Can a good school district get better? See Chapel Hill-Carrboro's new strategy

Superintendent Pam Baldwin didn't mention a single academic statistic in her first State-of-the-Schools address Wednesday.

It's not how she operates.

Instead, the Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools' top administrator focused on what she's learned in her first year on the job ("Chapel Hill-Carborro is an opinion-rich community.") and outlined a new strategic plan being developed to guide the district over the next three years.

"I don't see children as numbers," said Baldwin, noting how staff members seemed surprised when she didn't unleash a bunch of charts and graphs during the district's convocation in August.

"It's my belief that most of us know our scores," she said. "We understand that we have some great things happening that we can celebrate and a lot to do to reach all of our students. The question is what are we going to do about it."

Much of what the district plan to do over the next three years will be found in the new strategic plan the community should have soon.

"It is our intent to get this plan finished and sent out to parents, staff and the community in an electronic version by the end of the school year," Baldwin told the 75 or more people who gathered at Culbreth Middle School. "We want our staff, especially, to know what to expect when they return in August for the new school year."

Pam Baldwin
Pam Baldwin Contributed

So far, four focus areas have emerged from the district's Strategic Planning Committee made up of parents, staff members and students and others.

They four areas include Family and Community Engagement, Whole Child, Human Capital, and Organizational Structures, but Baldwin said they could be called something different by the time the plan is released.

Family and Community Engagement

All "stakeholder" groups will be seen as crucial partners in student success and will be continually engaged in productive, equitable two-way communications. "Schools are successful when parents, educators and communities lock arms and work together for the benefit of students," Baldwin said.

Whole Child

Whole Child address the academic, personal and interpersonal capacities of students. Goals include assisting students in exploring, defining and solving complex problems and helping them to pursue their unique interests, passions and curiosities and contribute to the community through dialogue, service and/or leadership.

Human Capital

Baldwin said the greatest resource of any organization is its talent. She said she was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments included in survey responses and during public meetings regarding concern for teachers.

"Our community fully understands the looming consequences of our current teacher shortage," Baldwin said. "Over and over again I heard and read concerns about retaining teachers and making sure they have the needed training and professional development opportunities."

Organizational Structures

Baldwin said making sure all students are successful will only be possible if organizational structures are healthy and effective.

"These structures include a fairly wide range of necessary operational functions such as safety, budgeting, resource oversight, construction and facility management," Baldwin said. "While some may question why this section needs to be included in a strategic plan since this is stuff we are already doing, I would argue that we need to work to make sure these efforts are aligned with the needs mentioned in the other areas."

Equity not forgotten

Baldwin said the fact that equity is not listed as a separate category is not an oversight.

"In regards to the strategic plan, it is our belief that equity work is the work," Baldwin said to applause. "It will be woven into each of the four areas, Our equity lens will be applied to each area."

Like superintendents before her, Baldwin acknowledged that the district, widely considered one of the best in the state, provides an "amazing experience" for most students but falls short for some of them.

"For some, we are failing and failing by a lot," Baldwin said. "The data is clear that our gaps between groups of students are more pronounced than anywhere else in North Carolina. That is not acceptable."

Baldwin also noted that through focus groups, she has learned the district has a "real problem" with student stress and anxiety, much of which is related to homework and academic pressures.

"And then there's class rank," Baldwin said. "I would remove it if I could, but that requires legislation. Even successful students have told us they hate school. This is a real problem, folks."

The State-of-the Schools event was attended by a dozen or so elected officials and candidates for elected office.

Baldwin told them that the condition of the district's schools cannot be ignored.

"Chapel Hill High begins its major reconstruction this summer. It will take most of two school years to complete," Baldwin said. "But we have other sites needing to be refurbished, and folks, there is no way around that. It will require public funding to fix those buildings."

Earlier, Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent of support services, said it would take $200 million to make needed repairs to eight other older schools.

"If we don't do something now, we'll be adding our newer schools to the list of schools with deferred maintenance needs," LoFrese said.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645; @gchild6645