Chapel Hill: Opinion

The Conversation, Nov. 9: David Gellatly, Linda James

Reading is the foundation

Mary Carey’s article “Asking the big Why” (CHN, misses the larger issue when she says “we as a state and as a nation don’t teach black boys how to read.”

The critical question is: why do we allow ANY student to progress up the grade ladder if they can’t read at grade level?

Reading is the foundation of all education, yet we now allow students without adequate reading skills to fail upwards. Why are we afraid to hold these students back and demand that they perform? School Board head Jamezetta Bedford is puzzled on this point as well, so let’s ask some teachers. Why do you allow your weakest students to progress to the next grade level?

All students in grades 2 through 12 should be required to read aloud from time to time to demonstrate proficiency. Stand up and read well, or be held back. Read well, or you can’t even try out for a sport let alone join the team.

Yes it would create havoc for a while to hold back those who can’t read, but the word would spread and performance would improve. This “radical” reading program would cost zero dollars and get the results we seek – boys and girls who can perform in the classroom before they get anywhere near the athletic field.

Will teachers and parents and administrators get on board, or will we continue to look the other way and pass the problem up to the collegiate level?

David Gellatly


Doing the wrong thing fast

Having participated in much of the community 2020 design process, my initial reaction to form-based coding was positive. Here is a tool which can codify the town’s priorities and goals, and avoid unwanted surprises and incongruities, all while increasing the efficiency of the review process.

I was encouraged by the positive outcomes in cities and towns which have successfully used form-based coding to enable smart growth and friendly urban design.

Yet here in Chapel Hill, we have a looming deadline for a project which clearly does not reflect the community’s vision embodied in its 2020 plan. Frankly, the Village Plaza apartments for Elliott Road look very much like the antithesis of the community’s preferences. Where is the green space, the connectivity, the walkability, environmental sustainability, the affordable housing, the inviting and usable street-scape? Where is congruity in appearance to the surrounding area and with the town as a whole, as it exists today and is hoped for in the future?

Proper utilization of form-based coding should also enable the town to standardize best practices by incorporating strategies from recent successes while preventing repetition of its mistakes. For example, how do we write the code so it can replicate the design successes of the The Franklin Hotel and 140 West Franklin and avoid the unfriendly, incongruent monstrosity of East 54?

If the current town code does not force community values into the design, our code is not yet ready for prime time. Like most tools, form-based coding can be properly applied or grossly mishandled. It is painfully apparent where we are today on that scale. The goal is not to simply increase the efficiency of development but rather efficiently enable urban planning which reflects the town's character.

The idea that the Village Plaza apartments will be approved before the code is reviewed, or that any code revisions would not apply, is mind-boggling. The town may not be benefiting from a vacant lot, but neither will it benefit from doing the wrong thing fast.

Linda James

Chapel Hill