Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors member calls Silent Sam suggestion “sheer cowardice”

In a video on his personal YouTube channel, UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby called the UNC Board of Trustees’ suggestion on the fate of Silent Sam “sheer cowardice.”

The proposal to build a $5.3 million UNC history center at which the Confederate monument could be housed has incensed both the political right and left, Goolsby said.

A large scale protest of the plan was held Monday night by students, faculty, staff and community members.

Goolsby, one of the most vocal conservatives on the conservative dominated Board of Governors, criticized the trustees as pushing their own agenda and said they’re misinterpreting the law on how the Confederate statue can be relocated.

Goolsby is known for dramatic statements and actions that divide the board. While other members of the board are not always as histrionic, Board Chairman Harry Smith has defended Goolsby a number of times and the board’s most conservative faction tends to agree with him.

The board will meet next week to take up the Silent Sam issue.

Board members Bob Rucho and Phil Byers attended the UNC Board of Trustees meeting at which the trustees’ plan was released, but neither would comment on the board’s report.

Education, News, race

Combating poverty and other barriers, Wayne County coalition focuses on equitable economic development

Marking nearly a year of planning and progress in Goldsboro, a group of community residents, nonprofit leaders and elected officials that have been part of an initiative focusing on equitable economic development known as WAYne Forward, hosted a Fall Summit to discuss the ways in which the community can address poverty through collective effort. With high energy and deep conversations, the event highlighted the value of sustained work that brings many stakeholders together to promote opportunity for all.

These aren’t always easy conversations. A history of exclusion and discrimination that persists in eastern North Carolina creates barriers for current residents, as have policy choices and systems that block opportunity. Problems ranging from disproportionate suspension rates of minorities to disproportionate juvenile court rates and detention admittance rates to the lack of affordable housing and too few good paying jobs with career pathways. As well, multiple census tracts or neighborhoods in the county experience a poverty rate of over 30 percent, delivering what is considered a double burden on residents poor and not poor.

Yet, for the past year, the community organized around these troubling outcomes and has been working to understand the landscape of opportunity in their community. Building from community-based outreach such as food drives or school reading initiatives, these are just some of the ways Wayne County aims to bridge the gaps to fight poverty. Along with a continued emphasis on building a strong civic leadership, and grassroots network that can mobilize and organize residents, and a growing effort to revitalize main streets and lift up the arts and regional connections the community has proven assets to build on.

Still like many places, Goldsboro has its obstacles to overcome. In 2014, it was ranked as one of the areas with the greatest decline in the middle class by Pew Research Center. Research by the UNC Poverty Fund released last year found the persistent and concentrated poverty in Goldsboro along with systemic exclusion of communities of color was creating a toxic environment for children.

The opportunity to demonstrate solutions that have been proven to work and advance the wellbeing of all residents is available in Wayne County. Read more

Commentary, Education

Student voices: It’s time for NC legislators to stand with us in taking action against gun violence

The following op-ed comes from Lily Levin, a student leader and ally of the NC Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, who shares her thoughts about the actions that all caring and thinking people must take to combat the gun violence epidemic.  

On October 19th, I had the privilege of attending the Student Gun Violence Summit in Washington, DC. I arrived at the event with an understanding of the effect of gun violence in a variety of different communities. I left the summit understanding that gun violence is inextricably tied to violence against minorities, violence against women, violence against children—in essence, it is a symptom of the cycle of institutionalized violence perpetuated in America.

We all know that gun deaths in America are countless. Most of us know someone affected by gun violence. A large number of us have been affected by gun violence ourselves.

Although I am only an ally, I feel that it is my duty to advocate alongside survivors. “Survivor” is a broad term; survivor of what, exactly?

Survivor of hate. Survivor of cruelty. Survivor of trauma.

Gun violence is not an isolated evil. It is a product of the encouragement of white nationalism by those in office, including the President.

It is a product of the disenfranchisement of low income communities of color. It is the product of a culture of misogyny and the normalization of rape. It is the product of police brutality. It is the product of access to guns.

The Student Gun Violence Summit taught me that in order to prevent gun deaths, we must approach the reform argument from a place of intersectionality, meaning, striving toward an understanding of how so many issues are tied to public policy—mental health (two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides), school safety, and racial bias training and mitigation. America’s gun problem is so incredibly expansive that we cannot simply enact one legislative action and expect a significant reduction in gun deaths: we must approach this debate from a systemic level.

One policy is a step in the right direction, but reform requires sweeping and massive change. Those of us who are paying attention to the increasing rate of gun deaths in America know this all too well.

Teachers, students, and survivors of school shootings and inner-city gun crime and family-member suicide joined me at the summit. At times, listening to the stories of others, I felt hopeless, but when my peers shared their passions and dedication to this issue, I knew that I must be hopeful. When we ratified the Student Safety Bill of Rights, I knew that, one day, we will win. I urge you all to access the Student Safety Bill of Rights and advocate for it in front of your local school boards and with your state legislators. Visit the Action Network Website to learn more: https://actionnetwork.org/.

The North Carolina General Assembly will be back in session on November 27—presumably to review and implement the voter ID amendment, among other issues—but there is no mention of gun reform and education, which are urgent needs in light of the Butler High School shooting and mass amounts of gun violence every day.

My friend Raina and I are beginning to plan a March for Our Lives Wake County chapter, which is inclusive, diverse, and honors different voices, but we cannot fight this fight alone.

Stand with us. Stand against gun violence, and most importantly, stand for humanity.

Lily Levin is a high school student, social justice advocate, change-maker, and ally. She co-founded Triangle People Power, a youth activist group pursuing multi-issue advocacy based on the ACLU’s grassroots agenda, and currently serves as its executive leader. She is also a passionate proponent of intersectional gun reform, having coordinated the Why Wake Walks rally on the anniversary of Columbine and working with Mom’s Demand Action, Bull City United, and March for Our Lives.

Education, News

With N.C. reading initiative a bust, experts have tips for boosting childhood literacy

With a new N.C. State University study offering a particularly bleak assessment of North Carolina’s efforts to boost childhood literacy, experts are offering tips for parents to do their part in getting past the state’s Read to Achieve doldrums.

That study found no discernible impact from six years, and about $150 million in spending, on the Read to Achieve program, an initiative championed by Republican lawmakers and state Senate President Phil Berger.

The program hinges on early-grade testing and reading interventions for lagging children, but has been a target of some critics who say it contributes to over-testing in the early grades.

Facing the study’s grim findings, The Charlotte Observer‘s Ann Doss Helms offered up a report Monday that delves into the troubling findings for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), the state’s second-largest public school system, and some recommendations for parents to help improve student performance outside of the classroom.

From The Charlotte Observer:

Munro Richardson was dismayed but hardly shocked to hear that a recent N.C. State University study found no benefit from the state’s Read to Achieve program.

Hired three years ago to lead Read Charlotte, a private push to boost third-grade reading, he had watched state and local test scores sag despite massive efforts from the state and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. When the most recent report came out in September, only 46 percent of third-graders in CMS and 45 percent statewide earned scores that indicate they’re on track to succeed in college and careers. Only about one-third of black, Hispanic and low-income children hit that mark.

Richardson took his own deep dive into reading test scores, comparing five years of results for 107 CMS elementary schools and six Charlotte-area charter schools.

“The picture that emerges is not one of lower poverty schools doing better than higher poverty schools,” Richardson wrote in an email to the Observer. “Or of charter schools doing better than CMS schools. The overall trend for ALL SCHOOLS is headed in the wrong direction. … For the most part the picture is grim.”

That doesn’t mean Richardson and his donors are giving up. Instead, Richardson said, they’ve spent the past three years combing research for strategies that parents and volunteers can use to make a difference — often long before children report to school.

Here are four opportunities for parents, relatives, volunteers and donors to help young children become strong readers.

1. Stop reading to children … and start reading with them.

Instead of just reading a book to a child — which, of course, isn’t really a bad thing — Read Charlotte pushes “active reading.” That means the adult asks questions about what might happen next in the story, helps children learn words by dramatizing them (“Don’t just read ‘whisper,’ actually whisper”) and talks about how the story relates to the child’s life.

Free workshops on “The ABCs of Active Reading” are available around the county; find the schedule at readcharlotte.org/active-reading. Tutors trained in active reading work with students in eight CMS elementary schools; learn more and sign up at tutorcharlotte.org/reading-mentors/.

2. Play games that build skills.

You don’t need to be a teacher or a college graduate to help children learn letters and sounds. Home Reading Helper (homereadinghelper.org) offers computer games and simple home activities that are tailored to a child’s age and reading level. For instance, a kindergartener might play “Frog’s Rhyming Machine” or “Dinosaur Field Guide,” while the parents could print out a vocabulary list and get tips on how to work more words into daily conversation.

Families can also sign up for weekly text messages suggesting additional activities, also tailored to the child’s age, at ReadCharlotte.org/text or by texting READCLT to 70138.

3. Get free books — or provide them for others.

The Charlotte area has plenty of book drives, but the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is now offering to send a free book each month to the home of any Mecklenburg County child younger than 5 years old. Sign up at www.smartstartofmeck.org/programs/dpil/, or get more information at dpil@smartstartofmeck.org or 704-943-9780.

Donors can also pitch in at the website; $30 covers a year’s books for one child.

4. Help budding readers get over the hump.

Some students who fail reading tests know how to read words but can’t put them together well enough to enjoy reading and keep up with grade-level work. Developing that skill, called fluency, is the focus of a program called Helping Early Literacy with Practice Strategies, or HELPS.

Richardson says that program, developed by N.C. State University professor John Begeny, is one of his best finds from reviewing research on what works. Many reading interventions have not been evaluated well enough to say scientifically how many children are likely to benefit, Richardson says. And of those that have, the typical program produces reading gains for three children out of 100.

HELPS improves fluency and comprehension for 35 out of 100 participants, based on rigorous comparison studies, Richardson said. The program trains teachers and tutors to read with individual students in 10- to 15-minute sessions in ways that help the students get more confident and comfortable with reading.

Read Charlotte is working with CMS to get HELPS into 11 schools this year. Volunteers, who get three hours of training and are asked to commit one hour a week, are urgently needed. Sign up at readcharlotte.org/helps.

Will this work?

None of these strategies should be expected to work miracles. Groups have handed out books, volunteers have read with kids and districts across North Carolina have cycled through reading programs for years.

State legislators have pumped more than $150 million into Read To Achieve, a program that focuses on testing third-graders and retaining those who can’t read at grade level. Five years in, they have little to show for it.

Richardson says these programs are part of a larger strategy that has to include everything from expanded public prekindergarten to better support for families.

Leora Itzhaki, principal of Montclaire Elementary, has been with CMS long enough to see lots of reading programs launched and discarded. She and her literacy facilitator, Katie Fazio, say they’re optimistic about HELPS reading because it’s so carefully researched and scripted. It’s also funded by a nonprofit organization to keep costs low, rather than marketed by a for-profit company.

Montclaire, where many of the students come from Spanish-speaking families, has 21 third-graders taking part in HELPS. On a recent morning they trooped in and out of a mobile classroom, where volunteers had them read a timed passage, check their speed and accuracy, had them re-read any sections they had trouble with, read aloud to their students and tried again to see if they had gotten faster and more accurate.

In some ways it was almost mechanical, with the adults reading from scripts, following flow charts and graphing each student’s results. But the volunteers added warm praise, dynamic reading and trips to the “prize box” for meeting goals. The children seemed to enjoy the exercise.

Montclaire won’t have data on its kids until midterm testing, but the educators and volunteers say they’re seeing results. Many of the students who used to read hesitantly and stumble over words — all the Montclaire students in the program are also English language learners — are showing that they can read aloud at a faster pace with a little coaching and practice.

“It’s very methodical and repetitive,” Fazio said, “but the kids love it, I think.”


Buncombe County school that’s a leader in vaccine-exemptions now dealing with chickenpox outbreak

The Asheville Waldorf School, which has one of the highest religious exemption rates for vaccinations in the state, is now coping with a chickenpox outbreak. The school that serves kindergarten through 6th grade students has 36 students who have contracted the illness, the worst outbreak in 20 years.

According to the Asheville Citizen Times, 110 of the schools 152 students had not received the chickenpox vaccine, making spread of the disease more likely.

“The thing people need to understand is that when you have pockets of unvaccinated people, they serve as reservoirs for disease,” said Susan Sullivan, a nurse with the state DHHS who consults with local health departments about vaccines and preventable diseases

The Washington Post picked up the story this morning and reports that Buncombe County Health officials are imploring parents that the best protection from spreading the disease is for parents to have their children vaccinated.

Sadly not everyone is heeding that advice.

Here’s more from Post reporter Isaac Stanley-Becker:

The school is a symbol of the small but strong movement against the most effective means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The percentage of children under 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When we see high numbers of unimmunized children and adults, we know that an illness like chickenpox can spread easily throughout the community — into our playgrounds, grocery stores, and sports teams,” she said in a news release.

But not all parents seemed to grasp the gravity of the outbreak. Nor does everyone see the rationale behind vaccines, which some believe — contrary to scientific evidence — cause more severe health issues than they’re meant to cure. The claim of an autism risk, though it has been debunked, has remained a rallying cry of the anti-vaccine movement.

Recent efforts to tighten the rules have foundered. In 2015, state legislators withdrew a bill that would have all but eliminated the religious exemption after their efforts were met with strident protest. Protesters picketed the state’s General Assembly in Raleigh, warning of “Medical Terrorism.”

Meanwhile, the county’s medical director has been exhorting residents to immunize their children. “What happens when we lack community immunity? Measles is what happens,” Mullendore this fall told commissioners of the county, which had the highest rate of religious exemptions last year.

The friction between medical experts and the residents in their care is not unique to Buncombe County, where the parents of 5.7 percent of kindergartners claimed a religious exemption, or even to North Carolina, where the rate was 1.2 percent.

Forty-seven states allow religious exemptions to vaccine requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. CDC data shows that the median percentage of kindergartners not receiving one or more required vaccine was highest in Oregon.

Read the rest of the article in the Washington Post. For complete local coverage, check out the story in the Citizen-Times.

The Asheville Waldorf School makes no mention of the chickenpox cases on its website or Facebook page.