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The Friday Report

November 3, 2017

Leading News

Out of Bounds: Embezzlement and Basketball at NC’s Biggest Voucher School

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Photo on left: Heath Vandevender and Dennis Smith, Jr. Photo Credit: Jamie Shaw, @JamieShaw5. Photo on right: Heath Vandevender. Photo Credit: Wake County District Court.

By Lindsay Wagner

Senior Writer

When a coach at one of Fayetteville’s top private school basketball programs—a school that also happens to be the state’s top recipient of private school vouchers—pleaded guilty last summer in a Wake County courthouse to embezzling hundreds of thousands of tax withholding dollars he collected over eight years from the school’s employees, he received what some might consider an odd sentence.

Among the punishments handed down by the court for Heath Vandevender’s embezzlement activity at Trinity Christian School was 90 days in jail. He’s completing that sentence this fall by spending his weekends at the Cumberland County Detention Center.

But the sentence also allowed Vandevender to keep his job, despite having embezzled significant sums of money while employed by Trinity Christian—a school that has received more than $1.7 million in publicly-funded vouchers since 2014.

In between his weekend stints in jail, county and school officials say Vandevender continues coaching basketball and teaching journalism to high school students at Trinity Christian during the week.

It’s not the kind of thing that would typically happen at a public school.

“As a practical matter, we think it highly unlikely we would continue to employ this person given these facts unless there was something extraordinary going on,” said Ruben Reyes, the Associate Superintendent of Human Resources for Cumberland County Schools.

There are a couple of things that are extraordinary about Trinity Christian.

It’s the state’s number one recipient of private school vouchers—and it’s got one of the most competitive private school basketball programs in the state of North Carolina.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from: 

Wagner, L. “Out of Bounds: Embezzlement and Basketball at North Carolina’s Biggest Voucher School.” Public School Forum of North Carolina. 11/3/17.

Forum News

Public School Forum Seeks Expansion of Resilience & Learning Project

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More than 50 district and school leaders from across the state gathered this week to learn more about the NC Resilience & Learning Project, a new initiative launched this year by the Public School Forum to help schools better support children coping with traumatic, adverse experiences to improve academic outcomes. Sessions were hosted on Tuesday and Wednesday at Edgecombe County Public Schools and Rowan-Salisbury Schools, two districts currently part of the project’s pilot first year.

Participants heard from Public School Forum staff, as well as representatives from key project partners such as  the Duke Center for Child & Family Policy and the Trauma & Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), a collaboration of Massachusetts Advocates for Children at Harvard Law School.

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Dr. Joel Ristuccia (pictured above) from TLPI led much of the discussion around the physiological impact prolonged stress and trauma has on brain development and his group’s groundbreaking work on in-school strategies to address the issue.

“Studies show children who are exposed to prolonged stress and repeated traumatic experiences may operate in a hyper-vigilant state at all times, even in what may be a normal classroom setting,” said Ristuccia. “These kids respond differently and learn differently due to real neurological changes from exposure to trauma, so we as educators must respond and teach differently to help all children excel – because they all can.”

The Public School Forum is currently seeking support to expand the program into other school districts next year. The Project arose out of the Forum’s Study Group XVI: Expanding Educational Opportunity in North Carolina. Childhood trauma and its impact on learning, along with racial equity and chronically low-performing schools, were three key areas identified as barriers to providing every child in North Carolina the opportunity to reach their full potential through equal and meaningful public education.

To learn more about the NC Resilience & Learning Project, visit the Forum’s web site at https://www.ncforum.org/north-carolina-resilience-and-learning-project/. If your school or district is interested in learning more, contact Elizabeth DeKonty at edekonty@ncforum.org.

Education Matters

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Education Matters will be pre-empted this weekend on WRAL. FOX50 and The NC Channel will air encore episodes of the show. New episode next week! Weekend of November 11.

When and Where to Watch Education Matters

Saturdays at 7:30 PM,

WRAL-TV (Raleigh/Durham/Fayetteville)

Sundays at 8:00 AM,

FOX 50

(Raleigh/Durham/Fayetteville)

Sundays at 6:30 AM and Wednesdays at 9:30 AM, UNC-TV’s North Carolina Channel (Statewide)

The North Carolina Channel can be found on Time Warner Cable/Spectrum Channel 1276 or check local listing and other providers here.

Online at https://www.ncforum.org/

In This Issue

Public School Forum Programs

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Nominate a Leader for Children in Your Community

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Do you know a leader in your community supporting our schools and making a difference in the lives of children both in and out of school? The Public School Forum is seeking nominations for individuals to be highlighted on our weekly statewide TV show, Education Matters. Click here for an example of a recent spotlight.

Nominees could be principals, superintendents, teachers, teacher assistants, guidance counselors, parents, students, business leaders, community volunteers, afterschool providers, and the list goes on!

To nominate someone, please fill out the form here.

Joanna Schimizzi to Lead Public School Forum of North Carolina’s Statewide Beginning Teacher Leadership Network

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Joanna Schimizzi.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina has tapped Joanna Schimizzi (pictured above) as Statewide Coordinator for its growing Beginning Teacher Leadership Network (BTLN). The BTLN expanded into three new counties this school year and now works with early-career teachers in six North Carolina counties: Cabarrus, Carteret, Mecklenburg, Onslow, Union and Wake. Schimizzi replaces former Public School Forum Program Director James Ford as BTLN leader.

“Joanna has been integral to the success of the Beginning Teacher Leadership Network as coordinator of our Mecklenburg County program,” said Keith Poston, president and executive director, Public School Forum of North Carolina. “Joanna is a dynamic teacher-leader, well-known and respected across North Carolina for her dedication to advancing teacher leadership and promoting teacher voice.”

Joanna Schimizzi is a National Board Certified Biology teacher and was recognized as a MeckEd Teacher of Excellence. She taught Biology and AP Biology in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for more than 9 years before leaving the classroom to work from home and be with her son. Joanna currently collaborates with special education teachers across the state to teach Biology through the Occupational Course of Study (OCS) Program at the North Carolina Virtual Public School. Joanna is committed to public education and collaborates with organizations such as Hope Street Group and the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) to include educator voice in policy discussions.

“Beginning teachers are filled with energy, new ideas and passion for students, but they can also be overwhelmed with the intricacies of being a classroom teacher,” said Schimizzi. “By providing beginning teachers with opportunities to collaborate with each other, they will find increased support to stay in the profession and their students will benefit from what teachers learn from each other.”

To continue reading the complete press release, click here.

Excerpt from:

“Joanna Schimizzi to Lead Public School Forum of North Carolina’s Statewide Beginning Teacher Leadership Network.” Public School Forum of North Carolina. 11/2/17.

Forum President Addresses Former Chief State School Officers

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From left to right: Dr. Terry Holliday, Dr. Tom Houlihan, Dr. June Atkinson, Dr. Henry Johnson,  Dr. Richard Thompson, and Keith Poston.

Public School Forum President and Executive Director, Keith Poston, spoke to a group of former State School Chiefs last Saturday about the state of public education in North Carolina. The group, which is comprised of former Chief State School Officers from across the U.S.,  held its Annual Meeting this year in Greensboro. The former state chiefs included representatives from Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington. The group included former NC State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson, as well as several other great education leaders from North Carolina such as Dr. Terry Holliday, Dr. Tom Houlihan, Dr. Henry Johnson and Dr. Richard Thompson.

State News

North Carolina Legislators Begin School Funding Formula Rewrite

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Representative D. Craig Horn (left) and Senator Michael V. Lee (right).

Photo Credit: North Carolina General Assembly Web Site.

Members of a new legislative panel agreed Wednesday how $9 billion in state taxpayer money is distributed annually to North Carolina’s public schools is outdated and too complicated, but some warned against simpler plans that remove performance standards.

Directed by colleagues to propose a new funding formula, the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform met for the first time. One leader of the group warned it could take them beyond their current October 2018 deadline to finish the job with a lot of competing interests seeking to protect their share of the funding pie.

“This is going to be a heavy lift for everyone in this committee,” said Rep. Craig Horn (pictured above left), a Union County Republican and task force co-chairman. “You’re going to get a lot of new friends that are coming to tell you how you should distribute money versus how we have been distributing money … (but) our charge is to see what benefits students.”

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:
Associated Press. “N Carolina legislators begin school funding formula rewrite.” The News & Observer. 11/01/17.

State Board Selects Robeson County School for Innovative School District

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North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Photo Credit: WRAL.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to include Robeson County’s Southside Ashpole Elementary School in the state’s new Innovative School District. Robeson County school leaders must decide by Feb. 1 whether they will turn the school over or close it down.

The goal of the ISD is to take five of the state’s lowest-performing schools and hand them over to charter school operators to try to improve their performance. Two schools will be chosen next year and two more the following year.

This Program Turns Failures into Graduates, NC Officials Ask: Is It a Numbers Game?

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Credit recovery class instructor Mike Bellissimo helps students focus their online studies during their computer lab at Sanderson High School in Raleigh. Photo Credit: News & Observer file photo.

An online program that has helped boost North Carolina’s high school graduation rate is drawing questions from state education leaders who wonder whether the results are too good to be true.

Thousands of N.C. high school seniors annually pass online credit recovery courses, which allow them to retake parts of classes they failed to earn credits needed for graduation. But credit recovery is now being reviewed as State Board of Education members question what’s happening in these locally run classes around North Carolina.

“I’d love to know how many seniors are utilizing this as a way to cross over that line to say, ‘I graduated’ and take a course in two weeks,” state board member Becky Taylor said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Sometimes it makes you wonder if there’s a little bit of a numbers game going on.”

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Hui, K. and Helms, A. “This program turns failures into graduates. NC officials ask: Is it a numbers game?” The Charlotte Observer. 11/1/17.

After ‘Pattern of Failure,’ State Board Votes to Close Bertie County Charter School

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to revoke the charter of Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy. The school is expected to appeal the decision.

“It’s always a sad day when we have to close a school,” said State Board Chair Bill Cobey.

On Heritage Collegiate’s Facebook page, Kashi Hall, founding director of Heritage Collegiate, wrote about today’s State Board meeting prior to the vote, and implied that the school might turn private in order to survive.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Granados, A. “State Board revokes charter of Heritage Collegiate.” EducationNC. 11/2/17.

‘Everything on the Table’ to Meet Class Size Mandate

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Mills River Elementary School Students in Henderson County draw during an art class. Art, Music, P.E. and other programs could  be on the chopping block next year if the N.C. General Assembly does not make good on its pledge to provide school systems money for enhancement teachers. Photo Credit: Patrick Sullivan, Hendersonville Times-News.

Mills River Elementary’s Chad Auten is one of many principals in the state trying to solve a complex math problem. Four teachers were added in kindergarten through third grade at Mills River this year after state lawmakers lowered class sizes at the K-3 level. One fourth-grade teacher was moved to second, while a fifth-grade teacher was sent to third. The other two were new hires.

“The idea to lower K-3 class size is great,” said Auten. “But not getting the additional teachers to do that is a hardship. It creates larger class sizes in fourth grade all the way up to 12th grade.”

More teachers also mean more classrooms are needed, which have come at the expense of specialist teachers — the English as a Second Language, Exceptional Children and interventionists – who have to share room. Space will be even tighter next year, Auten said, as they will have to add more teachers due to next year’s mandate.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

For more news on the class size issue, see the following article: 

Art, music could be removed from Onslow schools

Excerpt from:

Mundhenk, A. “‘Everything on the table’ to meet class size mandate.” Hendersonville Times-News. 10/29/17.

Should Schools with ‘Fs’ be closed? 5 Disagreements at Debate on NC Charter Schools

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Teacher’s aide Elizabeth Young, left, asks a question of her students during an English lesson at the Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham in December 2016. Maureen Joy Charter School is a K-8 public charter school and is tuition free and open to the public. Photo Credit: Chuck Liddy, The News & Observer.

Proponents and skeptics debated the value of charter schools in North Carolina in a wide-ranging and sometimes contentious discussion Monday night.

A forum sponsored by The News & Observer and ABC11 explored the role of charter schools as part of the state’s education system. The event followed recent in-depth reporting on charters by The News & Observer.

Five panelists with extensive experience in charter schools and traditional public schools took the stage Monday night. They were: Natalie Beyer, a member of the Durham school board; Lisa Gordon Stella, a Durham attorney and co-chair of the N.C. Association of Public Charter Schools; Pamela Blizzard, a founder of two charter schools – Research Triangle High School and Raleigh Charter High School; Helen Ladd, professor emerita of public policy and economics at Duke University; and Tawannah Allen, associate professor at High Point University’s education school.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Stancill, J. “Should schools with ‘Fs’ be closed? 5 disagreements at debate on NC charter schools.” The News & Observer. 10/31/17.

NC Town Founded by Freed Slaves to Rebuild Flooded School

Education leaders have agreed that the elementary school in a North Carolina town founded by freed slaves will be rebuilt and should reopen in fall 2018, two years after Hurricane Matthew flooded it.

The Rocky Mount Telegram reports that the Edgecombe County Board of Education voted Tuesday to rebuild Princeville Elementary School. The vote elicited applause and tears.

Princeville Elementary students will continue to attend class in a family resource center until their school reopens.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Associated Press. “NC Town Founded by Freed Slaves to Rebuild Flooded School.” The U.S. News & World Report. 11/1/17.

Want Public Emails from This NC Charter School? Write a Check for $75,000 Up Front 

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Thunderbird Preparatory Academy in Cornelius wants $7,500 up front to fulfill a public records request for emails.

Photo Credit: The Charlotte Observer.

A Charlotte-area charter school has responded to a public records request by demanding an up-front payment of $7,500, saying that’s the estimated cost of paying a contractor to produce the emails and a lawyer to oversee the work.

Two legal experts who reviewed the letter from the lawyer for Thunderbird Preparatory Academy say the Cornelius charter school appears to be levying charges that go well beyond what’s allowed by North Carolina’s public records law, though that law allows room for interpretation.

“Unless you tell me there is something wildly out of the ordinary here, I see essentially no world in which $7,500 would be a reasonable estimation of legitimate charges,” said Amanda Martin, lawyer for the N.C. Press Association.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Helms, A. “Want public emails from this NC charter school? Write a check for $7,500 up front.” The Charlotte Observer. 11/1/17.

National News

Teacher Leadership Is Linked to Higher Student Test Scores in New Study

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Photo Credit: Element5 Digital, Unsplash.

Students who go to schools where their teachers have a leadership role in decision making perform significantly better on state tests, a new study finds.

But some of the leadership elements that are most related to student achievement are the ones that are least often implemented in schools.

That’s according to a new analysis of data from the New Teacher Center’s Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning survey, which asks questions about teaching, learning, and working conditions in schools. Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and the report’s lead author, studied responses from 2011 to 2015, which included data from nearly 1 million teachers from more than 25,000 schools, in 16 states.

The Educators Helping Students Through Trauma

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Photo Credit: Daniel LeClair, Reuters.

This story is part of a project The Hechinger Report did in collaboration with the local public radio station WWNO in New Orleans. The project reported on the traumatic experiences many young children in New Orleans are dealing with at home, and how some schools are turning to trauma-informed teaching to better serve these students. One of the students interviewed for the project was Sherlae, a 13-year-old student at Lawrence D. Crocker College Prep coping with a family mental-health crisis. After The Hechinger Report’s text and the WWNO radio series ran last year, the journalist and illustrator Sukjong Hong traveled to New Orleans to meet with Katy Reckdahl, a Hechinger writer, and Sherlae to create this graphic rendering of her story. 

To see the comic strip, click here.

Excerpt from:

Hong, S. “The Educators Helping Students Through Trauma.” The Atlantic. 10/31/17.

Opportunities

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Application Open for Promoting Innovation in Science and Mathematics (PRISM) Award

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The Promoting Innovation in Science and Mathematics or PRISM Award provides NC public school teachers the opportunity to receive up to $3000 in funding towards the purchase of STEM-related materials and up to $1500 for any necessary training for those materials.

The award was created in 2012 by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to support teachers in their efforts to provide quality hands-on, inquiry-based activities for their students.

“The PRISM Award enables teachers to provide new and inventive ways of teaching STEM in their classrooms,” said Dr. John Burris, president of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. “For a relatively modest investment students all over North Carolina can benefit from the wealth of material that may not otherwise be available to them.”

The Fund has provided 238 awards to 77 of North Carolina’s 115 school districts for a total of $750,000. One teacher, Matthew Kinnaird in Buncombe County, used the PRISM Award to build a radio telescope with his class to gather information for NASA.

Teachers may apply at https://www.bwfund.org/grant-programs/science-education/promoting-innovation-science-and-mathematicsThe deadline to apply is December 5, 2017.

Call for Papers: Teacher Leadership Journal

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The Journal of Interdisciplinary Teacher Leadership, an online scholarly publication of the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership, announces a call for papers for its next issue to be published in early 2018.

The program is most interested in manuscripts that address educational leadership, specifically how teachers can grow their influence without leaving the classroom, the interdisciplinary nature of STEM, project- and inquiry-based learning, agricultural education, science literacy, and education policy and advocacy.

They welcome articles on research, case studies, analysis and literary reviews. They will also accept evidence-based essays and editorials that are not simply personal accounts or strictly opinions. Full manuscripts must be submitted through kenanfellows.org/journals by December 1, 2017.

Submissions will undergo a blind peer review. Please direct questions to Amneris Solano, managing editor, at asolano@ncsu.edu.

The Friday Report is published weekly by the Public School Forum of NC and is distributed to Forum members, policymakers, donors, media, and Forum subscribers. Archived editions can be found at www.ncforum.org.

©2017 Public School Forum of North Carolina. All Rights Reserved.

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