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A Back To School Message From NCASA's Executive Director

A Back-To-School Message From NCASA’s Executive Director

Katherine Joyce | NCASA

With most North Carolina school districts starting the school year for students next Monday, I, on behalf of your support team at the North Carolina Association of School Administrators, want to share some thoughts on the important work and opportunities ahead of you.

I personally always find “back to school” season heartening, with school leaders and teachers preparing to plant new seeds of education that will grow our state’s future. This is both an exciting and challenging time for administrators and other educators across the state, as you plan for the students entrusted in your care for the coming year. Your students will pop up like new seedlings, all with different needs, and all worthy of your expertise and attention. In whatever role you serve in public education, I want you to think of yourselves as master gardeners. It’s up to you to determine if the young people in your care grow in their educational experience, or if something will pull them off the vine.

As you embark on tending the garden of young people in your schools, know that NCASA stands behind you. We advocate with the General Assembly, Governor, State Board of Education and other entities impacting you and your work environment to ensure you have the tools and resources you need to grow your students the right way. We don’t get everything we ask for on your behalf, but we are making some headway in cultivating relationships with key decision makers who control your state-level funding and mandates.

We made great progress in the 2017 and 2018 General Assembly on two of our organization’s top priorities for public education.

First, lawmakers created new salary schedules for principals and assistant principals and invested $52.4 million to begin moving North Carolina principal pay up from 50th lowest in the nation. We don’t yet know how far this moved us in comparison to other states but are seeing many principals and assistant principals statewide finally receiving needed pay increases. We realize there are some remaining flaws in the new pay schedule that we will continue working with legislators to address in 2019, in hopes of making the plan better for all principals.

Second, we are fortunate to be starting 2018-19 without the restrictive class size caps in Grades K-3 that were set to take effect this school year. We convinced lawmakers to implement a four-year phase-in to reach those caps in 2021-2022 instead. In addition, we convinced lawmakers that art, music, PE and world language teachers need their own dedicated state funding stream, something we have not had since the mid-1990s. Our new state budget provides a $61.4 million first installment on a four-year phase-in to fully funding those teachers in K-5 across the state. The budget states in pretty concrete terms the General Assembly’s commitment to increase that funding to roughly $266 million by the time the new class size caps take full effect in K-3 classrooms. One other thing to note – a lot can happen in four years and these planned class size caps could change completely before then, especially if the General Assembly’s composition and priorities change.

Those are the two key accomplishments from the last two-year cycle of the General Assembly that both need additional work in 2019. As schools statewide prepare to open next week, we also must turn our attention to the new class of lawmakers who will arrive in January 2019 and determine the additional priorities we need them to consider. We’ve heard from various segments of school leaders statewide and know that many of the following priorities are among the key steps needed next in public education. We stand ready to work with you and all educators and supporters to get our next General Assembly to address the following:

  1. We want to move North Carolina teacher pay above and beyond the national average to provide all teachers with the professional level salaries that are needed.
  2. We want significant state-level pay increases for all teachers, including the veterans who received only minimal raises or bonuses the last few years.
  3. We want the state to once again value individual investments in advanced education by restoring master’s degree supplemental pay for teachers and advanced and doctoral pay for principals.
  4. We want to stop the erosion of your health and retirement benefits and are asking the state to restore health coverage for future educators to enjoy in retirement, rather than eliminating that perk with future hires in 2021 as set.
  5. We want to reduce testing requirements to leave more time to teach and focus on the individual learning needs of each student.
  6. We want to adjust the A-F school performance grading system to place a greater emphasis on student growth, which is the heart and soul of education but now accounts for only 20% of each school’s letter grade. In addition, we need lawmakers to head off the scheduled 2019 shift from a 15-point scale to a 10-point scale for calculating school performance grades, which may cause the public to think performance is declining.
  7. We need a statewide school bond referendum to provide state funding to help counties catch up with the existing backlog of more than $8.1 billion in school facility construction and renovation needs. Lawmakers should agree that public schools have waited in line long enough for statewide bond funding, since the last approved for public schools was in 1996.
  8. We are seeking flexibility for all school districts to set student-focused calendars that align with colleges and universities, rather than pushing first-semester finals to mid-January as now occurs statewide.
  9. We want lawmakers and the general public to understand and value the important role central offices play in supporting principals, teachers and students. These educator teams are continually meeting new demands, although funding for this work has dwindled to less than 1% of the state’s public schools budget. The reality of this work and its value differs greatly from the bloated bureaucracy many lawmakers and others perceive the central office to be, and we all need to be correcting the misinformation.
  10. We want public education to become the top priority for all our state leaders, instead of their continuing focus on alternatives to traditional schools that ultimately shift funding, support and students away from our school district classrooms.

We all have a role in accomplishing these priorities, starting Nov. 6, when all 170 seats in the General Assembly are up for election. It is imperative that all of us vote for incumbents or challengers who will work with us in supporting and uplifting public education. Disregard the party affiliation and find out before you vote who will truly be our friends if we send them to Raleigh.

I could go on about priorities and politics, but you have much ahead of you in preparing for the bright young faces you are assigned to cultivate this year.

I want to leave you with encouragement to become “that teacher,” counselor, principal or other educator who changes student lives and gets their growth started straight toward the sun and a bright future. My hope is that this will be your best school year ever. Please know that NCASA stands behind you and will do everything we can to support you as you tend your garden of students. We can’t wait to see how they grow!

Katherine Joyce