LAURINBURG — Scotland High School played host to nearly 100 superintendents, board of education members and school administrators from systems throughout the Sandhills on Thursday.
Student talents added flourish to several elements of the annual N.C. School Boards Association District 4 meeting, which brought together education officials from Bladen, Clinton, Columbus, Cumberland, Hoke, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, and Scotland counties, as well as Whiteville City Schools. All eight members of the Scotland County Board of Education attended.
The Scotland High School jazz band provided background music for a reception and dinner, while students in the Scotland High School culinary program served hors d’oeuvres and prepared a buffet of dishes from the school’s Bagpiper Restaurant.
School Boards Association members heard annual budgetary and legislative updates before dispersing into four breakout sessions: “Sustainable Agriculture and Partnerships/Scotland High School Enterprises,” “Monitoring the Digital Playground,” “ReContext Data Solutions,” and “EVAAS and Standard 6 Data.”
NCSBA Executive Director Ed Dunlap cautioned school board members across the state in the face of threats, both to funding for public education and to the authority of school boards themselves. Among those challenges is increased public funding for private school opportunity vouchers.
“What that says to me, and what I think it says to you, is that we have our collective work cut out for us,” said Dunlap. “We have a lot of things that need to be done in our public schools for our 1.5 million children, and our local board of education is the entity that is charged with making sure that the children in our state get the kind of education that they need for them to become productive citizens.”
Dunlap reviewed the historical basis for boards of education — which, he pointed out, are not provided for in North Carolina’s constitution and could therefore be abolished by the state’s legislature — and reiterated their role as it impacts both schools and the community at large.
“That is a historic United States function; the board of education is a governmental creature that came out of the New England town meetings where people would get together, reason, and talk about how problems should be solved,” he said.”
“Every decision that a board of education makes impacts every child and every citizen in your community. I think you are the most important public servants because you have at your heart what needs to be done to make sure that future generations become the leaders that they have to become if our country is going to prosper.”
The group received an update on the NCSBA Action Center, a nonprofit established to promote the association’s legislative agenda, from action center member and Scotland County Board of Education member Charles Brown.
The center has received funds from 54 of the state’s 115 school boards, which has enabled it to hire two lobbyists for the current legislative session. The action center also maintains a website to promote the association’s interests and conducts training for school board members on issues such as school vouchers and Common Core.
“A portion of contribution dollars is also being set aside for a reserve that can be tapped into when a critically serious issue hits and we need to engage in rapid response and grassroots mobilization,” Brown said. “These would be things like strategic TV and radio buys as well as direct mail campaigns. These types of activities are expensive and are often very important in shaping public opinion.”
Olivia Oxendine, one of 13 members of the N.C. Board of Education and a professor of school administration at The University at North Carolina at Pembroke, offered an overview of the state school board’s priorities in the current year. Those include a review of Common Core standards to determine whether or not they are developmentally appropriate at each grade level.
Also this year, several “interim assessments” will be administered to fifth- and sixth-grade students at some schools in an exploration of alternatives to the state’s current standardized End of Grade and End of Course tests.
“The state board of education is very much committed to looking at, reviewing, and thinking carefully about the findings that come out of this proof of concept study,” said Oxendine. “If we see that the interim assessments are statistically feasible and operationally manageable at the district and school level, the North Carolina State Board of Education will consider a very different way in terms of determining the achievement of students in North Carolina.”
The meeting also covered developments in the statewide digital learning plan. Most schools in the state have reported being in the early development stage of integrating computers and other technology in daily instruction.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.