience as you can get,” Davidson says.

Davidson says his main goal, if elected to the school board, is closing the achievement gap in the area. He says it is a problem that some schools provide “world-class” primary school education while others leave students ill-prepared.

“If you are part of an at-risk population – for no fault of the board, I think it’s a factor of circumstance – those students aren’t receiving the same level of education,” Davidson says.

On FPG’s bilingual program, Davidson says he will not jeopardize its implementation as a member of the school board, but he feels it only tackles some of the issues with the achievement gap.

“Where I see the main focus is on addressing the achievement gap in other at-risk populations, which are the African-American population and the Karen population,” Davidson says.

In the Hillsborough election, two board of commissioner seats are available and neither of the current members are running again.

Carmichael, a certified public accountant, says she has never run for public office before but is excited for the chance to work for Hillsborough.

“I spend a lot of time in Hillsborough and have been connected with a lot of my neighbors and community members and I want to make sure that the voices of all Hillsborough residents are represented,” Carmichael says.

Carmichael says her main concern is making sure that the coming developments to the town are sustainable.

“We want it to grow and we want it to thrive and we want it to be a prosperous community,” Carmichael says. “But we also want to make sure that it grows in a way that’s sustainable so it can continue to prosper going forward.”

One way Carmichael proposes doing this is carefully watching the permits that businesses and other contractors have when coming to Hillsborough.

“Making sure that they are working in their development plans to work with the town in moving projects forward, as opposed to just thinking about their own development,” Carmichael says.

Election Day is November 5. The deadline to file for municipal or school board office is July 19 at noon.

Fighting This Transfer

Dear Editor,

My name is Bert Wartski.  As I await the Superior Court Hearing (August 17th at 2 pm at the Old Hillsborough Court House), I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has written letters, given speeches, provided testimonials, talked about, Facebook-ed, and spent their time and energy to stop my transfer and that of Anne Thompson.  

The response of the parents, students, and the community has been overwhelming and very humbling.

I am saddened to think that my time at CHHS might be over. For the past 19 years, I have made CHHS my home.  I have done my best to provide the best educational experience in my classroom and at CHHS.  I’ve been told that my involuntary transfer is not about the teaching.  As an educator and parent, I can think of nothing else it should be about.

I’ve been asked why I’ve been fighting this transfer.

To those outside of the CHHS community, the opportunity to move to a “better school” should be taken immediately.  Why complain?

For the past 19 years, I have become part of a community.  My blood bleeds black and gold.  I love CHHS and through the course of my tenure, I have worked to make it a better school.  I am part of the Tiger Family.  I have a desire to finish out my career at CHHS, continue to teach the curriculum I have built during 18 of my 25 years in the classroom, and have my daughter attend the school that I have grown to care so much about.

This is what I don’t think the central office understands.  The CULTURE of CHHS goes beyond being a school.  We are Tigers.  For better or worse, for rich and for poor…we are a family.  To think that after 19 years I will no longer be part of the family, is what hurts.

In closing, I would like to thank you again.  In this summer with its many ups and downs, you have all provided a lot of support.  Come join us on August 17th at 2 pm at the Old Courthouse in Hillsborough.

Bert Wartski