Flexibility on summer reading camps for third graders, a second chance for legislation that would require schools to stock EpiPens, and the case for continuing a Race to the Top-funded program to groom principals for service in high need schools were among the topics heard by lawmakers at today’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee meeting in Raleigh.
Read to Achieve
Randolph County superintendent Stephen Gainey asked lawmakers to amend legislation that requires local school districts to provide six-week summer reading camps for all third graders who don’t meet proficiency benchmarks in reading by the end of this school year.
“I’m asking you for flexibility. This is a good piece of legislation. I realize reading is a huge issue,” said Gainey, who begged lawmakers to consider shortening the provision that requires summer camps to last six weeks, instead allowing districts to come up with their own plans as long as they meet the minimum 72 hours of instruction provided to students.
Gainey endorsed a plan that would shorten the summer reading camps to three weeks, which he said would go farther to create the conditions necessary for for parents to commit to the camp and students to be able to concentrate for its duration. He expects 39.5 percent of his third graders to attend the camps.There’s the financial cost to consider too.”It’s more than a $90,000 difference in cost between a three-week camp and a six-week camp,” said Gainey. Local school districts are expended to fund the camps in part, with the state contributing a limited amount of funds.
Richmond County superintendent George Norris echoed Gainey’s request.”We’ve met with our parents of third graders, and this is what they have suggested to us and we feel like we’ll get better participation,” said Norris. “And we need to get this done early during your [legislative] session. Please give us extra time,” added Norris.
Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) indicated his willingness to support an amendment to the legislation.
“I will try my best to work this flexibility correction in there,” said Tillman. “It’s not all about money, but it’s about what will work and what will kids and parents buy into.”
Each lawmaker attending today’s ed oversight meeting received their own empty epinephrine pen to handle as a physician and parent presented facts about the need for all schools to keep the life saving medicine on hand.
“Food allergies affect an estimate four to six percent of children in the United States,” explained Ben Wright, a Pediatric Allergy physician and Immunology Fellow at Duke University.
Because many children who have food allergies and subsequently suffer from an anaphylactic (life-threatening) reaction have no prior diagnosis, it’s critical to have epinephrine on hand at schools, said Wright. Delayed administration of the drug is often the reason why children do not survive anaphylactic reactions upon ingesting food they are allergic to.
Last October, President Obama signed into law the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. This federal legislation offers grants to states who have laws on the books mandating their schools to maintain an emergency supply of epinephrine. North Carolina is one of just a handful of states in the nation that has no pending legislation or actual law on the books that requires schools have EpiPens on hand.
The North Carolina House passed a bill last year, HB 824 , which would have required schools to stock EpiPens, but that bill never made it out of committee in the Senate.
Rep. Craig Horn expressed concern about the cost to schools for maintaining an EpiPen program but
Rep. Rick Glazier, sponsor of last year’s bill, sought to allay cost concerns explaining that in the first year of the requirement, the drug company that manufactures the EpiPens will provide free pens to all school districts, and in the second year bill sponsors will seek federal assistance under the new law signed by President Obama.
Lawmakers were encouraged to try out the EpiPens, either on themselves or a colleague next to them.
“Madame Chair,” asked Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake), “can you have Sen. Tillman come sit next to me?”
Sen. Tillman declined subjecting himself to Sen. Stein’s stab.
Regional Leadership Academies
Principals and administrators spoke to committee members about the value of the state’s Regional Leadership Academies (RLA’s), a Race to the Top-funded program that trains carefully selected educators to become principals of high needs schools.
Principal Erin Swanson of Stocks Elementary School in Tarboro explained the value of the Northeast Regional Leadership Academy, known as NELA, for her career.
“That full time internship was huge for me and truly transformative,” said Swanson, who says she still channels the guidance she received from her mentor principal during that time.
The RLA’s function by providing promising leaders a one-year, paid full-time residency in a high needs school. They undergo an experiential learning setting through day-to-day principal responsibilities, take advantage of weekly seminars that offer constructive feedback, executive coaching and other benefits.
In the next three years, more than 50 percent of North Carolina’s principals will be eligible for retirement, which is why proponents of the program say it’s imperative that the General Assembly act to provide additional funds so that they program can survive for the next year while administrators seek alternative funding to Race to the Top funds, which will run out soon.
The program is not run by a central body, but overseen by the State Board of Education as a part of the Race to the Top grant.
“This program has purposely been set up as a decentralized function, rather than a top down approach, in an effort to draw on the talents of those in the field,” explained State Board of Education member John Tate, who spoke in support of the RLA’s.
“We’re leaving the work to the field because superintendents can own the success of this program.”
Finally, representatives from UNC-Greensboro presented details of a public-private partnership that supports students with intellectual or developmental disabilities by way of a certificate program aimed at equipping those students with skills that can help them be active members of society.
The Integrative Community Studies (ICS) Certificate Program, supported by the Beyond Academics  nonprofit agency, is a 120 credit hour program that endeavors to equip intellectually challenged students with the ability to secure employment, live independently, develop a network of friends and become engaged citizens.
“As parents of Haley Parker, a third year student at UNCG… we can say we didn’t have a plan for her after high school,” said parents Tom and Kelly Parker. “Beyond Academics has provided opportunities for Haley to grow both academically and emotionally.”
Haley’s parents explained how the program has been instrumental in helping her develop critical skills to carry on a productive and independent life. Thanks to the program, she has learned how to manage her own budget, transportation, and apartment, in addition to developing a strong network of friends.
The program is funded through grants, donations, tuition and financial aid.