Each year, it seems, the district and the county struggle over budget allocations. What can be done to make the process smoother and more effective?
The budget is one of the most important functions of both the school board and county commissioners for it is through this process that the community prioritizes among many needs. Given that importance, good communication between all interested parties is essential. The school district can improve communication between the district and county by scheduling parts of the district budget process earlier in the year so that county commissioners are aware of the needs of the school system as early as possible. Through this process the commissioners will be able to make informed choices about school budgets that take into consideration budget drivers such as state mandated raises in teacher pay, increased utility costs, and other increases that are needed to simply maintain current services.
The school boards and commissioners should also continue to discuss the possibility of direct taxing authority by the school systems. Such authority would more closely link the public discussion of needs and limitations to the school budget, which accounts for approximately half of the county budget.
In an attempt to create smaller learning communities, the district will be instituting academies at the three high schools. Will this be enough to “engage” more students in the learning process?
The three new academies begun this year expand on the three existing academies; they will surely engage more students. Whether these new academies will engage enough students to warrant the financial investment will need to be monitored closely. In particular it may be possible to focus on creating well-designed, unique, and engaging classes that appeal to more students and students from a broader range of backgrounds without the additional costs and questionable effectiveness of a formal academy.
While some progress has been made, black and Hispanic students’ achievement still lags behind that of their white and Asian peers. What more can be done?
Most importantly, we can sharpen our focus on individual students; some black and Hispanic students do extremely well in our schools. Last year, the district began implementation of Professional Learning Communities. Through this framework, the material to be taught is clearly defined, actual student learning is frequently monitored, and teachers can access a “pyramid of interventions” for students who need additional support. Students who need support receive appropriate intervention while those who already know material can be accelerated, thus assuring each student achieves their potential. We also need to continue to focus on evidence-based instructional techniques and evaluate the effectiveness of key aspects of programs.
The school board has said no to plans for a second “First School” for Seawell Elementary. How would you expand services to local pre-K children?
The school board declined to partner with UNC to fund the majority of a new building next to Seawell Elementary that would be used as a “First School”. That building would have been much more expensive to the district than a regular school and was unlikely to be funded by the county commissioners given all the other capital needs of the district. However, the “First School” concept is being implemented at Carrboro Elementary and will be expanded into other elementary schools. Each of our elementary schools is capable of housing a pre-K program on a “First School” model, provided there is sufficient room in the school. Thus, it is important that we relieve the overcrowding that exists at the elementary school level by completing elementary school number 10 by fall of 2008 and begin elementary school number 11 shortly thereafter. We cannot provide any services to pre-K children if we don’t have the physical space. Also, we already have a high quality traditional pre-K program that will need to be merged into the “First Schools”. “First School” is a new concept so program effectiveness will need to be monitored.