Over the last two days, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the RTM K-12 Innovative Forum held in Austin, Texas. This conference brought together district administrators from across the nation to learn about the newest technological innovations that maximize student achievement. The Forum also held collaborative roundtables with government agencies, business leaders, and educators to address the critical challenges of technology infrastructure, data piracy, and the use of technology to transform instruction. CCS played a key role on the Advisory Committee of this forum.
In seeing what is going on nationwide, I am proud that CCS is taking major steps to give students and teachers the digital resources they need to individualize learning. CCS is improving its infrastructure and privacy protections. Thanks to the leadership of Marty Sharpe, Chief Technology Officer, we have a team in place that will continue to provide our teachers with the tools and training to create student-focused learning environments and to integrate digital learning effectively in the classroom.
CCS Students also have access to cutting-edge technology. In 2015-2016, we will continue to implement blended learning in grades K-12. In addition, our students now have access to almost 9,000 desktop computers, 4,500 mobile devices, more than 150 servers housing 10 TB of data, document cameras, and cameras. We are moving to 2.5 GB area network speed and wireless infrastructure in all locations, with plans for one wireless access point per classroom. Our educators receive continuing training on the use of interactive learning programs, such as Edmodo and Google Drive/Classroom.
Why is this important? It helps all of our students to be successful and to have the skills to compete in college and in the workforce. We want to employ the newest strategies for this generation of learners. We want to employ technology to ensure that 100% of our students receive a high school diploma. With the tools CCS will implement, our district will continue to lead in innovation and digital learning.
"The job of an educator is to teach students to see the vitality in themselves."
This week, May 4-8, is Teacher Appreciation Week. Let's applaud the district's outstanding teachers! It's a perfect time to show our appreciation and recognize all teachers for their daily efforts in shaping the lives of our students.
Teaching a child to recognize his/her talents can sometimes be a stressful task. Teachers understand where a student excels and nurtures this strength. Equally as important, our teachers help our students overcome areas of difficulty in learning. This nurtures different kinds of strengths in our students: perseverance and confidence. Whether it is conquering a challenging math problem, reading Shakespeare for the first time or learning a new piece of music, the district's teachers impact our students' lives by encouraging them to always strive for more. The results of their daily efforts may not be seen for years. However, as an adult, we realize the impact that special teacher has had on our lives.
I would like to encourage you to take a moment this week just to say "thank you!"
Recently, our district underwent an extensive three-day accreditation review. AdvancEd, a non-profit, non-partisan accreditation organization, conducted a rigorous, on-site review of CCS. From the extensive one-on-one interviews to the on-site school visits, AdvancEd's three day review showed that CCS has many areas of celebration.
The expert review highlighted several Powerful Practices that set CCS apart from other districts. First, the group lauded our innovative Career and Technical Education program, citing the "remarkable partnerships" with business and the "powerful pathways" for students that the programs have created. The review also applauded CCS's new teacher mentoring program, as offering exceptional support to new teachers and facilitating student achievement. Finally, the group praised the School Board for its productive relationship with school leadership, ensuring the effective management of our schools. In the coming year, we are increasing access to technology in every school to ensure a system-wide purpose of student success.
My thanks to Beth Isenhour, Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, and to all of the district staff who assisted with this important review. This review confirms that our outstanding teachers and innovative programs make CCS a district of distinction!
As we look forward to Spring, let's take a moment and show our appreciation to all the individuals who kept our schools operating and provided safe travels for staff and students during the challenges of the winter months. Operating twenty-eight schools across a large county takes a group effort. From the leadership of our school administrators, all certified and classified staff and district administration and staff, your tireless efforts are very much appreciated.
Winter weather also impacted the school calendar. Four student days were missed due to the weather and the district will absorb these days into the current calendar, using "banked" instructional hours that exceeds the state's minimum hours required; therefore, no make-up days will be necessary. Two days will also be added onto the school calendar for staff as optional teacher workdays – June 16 and June 17.
The end of the third nine weeks is rapidly approaching followed by the conclusion of the 2014-2015 school year. Let's spring forward and make this the best school year ever!
In the primary grades our students learn the importance of community and the role that each of us plays within that setting. Children learn about such community helpers as law enforcement, fire and rescue, and even game and wildlife officials. Field trips, guest speakers, and multi-media investigations afford our students the opportunity for a deeper dive into the world of public service and its impact on the individual citizen. As our students progress in their education, the focus broadens to include the global ramifications that communities have on society.
During the past two weeks, the tragic loss of three Bunker Hill High School students has given us a poignant and illustrative look at the real significance of community. The outpouring of support from the Bunker Hill area has been immediate, sustained, and heartfelt. Community clergy have uplifted the families, students, and faculties of all schools who have been touched by these deaths. One of the local congregations fed all the students and staff members between the two services. Municipal and county law enforcement worked in tangent to ensure that all movement to the services was safe and organized. Neighboring schools sent condolences, inspirational wristbands, cases of water and Kleenex, food, and rearranged athletic schedules. School counselors and social workers from across the district spent time at Bunker Hill and accompanied students to the services, ensuring that every child had support during this tumultuous time. Central Services provided classroom and office coverage so that staff members could attend the services. Media outlets provided respectful, appropriate journalistic reports. Others performed random acts of kindness with total anonymity.
While the events of the past two weeks seem almost surreal, my understanding of community has never been clearer. Granted, each of us has probably experienced the support of one or more of these organizations in our lifetime. I doubt, however, that any of us has witnessed the confluence of so many entities and individuals unless we have lived through a natural disaster.
As we try to understand the loss of three young people, we can find comfort in knowing that we live in a community that embraces its citizens. Perhaps Jean Vanier, author of Community and Growth, best summarizes the importance of community: “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
I hope each of you enjoyed the summer break and found time for travel, family events, or simply reading a good book. Although it seems that we just finished up the last school year, our 2014-2015 term kicks off on August 25th. Challenger High has actually been back in session since August 6th. Our teachers and supporting staff members are now back in each building working diligently with the numerous tasks that will make sure we are ready for the return of students next Monday, August 25.
Most of you have likely read about the additional cuts to public school recently levied by the NC General Assembly. Each year we have had to figure out how to do more with less and this year is no exception. A complete discussion of how the budget cuts have affected CCS will be provided in another article. At this time, I want to reassure you that we will all pull together to make this new school year another outstanding year for our students.
Our teachers will continue to provide superior instruction. Our cafeteria staffs will provide nutritious meals. Custodial teams will keep buildings clean and safe. Bus drivers will safely deliver students to-and-from school. Employees in supporting roles as counselors, media coordinators, speech therapists, social workers, psychologists, as well as school-based and district administrators are ready to lend their assistance.
All CCS employees welcome the opportunity to partner with parents and guardians to create an enriched, nurturing environment that provides challenging curriculum, extracurricular activities, and collaborative exchange of ideas.
Welcome back – it's going to be a great year!
Graduation preparations for Catawba County Schools are reaching a fever pitch. Challenger Early College has held its ceremony and will soon be followed by Catawba Rosenwald High School and the five traditional high schools in the district. Graduation ceremonies embrace long-standing traditions from the playing of Pomp and Circumstance to the moving of the tassel to designate the official act of graduation. While Catawba County Schools recognizes the importance of time-honored traditions, the system is committed to preparing students for global competitiveness, a directive resulting from North Carolina Public Schools' Career and College Promise initiative.
In 2008, at the request of high school principals and under the direction of then-superintendent Dr. Timothy Markley, the district began researching the Latin Honors system. "We were seeing a trend where students were becoming more focused on obtaining quality points rather than enrolling in courses that were more beneficial to their future academic and career goals," recalled Maiden High School Principal Dwayne Finger. Mary Moren, Student Services Coordinator and a former high school counselor remarked, "Because class ranks are always calculated for graduation ceremonial purposes at the end of the third nine-week grading period, students who are dual enrolled in high school and college courses; for example, students attending Lenoir-Rhyne University Scholars' Academy; would not have second semester grades for GPA calculation purposes.
Similarly, students who are participating in Career and Technical Education apprenticeships and internships would not have these grades available for calculation purposes." Therefore, a student who is taking a less challenging curriculum could present a higher GPA." Additionally, principals and district personnel were concerned about the pressure students were placing on themselves to be first in the class. "Students were taking the idea of competition to an unhealthy level," reflected DeAnna Taylor, director of secondary education for Catawba County Schools and the former principal of St. Stephens High School. "A move to the Latin Honors system affords so many more students the opportunity for formal recognition of their hard work in high school, especially when you realize that perhaps only one-thousandth of a point would separate two graduates," continued Taylor.
Challenger Early College has used the Latin Honors system since the school's inception. The system uses a three-tiered designation. As a result, students may be recognized as Summa cum laude (with highest praise), Magna cum laude (with great praise), or Cum laude (with praise). *See a table of corresponding GPAs at the end of this post.
The Latin Honors system also provides all high schools the opportunity to support the philosophy of 21st Century soft skills that include collaboration, group processing, and team work. Being able to recognize the gifts and contributions of the majority rather than one or two is in keeping with the skill set that universities and business and industry are seeking in future students and employees. Class rank has not been eliminated; it is still designated on the student's transcript. Therefore, students still have the opportunity to be recognized for their individual hard work. Nevertheless, the Latin Honors system aligns high school recognitions with those of post-secondary institutions.
Student and parental notification of the move to the Latin Honors system began once the Board of Education approved the policy in 2009. Both the Hickory Daily Record and the Observer News Enterprise published articles relative to this change after the Board of Education approved the new system. "Notification of these changes first appeared in the Catawba County Schools' 2009-2010 Parent Handbook that is given to every family at the beginning of the school year," stated Beth Isenhour, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "High school principals discussed these changes with the incoming freshman class of 2009-2010 and with each subsequent incoming class," Isenhour further noted. Beginning with the 2010-2011 High School Curriculum Guide, students and their parents were notified of the impending change through a third method.
"As a system, we work for thirteen years to help students recognize the intrinsic rewards associated with life-long learning. Class rankings will continue to identify those students who have achieved the highest academic success. The move to the Latin Honors system has not changed that achievement. It is equally important for our students to enter the next phase of their lives with a strong sense of internal motivation that will carry them through the challenges they will face as they move into adulthood," offered Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman.
Latin Honor Designation
Summa cum laude
Magna cum laude
"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and
leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called
'truth.'" - Dan Rather
While a movement to formally thank teachers began in the 1940s and was endorsed by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1953, it was a movement from the National Parent Teacher Association that in 1984 established the first week in May as Teacher Appreciation Week and Tuesday of that week as Teacher Appreciation Day. I hope, however, that we don't reserve our thanks for the tremendous jobs our teachers perform to just this one brief period of time.
The past several years in North Carolina have been particularly disheartening for teachers. They have faced stagnant wages, increased health care costs, an overhaul in curriculum, and complex assessment models for both their students and themselves. Shrinking school budgets have required teachers to do more with less, whether it's scarcity of instructional materials or overcrowded classrooms. Teacher morale is at an all-time low and many young adults who would like to work as educators find they cannot afford to do so.
This blog gives me the opportunity to extend my personal thanks to the teachers of Catawba County Schools as well as the other employees who teach through their service to the district. Thank you for the endless hours of preparation, instruction, and nurturing. Thank you for your continued participation in professional development opportunities that enrich your toolkits. Thank you for tying shoes, keeping Kleenex close at hand, and taking up money at athletic events. Thank you for caring about our students and forming long-lasting relationships. Thank you for providing hope for the future among children.
Please take time to extend thanks to CCS teachers as they enter particularly taxing weeks ahead. In this age of social media we can Tweet our thanks to @CatawbaSchools for CCS teachers as well as national thanks to #ThankaTeacher.
"If we really want to honor and celebrate teachers, let's show them some respect,
support and encouragement."- Patricia McGuire
I write this blog post with great anticipation that Catawba County Schools will reopen on Monday, February 17th. We hope students have enjoyed their snow interlude but we are anxious to get them back in classrooms and to resume instruction.
In developing the calendar for the 2013-2014 school year, one of our goals was to create increased instructional time. We accomplished this in two ways: we increased student days from 180 to 185, an option for provided for in NC state legislation, and we increased the number of instructional minutes for each school day.
Two years ago the General Assembly increased the number of days to 185 days but provided waivers to districts who submitted plans to use the extra five days for professional development. CCS applied for the waiver last school year to assist teachers in implementing the new NC Standard Course of Study, but this year used those five days for student instruction. State law requires that public school students attend classes for 185 days or 1,025 hours.
Additionally, last year noted educator and researcher Dr. Robert Canady worked with our principals in examining their schedules to ensure that instructional time was maximized. As a result, minutes were added to each school day. The largest impact was felt at the elementary level but middle and high schools were affected, too.
The combination of adding five days to the school year and adding minutes to each school day means that CCS far exceeds the 1,025 hours of instruction required by state law.
As of February 14, we have missed five days of school due to inclement weather, bringing the calendar to 180 days (which would adhere to current legislation). While we are continuing to examine our status, at the present time we do not anticipate that students will have to make up the five days we have already missed.
The 180 day or 1,025 hours legislation applies to students. Teachers are employed under a different statute that stipulates they work for 215 days. There is not a number of hours provision attached to them. As a result, teachers will have to make up the missed days as teacher workdays. We have not yet made a decision as to where to place them but this information will be forthcoming soon.
In addition, today Governor McCrory announced that he is going to meet with State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson to discuss options in helping school districts deal with missed days of instruction. Their decision may impact our resolution in Catawba County Schools.
If we took a survey today, I'm pretty sure the most popular song in Catawba County is George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun." Perhaps we should all sing it until spring!
"Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it," is a quote attributed to Mark Twain or Charles Dudley Warner, depending on which source of quotations you consult. In Catawba County we have all been talking about the weather and, while we can't do anything about it, we definitely have to deal with its effects.
Deciding whether to place our schools on a delayed schedule or to close them completely due to weather conditions is one of the hardest decisions I have to make as a superintendent. Each situation is different and there are many, many variables that factor into the decision-making process. Any deviation from our usual schedule produces an inconvenience for our parents and students, making it imperative that our decisions reflect what we believe are best for our school community.
Let me talk about this week's situation (January 5, 6, 7, & 8) in particular when we delayed school Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The cold weather presented us with situations that had not been encountered in the Catawba Valley in decades.
- On Sunday night we were faced with the possibility of snow beginning to fall on Monday around 5AM and continuing through mid-morning before changing over to rain. We delayed opening schools for three hours to provide an opportunity for any snow that might fall to be washed from the roads. The snow did not materialize but we wanted to plan for the eventuality that it did.
- The extreme cold experienced on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings presented another challenge.
* First, we were concerned about students waiting for buses in single-digit temperatures, particularly if buses didn't arrive on time. Our transportation department launched emergency measures to fan out to the schools and work with school-based transportation coordinators to supervise cranking the buses and getting them ready to take the road.
* Second, while we were closely monitoring each campus's heating system, we wanted to give the buildings extra time to generate heat before students and staff arrived.
* Third, we needed to monitor any power outages that might arise. And, on Tuesday most of the eastern side of Catawba County lost power between 5AM and 6AM, including schools in the Bandys and Bunker Hill feeder areas. Duke Energy was unsure how long it would take to restore power and we came within 15 minutes of having to change from a delay to a cancellation of school for the entire district. Fortunately, all power was restored to schools by 10:15.
* Fourth, we needed time for our Maintenance and Technology staffs to get inside schools and check for burst pipes and to relocate equipment in danger of being flooded. There were several of these situations spread throughout the district. We want to make sure that school facilities are safe and warm for our students and staff upon arrival.
Predicting weather in the foothills of North Carolina is always a tricky business. Exasperatingly, most snow/sleet/freezing rain events move into our area from 5AM-7AM. Do we go ahead and call a delay the night before based on the forecast? Do we wait until the following morning, knowing that parents will have to make some last-minute schedule adjustments? We have many student drivers that take younger siblings as well as themselves to school. Do we want to risk putting these teens on roads that may be deceptively icy?
Making our weather-related schedule changes is a collaborative effort. We talk with other superintendents, not only in Catawba County but also in surrounding districts. We consult numerous weather agencies. Our employees rise at 3AM to inspect road conditions. In a district that stretches from Sherrills Ford to Banoak to Hickory there can be several degrees of temperature variations impacting safe travel.
Perhaps the worst of the winter weather is behind us. But if it is not, please be assured that every school opening, delay, or closing decision will always be made in an effort to do what is best for our students, parents, and staff.