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Higher education in North Carolina got some good news with the release of an economic impact study last week, which put its collective economic impact during 2012-13 at $2 billion in the 11 western counties and $63.5 billion statewide.

op frI wish those planning to open a new charter school in Haywood County the best. Their intentions are completely honorable. But I also believe that the proliferation of school choice in the U.S. is not a long-term positive for the country.

Look, it would be ludicrous to argue that the U.S. system of public education is great. There are lazy, below-average teachers, way too many uninspired central office bureaucrats (who don’t, by the way, deserve double the pay of classroom teachers), and too many parents who don’t — for any of a multitude of reasons — make school a priority for their children.

coverAnna Eason has nothing but good things to say about Haywood County Public Schools. It’s a “good school system,” doing “an amazing job with what the state gives.” Two of her three children are students there now, and she herself is a product of North Carolina public schools, going straight through the Wake County system. 

But Eason, together with a team of other parents around Haywood County — and one from Jackson — are on the board of a new school poised to set up shop in Waynesville. Shining Rock Classical Academy will welcome its inaugural classes in July, becoming the first charter school in Haywood County.

fr students“When will I ever use this in real life?” is often the question students have when faced with difficult subjects in math and science. Swain County educators have tried to answer that question by introducing STEM projects into every classroom.

op frThe Haywood County School Board narrowly voted (5 to 4, with Chairman Chuck Francis breaking a tie) to contribute money toward a lobbying effort by the N.C. School Boards Association. The decision is the right one given the current situation in Raleigh and hopefully will be money well spent.

Lobbying is a catchall phrase that often has a negative connotation. I get that. When business groups direct thousands of dollars to candidate campaigns and then try to use that support to influence legislation, things often get sleazy. We’ve all read about it happening too many times.

op classroomMy seniors are writing letters to themselves today, an activity I have students do every year just before the holidays. I will mail these letters to them, as I do every year, when they are 22, only five years in the future, but a universe away. The idea of the adults they will become receiving a letter from their former selves fires their imagination. They write and talk for the full period, describing friends, families, passions, habits to break, or, perhaps, habits to form. I watch them while they work, and on their faces is a pensiveness made of equal parts anticipation, hope, and uncertainty.

op classroomOne in 30 American children are homeless, and, overwhelmingly, the two most common causes are economics and parental abuse. That’s the statistic I heard driving to school Monday morning. The outside temperature, 21 degrees, was a stark contrast to my car’s heated seats and comfort. In the three months since school began, I have known four students who have been without a place to stay. I hoped they were somewhere warm while I was listening to this radio report. 

fr roboticsMost ribbon cuttings are routine. Bland, even.

But then, most ribbon cuttings aren’t executed by a robot. 

“You’ll note there’s a pair of scissors strapped to one hand,” said Jim Falbo, mechatronics program coordinator for Southwestern Community College, pointing to the robot across the room. 

op briefcaseI grade about 2,000 essays a year. I do so because I am a high school English teacher, and because I also score Advanced Placement essays for a week every summer for Educational Testing Service. The first year I worked for ETS, by the second day of scoring, I had blurred vision, a stiff neck, and a dread of reading the words “relatable” or “cliché” one more time in the student responses to the essay portion of the test. But something happened the third day, the same something that happens when I read my own students’ work. Call it renewed vision. Call it human connection. Or call it fatigue hallucination. Whatever you call it, I began to read the essays as if they spoke directly to me, and what they said was that adolescents are as hungry for decency, hope, and goodness as any generation before them.

op gilchristAbsenteeism in American public schools has reached epidemic proportions. Six million students, one in eight, miss 30 days of school each year and are considered chronically absent. Children of poor families are four times as likely to be chronically absent than their peers and, by ninth grade, seven times more likely to drop out.

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