- East Chapel Hill High School
Engagement: CHCCS Board of Education Hosts Legislative Breakfast
By Stuart Phillips, CHCCS Communications Specialist
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Nyah Hamlett hosted the district’s annual “Legislative Breakfast” on March 31 at Lincoln Center. The purpose of the traditional event is to spotlight and advocate for many of the district’s state legislative priorities (click here for full Legislative Program), including increased benefits and compensation for educators, prioritizing social-emotional and mental health supports, and providing universal Pre-K. All three state representatives for Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Sen. Graig Meyer, Rep. Allen Buansi and Rep. Renee Price, were in attendance, and all shared their perspectives and recommendations, demonstrating our district’s Core Values of Engagement and Collective Efficacy.
Vice Chair Dr. George Griffin and Dr. Hamlett welcomed the guests, directing their attention to the contents of their Legislative Program packets. Griffin began his remarks by expressing gratitude for the work Hamlett has led during her two years as superintendent. “How fortunate we are that you’re here,” he said, observing that she lives the additional core values of Wellness and Joy, and embodies much of the Strategic Plan in her daily work. Griffin then noted the Board’s strong opposition to the Charter School Omnibus and alerted the guests to a CHCCS document detailing objections to the bill.
Other Board members touched on several additional priorities in the 2023 Legislative Program. Member Mike Sharp spoke about the need to increase Teacher Compensation and Benefits, saying, “The state needs to show teachers we respect them.”
Member Riza Jenkins highlighted the need for statewide, universal Pre-K. “My three kids all went through our Pre-K. I wanted them in the program to strengthen their social-emotional learning,” she said.
Member Ashton Powell addressed the need for expanded Mental Health support. “Even before the pandemic began, Mental Health needs were very high.” He cited a statistic that nearly 40% of current UNC students suffer from anxiety or depression, and he shared his observation that colleges and universities truly value differentiated programs. “We want our students making choices for joy and wellness.”
The discussion turned to the priority of eliminating Class Rank on student transcripts. Hamlett said, “In Chapel Hill-Carrboro, our students talk all the time about being in an academic pressure cooker, and not wanting to have to play the game of what number of honors and AP courses they have to take, instead of taking the courses that help them stay truly engaged. Engagement is one of our Core Values.”
Member Deon Temne said, “If we decrease the impact of Class Rank, we’re pitting our students against our curriculum instead of against each other. We want to create students who follow their passions and then go out into the world to live those passions.”
Jenkins chairs the BOE Finance, Facilities and Operations Committee, and she pitched an impassioned plea for increased capital funding. “We have a lot of schools that were built in the 50’s and 60’s – we need upwards of $300 million to meet those needs. Our schools need safe learning spaces for our students and staff. We want to offer great working conditions. Our needs exceed what our county can do, and that’s why we’re looking to the state to step in. We’re a 1:1 [technology device] district – it’s the tool we use in our schools, because that’s how the world is now. We prepare our students to be competitive, so we need to make sure we have the right technology, the right technology infrastructure to ensure our students can get online. We need to make sure our students are up to date, to keep up with where the world is with technology.”
Griffin then turned the discussion over to the state legislators to share their thoughts and ask questions.
Buansi said, “I appreciated hearing about class rank. I can still remember my time at East, the emphasis put on taking advanced courses to get into a good college, always staying up late to do homework. These are young people with their whole lives in front of them, and they should not be coming from this place of deficit. One thing you’ve talked about is having equity at the center of what you do. We’re seeing attacks on our teachers and students and staff. Case in point is the bill that passed the House, Equality in Education, would really chill the efforts by teachers to talk about race and gender. If we expect to recruit and retain teachers, it starts with respect. In this new bill, a teacher would have to submit a request to DPI for a (classroom) speaker so they can then investigate that speaker’s history and how they’ve talked about race in the past. It further undermines our public schools and dissuades young people from going into this profession.”
Meyer, who directed the CHCCS Blue Ribbon Mentor Program for many years, said, “My work in this school district was always equity work. I want you to know how proud I am that this district continues that work, even in the face of the national pushback. I believe the pushback we’re facing is because we’re succeeding. Chapel Hill has always been at the forefront of progressive education. We joined the Minority Student Achievement Network as the only Southern district in 1998, we had the first AVID program in the state and created the mentoring program. We always face opposition when we make advances for Black people, for Brown people. That is the job of public education. It’s hard enough to do the education part, but even harder to do the values part. ‘Public’ means all– every single kid that we are here to serve. I feel so fortunate to be elected by the same voters who elect the school board here, and I want you to know, my values are reflected in these documents you’ve created. Unfortunately, we don’t have power, but we have voice. We can’t get through some of the things you’re asking for, but in our legislative role, we can continually push and create models for what we should advocate for. On almost every one of your priorities, Democrats have already filed bills.”
Price then spoke, starting with the statement, “Yes, it will be a tough road.” She continued, “As many of us know from our life experiences, when you’re in the minority, you have to keep fighting– as Black women, we know. We are trying our best. We must continue to work together, do workarounds if that’s what it takes. One of the biggest obstacles we face is the battle over charter schools and voucher programs.” Price mentioned several high profile bills under consideration, including one to allow calendar flexibility. “So many school districts are now asking for this,” she said. “And they are putting money into school safety, though what was really surprising to me, when the day after the school shooting in Nashville, they went forward with overriding the governor’s veto of the pistol permit bill (to remove the requirement for pistol permits).”
Griffin asked if there is any hope for the Leandro case. Meyer said, “Leandro is a political lightning rod– certain pieces of Leandro have a better chance of surviving than others. But as long as the current GOP leadership is in place, there’ll be no wholesale adoption of Leandro.”
When Powell asked, “How can we coordinate better with you? How can we be a model for getting things done?”
Meyer responded, “Get connected to state organizations. Go to statewide meetings and conferences and ask “Wouldn’t your district also like to engage on this? That moves conversations up and broadens impact. Stay involved, working with other counties!”
Hamlett said, “I won’t go away! We will keep seeking commonalities.”
(Click here for the full CHCCS Legislative Program)
CHCCS District Headlines stories are written on a regular basis by the CHCCS Division of Communications, with assistance from a network of school-based “storytellers” who share tips and ideas throughout the school year. The goal is to share real-world examples of the CHCCS Strategic Plan in action. Know about a story worth telling from your school? Contact the CHCCS Communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.