- Lenoir County Public Schools
Cooperation the theme of 2020 Legislative Breakfast
Conceding the challenges of the jobs that each of them do in trying to move the county forward, leaders of Lenoir County Public Schools, Lenoir County commissioners and the county’s two members of the N.C. General Assembly touted the benefits of cooperation during LCPS’s 2020 Legislative Breakfast on Monday.
The event brought together state Sen. Jim Perry and state Rep. Chris Humphrey with the school district’s leadership team and principals, the Lenoir County Board of Education and members of the county’s board of commissioners. Also attending were Michael James, county manager, and Mayor Bobby Wooten of La Grange.
At this annual opportunity for the school district to lay out its priorities for the upcoming session of the General Assembly, formal remarks at the breakfast went light on legislative needs and long on the value of working together to keep schools and the county moving in the right direction.
Superintendent Brent Williams even saw a silver lining in the three hurricanes that thrashed the region in consecutive years. “Amid all the hardship and loss, we’ve been impressed by the resilience, the collective spirit of our community,” he said. “The upside to this is that we learned to work together more effectively.”
He specifically thanked the legislators for cutting through the red tape that entangled the district’s insurer and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in order to secure funds to repair schools and other facilities damaged in the storms.
“These guys opened the door and got the ball rolling,” Williams said. “They just said Lenoir County needs its fair consideration.”
It’s easier to be empathetic if you’re from eastern North Carolina, according to Sen. Perry.
“If you’re in this room, if you’re from here, we don’t come from different backgrounds. Our political differences east of I-95 are not like they are in Raleigh or Charlotte,” he said. “We share a lot of the same history, ideals and values in eastern North Carolina. In eastern North Carolina we’ve got to be able to work together because we are fighting for survival.”
Linda Rouse Sutton, chair of the county board of commissioners, sat on the county school board for 10 years – and was there when the school board sued the county commissioners. “That was because there was no communication. You’ve got to have those communications. You’ve got to work together and you’ve got to know one another’s needs,” she said.
Rouse and James have plans for regular meetings with Superintendent Williams and school board chair Keith King to discuss issues of mutual interest, a development King told the breakfast audience he eagerly anticipated.
“We are collaborating more and it’s a plus for our county and our schools,” King said. “The collaboration we have with commissioners has been steady growing over the past few years. I look forward to working with each of you and our county manager as we move forward.”
Rouse expressed pride in LCPS for its record of improvement and its own resilience during Williams’ four years at the helm. “We’ve talked about recovery from the storm, we’ve talked about how we were low performing. That didn’t happen overnight and that didn’t happen easily,” she said.
Since erasing a state designation as a low-performing district, LCPS has made a name for itself with is back-to-basics turnaround strategy. Test scores and graduation rates have climbed and dropout rates and out-of-school suspension numbers have dropped – improvements Associate Superintendent Frances Herring reviewed in opening the breakfast meeting.
“The reputation that this school system has in Raleigh is unbelievable,” Rep. Humphrey told the group of elected officials and educators. “At least for the last year and few months that I’ve (been in the legislature), the Department of Public Instruction has always bragged on the school system and that’s a testament to leadership.”
For the legislators’ consideration, Williams briefly summarized four issues the district considers “most significant”:
- A change in the A-F grading system for schools that gives more weight to students’ academic growth and less to their performance on standardized tests. The current formula calculates a letter grade by allocating 80 percent to test scores and 20 percent to growth data. A fairer measure would be a 50-50 split.
- Refinements in K-3 class size limits that give schools some leeway on the state mandate that a new class be created if the class-size cap is exceeded even by one student late in the school year.
- Flexibility in the school calendar that allows LCPS’s traditional calendar – for all schools except Lenoir County Early College High School – to begin the school year earlier and align more closely with the community college calendar.
- Help with capital funding for construction and repairs. LCPS sees potential “in all the proposals currently under consideration in the NC House and NC Senate.”
Superintendent Brent Williams keynotes the 2020 LCPS Legislative Breakfast on Monday. In the background are, from left, state Rep. Chris Humphrey, Lenoir County Board of Commissioners chair Linda Rouse Sutton, state Sen. Jim Perry and Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Harvey II.