CRISIS OF LEADERSHIP

Audit finds significant deficiencies at DPI

On Wednesday, April 29th, North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood, released the State of North Carolina Single Audit Report. It reflected poorly on the Department of Public Instruction as led by State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Based on my count while reading the audit, there were seven mentions of Significant Deficiency. There were also three mentions of Material Weakness. These all have to do with internal control weaknesses.

The most common reason given to try to explain away these issues? Staff turnover. In my experience staff turnover, especially to a degree that it impacts performance, is not an issue with solid leadership. These 10 mentions were solely about DPI complying with (generally) federal programs.

Then, there is the Category of Noncompliance Findings.

Here, we find three mentions of Material Noncompliance. This is accompanied by one Questioned Cost Finding in the staggering amount of $18,299,643.

The NC State Board of Education which has sparred with Johnson throughout his entire tenure responded in a statement saying, in part, “The Board is disappointed by the number of Findings and the concerns raised by those Findings.”

This should truly not come as a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to Johnson’s “leadership” as State Superintendent. The release of the audit was followed up today by Johnson’s announcement that his “Schools Reopening Task Force” would not have any current teachers on it and that he seems ready to ignore teachers on procuring a new K-3 reading test, again.

2021 cannot come soon enough.

Social Studies Scores Down

This after the NCGA eliminated a history course for high school

On Thursday, April 23rd, the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores were released for the 2018 Grade 8 Assessments in Civics, Geography, and U.S. History.

Shocker, they were down.

The National Council for the Social Studies breaks it down nicely in their email saying,

While educators know that assessments tell a small part of a very large story when it comes to education, it is disturbing to see such low scores on social studies assessments.

Many social studies teachers though will tell you that this is not a surprise. Over the past decade, or more, an increased emphasis has been put solely on STEM or english courses at the expense of social studies courses.

Just this past year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that effectively eliminated a semester of American History instruction. This too came as no surprise to many social studies educators as the NCGOP, which controls both chambers, is dominated by right wing lawmakers who were undoubtedly not happy with the progress being done to decolonize our instruction.

US Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, made a statement saying,

“We cannot continue to excuse this problem away. Instead, we need to fundamentally rethink education in America. It is the only way our nation’s students will be in a position to lead our nation and the world.”

Betsy DeVos

Her proposal for the 2021 fiscal year would cut federal education spending by $6 million.

The Executive Director of the National Council for the Social Studies made a strong statement,

It is far past time for legislators across the country to recognize the immense importance that social studies education has on the country.

What will it take to make them realize this?

Here are the links for US History, Civics, and Geography.

Welcome to the Danger Zone

NCGA Edition

THEY’REEEE BACKKKKKK.

Pro-Trump, Anti-Science. No, I’m not talking about the ReOpenNC protesters who were in Raleigh again this morning, but the Republican led North Carolina General Assembly gaveled into session today to address the beginning of North Carolina’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before we go any further, I am going to do something I might regret later. I want to give kudos to House Republicans who when formulating their proposals seemed to sincerely incorporate input from House Democrats, appointing Democrats as co-chairs, and at one point even allowing a Democrat, Rep Ashton Clemmons, to lead one of the sessions.

Now, enter the Senate and Phil Berger. What a story of two different chambers.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Carolina, we have not heard much of anything from Senator Berger. While, the House was having transparent, live-streamed, committee meetings… the Senate was doing… well, no one really knows what the Senate was doing but, today they did release their proposed bill. And phew, is it a doozy.

To start off, both Stu Egan over at Caffeinate Rage and Justin Parmenter over at Notes From the Chalkboard have discussed the obscene suggestion that growth will be equal in this remote learning setting as it would if we were having in-person classes.

Now, I’m not going to recycle their words, but I highly recommend you click on the two links above to read what Stu and Justin said. It’s unreasonable for the Senate to suggest this.

I wish that was all, but there’s more garbage in the Senate proposal.

There’s also this piece,

Within the first two weeks of returning to in-person instruction from the traumatic experience that has been COVID-19, the NCGA wants our elementary school students to go through high-stakes testing. It is important to note that this specific piece is in the House bill as well.

After at least 5 months without in-person instruction, the NCGA wants our elementary school students to have to take tests.

Are any of us truly surprised?

BUY BEER

Mark Johnson suggests parents buy teachers Corona

I know, I know, I know.

It was probably supposed to be made in jest. But I’m not laughing.

During the 10am North Carolina Coronavirus Task Force Press Conference on the morning of April 24th, State Superintendent of Schools, Mark Johnson suggested that parents buy teachers the beer, Corona, from the grocery store during Teacher’s Appreciation Week that is coming up starting May 4th.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a tweet from NC Health News’ Rose Hoban:

Joking about buying teachers beer when excessive alcohol consumption costs the state of North Carolina $7 BILLION a year. Billion with a B. Making jokes about the word Corona during the pandemic is something that my high schoolers have not made, at least to my face since remote learning has started. But there goes the State Superintendent making a joke about Coronavirus, as it continues to kill thousands of people in the United States and across the world every single day.

What would mean the most to me this Teacher’s Appreciation Week is an email saying that my students are healthy, both mentally and physically. That they are doing well. Heck, maybe even that they miss my class.

But suggesting that they buy me something, especially beer, when hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians have lost their jobs, is not funny. It is beyond the pale, especially from an elected official during this time.

RUNNING SCARED

Privatizers nervous after NCAE elections

Well that didn’t take long. North Carolina privatizers are already scared of the new NCAE leadership. Here’s the disgraced former executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party.

Killing teacher raises.. huh. Woodhouse here conveniently leaves out that the “raises” that the NCGOP were offering were miniscule. That the 3.9% raise that they were talking about was over TWO years. That even the number of 3.9% was a nice math trick as it included the step raise that was already baked into the salary schedule.

Not sure where Woodhouse gets his 5% of teachers number here. I seem to remember the privatizers pointing to payroll deduction numbers at some point. That is disingenuous as most teachers do not use payroll deductions, a legacy of when Woodhouse’s North Carolina Republican Party made attempts to remove that ability. Woodhouse’s claim of a 5% raise for all teachers is certifiably false. First, it’s rounding up from 4.9%, second that was reliant on the General Assembly overriding Governor Roy Cooper’s veto. A bribe. Then there is the sticky fact that large swaths of teachers in North Carolina would not have received a raise. As a BT3 this year, I would have received a raise of 0.0%. I’m not alone. In fact, anyone who had been teaching between 0-15 years would not have received a pay raise.

You would think that the former Executive Director of the Republican Party of all people would recognize that everything is political. Teaching is political. A well-educated populace is political. Teaching future generations to carefully analyze sources is political.

Since the racist, whitelash response to the election of President Barack Obama led to their take over of the General Assembly and Governor’s Mansion, North Carolina Republicans have done everything in their power to demonize and destroy public education in the state. The expansion of charter schools and voucher programs has led to the acceleration of segregation in our society. Through racial gerrymandering, they have attempted to bake in their majorities and isolate the populace that would throw them out of office, preventing pro-public education candidates from being elected.

Keeping Governor Roy Cooper in the Governor’s Mansion and flipping the North Carolina General Assembly would lead to sustained change in our state and very positive changes for NCAE members.

Accomplishing this would all but assuredly lead to our ESPs across the state earning the $15 minimum wage that all other state workers earn. I imagine that it would lead to the implementing of the recommendations put forth by the Leandro Report put out earlier this year to fully, equitably fund public education. Electing pro-public education candidates would even potentially lead to a new cap on charter schools, which would hamper the attempt of privatizers to destroy out public schools.

Maybe if I was Woodhouse I would be scared too. What you’re seeing in NCAE is a true grassroots movement of community organizing. Not the astroturfing that led to the Tea Party movement in 2008, or the far right ReOpenNC movement now.

BREAKING: DPI CONCLUDES INVESTIGATION INTO TEXT MESSAGE SCANDAL

Claim that knowledge of access to the personal account was limited to the K-3 literacy office.

Just before 4pm this evening, the North Carolina Department of Instruction released the following:

A Statement from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

The agency has completed its investigation into a former employee’s allegations that her personal text messages were accessed via a DPI-issued device.  The former employee admitted that she connected her DPI-issued devices to her personal text messaging accounts in violation of the state’s acceptable use and internet security policy.  The investigation concluded that after the former employee retired in October 2017, her former agency-issued desktop computer remained connected to her personal accounts and was transferred to her successor.  This individual was a social friend of the former employee and viewed the text messages as a source of entertainment and information on personal matters.  The individual shared the former employee’s text messages with at least one other career employee in the K-3 literacy division.  

Upon that individual’s retirement, the desktop was transferred to the career K-3 literacy employee.  That employee continued to view the former employee’s personal text messages and admitted to providing a screenshot of a text message conversation to her supervisor in February 2019.  The supervisor informed DPI leadership that the screenshot had been slipped under her door by an unknown individual.  Shortly thereafter, the employee disconnected the desktop from the text messaging account.  DPI has examined each device that was assigned to the former employee and has determined that they are no longer connected to any personal email or messaging accounts.  The investigation concluded that knowledge of access to the personal account was limited to the K-3 literacy office. 

For those of you who do not remember, this is related in part to the scandal surrounding iStation. The text message that was slipped under the door was the justification that State Superintendent Mark Johnson used to disband a evaluation team had been established to choose a reading diagnostic tool. The committee had chosen mClass but after the PRINTED OUT text message was shared with Johnson, the team was dissolved. The new team that was created recommended iStation.

With a normal State Superintendent, this statement that DPI has provided might be enough. Under Mark Johnson, this statement does not restore any trust in DPI.

It does not seem that anyone has been held accountable. When all of this started back in July of 2019, I called on Mark Johnson to resign. I renew that call today.

Mark Johnson’s removal as State Superintendent cannot come soon enough.

Talk about a Friday news dump.

YOUNGSVILLE ACADEMY IS NOT ALONE

Charter school in Pamlico County also mandating staff go to school

When news broke earlier this week that the charter school Youngsville Academy was mandating that their educators return to school, it spread like wildfire among educators. When WRAL put the story on the evening news, it spread throughout the state. The whistleblower from that school was identified based on their voice, and has been put on leave. As Justin Parmenter notes here via OSHA and WRAL, “it is illegal for employers to terminate employees for reporting unsafe working conditions.”

Since writing about Youngsville Academy, I have learned that they are not the only charter school in the state of North Carolina to be mandating that their educators report to work.

The culprit, is Arapahoe Charter School. According to their website, Arapahoe Charter School enrolls approximately 550 students in grades K-12 from Pamlico County in four surrounding counties.

Sources (who will remain anonymous to protect their job) say that,

“We have to work one day a week at the school. However, the school is open everyday from 8 am to 3 pm. On Mondays the K-5 teachers work all day, Tuesdays the middle school teachers work all day, Wednesdays the high school teachers work all day and Thursdays they have elective classes staff there doing work. The TAs have to work everyday from 8 am to 3 pm doing miscellaneous jobs and have even been assigned to clean our fire house where inventory is kept. Students and parents come to the school during various times to pick up materials and work packets. One of the teachers was written up for staying at home with her two children on a “workday”.

Yes, in the midst of a global pandemic, teachers are being written up to care for their children. In fact, for the first TWO weeks after Governor Roy Cooper closed North Carolina public schools, employees were required to report to school every single day. The educators at Arapahoe are afraid to publicly speak out saying,

“No one can say anything because we are at will employees and the governors orders leave the decisions up to the local school boards and administrators”

Who can blame them, after what the whistleblower from Youngsville Academy is now going through?

School closings began on March 16th. March 17th Arapahoe had what has been described as an “over capacitated staff meeting.” While I do not know if that the staff meeting was over the 100 people maximum that was set by Governor Roy Cooper at the time, it is obvious that staff did not feel safe.

Questions were asked of Chief Executive Director, Chris Watson. Questions that according to staff went unanswered,

“What does an “optional day” mean to us currently at ACS? Does it mean that we have the option [original emphasis] to come to work from school or remotely from home? Does it mean that if we do not come to work during our “shift” that we will have to use our annual leave days? If we have prepared lessons and resources for students (virtually and on paper) over the past few days, do we have the option [original emphasis] to work from home and be available to our students and parents via email while completing the work document that you discussed? Can you please define “Optional Work Days” [again original emphasis] for us? Is this your decision as a Director or the ACS Board of Directors’ decision.

What defines “to the extent feasible” for ACS employees? … In the same respect, who or what defines “safe work environment”? Does this take into account the many teachers who have their children with them on a daily basis due to the current conditions in the country? Does this take into account the staff members who may be dealing with compromised immune systems due to illnesses, pregnancy, recovering from surgery or prior illnesses, or any other medical condition?”

After Governor Roy Cooper’s March 27th Stay at Home Order, Mr. Watson followed with another all staff email saying,

“For purposes of the Executive Order, educational institutions, including preK-12 public schools, are listed as essential business.”

He went on to say,

“In addition to the above, social distancing requirements set forth in the order now require everyone to do the following;

a. maintain at least six (6) feet distancing from other individuals;

b. wash hands using soap and water for at least twenty (20) seconds as frequently as possible or the use of hand sanitizer;

c. regularly clean high-touch surfaces; and

d. facilitate online or remote access for customers if possible.”

School leadership has not offered any rationale for making staff go into the building in the midst of a global pandemic. While in the building, minimal time is spent preparing packets for those students who do not have internet access. That’s it.

Arapahoe Charter School, Chief Executive Director Chris Watson, and the Board of Directors are risking the lives of their staff and community.

And for what? Control?

Teachers at Risk: Youngsville Academy

Youngsville Academy is forcing teachers to go back to work during the Coronavirus pandemic.

4/8 Update: According to WRAL, a teacher who spoke out has been put on leave. It is doubtful that this is the last we have heard of this story.
__________________________

Well that did not take long. Leave it to a charter school to be forcing its staff to be going back during a pandemic. The culprit? Youngsville Academy, located in Youngsville, Franklin County, North Carolina is forcing their teachers to go into school on Thursday, April 9th to begin online teaching. Yes, you read that correctly.

Despite the Governor Roy Cooper consistently telling people to stay home if they are able, the educators at Youngsville Academy are being forced to choose between their job or their life. According to the WRAL report, educators without childcare are being told to bring their children.

What part of social distancing do they not understand? They are apparently taking temperatures before people enter, which sounds good in theory. The reality is that approximately 50% of all people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

Teachers lives are being put at risk. Why? I’d say ask the leaders over at Youngsville Academy but they refused to answer questions from WRAL.

I’d be surprised about something like this.. but should we really be surprised? This is just another example of ills that charter schools are inflicting on society.

Oh, and the demographics? Youngsville Academy is another charter school that is exacerbating school segregation. 85% of their students are white. Youngsville Elementary School, just down the street? 52% white.

Schools Must Close

New low in disrespect towards educators.

From the March 13, 2020 WRAL 6pm newscast, “Every person will be affected by this different.”

We do not truly know how many people in the state have coronavirus. Testing is limited with Mecklenburg County, NC (home of Charlotte) for example having only 3 tests available a time. Despite this, the only public schools planning to close for Monday are Durham Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and Orange County Schools.

Wake County has the vast majority of the cases of coronavirus in North Carolina, and yet Wake County Public Schools are still planning to hold classes on Monday as of right now.

The most common response has to do with the amount of students who rely on school for breakfast and lunch. That kids are much less susceptible to the virus then adults. Fair. This is all true and teachers have been talking about how schools have plugged holes in society for decades now.

When is enough? We ask, almost demand, educators to sacrifice so much for our students. For the most part, we do it, knowing that no one else will. We already ask too much of the adults in our schools. Risking their health to this extent (potentially even their lives) is too much.

The advice has been given that if teachers are at-risk with health conditions that make them more susceptible they should get a doctor’s note and put in for a substitute. Who is going to pick up that absence? As it is, our schools are struggling to get substitutes for absences. Barely a day goes by that teachers are not force to cover for colleagues that are absent, and that is without a worldwide pandemic.

Major league sports have been cancelled. DPAC has cancelled their shows (belatedly).

From the USA Today,
“Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington and Alabama have ordered all schools closed. The governor of Kentucky has recommended closing all schools in that state. Major metropolitan districts in Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas have also shuttered.”

Schools in New Jersey are also starting to shut down, seemingly by the hour. Churches are shutting down. Even Patagonia is closing.

Despite a federal, state and many local state of emergencies.. North Carolina? Nah.

Districts in North Carolina (including my own district – WCPSS) must close down. We must flatten the curve. We must be proactive, not reactive. Before it’s too late.

NO RAISE

Bill put forth in the NCGA is another slap in the face to North Carolina educators

Another day, another screw you by the legislature in Raleigh. The always brilliant NCGA has decided in their infinite wisdom to give public school workers in North Carolina a raise. Not one penny.

Many of you probably know what this means, but let me break it down for you just in case.
– This means that the starting salary will be staying at $35,000.
– This means that veteran educators still do not even get a step raise.
– This means the pay scale still tops out at $52,000.
– This means still no advanced pay for an advanced degree
– This means our ESPs still will not earn $15 per hour like other state employees.
– This means the statewide bus driver shortage will continue.

I’m angry. You should be as well.

The question is, what are you going to do about it?