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Meeting with legislators

Before they met for breakfast on Monday, leaders of Lenoir County Public Schools and the two state legislators who represent Lenoir County had a meeting of the minds on key public education issues now before the N.C. General Assembly.

Included among six issues culled from “a list of about another 40 items,” as LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams told guests at the school district’s annual Legislative Breakfast, were requests for more flexibility in shaping the school-year calendar and an adjustment in the formula for calculating school performances grades.

Rep. Chris Humphrey has entered a local bill that could give LCPS more control in shaping its school-year calendar.
State Rep. Chris Humphrey has already filed a local bill focusing on the former issue and state Sen. Jim Perry is sponsoring legislation regarding the latter.

“These guys are on it, and we should not only recognize that but celebrate them for their proactive efforts,” Williams said.

Local control of the calendar would ensure high school students take exams before the Christmas break and that the academic schedules of the more than 600 public school students also taking college-level courses would align with the calendar of Lenoir Community College. Humphrey’s bill, HB 94, would give the Lenoir County Board of Education authority to set the dates for the beginning and the end of the school year, dates now set according to state requirements.

“I don’t know where that’s going to go,” Humphrey said in addressing the breakfast crowd, “but there’s a lot of momentum across the state for school calendar flexibility. We’re excited about that.”

Regarding public school accountability, LCPS has for years advocated for a change in the formula that determines the letter grades assigned to public and charter schools each year, which is now based 80 percent on student proficiency scores on standardized tests and 20 percent on students’ academic growth.

A formula giving equal weight to test scores and to growth measures would more accurately reflect a school’s year-to-year performance, according to Williams.  “If you’re growing consistently and your schools are making strong, consistent progress, that should certainly be reflected in the way your schools are judged,” the superintendent said.

Sen. Jim Perry is cosponsoring legislation that would adjust the school accountability formula to give more weight to students’ academic growth.
SB 319, legislation Perry cosponsors, would mandate that school performance grades are calculated on that 50-50 formula, a nod to the fact that not all students start in the same place and, due to factors they can’t control, not all schools have an equal chance at reaching that proficiency standard.

“We started working on that long before I became a lawmaker,” said Perry, who volunteered for years at Rochelle Middle School. “I understand from being a volunteer in the school system that Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s problems are not Lenoir County’s problems. Our opportunities for success are different.”

Williams also advocated for more flexibility in class size limits for grades kindergarten through third. State law now places hard caps on classroom size that require schools to create another class – with another teacher and another classroom – if enrollment exceeds the cap by even one student “no matter how late in the school year the new enrollment happens.”

Capital funding for schools, a need addressed in Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget and in competing bills in the state House and Senate, received strong endorsement from Williams. Both legislators said they supported more state funding for school construction and repairs.

Rounding out the short list of legislative issues were continued attention to compensation, particularly for school-based administrators, and increased state support for technology, both in terms of equipment and manpower, as school districts move deeper into digital learning.

Associate Superintendent Frances Herring reviewed the school district’s progress – higher test scores and graduation rate, lower dropout rate and student suspension numbers – over the past three years and school board chair Keith King thanked the elected officials in attendance for their support of the school system.

In addition to the Humphrey and Perry, the breakfast was attended by all members of the school board; by county commissioners Linda Rouse Sutton, Preston Harris, Craig Hill and J. Mac Daughtey; Kinston Mayor Don Hardy; Pink Hill Mayor Carol Sykes and La Grange Mayor Woody Gurley.

Principals of the district’s 17 schools and Edward Chisolm, executive director of the Partnership for Children of Lenoir and Greene Counties, and Partnership board member Lou Anne Shackelford were also in attendance.

Sutton, chair of the board of commissioners, had praise both for the legislators “for not only talking but doing some action” and for the school district’s turn-around efforts in her remarks.

“I am very proud to stand here before you talking about Lenoir County Schools,” said Sutton, who served 10 years on the school board. “They have really buckled down and revamped and made some hard decisions about what to do with our school system. I think the rewards have been well worth the effort.”