Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category

When the North Carolina Education Lottery was approved in the NC General Assembly in 2005 by a razor thin margin, I covered the story and was told extensively by Republican detractors that the money generated for schools would get raided whenever budgets became tight.

They were right. With the state facing its first significant budget deficit since the lottery was established, a chunk of lottery profits has been utilized to plug the multi-billion dollar hole in the general fund. The move attracted the kind of angry protest you’d expect from those counting on education funds. But one legislator representing part of Surry County has taken a more tongue in cheek route in his response.

Darrell McCormick, a Republican whose district represents the eastern third of the county, is one of four primary sponsors of a bill filed last week to strip the word “education” out of the “North Carolina Education Lottery’s” title. Sarah Stevens, Surry’s other representative in the House, is a co-sponsor.

It’s a form of protest at lottery backers reneging on their  pledge to keep those profits for schools, a major selling point in getting the lottery enacted. It’s unlikely this bill gets through to a vote in a Democrat controlled legislature, but it might tighten pressure on keeping all lottery revenues solely in the hands of schools.

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In what has almost become a right of legislative passage, Sen. Tony Rand has once again filed a bill that would effectively merge city school systems into the county school system. The legislation doesn’t force a merger, but it cuts out a significant pot of administrative and teaching funds given to each school district, allocating that package only once per county. So the school systems for Mount Airy and Elkin would have to pay for a big chunk of those expenses themselves using local taxes rather than rely upon the state.

Whenever this comes up, boards and staff from both of Surry’s city school districts cry foul and launch an agressive lobbying campaign against the bill, especially in Elkin. Rand is among the most powerful legislators in Raleigh, and could probably push this  through if he really wanted, but thus far he’s seemed content to simply float the idea each year and then back off. Maybe this is the year we see action, or maybe it’s just another unrealized threat to city school districts.

Either way, expect a heated response from the local school boards and probably some emails to staff and parents urging them take up the cause of saving the city school district. It’s a complex debate involving the most efficient way to educate students, with many of the same arguments already being exchanged on both sides in Davidson County. It would certainly simplify the process of districting and school construction and save the state millions to merge. The question is whether the success of our city school districts (relative to state averages) rests on their independent status or on strong faculty who wouldn’t be lost in a merger.

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Imagine if you will that your child’s high school classmate is suspected for drug dealing, or perhaps bringing a weapon to school. There’s a police officer assigned to keep students safe, so should this officer proceed with an investigation without alerting the student under suspicion? Or should the officer be required to notify that student’s parents and sit down with the whole family for questioning?

Now imagine the student in question is your son or daughter?

The range of viewpoints on this sensitive subject is what has the Mount Airy Police Department and the Mount Airy city school system at odds with how to instruct the high school student resource officer both entities help pay for. The police department wants its SRO to handle investigations the way they would in any other circumstance, gathering information in secret if that’s the most effective way to build a case. The school system, on the other hand, has a policy protecting students from such searches without their parents being notified first. Both sides are now trying to put together a resolution they each can live with, as detailed in the Feb. 6 edition of The Messenger. What the final policy includes could say a lot on how broad a parental role schools are expected to play.

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Teacher quality and merit pay have leaped to the forefront of the national diologue on public school reform, especially with President Obama tapping noted reformist Arne Duncan to serve as secretary of education. Given that focus, it’s uplifting to see that teachers in Surry County are still pushing themselves to improve in their profession through voluntarily completing the rigorous National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process. Both the Mount Airy and Surry County school systems, along with Millennium Charter Scademy, have had teachers recently earn certification. They have plenty of company. A search of certified teachers turns up a total of 11 for the Mount Airy system and 77 for the Surry County system. Recent Messenger articles on the newly certified teachers has them expressing a newfound understanding and appreciation for more modern and innovative teaching strategies, ensuring  their methods stay fresh to keep up with new technology and learning styles. If President Obama puts any teeth into his rhetoric on school reform, that kind of committment to improvement will no doubt prove critical.

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The Surry Early College High School of Design has a problem with a name — and it’s not the mouthful that it goes by.

In the broad scheme of things, this problem ranks somewhere at the bottom of the priority scale, but it’s still kind of fun to ponder solutions.

Here’s the trouble: this year, the third year for the school, the highest level students are juniors, just as they would be at any other high school. Things are going to get tricky for them next year, though.

The Early College (as we’ll call it to save both space and ink) is a novel concept in which its students attend for five years at the Dobson campus, at the end of which they will graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. In essence, these students will be cramming six years worth of education into five.

Back to this year’s current  juniors. What will they be called next year? The natural thing would be “seniors.” But this isn’t a “natural” school.

If they are to be called seniors in their fourth year, what’s that make them in the fifth? They certainly aren’t freshmen (or “freshwomen,” if there even is such a word), because freshmen don’t graduate from community college. And they couldn’t be sophomores without having undergone all the pain and ridicule that the upper classes heap upon the frosh.

So if they’re not seniors, are they “sub-seniors”? Or maybe they are seniors in the fourth year and then become “super-seniors” in the fifth.

Think this is a tough one? We aren’t even addressing the issue of whether or not these students should go through a graduation exercise after their fourth year.

So do you have a suggestion for a name for the fourth- and fifth-year students at the Early College? Post a response to our blog here.

The ones we’ve suggested so far are all we can come up with. Perhaps because we’re having a senior moment.

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A couple months back I posted on the issue of the Pilot Mountain fire hydrants. Take a look at that post here, because I’m basically trying to bump it back up to the top of the blog.

Last night the chief of the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Deparment, James DeHart, came out strongly opposed to the colorful designs, saying they make it difficult for firefighters to locate the hydrants at night. There’s also a bit of a cultural debate going on here, with some seeing the flashy designs as artistic and others as a joke.

The town board is pretty much at an impasse on the issue of whether to keep the hydrants painted, but it’s something they’re likely to discuss in the coming months.

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It makes sense that in this day and age of gas prices that school field trips are up for more scrutiny. Sure enough, a quick google news search shows this to be an issue in Ohio, in Alabama, in South Carolina, and plenty of other states.

The issue recently came up with the Surry County School system, with the board of education requesting a new policy outlining field trips. The full policy — approved earlier this month — is attached below. It doesn’t  have any hard restrictions on trips, but it does require board approval more often. So the school board will have the option of clamping down on trips longer than 125 miles or to places like amusement parks. We’ll see if it continues to be a point of concern once the school year starts.


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I’ve attached some photos I took recently of a few of the newly painted fire hydrants in Pilot Mountain, which interestingly enough were the source of a complaint at this week’s town board meeting. The concerned resident, Shane Hawks, is upset that creative hydrant designs could make it difficult for fire departments to determine the capacity and water pressure of each hydrant. He cited recommendations from the National Fire Protection Association, which say hydrant colors should be standardized (I couldn’t find these recommendations on the website, but I might not know where to look).

Furthermore, Hawks just thinks some of the designs are plain ugly, calling them “graffiti.” The town board disagrees, and plans to have more painted as a way to spruce up Main Street aesthetics. Local middle school students submitted designs to their art teacher and were chosen to do all the painting.

It’s an interesting idea that could easily be applied to any municipality in Surry. Thus I’m curious how the general public perceives such an initiative.

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In the interest of balance, time to take a look at a legislative bill from Don East (who represents Surry County in the state senate) after examining one from Rep. Jim Harrell III in the last blog post.

Thing is, East hasn’t been the primary sponsor for any new legislation not already requested by city officials. But he is a co-sponsor this interesting new bill that would drop the word “education” from the state’s lottery.

Since the lottery began in 2005 and started distributing about 35 percent of proceeds to education programs, there have been numerous legislative proposals to tinker with how the funds are used. But the bill East supports is purely symbolic. Its primary sponsor has said the idea is just to keep public schools in this state from being associated with gambling (not counting all the money they’ll still take in from said gambling or course). 

Now if we’re going to drop the word “education,” why not open the floor up to corporate sponsorships? I’m sure there are some credit card companies lining up to get their name on the lottery.

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Gov. Mike Easley’s final budget proposal is out. His spending priorities (Easley staples such as teacher pay and higher education along with the hot button issues of mental health) are perhaps less interesting than the plan to help pay for it all through tax increases to cigarettes and alcohol. The cigarette tax hike can be considered really harsh, given that it nearly doubles the per pack tax of 35 cents, or viewed as fairly benign, given that North Carolina would still be in the lower half among all states in taxes per pack. Taxes to alcohol amount to 4 percent.

Tobacco was once a dominant economic force in this state, but it appears that its political and cultural influence has spiraled down significantly in recent years.

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