The month ahead in Higher Ed

Mark your calendars for these higher education related meetings, listening sessions and events over the next month:

Wednesday, March 8

“The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe” – a panel discussion promoting the new book in which more than 25 scholars examine the way the phenomenally successful Marvel superhero films go beyond mere thrills, delivering messages about government, public policy and society.

The discussion will include Lilly Goren, book co-editor and professor at Carroll University; Nick Carnes, book co-editor and professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy; Eric Degeans, NPR TV critic and professor at Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center and Tom DeFalco, writer and former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

The event kicks off at  5 p.m. in the Holsti-Anderson Room (Room 153) at Rubenstein Library, on Duke’s West Campus at 411 Chapel Hill Drive in Durham. Parking is available at the Bryan Center garage on Science Drive.

Monday March 13

Listening session with The Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina Charlotte Area Chamber of Commerce, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Gov. Cooper created the commission through an executive order in November, citing a series of scandals involving the UNC System and its constituent universities. The commission is co-chaired by former UNC System Presidents Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings, a Democrat and Republican respectively. Read more

State Board of Education approves pilot program for teacher pay and licensure proposal

A controversial pilot program to evaluate a plan to reform teacher licensure and pay was approved by the State Board of Education (SBE) this week. It will be sent to the General Assembly for its approval. 

The six-year pilot would begin with the 2023-24 school year if approved by lawmakers. Districts of “varying size and geographic diversity” chosen to participate would use next year as a planning year.

Supporters of the proposed “North Carolina Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals”  say it will help to attract more candidates to the teaching profession, increase teacher pay, and retain veteran teachers with the promise of advancement and higher pay.

North Carolina’s teachers are currently paid based on their years of experience.

“Part of the problem with teacher pay is that we are paying teachers according to two metrics that don’t correlate to student outcomes,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said on Wednesday. “One of those is years of experience and the other is degrees held.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt

Truitt said that across-the-board teacher pay increases are needed so that districts can compete with neighboring states that awarded teachers hefty pay raises during the pandemic. Teachers also need “pathways” to advancement so that they can be paid for those responsibilities that many of them already take on without additional pay, the superintendent said.

The state board also agreed to ask lawmakers for a 10% pay raise for all teachers next year and “investments in beginning teacher pay to make North Carolina the leader in the Southeastern United States.” 

As Policy Watch reported previously, the proposed licensure and pay model under consideration would create a system of entry-level certifications to bring more people into the profession. One certification would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with associate’s degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree. Teachers working under that license would receive a base salary of $30,000. Read more

State Board of Education rejects proposed Wake County charter school a second time

For the second time in as many months, the State Board of Education unanimously rejected a charter school application for Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy (HCLA) in Wake County.

Thursday’s rejection is likely the final time the state board will consider the application unless the applicant successfully challenges the decision in court.

There was no debate among board members.

Earlier, Amy White,  a co-chair of the Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, restated concerns about the school’s presumed leader, Kashi Bazemore, who led a school by the same name in Bertie County before it was assumed by another charter operator.

Under Bazemore’s leadership, she reminded the state board, the school had a history of low-performance, failure to comply with fiscal requirements, failure to have enough certified teachers on campus, failure to have the required number of members on the governing board, and federal violations in the exceptional children program.

Here’s what White said about Bazemore on Wednesday:

“During her time as executive director of HCLA-Bertie [from] fall of 2014 to the summer of 2018, Dr. Bazemore-Hall showed that she was unable to properly run a successful school to the point where the school’s charter had to be revoked for malfeasance,” White said. “I personally would feel irresponsible if I voted to grant Dr. Hall the opportunity to have another [school] given her opportunity to have success at a school for four years and her failure to do so.”

Bazemore-Hall was Bazemore’s married name at the time she led the school.

Bazemore was critical of White’s remarks in a statement Thursday.

Amy White

Ms. White attempted to assassinate my character on the public record without an opportunity for me to respond,” Bazemore said.

Bazemore told CSAB last month that she was concerned about White’s ability to fairly judge HCLA’s application because White was a member of the Wake County Board of Education when Bazemore worked for the school district as an assistant principal and had a “legal situation” that resulted in Bazemore filing a sexual harassment claim against her boss, Bazemore shared.

“She [White] would have been a part of that, and I just want to place that on the record with the hope that this is not a conflict of interest, but certainly with the hope that we will look into it,” Bazemore said.

Bazemore also noted that White has been supportive of Wake Preparatory Academy, a K-12 charter school located just across the Wake County line in Franklin County. Bazemore’s school would compete for students against Wake Prep, she said. Since Franklin County is under a court-ordered desegregation plan, Wake Prep must try to enroll a student population that reflects county demographics.

On Thursday, she said the charter school authorization process favors large, for-profit charter operators and schools that enroll mostly white students.

Kashi Bazemore (Photo via Facebook)

“Minority founders are subjected to harsher authorization processes, and this should never be allowed by public servants in their official capacities,” Bazemore said. “We didn’t receive that. This should raise concerns for all North Carolina citizens.”

In December, HCLA’s application was unanimously approved by the Charter School Advisory Board, which offered glowing remarks about HCLA’s application and Bazemore.

“I’ve seen a different board, I’ve seen a different leader,”  Dave Machado, a member of the charter board said in December. “We need to take into consideration mistakes in the past, but I don’t think they ought to be penalized when there’s a path to run a better school this time.”

Machado is the former Office of Charter Schools Director, whose leadership Bazemore often criticized.

The Bertie County version of the school opened in 2014. Control was assumed in 2018 by Raleigh businessman Don McQueen after state education officials found serious academic, governance and operational issues under Bazemore’s leadership. McQueen renamed the school Three Rivers Academy.

The transfer was arranged to prevent the school from closing. But the proposed cure for what ailed the school, proved to be worse than the illness. The state board ordered the school to close last year after a lengthy investigation by the Department of Public Instruction found many of the same serious financial and governance issues.

McQueen’s flagship school in Raleigh, Torchlight Academy, was also ordered closed by the state board because of many of the same financial and governance shortcomings found at Three Rivers. After the schools closed, state education leaders vowed to be more vigilant in their oversight of the state’s more than 200 charter schools.

Bazemore’s new application calls for a K-8 school that would eventually grow to 600 students in five years. Bazemore has said the school would primarily serve Black and Latinx students in northeastern and eastern Wake County, whom she contends are not adequately served by the Wake County Public School System.

“An inherent conflict of interests”: Governors’ commission members talk lobbyists, diversity in UNC System governance

This week members of the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina continued their series of listening sessions, meeting to hear from the public in Asheville.

At their Tuesday meeting, the second of six planned sessions, members took on questions of diversity on the board and the thorny issue of whether lobbyists should serve on the board.

Lou Bissette, a member of the commission who spent 12 years on the UNC Board of Governors and currently serves on the UNC-Asheville Board of Trustees, said independence is crucial at both the trustee and UNC System governance level. For that reason, he said, he believes there should be more scrutiny over who can serve.

Louis Bissette Jr.

“There are people who don’t like my saying this, but I don’t think we ought to have lobbyists on the board of governors,” Bissette said. “Because although they’re great people, they have an inherent conflict of interests. And right now we do have a number of lobbyists on our board of governors. I think that’s something this commission should look at.”

At issue is a longstanding question: Should lobbyists, whose livelihoods depend on currying favor with members of the North Carolina General Assembly, serve on a board which has long struggled – and often failed –  to maintain its independence in fraught political circumstances?

In 2021 lawmakers – with support of some board members themselves – filed a bill that would have barred lobbyists from the board.

“It’s critical that we establish an independent Board of Governors separate and apart from the General Assembly so the university can carry out its mission of world class teaching, research and service,” Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake), one of the bill’s sponsors, told Policy Watch at the time.“I think for the sake of the UNC system and for our citizens, the General Assembly must do everything it can to remove partisan politics from the appointment process,” Chaudhuri said. “I believe one of those steps would be barring lobbyists from serving on the UNC Board of Governors. I remain concerned that the UNC Board of Governors has become a revolving door of lobbyists and retired legislators. I think at the end of the day, those types of appointments will result in undue political interference from the legislature.” Read more

Drug, weapon possession rose sharply in state’s public schools

Durham Hillside High School students protest gun violence in play titled “State of Urgency” during a performance last month.

Drug and weapon possession, excluding guns and powerful explosives, continued to top the list of reportable crimes in North Carolina’s Public Schools during the 2021-22 school year.

The 5,250 reported incidents of students possessing controlled substances was a 14% increase compared to the pre-pandemic 2018-19 school year.

Meanwhile, the 3,292 reports of students found in possession of weapons was a 60% jump over the 2018-19 school year. There were 161 reports of students possessing firearms or powerful explosives, which is a 30% increase from 2018-19.

Assaults of school personal was the third highest reported crime with 1,374 such incidents.

Those grim statistics were shared by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction on Wednesday in the state’s new Consolidated Data Report to the General Assembly.

The report shows an overall increase in crime and violence during the 2021-22 school year when compared to years immediately preceding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s high schools reported 5,991 acts of crime and violence among their students during the 2021-22 school year. That’s a 23.5% increase over the 4,850 incidents reported for the 2018-19 school year. The rate of crime and violence per 1,000 students increased from 10.73 to 13.16 during that time span.

In a news release, Superintendent Catherine Truitt said the new data underscores the need for effective measure to keep students and schools safe while supporting the “well-being of students with strong mental health services.”

  “We know that the pandemic and its aftermath have created significant challenges for students, educators and their schools,” Truitt said. “We’re taking aggressive steps to respond this year, and we’re seeking more resources for next year to provide students with the help that they need.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt

Truitt noted the $74.1 million in School Safety Grants the Center for Safe Schools awarded 200 school districts and charter schools in the fall to buy safety equipment, pay for school resource officers and training and services for students in crisis.

For the 2023-24 school year, Truitt and the State Board of Education are asking the General Assembly for $100 million to ensure that public schools in disadvantaged communities have the resources to recruit and retain qualified nurses.

The Consolidated Data Report and associated data also showed that racial minorities, low-income students and males were more likely to face disciplinary actions as short- or long-term suspensions or placements in alternative schools for disciplinary reasons. The largest reported increase from the 2018-19 school year was the rate of long-term suspensions among Black students, which was 85 per 100,000 students in 2018-19 and 103 per 100,000 students in 2021-22.

Karen Fairley, executive director of the Center for Safer Schools, said that ongoing efforts to improve school climate and culture are key to reducing instances of crime and violence as well as resulting disciplinary actions that can fall disproportionately on minority students.

“Our schools need to be safe and supportive for all students,” Fairley said, “and that requires engagement of everyone in schools: students, parents, educators and support staff. Effective engagement is something the Center for Safer Schools will address in the coming months.”

Fairley outlined several recommendations aimed at improving school climate and culture in an address to the State Board of Education on Wednesday.

The recommendations include:

  • Recognize cultural differences in students served.
  • Provide support for parents and guardians to increase protective factors such as ensuring social connections and strengthening knowledge of parenting and child development.
  • Employ a social worker at each school (elementary, middle and high) to focus on prevention, intervention and referral.
  • Employ qualified professionals to offer cultural awareness training to school staff and employees.
  • Offer trauma-informed care training to school staff and employees.
  • Ensure that school resource officers are engaged in positive interactions with students, not just classroom