With traditional Cumberland County Schools are gearing up to start classes on Aug. 25, Up & Coming Weekly met with Cumberland County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Frank Till, to find out what students and families need to know for this coming school year.
UCW: Tell our readers about the good things going on in Cumberland County Schools — accomplishments and milestones from last year as well as things they can look forward to in the coming year.
DR. TILL: We are modernizing some things and recently, because of the military and the transient nature of the community, we want to make sure that the curriculum is standardized from school to school. What that will allow us to do is follow up and better remediate students with problems.
Another thing we are doing is working on our website so that we are going to be able to present videos to parents on our parent link. They can go online and see things that will help them and their kids. The videos may be about broad things like the new grading policy or they might suggest how to help children with homework.
UCW: What are your top three priorities for Cumberland County Schools this year?
DR. TILL: Sudent achievement is always number one, reading at early grades and at the higher grades we are focusing on AP classes.
We discovered that tardiness is beginning to impact achievement, which affects students long-term, so we are doing a campaign encouraging parents to get kids to school on time and to help them stay in school. We are going to work with judges and police and child services as well to try and get our kids to school on time and have them in school the entire day.
Then, mentoring our students is another priority. We will continue to try to find people in the community who will give an hour a day to mentor. This is not tutoring; this is about mentoring. We want people who will come in and talk with the kids and see how they are doing, find out if they are having any problems that we can help them with, things like that. We are encouraging people to do more of that.
A fourth initiative we are excited about is that we are working with the chamber to recognize local businesses that are willing to give our employees discounts. It is already starting to grow and I am optimistic. It is a great way to get our employees to shop local and it makes it easy for local business owners to support educators and those that work in the education system
UCW: In February, the state released rankings for the 2013-2014 school year. Three Cumberland County schools received As, 16 received Bs, 28 received Cs and 22 got Ds and one received an F. Did this information inspire any changes in local schools?
DR. TILL: For us, it was something we did better on than most districts in that we had only one F. We measure growth over proficiency for our students. That way you don’t punish someone in a neighborhood with a lot of poverty or reward someone in a wealthy neighborhood. So we can focus on getting children an equal education across the board.
If we get every child to their expected growth for the year, these other things take care of themselves. We are always looking for ways to help our students succeed so the rankings don’t affect the way we do things.
UCW: With three years of Common Core behind Cumberland County students, what are your thoughts on the Common Core Curriculum?
DR. TILL: I support Common Core. I think it has been misinterpreted, though. It was a state initiative. The states came up with it, and the military supported it, because as kids move around there needs to be a common standard. We also need to be able to determine how North Carolina compares to other states. Without a commom standard you can’t do that. The real problem with Common Core has been with the assessments. North Carolina has terrible assessments. I was on a task force and we were not able to change anything but the fact is, we are over assessing the kids.
In a 90-day period, there were assessements of some kind on 72 days last year. We are finding there is no match with assessments; there is a disalignment with the testing. Cumberland County Schools is working on that.
UCW: The schools are set to move to a 10-point grading scale this year. Why the change and what does it mean for local students and teachers?
DR. TILL: That was a state initiative. The conversation was a part of a discussion including how our students compare with students from our state and other states when they are applying to colleges. Many other states are on the 10-point standard so when students from North Carolina were competing for college seats, our grading scale put them at a disadvantage. In the high schools we needed to be more aligned with what other states were doing.
Then they began to talk about phasing it in. We had some problems because we realized that if I was 10th grader and you were a 9th grader and we both got 92s, as a 9th grader you would get an A and I as a 10th grader would be at a B. So the state decided to implement the 10-point scale across the board.
UCW: There is talk about budget cuts and cutting local teaching assistant jobs. How many jobs are at stake here and what will that mean for teachers and students?
DR. TILL: We don’t know. The legislature hasn’t passed a budget yet. If the state senate budget passes as is we will have to cut a significant number of teacher assistants. That will cause problems not just in class rooms, but also with bus drivers and a lot of other things. To lose them would hurt us. They are also talking about cutting teachers. We already don’t have enough to go around. We would be short teachers and under a penalty for oversized classes. That could cost us millions. Nobody knows when the budget will pass so this could happen even well into the school year. There doesn’t seem any rush in Raleigh.
UCW: How has the military’s shrinking budget affected Cumberland County Schools? Are you anticipating any big changes this year due to the shrinking military presence at Fort Bragg?
DR. TILL: Last year we lost about 1,000 students because of the downsizing and that hurt us. This year, enrollment is only down at one school so far and we don’t know why. We hope last year was the big year. Thanks to Gen. Ray Odierno, the military took military students and local schools into consideration when it came time to make more cuts. They are cutting something like 850 military personnel from Fort Bragg next year and that should not hurt us as badly.
We got a major grant from the military and we feel like we have done a lot to show we care about military children.
UCW: The Cumberland County Schools System does a great job of meeting students and families where they are and working with them to create success. What do our readers need to know about special programs and schools in Cumberland County?
DR. TILL: In all schools, if parents come in we can sit down and talk with them about how to help their students. We need to form a good partnership with the home. Many kids spend more time on video games than they do excersizing. Their health is going down. We need to get them playing more and doing homework.
Nutrition is a factor, too. This year, we have 32 schools that serve breakfast and lunch at no charge. We need a declaration from the community that we need to commit to creating healthy kids. Healthy kids go further in life.
We are really working on tardiness and making sure that kids are in school on time and that they stay the entire day. We have parents that don’t want to wait in bus lines so they check their kids out early everyday.
We are having examples of children that come late more than 100 days because the parent sets their own time schedule. These kids are not learning like they should. You can’t learn to read if you aren’t there when we are teaching reading.
UCW: How can parents/guardians help students and their teachers have a successful year?
DR. TILL: Help your student be on time. Make sure they get plenty of rest. Have them do something educational like read a book every day. Limit video games. Watch what they read and watch on TV. Be more engaged in what they are reading.
UCW: Where can our readers go to find out more are CCS?
UCW: Go to our website at http://ccs.k12.nc.us. We are making it more friendly for families. Make sure to have an email address with the school so you can check grades online on a regular basis. There is a lot of information there and like I mentioned before we will be featuring videos on a variety of topics.
UCW: Is there any thing else that you want our readers to know about CCS?
UCW: We are supportive of our students and their families and make it our theme. On lateness- every moment counts. We only have so much time to get kids ready for work and for life as adults and we don’t want to cheat them. We want to partner with parents and families and work with them to create successful students and productive citizens.