Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors member: Re-erect Silent Sam – and new statues

This week has seen a whirlwind of new controversy surrounding the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument.

On Monday UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt abruptly resigned following UNC Board of Governors over whether the toppled monument would return to campus. Folt ordered the base of the monument removed from McCorkle Place. This infuriated members of the board who voted for a task force of board members to work with UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees on a new plan for the monument to be delivered by March.

On Tuesday the board held an emergency teleconference meeting during which they voted to accept Folt’s resignation, but decided to replace her with an interim chancellor by the end of the month rather than allow her to serve until the end of the semester as she had desired.

Most of the board – including those on the task force – aren’t going on record about the flap. But board of governors member Thom Goolsby has posted a video to YouTube condemning Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees over the removal of the statue’s base. Calling it a “calculated act of disregard for North Carolina law,” Goolsby suggested the statue should be re-erected on the campus with a structure around it to provide security. He also suggested erecting other statues, perhaps commemorating the 1898 white supremacist coup in his town of Wilmington referred to as “The Wilmington Race Riot” and minority women who were sterilized as part of a eugenics program.

Goolsby, a Republican, characterized both as atrocities committed by Democrats.

As historical experts have observed throughout the debate over Confederate monuments, modern conservatives regularly make such broadsides while ignoring the historical realignment of political parties in the United States. That realignment has led to members of what was the party of Lincoln fiercely defending Confederate statues erected in the Jim Crow era as part of a white supremacist movement.

Goolsby, a former state senator, is often an outlier even on the largely conservative board of governors, frequently at the center of controversies and butting heads with his fellow board members. He called for the immediate re-erecting of the statue in the wake of its toppling and was the only board member to vote against the recent task force to decide the statue’s future.

Last month a panel of independent security professionals concluded the statue’s return to campus is a security risk likely to attract violence and further damage to the statue. In a report to the board of governors, the panel suggested the safest solution would be to move the statue off campus – a position with which Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees agreed. Most members of the board of governors say a 2015 state law created to prevent the removal of Confederate statues makes that impossible.

Goolsby ended his video by urging people to contact their state legislators and pledging to fight “until the rule of law is reestablished in North Carolina.”

Education

Federal shutdown prompts NC school district to provide only ‘minimum level’ lunches

Vance County Schools has announced that beginning Jan. 21, the school district will begin to provide students with “minimum level” school lunches to conserve funds in the wake of the federal government shutdown.

State nutrition officials say the directive to cut back on school lunches didn’t come from Raleigh.

“We have not advised LEAs [Local Education Authorities] in North Carolina to take measures to reduce their spending at this time, however, we respect that local school officials and boards of education must take the actions they believe to be in the best interest of their students, families and communities,” Lynn Harvey, section chief of school nutrition services with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said in a statement.

Vance County School administrators couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Here’s part of the message posted on the school district’s website:

Starting the week of January 21, minimum level means: one main dish, bread, two vegetables, one fruit and milk. No fresh produce will be included, except at elementary schools as part of the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program. This program will be decreased to two days each week. No bottled drinks (water and juice) will be available after the current inventory in stock is used. No ice cream will be available.

Harvey said she shared a memo from federal officials with school districts explaining that enough federal funding is available to support schools at normal levels “well into the month of March.”

The memo was signed by Cynthia Long, a deputy administrator of Child Nutrition Programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Long said the agency is aware of the concerns Food and Nutrition Services [FNS] customers have as a result of the government shutdown.

“To address such concerns, and ensure that programs can continue to operate without fear of disruption, FNS has provided State Agencies with additional available appropriated funding,” Long wrote.

Meanwhile, Harvey said North Carolina officials will continue to analyze data to determine possible options for LEAs if the government shutdown continues into February.

“We are communicating with school nutrition directors and other state and federal agencies, and we will be prepared to make recommendations during the first week of February,” Harvey said.

Education

Parent group ‘cautiously optimistic’ about new plan to reduce student testing

Reform advocates worry that A-F testing program for schools remains a big problem

Leaders of N.C. Families for School Testing Reform are “cautiously optimistic” about Superintendent Mark Johnson’s plan to reduce the amount of high stakes testing taking place in North Carolina Schools.

Susan Book told Policy Watch on Wednesday that she likes the part of Johnson’s plan that calls for reducing the amount of time students must sit for tests.

But she said other parts, such as the one calling for the use of technology to “personalize learning and eliminate testing,” is too vague.

“What does that look like?” Book asked. “We don’t understand that. It’s very vague at this point.”

Until testing is no longer tied to school letter grades, Book said it will continue to cause anxiety in parents, teachers and students.

“I really think some of it [Johnson’s plan] is meaningless if we don’t address the testing culture,” Book said. “We’re never going to get rid of that culture unless we address school grades.”

Since 2015, all North Carolina schools have received letter grades from A-F each year. A big chunk – 80 percent – of a school’s grade is tied to students’ performance on state tests. The other 20 percent of the grade is tied to how much academic growth students gained over one year of learning.

Suzanne Miller, also a leader of N.C. Families for School Testing Reform, said the organization hoped the superintendent would invite some of its members to help craft the plan.

“We feel parental input is important,” Miller said.

She said group’s goals are to reduce the overall amount of assessments, make sure assessments are fair and equitable for all students and ensure that testing results provide educators useful data that measures student growth.

Brad McMillen, the assistant superintendent for data, research and accountability for Wake County Public Schools, said Johnson’s plan looks like a good first step.

“The devil’s in the details, though,” McMillen said.

He said simply reducing the number of tests would help lower stress for students,  and also for school districts, which must mobilize hundreds of volunteers each year to serve as exam proctors.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators [NCAE], said Johnson’s plan is short on specifics.

“The superintendent had a major opportunity to significantly curb the use of standardized testing over the last two years when the state adopted it’s ESSA [Every Student Succeeds Act] plan, but the superintendent chose to side with the General Assembly to double-down on testing, not reduce it,” Jewell said.

Meanwhile, Johnson said the plan he released this week will allow educators to spend more time teaching.

“We will be working with local superintendents and state leaders to reform the system of over-testing,” Johnson said in a news release. “We can give the teachers the time to do what they entered the profession to do: teach.”

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

Here’s Johnson’s plan to reduce testing in North Carolina schools:

  • Reduce the number of questions on tests.
  • Reduce the time students must sit for tests.
  • Change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools around testing time.
  • Work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests.
  • Push to eliminate tests not required by Washington, D.C.
  • Give students other ways to show progress if they have a bad test day.
  • Use the appropriate amount of technology as a tool for students and teachers to personalize learning and eliminate tests.
Higher Ed, News

Carol Folt stepping down as chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill

Carol Folt will step down as chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC announced late Monday afternoon. Her tenure will end after this year’s graduation.

 

UNC President Margaret Spellings, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith huddle before a tense meeting of the Board of Governors in December.

In a message to the university community, Folt announced her decision, highlighted some of her accomplishments and acknowledged challenges still facing the UNC community.

Among the challenges – her disagreement with the UNC Board of Governors about whether the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument – toppled by protesters last year – should return to campus.

Folt, who has been Chancellor since 2013, has been a frequent target of some of the more conservative members of the Board of Governors. They have criticized her actions surrounding the Silent Sam monument, protests related to the issue and for not taking stronger action against students, faculty and staff engaged in protests around that issue and others with which she has disagreements with the board.

At the same time, Folt has been a frequent target of those in the community who feel she has not done enough to oppose the board of governors’ attempts to pull the campus and the university system to the political right.

In the message Folt said she has ordered the removal of the pedestal on which the monument stood at McCorkle Place in the center of campus.

“As chancellor, the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility,” Folt wrote in the statement. “The presence of the remaining parts of the monument on campus poses a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment. No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe. ”

“The independent panel of safety experts we convened in November to help us review options for the monument that we presented to the UNC Board of Governors made a strong and compelling case for risks to public safety,”  Folt wrote. “The fact that despite our best efforts even since then, threats have continued to grow and place our community at serious risk has led me to authorize this action.”

“As I have said before, safety concerns alone should preclude the monument from returning to campus,” Folt wrote. “This was also the strong preference of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. The base and tablets will be preserved until their future is decided. While I recognize that some may not agree with my decision to remove the base and tablets now, I am confident this is the right one for our community – one that will promote public safety, enable us to begin the healing process and renew our focus on our great mission.”

In a statement late Monday, several members of the UNC Board of Trustees said it supported her decision to remove the statue’s base in a release that seemed to frame her resignation as directly related to the statue.

“As current officers of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and a former chair who served with Chancellor Carol L. Folt, we support her decision to remove intact the base of the Confederate Monument and accept her decision to step down from her position,” the trustees wrote in the statement. “We thank Chancellor Folt for working tirelessly to elevate our University each and every day to serve the people of North Carolina and beyond.”

“The chancellor has ultimate authority over campus public safety, and we agree Chancellor Folt is acting properly to preserve campus security,” the statement read. “Nothing is more important than keeping our campus community and visitors as safe as possible.”

The message was signed Charles “Chuck” Duckett, vice chair; Julia Grumbles, secretary and Lowry Caudill, current trustee and past chair.

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith issued his own statement Monday night.

In it, Smith said the board was blindsided by Folt’s resignation during Monday’s closed session “to deliberate issues related to UNC-Chapel Hill’s leadership.”

He also criticized her order to have the Confederate monument’s base removed.

“We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action,” Folt said.  “It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the Board’s goal to operate with class and dignity. We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner.”

“In December, the Board developed and articulated a clear process and timeline for determining the best course of action for the future of the Monument—and this remains unchanged,” Smith said.

“Moving forward, the Board will continue to work tirelessly and collaboratively with all relevant parties to determine the best way forward for UNC-Chapel Hill,” Smith said. “We will do so with proper governance and oversight in a way that respects all constituencies and diverse views on this issue. The safety and security of the campus community and general public who visit the institution remains paramount.”

Early Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statement supporting Folt’s decision on removing the statue’s base.

“I appreciate the Chancellor’s actions to keep students and the public safe,” Cooper said in the statement. “North Carolina is welcoming to all, and our public university should reflect that.”

Folt’s announcement comes after UNC President Margaret Spellings’ own resignation, announced in October. Spellings, like Folt, has had a series of tensions with the UNC Board of Governors.

Folt’s statement in its entirety:

 

Dear Carolina Community:

At the start of this semester and new year, I see possibility and promise and am filled with the sense of the limitless potential that makes Carolina such a vital place. In that spirit, I would like to share two important announcements with you.

First, you’ve heard me say many times that it is the privilege of my life to serve as chancellor of this great university. I’m deeply proud of what you’ve accomplished and what we’ve accomplished together since I became a Tar Heel nearly six years ago in 2013. I am writing today to let you know that I have decided to step down as chancellor following graduation, at the end of the academic year.

I have always been driven by the “new and the next,” working with people to take on challenges, solve problems, create frameworks for success, and act to achieve them. Over our years together, we have created a deep and thoughtful shared vision for Carolina’s future—the Blueprint for Next—and we used it to propel our historic Campaign for Carolina past its mid-point goal of $2.25 billion last summer. With the dedication and care of our staff and faculty, our schools are advancing curricula for the future and our students and alumni are succeeding in all fields. We’ve raised nearly $500 million in scholarships and aid, and our community is making discoveries every day that save lives and advance our state and society. As I have reflected on all of this, I’ve decided that this is the right time for me to pass the leadership of our outstanding university, with all its momentum, to the next chancellor, and look ahead for my own “new and next.”

There is much I intend to accomplish with you in the next few months. I will continue to focus on our core mission, do all I can to make sure every person on our campus can thrive and feel welcome, and push forward with Carolina’s campaign and history task force. There has been too much recent disruption due to the monument controversy. Carolina’s leadership needs to return its full attention to helping our University achieve its vision and to live its values. And I want this semester to be exciting and fulfilling for every one of our soon-to-be graduates.

Most importantly, we must always do what we can to make sure our faculty, students and staff have a creative, innovative work and living environment, one that is inclusive, forward-looking and safe. This year for example, we reached our highest level of research funding ever (5th in the nation in federal funds), continued to see historic increases in first-year applications and levels of philanthropy, and pushed ahead as a national leader in affordability, access and student graduation rates. These accomplishments show how talented and dedicated our community is and what can be achieved even in the face of disruption. Just imagine what is possible if we can put our full attention to the potentials and needs of the future.

Second, I have authorized the removal of the base and commemorative plaques from the Confederate Monument site in McCorkle Place. As chancellor, the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility. The presence of the remaining parts of the monument on campus poses a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment. No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe. The independent panel of safety experts we convened in November to help us review options for the monument that we presented to the UNC Board of Governors made a strong and compelling case for risks to public safety. The fact that despite our best efforts even since then, threats have continued to grow and place our community at serious risk has led me to authorize this action.

As I have said before, safety concerns alone should preclude the monument from returning to campus. This was also the strong preference of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. The base and tablets will be preserved until their future is decided. While I recognize that some may not agree with my decision to remove the base and tablets now, I am confident this is the right one for our community – one that will promote public safety, enable us to begin the healing process and renew our focus on our great mission.

As we celebrate Carolina’s 225th year, we are poised for a strong future. Supported by citizens of our state, generations of dedicated faculty, students, staff, donors and alumni, we are accomplishing great things for the state and the nation. Carolina is better positioned than ever to be the “university of and for the people.” I believe Carolina’s next chancellor will be well placed to build on our momentum. And with your help and energy we will make this another semester filled with Tar Heel energy, creativity and action.

Respectfully yours,

Carol L. Folt
Chancellor

 

Education

Former Teacher of the Year: Don’t blame teachers, students for reading failure

Lisa Godwin, the 2017 pick for state Teacher of the Year, said teachers and students aren’t to blame for the poor reading scores the State Board of Education discussed last week during its monthly business meeting.

Godwin, an Onslow County educator who sits on the board as an adviser, said North Carolina leaders must do more if they want reading scores to improve.

“There’s got to be accountability from above, and the fact is we don’t have what we need to move these kids,” said Godwin, who teaches at Dixon Elementary School.

Godwin’s remarks were in response to a report about the state’s Read to Achieve initiative. The report shows that 43.7 percent of third-graders tested statewide during the 2017-18 did not demonstrate reading proficiency.

She compared teaching a child to read to laying the foundation for a house.

N.C.’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, Lisa Godwin

“For whatever reason, we tend to skimp on the foundation that we’re pouring for our students and so in order to change outcomes we must begin to front-load and pour resources into those early years,” Godwin said.

North Carolina has spent more than $150 million on the program designed to ensure all third-graders are reading at or above grade level.

Under state law, those third-grade students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade will receive special help, including summer reading camp and other interventions to make sure that they can read well enough to be able to do fourth-grade work.

Rattling off a list of concerns that sounded a lot like those voiced by teachers in Los Angeles who walked off the job Monday, Godwin said smaller class sizes with no option for waivers is critical if North Carolina expects better academic outcomes.

“I have a part-time assistant with 24 kids that vary in needs,” Godwin explained. “We need to be able to function and to be able to address student needs and on a more one-to-one basis.”

Godwin also called on the state to bridge the technology divide between rural and urban schools.

“There are inequities across this state and we need to address it,” Godwin said.

She added:  “I’m currently at 24 students in my classroom with a part-time assistant and I have no personal student devices for my students to use. That’s not OK, and this is the North Carolina Teacher of the Year.”

She urged state board members to keep students and teachers in mind when they begin to talk to members of the General Assembly about needs this year.

“We need to be able to lay that [reading] foundation and give teachers what they need to move forward, so the shaming of students and the shaming of teachers not making the scores, that’s got to stop.”