November 2020 From the Board Room

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From the Board Room: Activities of the NC Board of Education




The State Board of Education is comprised of the State Treasurer, the Lieutenant Governor and 11 citizens appointed by the Governor. This newsletter highlights the Board’s activities on behalf of the 1.5 million public school students in our state and the more than 100,000 educators who provide services to children. You may view all State Board of Education member and advisor information online. To access current and archived versions of From the Boardroom, visit the State Board of Education’s website.


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Support Plan for Low-performing Districts, Schools Presented to Board


New but limited funding from the CARES Act will help the N.C. Department of Public Instruction target support tailored to the specific needs of struggling schools and districts across the state, agency leaders told the State Board of Education during their meeting this month.


With $4.5 million in federal Coronavirus relief designated by the board to support low performing schools and districts this year and next, the department’s District and Regional Support Division has developed an approach aimed at making the most of those limited funds, Deputy Superintendent Bev Emory said. The CARES Act funding will allow the division to hire 12 positions for the next two years to supplement 66 current positions, which include Regional Case Managers and members of the Integrated Academic and Behavior Systems team.


“We have really wanted to be as strategic as possible with these resources,” Emory told the board. “How do we focus support? Where does it need to be? We really tried to narrow on districts that have been low performing. We looked at districts that have had that designation for the past five years.”


The intensive support initiative will be aimed at six districts and 44 schools with a menu of support components, including leadership support, curriculum support, diagnostic support and strategic planning. Emory stressed to the board that districts must sign a written agreement to take an active ownership role as partners with the department.


“We believe that a district needs to enter into some healthy dialogue with us about what they believe their needs are and how we can help them,” Emory said, “and that we structure this agreement so it is clear about what we are going to do but also what a district or school agrees to do – so there is district and even board sign off for a clear understanding of expectations to supports and outcomes.


Board member Amy White, who serves as chairwoman of the Special Committee on School Turnaround, said the board and department must take steps to ensure that the new support plan will be sustained beyond the two years of CARES Act funding. She compared the effort to a fan on a hot day that could get turned off.


“While I am abundantly thankful for the CARES funding as a two-year shot in the arm to get this model up and running, it’s only going to take away the heat for a brief period,” White said.


Without a concerted effort to build support in the General Assembly, she said, districts and schools needing support will continue to struggle.


“Otherwise, we are turning on the fan for a brief moment,” she said, “to give a brief shot in the arm to these districts that have been hurting.


“That means we have to demonstrate to our friends and our advocates in the General Assembly that in order to move the needle, we must keep high intensity efforts going for longer than two years.”


school mental health

Board Approves School-Based Mental Health Policy


In alignment with legislation the General Assembly passed in June, the State Board of Education this month approved a School-Based Mental Health Policy requiring all public schools in the state to adopt a mental health plan that includes a mental health training program for staff and a suicide risk referral protocol.


The policy specifies that each school will address a continuum of mental and social-emotional health supports and services that consists of these following elements, with the overarching goal of universal promotion of mental and social-emotional wellness and prevention through core instruction, curriculum, and environment; this includes a mental health training program and a suicide risk referral protocol that includes at least six hours of content for initial training for staff occurring within first  six months of employment and annual subsequent training of at least two hours.


In terms of specifics, the policy encourages schools to include such strategies as:


  • Integrating social and emotional learning strategies across the curriculum and within the entire school environment in alignment with the NC Standard Course of Study.
  • Incorporating evaluation of understanding and use of social and emotional well-being learning strategies in classroom and school management into the annual performance appraisal of teachers and administrators.
  • Improving staffing ratios for licensed specialized instructional support personnel such as school counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, school social workers, and school occupational therapists to improve student access to school health professionals.
  • Incorporating resources provided through staff mental health and wellness initiatives such as adult social-emotional learning and employee assistance programs (EAPs).


Matt Hoskins, assistant director of the Exceptional Children Division, outlined the policy to the board as a critical component supporting successful outcomes for all students.


“Even if we provide the absolute best instruction to students,” Hoskins said, “if they come to school hungry every day, if they have poor physical health, if they don’t have social connections in the school community, if they don’t feel safe to attend school, if we have students who are dealing with trauma and adverse childhood events that we know all of our students are experiencing right now that will result in mental health issues – all of those will result in less probability of success.


“We think this is just one critically important piece of a complex puzzle that supports the whole child.”



Data from Teacher Working Conditions Survey Key Tool for School Improvement, Board Told


Board members this month saw a preview of in-depth data from this year’s Teacher Working Conditions Survey that school leaders can now access as an important component in developing school improvement plans.


The working conditions survey, which North Carolina pioneered nearly 20 years ago, assesses whether educators across the state report having the resources and supports necessary to ensure effective teaching. Areas of teaching conditions measured include topics such as school and teacher leadership, instructional practices, managing student conduct, professional learning, community support, use of time, facilities and resources and new teacher support. Added in 2020 were two sections on school safety and equity.


Overall, 94.5% of schools reached minimal response rate of 40%, with 84.45% of 102,545 educators, including teachers and principals, responding.


Also added this year are new analytical tools designed to help school leaders identify strengths and weaknesses reflected in the responses of their own educators and to allow comparisons with other schools in their districts, regions and across the state.


In presenting examples of the data, Emily Davis from the Center for Optimal Learning Environments, which conducted the analysis of the survey results and produced the tools for use by districts and schools, showed contrasts between teacher responses on such issues as equity and managing student conduct.


“The data provides leaders at all levels with a really wide array of powerful and research-aligned data that they can immediately use to drive school improvement, regional improvement and district improvement plans,” Davis said. She said that an online toolkit can help school leaders create a very targeted way to improve their improvement efforts this year.


“Our hope is that this will provide all educators with useful information,” she said.


Board member James Ford asked that future surveys and analyses also include demographic data about teachers and schools in addition to data that is already gathered pertaining to such indicators as whether a teacher is new to the profession or experienced.


“We know the literature says that all those things matter,” Ford said.

NC State Board of Education Seal

Board Begins Discussion of Legislative and Budget Priorities for 2021-22


As a first step in developing its list of legislative and budget priorities for the two-year budget that will be decided next year by the General Assembly, board members reviewed a long list of items to strengthen support for the state’s public schools. The board will refine its priorities during a discussion at its meeting in December before finalizing its request in January or February.


The preliminary legislative and budget proposal includes these items:


  • Early Grades Reading - SBE K-3 Education Framework: $7.6 million  
    • Most of the expense would support a statewide system of training on the “Science of Reading.” This includes high quality curriculum and evidence-based interventions for principals, teachers, reading coaches, and district curriculum and instruction coaches. (Training would occur over two years.)
  • Teacher Preparation, Professional Learning Opportunities, and Compensation: $143    million
    • Approximately $130 million would be used to improve teacher pay during the next two years, with other funding focused on Teaching Fellows scholarships, professional development for remote learning and support for Advanced Teaching Roles in additional districts.
  • Principal Preparation, Professional Learning Opportunities, and Compensation: $27.6 million
    • The funding would increase principal pay to be competitive with neighboring states and to ensure that principals cannot be penalized for leading low-performing schools.
  • Supporting the Whole Child (Social/ Emotional and Student Mental Health): $153.5 million
    • Nearly a third of the funding, $45 million, would support the state’s new Student Mental Health Plan (Projected cost of $46 per pupil for direct services to students, mental health promotion, professional development, data collection and project evaluation, and personnel)
    • $62 million would be designated for school support positions toward goal of national recommended ratios for mental health specialists, nurses, psychologists, and social workers.
    • $32 million would support future services for students identified for Exceptional Children programs.
  • School and District Assistance and Turnaround: $44.8 million
    • $9.5 million would be spent on rebuilding staff capacity within NCDPI to lead district and school transformation and provide a regional and statewide system of support
    • $30 million would be directed to the District Technology Fund (replacing $18 million transferred for School Business Systems Modernization and recurring request)
  • Support for Other Agency Budget Requests: $29.1 million
    • Funds would support a number of programs, including transportation, cybersecurity protection for districts and Consulting services and training for Federal E-rate program changes and expansion.

nc ed corps

First Cohort of Districts for NC Education Corps Gains Approval


The board’s Executive Committee during two meetings this month approved 19 school districts for participation in the newly launched NC Education Corps, an initiative aimed at deploying tutors, mentors, technical support personnel and others to help students and teachers facing challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The effort aims to provide needed support to districts confronting unexpected needs, from technical help to families for remote instruction to tutors for students struggling with distance learning.


A total of 17 districts in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties (as designated by the N.C. Department of Commerce for economic distress) was approved as the first cohort for Education Corps members to deploy for the second semester of the school year. In all, the approved requests total slightly more than 100 corps members.


Board Chairman Eric Davis said the districts, which represent a broad cross section of the state, are:


  • Ashe County Schools
  • Camden County Schools
  • Clinton City Schools
  • Cumberland County Schools
  • Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Schools
  • Halifax County Schools
  • Hickory City Schools
  • Jones County Schools
  • Lexington City Schools
  • Mount Airy City Schools
  • Newton-Conover City Schools
  • Perquimans County Schools
  • Person County Schools
  • Pitt County Schools
  • Stanly County Schools
  • Vance County Schools
  • Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools


The board’s Executive Committee met again last week and approved Wake County Schools and Durham Public Schools for a second cohort. In Wake, 70 corps members will focus on low-income schools with the highest needs to provide academic support to students and general assistance to teachers. In Durham, about corps members will help support primarily for K-5 teachers.

Board Names Allison Schafer to Post of General Counsel


The board appointed Allison Schafer, the longtime general counsel to the N.C. School Boards Association, as its general counsel. She succeeds Tom Ziko, a former board counsel who has served in an interim capacity for the last several months.


Board Chairman Eric Davis praised Schafer as a strong advocate for students.


“Ms. Schafer is well known, and even more, well respected in the education community across North Carolina,” Davis said. “In addition to bringing deep knowledge, superb professional relationships, sound judgement and a keen intellect, Ms. Schafer brings a burning desire to elevate the academic performance of all students across North Carolina. We know she’ll be a valuable addition to our team.”