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CHCCS endures staff shortages, school safety issues and board changes

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An Estes Elementary School Parent walks their child home from school on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.

From the school board elections to bus driver shortages, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools faced many major changes and challenges in 2023. 

Staffing shortages

At the beginning of the school year, there were an estimated 2,840 instructional vacancies statewide, according to the North Carolina School Superintendents' Association. 

Thomas Soth, an AP Spanish teacher at Chapel Hill High School, said he and two other teachers have had to take on additional classes, while another Spanish teacher has larger class sizes to make up for the loss of a teacher in their department.

He said he thinks a historically desirable district like CHCCS struggling to hire new staff shows that the teacher shortage is an issue everywhere.

Soth also said work needs to be done at the legislative level to reinstall teaching programs that incentivize people to pursue teaching in public schools.

“When you go into teaching, you know that you're not going in to get the money. But if you could at least see some more of the benefits that sometimes media or teachers themselves or students don't always see, the joys that you can get being a teacher, because they're there — it would be great if everybody could see that more often,” he said.

Starting in November 2022, a lack of available bus drivers began impacting school instructional hours. According to André Stewart, chief operations officer for CHCCS, the district had a shortage of 10 drivers each morning.

During the shortage, drivers had to double up on routes, and this contributed to a number of students being late for classes.

Stewart said the district estimated it had around 650 hours of missed instructional time among students in March due to late buses, which led them to go to the CHCCS Board of Education to implement an incentive program.

The board’s incentive program came in four phases, Stewart said, and included looking at the salary scale of the drivers and consolidating stops.

The plan also allows 18-year-olds to apply for and receive a commercial driver’s license to drive for the district. Dual roles for staff were offered, meaning individuals such as custodians and cafeteria workers could also work as bus drivers.

Since implementing this incentive program, Stewart said the district has seen an increase in drivers. 

He said this has allowed the district to implement its new later bus routes — intended for students who were previously unable to participate in extracurricular activities and receive after-school help from teachers due to lack of transportation. He said the district has already seen an increase in students participating in after-school activities.

Campus safety

On Monday, Aug. 28, the fall semester began with CHCCS going into "secure mode." While classes ran as usual, students were not allowed outside of the school building.

The secure mode came after UNC professor Zijie Yan was shot on UNC’s campus.

On Nov. 29, Carrboro High School was evacuated after a bomb threat was made in an email sent to the district office. A Carrboro High School student was later charged on Nov. 30 for making a false report concerning a destructive device.

Elections

On Nov. 7, municipal elections took place in Chapel Hill and Carrboro which saw the election of three new members on the CHCCS Board of Education — Barbara Fedders, Meredith Ballew and Vickie Feaster Fornville.

Rani Dasi, who has served on the board since 2015, also won her seat again. Dasi said she ran for re-election to maintain continuity on the board.

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“I was really interested in making sure that the board is able to continue the work we've been doing and also to continue to advocate for education and continue to work with the North Carolina legislature to try to get more resources for students,” she said.

This year, the board implemented a new program that allocates four weeks of paid family leave to teachers. Dasi said CHCCS was the first district to do this, and the state subsequently followed with funding for the program.

In the coming year, Dasi said she hopes the board will focus more funding for facility renovations, as the state has historically funded school capital every 10 years, yet they have not done it for close to 30.

“We've got a lot of room to make up for in terms of educational adequacy and safe and best practices for facilities,” Dasi said.

@mkpolicastro

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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