Education, News

Wayne County school leaders cite “great dismay” about Innovative School District takeover

In a recent letter to North Carolina officials, school system leaders in Wayne County expressed “serious concerns and great dismay” about the potential takeover of a struggling elementary school by the state’s controversial Innovative School District.

“The ISD is without a proven school turnaround record, without a strategic plan to assist our children, and without any accountability to the taxpayers, parents, or children of Wayne County,” Superintendent Michael Dunsmore and Board of Education Chair Patricia Burden wrote in the letter.

Policy Watch received a copy of the letter Tuesday, although the message was e-mailed and hand delivered to the State Board of Education and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a member of the state board, last week.

It was sent a day before members of the State Board of Education punted a decision on the takeover to next month. The program would allow state leaders to turn over control of the troubled public school to a private school management group, including charter organizations and for-profit companies.

Wayne County leaders said state officials “witnessed our community’s outrage” at a town hall meeting last month, adding that they’d also received a petition with almost 2,000 signatures opposing the takeover from the community and the local NAACP.

Dunsmore and Burden blasted state leaders’ “inconsistent” process for choosing Carver Heights, noting that last year, the ISD excluded schools like Carver Heights which had received Federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs) to boost performance.

Wayne County Public Schools “assumed this same exemption would apply this year,” they wrote. “Inconsistent criteria make it impossible for school systems to effectively plan or make meaningful decisions about low-performing schools, as the criteria are not articulated and ever-changing.”

Leaders in the ISD recommended Carver Heights for the program last month after narrowing a field of the lowest-performing schools in North Carolina down to six.

The Goldsboro school, which serves grades 3-5, had the lowest academic scores among the final six. On its 2016-2017 state report card, Carver Heights earned an “F” grade and did not meet expected growth.

ISD Superintendent LaTeesa Allen

ISD Superintendent LaTeesa Allen said the school was chosen after officials spoke with administrators in all of the remaining schools.

“We are confident in our process and the accountability data used in selecting Carver Heights Elementary for recommendation to the State Board,” Allen said in a statement Tuesday.

“The passion in this community is real,” state Superintendent of Innovation Eric Hall said last week. “But we also have to come to a point where we say only 18.4 percent of our students are proficient in reading and math, where do we go from here?”

Yet school leaders wrote that they’re working on a redistricting process to break up the “heavily segregated nature” of the elementary. According to the state, 90 percent of the school’s students were considered economically disadvantaged, a population that tends to lag behind their more affluent peers.

“The taking of this school, and the restrictions on school assignment in the ISD statutes would prevent and interfere with these efforts for possibly the next five years, to the detriment of our overall student population, the students at Carver Heights Elementary School, and our community as a whole,” Wayne leaders wrote.

Among their other criticisms, Wayne County leaders blasted an Oct. 15 letter from Allen notifying them of her recommendation to take over Carver Heights, accusing Allen of writing “inaccurate or false information and conclusory allegations, unsupported by any evidence or exhibits.”

State lawmakers approved the program two years ago because they said long-beleaguered schools needed a change. But opponents, including the state’s largest teacher advocacy organization, the N.C. Association of Educators, have been bitingly critical, calling the initiative a private “takeover scheme.”

If the takeover is approved by the State Board of Education, Carver Heights would be the second school to join the ISD in as many years. The district began work this year in a Robeson County elementary, handing over operations to a newly-formed group, Achievement for All Children, that has deep ties to the legislature and the state’s school choice movement.

Read the entire letter below.

10-31-18 Forest_NCBOE Letter Exhbits – Redacted Resumes by Billy Ball on Scribd

agriculture, Commentary, Defending Democracy, Education, Legislature, News

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Call Trump’s migrant caravan panic what it is: Out-and-out racism.

One day, these figures – President Trump and his cohorts, the muck-brained minions of Fox News – will distance themselves from their own words and actions.

They will hedge and equivocate with other political controversies. They will suggest that 2018 was a less enlightened time, that the real-world consequences of their partisan-minded manipulations of the Central American migrant caravan – a winding stretch of desperate folks seeking jobs and safety – was murky at best.

Do not allow Trump and his followers such a luxury.

Document and attribute every word, every half-cooked assumption, every bone tossed to the dogs of the alt-right. Don’t let them forget what they said and did, because the marginalized Latino immigrants that such calamity is meant to intimidate will never forget. [Read more…]

2. The 2018 election: Fear on trial

It would be an understatement to say that a lot of very different issues and individuals will impact the outcome of the 2018 election that climaxes next Tuesday. Here in North Carolina, there are more than 200 different congressional, legislative and judicial races, multiple local bond proposals and, of course, a slate of six controversial constitutional amendments to be decided. The decisions voters render will go a long way toward deciding the future of healthcare, the federal and state courts, public education, tax policy, human rights and the very nature of our democracy itself.

All that said, it’s clear that one phenomenon looms larger than any other two years after the election of Donald Trump: fear.

And, no, the fear at issue is not the fear that many Americans confront on a daily basis as they contemplate the reality of having a narcissistic serial liar backed by a delusional and increasingly well-armed army of extremists ensconced in the White House. The fear in this case is the anxiety and dread that have become the stock-in-trade and lingua franca of Trumpism.[Read more...]

3. State health plan board member disagrees with Folwell, opposes denial of coverage to transgender people

Last week, transgender North Carolinians and their families spoke out against the decision by state officials to deny coverage of treatments for transgender people from the NC State Health Plan.

Now, at least one member of the health plan’s board of trustees — the only one other than state treasurer Dale Folwell yet to respond to Policy Watch inquiries — is speaking out on the issue and urging a change.

“The core issue for me is that we have a group of State Health Plan members who have reached out to us for help,” said Kim Hargett in an interview with Policy Watch. “The goal of the state health plan is to help our members. At this point, it warrants looking for ways to help them.”

Hargett, a teacher at Marshville Elementary School in Union County, is one of two members of the board appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper. [Read more…]

4. NC recovery courts training encourages reducing stigma, equal access

One of the major themes at a statewide conference this week for recovery court personnel was stigma.

“It’s important to smash the stigma in all settings, but especially this one,” said Donald McDonald, Executive Director of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina. “Stigma keeps us from doing our best work for the people we serve.”

There are currently 49 recovery courts in 22 counties across North Carolina designed to work with people in the criminal justice system who have a substance use disorder. There are specialized family drug treatment courts, adult and youth drug treatment courts, DWI courts, mental health courts, veterans treatment courts and a tribal court. [Read more…]

5. This Week in Pollution: Living near industrialized hog farms could shorten your life

Won’t you (not) be my neighbor? Residents living within three miles of dense areas of industrialized hog farms are more likely to die sooner and suffer from chronic disease than people who don’t.

A study by by Duke University scientist Julia Kravchenko defined high density as at least 215 hogs stuffed into four-tenths of a square mile — 249 acres. Hog farms in North Carolina usually house between 1,000 and 10,000 hogs on even smaller plots of land.

In these rural zip codes, rates of kidney disease, asthma, anemia, cervical and uterine cancer, low birth weight, and high blood pressure during pregnancy were all higher than the US and North Carolina average. Death from all causes ranked eighth in the nation. [Read more…]


6. Stymied by questions about process and community backlash, state takeover of Goldsboro school delayed

Supporters of a controversial takeover program in struggling North Carolina schools hoped for a speedy approval of their latest project Wednesday. Instead, dogged by questions about process and a fiery local backlash surrounding a Goldsboro elementary, they’ll have to wait until at least next month for a resolution.

Members of the State Board of Education voted Thursday to delay a decision on Carver Heights Elementary in Wayne County until next month at the latest.

“You don’t have community support there,” board member Tricia Willoughby told leaders of the hotly-debated Innovative School District (ISD), a GOP-spearheaded program that would allow private groups, including for-profit companies, to temporarily seize control of up to five struggling public schools in hopes of boosting performance. [Read more…]

Defending Democracy, Education

Why do I plan to be a pro-education voter on Tuesday? Because we can’t sit back and let others decide our future.

Today we wrap up our #NCEdVoter series with veteran educator Michelle Burton. Burton knows the power of voting – the power of what is possible when you elect leaders who have a vision for North Carolina that includes high-quality schools and top-notch educators. 

We hope you will enjoy Burton’s op-ed and make the commitment to vote on Tuesday, November 6th.

Click here to find your polling site for Election Day. And be sure to share your stories and pictures on Facebook – we’d love to here why you too are an #NCEdVoter!

Michelle Burton

I started my education career in the 1990’s during Governor Jim Hunt’s administration. Back then Gov. Hunt was known as the education governor because he strongly believed that it was important to invest in our children, our teachers, and our public schools to make our state an economic powerhouse.  During that time our schools were being funded adequately and we were getting to the national average for teacher pay.  There were even teacher assistants in grades K-3.  As a matter of fact, North Carolina was seen as a leader in the country on how to run public schools.  People were moving here from all over the country because of our schools were doing such a great job of educating our students.

Then in 2010 things began to change drastically. Teacher salaries stagnated. Per pupil funding began to decrease. Teacher assistants were eliminated in second and third grades. Textbook funding was dwindled to almost nothing. The school voucher law was passed. The A-F letter grade system was implemented. Master’s pay for teachers was gone. Longevity pay for teachers was cut.  Career Status, better known as tenure, went away.

This is when I realized schools are political and I can’t sit back and watch the total destruction of public education in our state.  Many people want to leave politics out of public schools.  However, the politicians that we elect to the North Carolina General Assembly have total authority of how our public schools are operated.  They decide if our students have up to date resources. They decide the class sizes for our students. They decide if we have enough school counselors, nurses, and school psychologists. They decide if teachers get raises. They decide the licensure and education programs for teachers. They even decide what days we start school and what days we must end school. Politicians make all of these decisions.

Therefore it is important for me to elect pro-public education candidates who want our state to move forward and lead. I want North Carolina to be progressive when it comes to public education. All children deserve a high quality public education regardless of their socio-economic status. That is why I am a  #NCEDVoter.

Michelle Burton is a veteran educator who has taught for 24 years in North Carolina. She works as an elementary school library media specialist in Durham, NC and serves on the executive board of the Durham Association of Educators.


Defending Democracy, Education

Think about the future you’d like to be a part of and become a #NCEdVoter

If you are one of those folks who thinks your voice doesn’t matter, or you can sit this election out because it isn’t a presidential year – think again.

Nikole Miller is a student, a future teacher and most importantly a constituent who believes in holding her elected representatives accountable. Today we asked Miller to share why she’s committed to being a #NCEdVoter and casting her ballot on Election Day. (North Carolina’s general election is this Tuesday, November 6th. You can look up your polling site here.)

It never fails—the look of horror on peoples’ faces when I tell them I have chosen to be a middle school teacher in the public school system for my career. And it is usually followed with the question: “Umm, why middle school?” I smile, knowing that they just don’t understand and shake my head yes before saying “Actually, middle schoolers are wonderful! They get a bad rap.” Most people don’t believe me, and, in good southern fashion, bless me for my willingness to persevere.

Though people paint being a middle school teacher as a burden, I see it as quite an honor. I get to be a part of children’s lives during a crucial part of their development. I get to see children transition from learning to read to reading to learn, reading about their passions and the things they truly love. And most importantly, as a middle school teacher, I will be part of raising the next generation.

When I entered into education, there were three reasons why I chose the middle school level, LaTisha McHenry, Rebecca McKnight, and Carolyn Reeves. These vivacious, ground-breaking, risk-taking, devoted, and innovative women inspired me, encouraged me, and guided me. As educators, these women went to the ends of the earth for students, including me, when the public school system came up short. They took the time to listen and help us forge our own paths. And each one of them worked tirelessly to craft intricate and engaging lessons (I can still remember some of my favorite ones today). The lessons went beyond the basic curriculum required by law, and these teachers ensured that we were not impacted by negative legislation, like No Child Left Behind.

As a student, future teacher, and constituent, I am often saddened by the United States’ treatment of public education, and especially North Carolina’s. Funding continues to be cut, resources reallocated to purchase firearms, and as a result, influential teachers leave. Many pressing problems exist in the world right now, and many things need our political attention—I get that—but by putting individuals with personal and political agendas into office, funding cuts will continue, more scripted curriculums will be instituted, and we will successfully remove building blocks and learning opportunities from children who could contribute to solutions. We need education—our future depends on it. So, as you go to vote this November, think about the future you’d like to be a part of and vote pro-public education candidates into office.

Nikole Miller is studying Middle Grades Education – Language Arts/Social Studies at NC State University.

Defending Democracy, Education

We must all do our part for NC public education – Be an #NCEdVoter

What’s better than going to the polls to vote? How about going with a best friend to cast your ballots together!

Renee Sekel and Susan Book are public education advocates who are committed to making our schools better by electing candidates who understand funding needs and the policies that will improve the learning environment for our children. We continue our #NCEdVoter series today with their story:

Renee (left) and Susan (right) present at a ‘Our Kids Can’t Wait’ Community Forum, in partnership with the Education & Law Project, in Cary Oct 18th.

Few things anger parents more than having their child reassigned to a different school.  Meeting halls fill.  Parents organize to keep their kid at the their current location.  Insults and sometimes even threats get hurled at school board members overseeing the plans. It is a prime example of how politics is indeed local.

While reassignment may seem like the end of the world for an individual family, statewide we have far larger obstacles to hurdle where the impact of our voices is more important than ever. We may have a small say in school reassignment, but we all can have a bigger voice in the governance of our schools.

The beauty of public schools is that they are our schools and there is accountability baked into the process of running them.  Engaged families can see to it that our elected officials are working with the correct information and making sound decisions.  And if we dislike those decisions, we can vote out the people responsible.  This is all very clear at the local level, where we can see and hear our school board members discussing the policies — in person and at public meetings.  And we can literally see the effect of those policies at school every day.

What is harder to see is that this same dynamic works at the state level, too.  The NCGA controls not just funding, but underlying educational policies as well.  Those policies and their effects may not be as visible and glaring as school reassignment decisions, but they are no less important.  Our state legislature sets the agenda for issues like End of Grade testing, the number of children in a classroom, the number of teachers in a school, and how funding dollars may be spent.

And what happens at the state level has a strong connection to what we see on a local level.  That’s very clear when we look at issues such as the school bond on the ballot in Wake County.  The Bond seeks money not just to build new schools based on growth, but to renovate existing schools with aging heating and air units and other significant problems.  Those problems didn’t come from nowhere — years of underfunding at the state level have led to deferred maintenance at our schools, which in turn creates bigger issues that cost much more to fix.  The Bond is local, but many of the issues creating the need to it are statewide.

So we urge all active, motivated parents to look as hard at our state legislators as we do at our local leaders.  We can make our schools better.   We as voters can hold our legislators accountable for schools that need help.  We can vote out those who have put unfair testing burdens on our kids.  We can vote in those who will fully fund our schools and restore per pupil funding.  We can vote out those who have ignored teachers and their ask for better respect and better pay.  We can vote in those who wish to listen to our teachers and their policy ideas and finally give them a voice.

It is the time of year where we can all make an impact on our public schools.  It belongs to us, and the responsibility of a quality education rests on our shoulders.  I urge every parent that showed up to a meeting to discuss a reassignment grievance to show that same passion and urgency at the state level.  Ask questions, demand answers, and — always — vote.

Renee Sekel and Susan Book are public education advocates, Wake Public Schools parents and leaders of Save Our Schools NC, s a grassroots, parent-led group.  Save Our Schools NC believes that every child in North Carolina deserves a well-rounded public education, and that the best way to achieve this goal is to fully fund public schools and craft careful well-considered policies that address the unique characteristics of each community within the state.

Originally formed to address the North Carolina General Assembly’s harmful class size law, Save Our Schools NC, works to educate parents, provide them with virtual space in which to gather and discuss education policy, and empower them to lobby their elected officials for laws that will help achieve our goals. Learn more at