South Charlotte

New school year brings new tech, other upgrades

Class is just around the corner for students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, as North Carolina public schools will resume classes Aug. 24.
Class is just around the corner for students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, as North Carolina public schools will resume classes Aug. 24. ehyman@newsobserver.com

As North Carolina public school students return to their classrooms Aug. 24, uncertainty in Raleigh is leaving administrators, teachers and parents scratching their heads.

The General Assembly hasn’t approved the new state budget yet, even though the old budget expired June 30. This means it is still not certain what amount of state education funding schools statewide will receive. As a result, fiscal planning for the 2015-2016 school year is particularly difficult.

The student population continues to grow; the state anticipates 1,537,643 students this year, roughly 17,000 more students than last year. Meanwhile, funding for teacher-assistant positions is uncertain, Common Core standards are under debate and schools continue to migrate to an online curriculum.

Eric Moore, a fiscal analyst with NCDPI Financial and Business Services, answered a few questions by email concerning some important educational issues that will affect what happens in classrooms in North Carolina.

Q: What is the status of teacher assistants for the coming school year?

A: Up in the air. There is too significant of a difference between the Senate and House budgets to be able to project what the (final) budget might look like.

Q: What is the status of driver’s ed?

A: Funding for driver’s ed was eliminated beginning July 1 per the 2014-15 budget law; however, schools continue to be required to offer it and charge a max of $65 per student.

Q: Is Common Core still an issue?

A: The Academic Standards Review Commission continues to meet to ascertain what standards should succeed Common Core in North Carolina. Per Session Law 2014-78, “The Commission shall make a final report of its findings and recommendations to the State Board of Education, the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee and the 2016 Session of the 2015 General Assembly. The Commission shall terminate on December 31, 2015, or upon the filing of its final report, whichever occurs first.”

Q: Will the state continue to provide money for traditional textbooks or is the expectation that schools move totally to online resources?

A: We won’t know 2015-16 until we have a final budget. It is at least the intent of the General Assembly to fund only digital resources by 2017, (referencing Session Law 2013-12).

Despite the uncertainties facing public schools, state Superintendent June Atkinson said she’s confident teachers and students will continue to achieve even greater success in the classroom and beyond.

“As North Carolina teachers, students and parents prepare for a new school year, it is important to celebrate all of the progress we have made together to move public education forward in our state,” Atkinson said. “I am proud of our school leaders and educators for continuing to meet high expectations and accomplishing so many outstanding things with limited resources and increased demands on their time.

“Preparing every student for college and a career is no easy task, but with teamwork, support and the best tools available, we will make sure our students are successful and that our graduates are ready for the future.”

Cabarrus County: 40 schools and 31,000 students

Chief Communications Officer Ronnye Boone encourages parents and students to visit the district’s website for important back-to-school information before classes begin.

Parents and students also are invited to attend the open house at their particular school. Middle school open houses are 4-6 p.m. Aug. 19, high school open houses are 6:30-8 p.m. Aug. 19 and elementary school open houses are 5-7 p.m. Aug. 20.

Boone said students will find more digital resources available than ever this year.

Some students also will be taking advantage of three new high school academies opening this fall: Northwest Cabarrus High School Academy of Biotechnology and Health Science, and two academies of engineering – the Jay M Robinson High School Academy of Advanced Manufacturing and Automation and Mount Pleasant High School Academy of Energy and Sustainability.

Details: www.cabarrus.k12.nc.us.

Kannapolis City Schools: 9 schools, 5,700 students

Ellen Boyd, director of community relations, said students will be given two free meals each day once school begins later this month.

“This year, the district is offering free breakfast and free lunch for all students with funding coming from a federal program called the Community Eligibility Provision,” Boyd said.

Districts participating in the CEP program are reimbursed by the federal government based on the percentage of students certified as qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. Districts also receive reimbursements based on the number of children who eat school-prepared meals.

Boyd said the district also is adding new technology thanks to new lease agreements funded by Cabarrus County commissioners. The district will provide 1,850 Chromebook laptops to the middle and high school levels and 740 iPad Airs at the elementary and intermediate school levels. At the end of the lease, the district can purchase the equipment for a nominal fee.

The uniform code has changed across all schools, and the bell schedule has changed slightly as well, according to Boyd. She recommended parents and students visit the district’s website for pertinent back-to-school information.

Details: www.kannapolis.k12.nc.us.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: 168 schools, 145,000 students

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the state’s second-largest school district, will face changing leadership over the next year.

November’s ballot puts the district’s at-large school board seats up for re-election. Nine candidates are vying for three board positions.

CMS Superintendent Ann Clark, appointed toin January, has agreed to serve the district through July 2016, then retire. The system has started the search for a superintendent to replace Clark next summer.

Regardless of who wins in November and who her replacement will be, Clark said, she anticipated the coming school year as one of the best yet for CMS.

“The 2015-2016 school year will be a great one for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,” Clark said. “We will increase our focus on literacy, particularly in grades three, seven and 12. These are critical grade levels for elementary, middle and high school students.

“We are committed to academic success for every student, and our increased focus on literacy will help our students succeed. Literacy is the key to success in all other subjects, and it’s essential for students to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade.”

Clark said the district continues to grow.

“We’re excited about adding new schools and new school buildings to our district,” Clark said. “Parkside Elementary in northeast Charlotte and Lawrence Orr Elementary in east Charlotte will open as brand-new schools. Newell Elementary and Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences will reopen with new school buildings. Starmount and Oakhurst, which have most recently been in use as district offices, will once again serve students directly by becoming elementary schools.

“All of these schools represent careful use of tax and bond money by our district to better serve more than 145,000 students. Our district continues to grow, and these schools will help us accommodate more than 2,000 new students this year.”

Details: www.cms.k12.nc.us.

Iredell Statesville Schools: 36 schools, 21,000 students

School spokeswoman Susie Wiberg said many new projects and ideas have been implemented in the system during the past few years, and teachers and administrators are working hard to ensure the continued success of those initiatives.

“We are holding the course this year,” Wiberg said. “A lot of projects got started over the past few years, and we want to make sure we get those things right before moving on.”

She said many of those initiatives are starting to pay off.

This will be the first year of the dual-immersion program for a number of sixth-graders at East Middle School. The students, now fluent in Spanish thanks to dual-immersion elementary school, will be taught all subjects while alternating between English and Spanish.

More high school students are being placed in internships and apprenticeships thanks to a site-based learning coordinator who helps bring the community and school together.

And, thanks to last fall’s county bond package, construction is underway on renovations and an addition to Cool Spring Elementary School.

Details: http://iss.schoolwires.com.

Mooresville Graded School District: 7 schools, 6,000 students

Public communications officer Tanae McLean said the district continues to focus on technology, providing computers for each student.

Previously, the 1:1 initiative, intended to get a computer or tablet to each student, covered grades three-12, with kindergarten through second-grade classrooms sharing laptops and iPads on carts.

This fall, however, all kindergarteners and first-grade students will receive an iPad, and students in grades two through 12 will receive a MacBook Air. Students in grades four-12 may take their devices home each night.

Information on laptop deployment for the 2015-16 school year can be found at http://bit.ly/1P6SiMO.

Passage of the county bond package last fall included $40 million for a major renovation and addition to Mooresville High School. Construction began this summer and should be completed by fall 2017.

Some elements of the project are a new baseball stadium, gym and athletic facility, additional classrooms, a performing arts center and a new auditorium.

Details: www.mgsd.k12.nc.us.

Union County: 53 schools, 43,000 students

Chief communications officer Tahira Stalberte said the district continues to focus on technology.

The 1:1 Access model is expanding, as students in third grade will receive a Chromebook to enhance instruction and digital learning.

“During the 2014-15 school year, elementary teachers participated in several professional development sessions to learn more about how to incorporate technology into their lessons,” Stalberte said. “The 1:1 Access initiative began in the 2010 school year with middle school students. In 2013, high school students received laptops for instruction.”

Stalberte said new technology also is enhancing school cafeterias. The Union County Public Schools Nutrition Services Department launched a new website and mobile application to give parents and students instant access to breakfast and lunch menu options, with a section about allergens, a snack calculator and tips for eating healthy and staying fit.

The new site also will give nutritional information about menu items, including portion size, calories, fiber and carbohydrates.

Parents can pay for breakfast and lunch online through the K12 Payment Center. The School Nutrition Services website can be accessed from the UCPS homepage under menus.

To prepare for the new school year, Stalberte urges parents to follow UCPS on Facebook and Twitter for updates. In addition, the district will have a back-to-school Web page with easy access to bell schedules, student handbooks, curriculum guides, after-school program details and more.

Details: www.ucps.k12.nc.us.

Clover School District: 9 schools, 7,158 students

District spokesman Bryan Dillon said that this school year, teachers and students will be building on last year’s success with technology.

“We are going into the second year of our 1 to 1 program,” he said. “Each K-8 student got an iPad and each student in grades nine-12 received MacBook Airs. Teachers have been in training over the summer to get more ideas and ways for their students to engage and explore on the devices.

“When school starts this fall, this will enable students to be more engaged in their own learning.”

Thanks to the March 2014 bond referendum, Dillon said, many good changes have occurred in the district. The renovations to Memorial Stadium are complete, and construction on a new middle school and a new elementary school is underway.

Ground has also been broken on an aquatic center, a joint project between the school system and the Upper Palmetto YMCA. The new aquatic center will be part of a new YMCA also under construction.

To get everyone excited about the new school year, the district is holding a back-to-school kickoff 5-7 p.m. Aug. 14 at Memorial Stadium. The event will feature kid-friendly activities as well as tables set up for each school, to be followed at 7:30 p.m. by a free football scrimmage between Clover and Hunter Huss high schools.

Details: www.clover2.k12.sc.us.

Fort Mill School District: 15 schools, 12,500 students

Kelly McKinney, media and communications officer for the Fort Mill School district, said growth continues to be one of the biggest challenges for educators.

“We are still in the process of registering new students, but we anticipate near double-digit growth for the 2015-2016 school year,” McKinney said.

That number could prove to be only the tip of the iceberg, as McKinney said there are close to 12,000 new homes approved for the area covered by the district, which includes the town of Fort Mill, part of York County and Tega Cay.

Renovations at the district’s two high schools are almost complete, funded by money from 2013 bonds. Capacity at each high school will increase by 600 students.

Twenty-five teachers are being added to the system, bringing the total to 900. Three new principals started work July 1.

Jason Johnson is the new principal of Nation Ford High School, and Michael Pratt took Johnson’s former job as principal of Banks Trail Middle School. Matthew Johnson now leads Orchard Park Elementary School as principal.

When school starts Aug. 17, bell schedules will change slightly to accommodate bus changes. The new schedule is 7:40 a.m.-2:25 p.m. for elementary schools, 8:10 a.m.-3:20 p.m. for middle schools and 8:40 a.m.-3:40 p.m. for high schools.

Bus routes are under development based on the newly approved bell schedules, and once complete will be posted on the district’s website.

Details: www.fort-mill.k12.sc.us.

Rock Hill School District: 27 schools, 18,000 students

Director of Communications Mychal Frost said the district is expanding technology so more students will have access to computers.

“We’re expanding our 1 to 1 program to include all students in grades three through 12,” Frost said. “Those in grades three through eight will have iPads, and those in grades nine through 12 will be issued HP laptops.”

Last year, the 1 to 1 device program covered only students in grades four through eight.

Frost said the district also is implementing Canvas, a learning management program to help individualize the learning experience for students, teachers and parents.

Work also is starting on York’s five-year capital campaign, made possible by passage of a bond referendum in May. Frost said that more than 50 projects will affect each school campus at least once over the next five years.

Examples of bond projects are roof work, security efforts, expansion of office space in some schools and technology infrastructure.

Details: www.rock-hill.k12.sc.us.

York School District: 8 schools, 5,340 students

Beverley Bowman, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, said that this month marks the third year of a district-wide initiative titled Olweus, aimed at eliminating bullying.

School stakeholders have been working together to change school norms and restructure the school setting to enhance peer relations. Because of these efforts, Bowman said, bullying incidences have decreased dramatically at all levels, and students no longer are hesitant to report bullying when they see it.

Bowman said the district also is waiting for state approval and funding to expand the infrastructure for wireless connectivity in all schools. The schools then will be challenged to find funding for mobile wireless carts for classrooms and teachers.

Nevertheless, she said, all stakeholders value the role of technology and are committed to the goal. Stakeholders for technology include the school board, administrators and educators, and school Parent Teacher Associations.

This fall, York Comprehensive High School students will have the opportunity to participate in an Early College Program with York Technical College. The program will begin with ninth-grade students who, by the time they graduate, are expected to have earned 31 college credits.

The students will receive most of these courses at their school rather than traveling to Rock Hill for classes.

Details: www.york.k12.sc.us.

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: m.johnston@carolina.rr.com.

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