Greg Childress joined NC Policy Watch in December 2018 after nearly 30 years of reporting and editorial writing at The Herald-Sun in Durham. His most recent reporting assignment was covering K-12 education in Chapel Hill and Durham and Orange Counties. [email protected] Follow Greg @gchild6645

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt vows to fight for same ‘principles’ as new Virginia governor

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt shared a celebratory tweet Wednesday congratulating Republican Glenn Youngkin on his victory in the Virginia governor’s race.

The superintendent tweeted that “Parents’ voices were heard loud and clear last night in VA!” and she pledged to “continue to fight for these basic principles in NC.”

Youngkin, a political newcomer, defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor, in a tightly contested race in which education became a key issue.

Youngkin has committed to building at least 20 charter schools across Virginia to offer parents more choice. And he has vowed to ban Critical Race Theory (CRT), an obscure academic discipline that examines how American racism has shaped law and public policy. Most K-12 educators say CRT is not taught in public schools.

Catherine Truitt

Truitt, nevertheless, has also pledged to fight against CRT in North Carolina’s K-12 schools.

“As your superintendent, I will continue to do everything I can to stop CRT and eradicate it from classrooms,” Truitt said during a June “meet and greet” with Orange County Republicans. “Republicans in NC are united on this.”

McAuliffe received a lot of criticism for saying parents should not tell schools what to teach during a debate before Tuesday’s election.

Truitt’s tweet included a survey question from an NBC News exit poll showing that 94% of Youngkin’s supporters believe parents should have “a lot/some say” in curriculum.  Meanwhile, 74% of McAuliffe supporters agreed that parents should have “a lot/some say” in curriculum.

NC Department of Public Instruction’s key Leandro strategist to retire

Bev Emory

Bev Emory, the executive director of Leandro Support at the NC Department of Public instruction (NCDPI), will retire Dec. 31.

Emory, the NCDPI staffer responsible for implementing the recommendations in the WestEd report, shared the news Wednesday during the State Board of Education’s (SBE) Bi-Annual Planning and Work Session.

She told State Superintendent Catherine Truitt about her decision to retire a few months ago.

“This has really been a joyful ride,” Emory said during an impromptu speech. “I told Superintendent [Catherine] Truitt when I talked to her a few months ago is that the last thing I want to be is that person everybody is saying, ‘Oh, God she needs to go.’ ”

NCDPI spokeswoman Blair Rhoades said a formal announcement about “transition plans” will be made at the SBE’s December 1-2 meeting.

WestEd is an independent consultant hired by Superior Court Judge David Lee to develop recommendations to improve North Carolina’s public schools. Lee is overseeing the state’s landmark school funding case – Leandro v. State of North Carolina – brought by five school districts in low-wealth counties that argued their districts did not have enough money to provide children a quality education.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.

WestEd’s recommendations include staffing each classroom with a competent, well-trained teacher; staffing each school with a competent, well-trained principal and identifying the resources necessary to ensure that all children have an equal opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education, among others.

Emory’s public announcement about her December departure comes just days before Judge Lee is expected to issue a court order to compel lawmakers to comply with the Leandro ruling by funding a plan that calls for $1.7 billion in new school spending over the next two years.  The plan would cost $5.6 billion over the next seven years and would pay for teacher raises, provide additional funding to low-wealth school districts and expand the NC Pre-K program.

SBE Chairman Eric Davis said Emory has touched millions of students during her career.

“There’re families, there’re teachers, there’re educators who have a better life today because they were touched by Bev Emory,” Davis said.

Emory resigned as superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in 2019 to become director of district and regional support at NCDPI. She was hired by former state superintendent Mark Johnson, who had served on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.

Emory also served as superintendent of Pitt County Schools from 2006-13.

State commission provided blueprint to close achievement gap 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, the NC Commission on Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps issued a report with 11 recommendations to improve minority students’ academic achievement.

On Tuesday, the State Board of Education (SBE) acknowledged that many of the report’s goals have not been met even as it posthumously honored Robert Bridges, the longtime North Carolina educator who chaired the ground-breaking Commission.

Robert Bridges

Bridges was the first Black superintendent of the Wake County school system. He died in September. The SBE presented Bridges’ family a gift to show its appreciation for his efforts to ensure a “sound and basic education” for North Carolina’s school children.

SBE member Olivia Oxendine served on the Commission. She told the board that the recommendations in the “Bridges Report” are  still relevant. Oxendine noted that the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) touches upon some of them in the work it’s currently doing to close the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers.

“But if you take a look at the cover of that report, we have a way to go,” Oxendine said. “You see the vision. The vision is actually on the cover of the report. You see the trajectory and we haven’t quite gotten there, but can we? We certainly can.”

Olivia Oxendine

Oxendine was referring to the December 2001 report’s cover, which features an aspirational growth trajectory chart that shows minority students closing the achievement gap.

Tuesday’s discussion took place during the first day of the SBE’s two-day bi-annual planning and work session.

The commission was created in 2000 to advise the SBE, the state Superintendent, and local school districts on strategies to raise student achievement and to close the achievement gap that existed, and still exists, between minority students and their white counterparts.

“A rising tide will lift all boats but their physical relationship to each other will not change without some additional intervention,” the commission said in the report. “We must create new traditions in this case and go beyond the routine . . . and in some cases, beyond our comforts if we are to succeed in this endeavor.”

The commission recommended that steps be taken to “reduce, then eliminate” the disproportionate number of minority students assigned to special education programs; provide more opportunities for minority students to take advanced courses; improve communication between parents and schools and ensure classrooms have well-trained teachers who are adequately supported.

“Most policymakers, parents, educators, and researchers now generally agree that nothing is more closely tied to student achievement and underachievement than the preparation, support, and quality of classroom teachers,” the Commission said. “It follows then, that nothing is more critical to our efforts to close the achievement gap than making certain that every student, especially those who have been traditionally underserved by public schools, has access to competent, caring, qualified teachers in schools organized for success.”

Click this link to seen the full report.

A similar recommendation was made in 2019 by WestEd, an independent consultant hired by Superior Court Judge David Lee to develop recommendations to improve North Carolina’s public schools. Lee is overseeing the state’s landmark Leandro school funding lawsuit.

Here’s what WestEd said about the importance of well-trained teachers: Read more

NC NAACP makes history, elects first woman president

Deborah Dicks Maxwell

Deborah Dicks Maxwell has been elected president of the North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP.  Maxwell is the first woman elected to the position. Her tenure begins immediately.

The Wilmington resident is president of New Hanover County NAACP and district director of Walter B. White District 16. She has served as branch president and district director for the last 10 and eight years respectively.

“I didn’t run to be the first woman,” Maxwell told Policy Watch on Tuesday. “I ran on my capabilities to strengthen the North Carolina NAACP. There’s always room for improvement.”

Maxwell replaces Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, who was elected to lead the civil rights organization in 2017. She received 54% of the 186 votes cast by state delegates compared to 34% for Spearman. Gemale Black, president of the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP, received 11% of the votes.

Spearman replaced Rev. William Barber after Barber decided not to seek a seventh term as president to focus on his work with Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization that works to highlight disparities in wages, housing, health care, education.

Maxwell said the state NAACP will focus on voter registration and voter turnout in upcoming elections. The NAACP is a non-partisan organization and does not endorse candidates for political office at any level.

Strengthening the state structure of the NAACP and increasing the number of branches on college and university campuses will also be focus areas under her leadership, Maxwell said.

Maxwell noted that there has been a call for more Student Resources Officers (SROs) due to recent school shootings in New Hanover and Forsyth counties.

“In New Hanover County, they are using the shooting to validate putting more SROs in schools, but we need more school social workers, psychologists and nurses in our schools, especially in these COVID times,” Maxwell said.

The NC NAACP will closely follow the Leandro case, the state landmark school funding case in the weeks ahead, Maxwell said.

“It’s sad that this has gone on for so long,” Maxwell said. “There’s a need to just go ahead [and adequately fund the state’s public schools]. The state has money.”

The Leandro case began more than a quarter-century ago after five rural school districts in low-wealth counties sued the state, arguing they couldn’t raise the tax revenue needed to provide students with a quality education.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.

Superior Court Judge David Lee, the judge overseeing the case, has given the plaintiffs in the case until Nov. 8 to come up with a strategy to move forward if the state doesn’t produce a plan to pay for the $5.2 billion Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan. The plan calls for $1.7 billion in new education spending over the next two years.

Maxwell served in the US Army and US Army Reserves, reaching the rank of Sergeant First Class. She participated in Operation Desert Storm.

The retired public health social worker is currently working on vaccine equity with Healthier Together: Health Equity Action Network, a public-private partnership between the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the NC Counts Coalition to increase the number of Black, Indigenous and People of Color receiving COVID-19 vaccines in North Carolina.

In 2020 Maxwell was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

Along with Maxwell, two other women were elected to the three highest offices of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP.  Carolyn Q. Coleman, secretary to the NAACP National Board of Directors, from Greensboro, was re-elected as 1st Vice President; Carolyn P. McDougal, immediate past president, Harnett County NAACP was re-elected as 2nd vice president.

Other officers elected Saturday include Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank NAACP, who was re-elected 3rd vice president; Courtney Patterson, was re-elected 4th vice president; Sylvia Barnes, president of the Goldsboro-Wayne NAACP, was re-elected secretary; Gerald D. Givens, Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, was elected  treasurer and Robert Cunningham was re-elected assistant treasurer.

After one year, the HOPE Program has paid out $461 million to help keep families in homes

The NC Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program has paid out more than $461 million to landlords and utility companies on behalf of 135,213 families struggling to pay rent or keep the lights on during the pandemic, the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency reported Wednesday on the program’s first anniversary.

The HOPE Program is ranked second in the nation for number of households served, while North Carolina ranks sixth for spending of federal Emergency Rental Assistance money. The HOPE Program helps families avoid evictions and utility service disconnections.

In total, $520.2 million has been awarded to the families, with $461 million already paid to landlords.

“In its first year, the HOPE Program has helped more than 135,000 North Carolina families stay safe and warm in their homes during the pandemic,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a news release. “HOPE will continue to pay landlords and utility companies to keep low-income renters in their homes with the lights on as we recover in the months ahead.”

Last month, Policy Watch reported that North Carolina educators’ are  concerned about what they predict will be an explosion of students experiencing homelessness in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a federal moratorium on evictions.

North Carolina received $23.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act-Homeless Children and Youth relief funds to address the “urgent needs that have evolved from the pandemic.” Districts may use the money to address the social, emotional and mental health needs of students, trauma-informed care training for staff and to hire staff for local homeless education programs at the district and state level.

The HOPE Program has provided an economic boost to landlords who experienced financial setbacks due to COVID-19, program officials reported. During the second phase of HOPE that began May 17, the program has mailed checks to 30,727 landlords and more than 5,500 landlords have contacted HOPE to refer tenants, the news release said.

The program continues to accept landlord referrals of tenants struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic. Landlords may submit tenant names and contact information through the HOPE Program website or by contacting the HOPE Call Center at 888-9ASK-HOPE (888-927-5467).

HOPE also continues to accept applications for rent and utility bill assistance from low-income renters in 88 counties. Applicants can apply online at HOPE.NC.gov or call 888-9ASK-HOPE (888-927-5467) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both English- and Spanish-speaking representatives are available to assist callers.