By, Lisa Baldwin – With Christmas around the corner, North Carolina Students First, launches its second annual Naughty & Nice list, chronicling some of the excellent actions – and poor de…
By, Lisa Baldwin – With Christmas around the corner, North Carolina Students First, launches its second annual Naughty & Nice list, chronicling some of the excellent actions – and poor decisions – made by the North Carolina General Assembly and Buncombe School Board in 2016.
Nice! School choice is increasing in North Carolina. All Buncombe County high schoolers (even those homeschooled) can take advantage of free classes at AB Tech for 16-18 year olds and get college credit! Opportunity Scholarships mean $4,200 to attend a K-12 private school, if the public school is failing to meet student needs. More students apply for these (applications open on Feb. 1, 2017) than are available, making a lottery system necessary. Five charter schools, including two with high schools, attract many more students than they can accommodate. Buncombe also has more homeschoolers per capita than any other county in North Carolina. More than 10% of Buncombe students are homeschooled. Public schools must respond to the competition by upping academics and vocational programs.
Naughty! The Buncombe County alternative school, Community High, will be torn down and rebuilt in Swannanoa, a less than ideal location in the eastern part of the county. Students have to be bused to their “home” high school and then to CHS, shortening their school day by over one hour. It would make more sense to use Woodfin Elementary, centrally located just north of Asheville. This tiny school of 150 students could easily be redistricted, allowing these students to fill empty seats in nearby K-4 elementaries, giving them access to more learning resources. Alternatively, the Community High students could attend special vocational programs at their home high school; “schools within a school” are the norm in North Carolina. There are many options not being discussed by the school board.
Naughty! In October, the news broke that Buncombe’s school superintendent, Tony Baldwin had failed to disclose conflicts of interest. He appropriated money and contracts to his sister’s organization, WRESA. Again, without reporting his conflict of interest to the school board, he recommended hiring his son at A.C. Reynolds High School and then moving him to the STEM High. He also gave contracts to two companies that employed his other son. Supt. Baldwin should have stepped aside and allowed the asst. superintendent to make the recommendations. He went further to give Erwin High and Community High education contracts to the math specialist’s lesbian partner, Peggy Baker. Ms. Baker’s background includes serving as a locomotive mechanic, union staff member and community liaison in the Commission on Human Relations under the late Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago.
Nice! The federal Common Core standards were “repealed and replaced” by the North Carolina legislature but it hasn’t happened. Common Core-based curriculum is still in place. However, President-elect Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, said that putting “kids first” means “expanding choices and options to give every child the opportunity for a quality education regardless of their zip code or their family circumstances. This means letting states set their own high standards and finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core.”
Naughty! Enrollment is in decline but the Buncombe County school board, with county commission approval, continues to build additional schools. No one can say ‘no’ to spending when it’s “for the children”! The real beneficiaries seem to be the real estate industry and construction contractors. Four of the 6 county school districts now have intermediate schools, taking 5th graders out of the elementary schools and 6th graders from the middle schools. The weak argument is “over-crowding”, in spite of a district loss of over 1,000 students. According to state guidelines, none of the Buncombe schools is over-capacity. But the state doesn’t account for band rooms that hold 60 students and special ed classrooms with only a handful. Taking this into account, Avery’s Creek Elementary is the only school that might be considered crowded. The Roberson District actually could have used a fourth elementary school, not an intermediate. The best solution to unbalanced school populations is to re-draw attendance lines at the kindergarten level, so older students don’t have to change schools mid-stream. The costly intermediate school model has failed our children with too many transitions to new schools and parents not vested in a two year program; the short timeline makes it nearly impossible to build a sense of community. Construction money can be spent on learning rather than brick and mortar with permission from the legislature.
Nice! On the Nice List are hardworking teachers, who deserve a round of applause. Many put in extra hours daily to ensure every child receives a year’s worth of learning. Although they are not paid bonuses for extra duties like administrators (as much as $16,000 for some principals), they show their care and concern for educating our children on a daily basis. The state-approved raises for all teachers and administrators, upped North Carolina to number 7 in the country for state-funded teacher pay, adding an additional $1 billion since Republicans gained control of the legislature. The Buncombe County Commissioners also voted unanimously to raise the county teacher pay supplement. As a school board member, I repeatedly asked the board to stop blaming the state and ask the commissioners to increase the county portion of teacher pay. They finally did it.
If parents and taxpayers take the time to attend school board meetings, speak in public comment or email school board members, the Nice List can only get longer. It takes an engaged public to ensure students come first. Stay up-to-date at https://www.facebook.com/buncombestudentsfirst/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buncombe’s Enka Intermediate School for 5th and 6th graders was not built for the students, but for the self gratification of politicians and bureaucrats.
Throwing reason, common sense and self-control aside, the Buncombe County School Board and County Commissioners unanimously voted to move ahead with constructing the school, using valuable tax dollars that could have been spent on teaching and learning.
Driven by feel-good emotions, these overseers of the public good ignored an important fact: Enrollment in Buncombe County’s traditional public schools has been in rapid decline. The school board proclaimed that the 5th-6th grade school was supposed to solve an overcrowding problem; however, this was a problem that no longer existed. Yes, Enka Middle School was NOT overcrowded. From 2011-2015, the middle school’s enrollment declined by 150 students. The published brick and mortar capacity (not including modular classrooms) of the school is 1,018 students (1,190 according to the state formula.) This past school year there were only 910 middle school students. But this year, the 6th graders from the middle school will be moved to the new intermediate school, so the middle school will only be at 50% capacity with about 600 students.
This fourth intermediate school (5th-6th grades only) in Buncombe County, was dedicated last Thursday and opened on Monday to students. There is only one other school like this is in the state, and for good reason: This education model fails every test for academic excellence.
In a day and age when schools that span six to nine, or even thirteen grades, continue to prove themselves as superior models, Buncombe takes multiple steps backwards. By chopping up education into small segments, research shows students lose up to 6 months of learning every time they transition to a new school.
The four Enka elementary schools will now house Kindergarten – 4th grades, with all feeding into the Enka Intermediate School for 5th-6th grade. Because band and other electives start in 6th grade, great expense is incurred (an extra $2.2 million had to be obtained from the county commission) to hire these vocational, foreign language and music/arts teachers for the 6th graders at the intermediate school. Then just as students adjust to the intermediate, they are wisked off to Enka Middle School for 7th-8th grade (where more elective teachers are needed), and then 9th-12th grades at Enka High.
Buncombe’s other three intermediates have shown that academics suffer. All three have posted failing school performance grades (below a 70.)
Parents are not vested in two-year schools. Getting PTO’s (parent-teacher organizations) started has been difficult. When Koontz Intermediate opened, the school superintendent’s sister had to be recruited to lead the PTO.
Any unbalanced school populations at the elementary level could have easily been solved by adjusting attendance lines at the kindergarten level. So as kindergartners enter school, some may be shifted between Pisgah Elementary, Hominy Valley, Candler and Sand Hill-Venable elementary schools. Many districts re-draw these attendance lines at the elementary level every four years to maximize space and free up tax dollars for teaching and learning. Building more and more expensive schools that have high operating costs is not the answer.
At the Intermediate School’s dedication/ribbon-cutting, there were multiple “pat ourselves on the back” speeches. The school superintendent (whose salary/benefits are costing taxpayers in excess of $230,000 per year) said the $30+ million Enka Intermediate School is “designed to pay homage to the traditions and history that have made this community great.” As a reminder of the old American Enka plant that provided livelihoods for thousands, some of the old bricks from the plant were used in the construction. A “clock tower” and slanted roof lines mimic the industrial complex.
The school is located in the Enka Commerce Park with other factories and the landfill that reminds us of another legacy left behind by American Enka – coal ash and toxic chemical waste. The landfill waste threatens Hominy Creek and presents safety concerns for humans. Chemicals have self-combusted on the property and several exceed maximum safety levels. Thirty tons of coal ash from Enka’s electric power plant was buried there daily. A lawsuit has been filed in an attempt to stop the landfill from being used for youth softball fields. Of course, your gracious commissioners donated $1.3 million taxpayer dollars to the private developers of the athletic fields…
To recap, the new intermediate school (5th-6th graders) will only have 610 students and Enka Middle will be at 50% capacity with only 7th-8th graders. This is one of the worst education models for students. Breaking up their schooling into segments is the antithesis of building a school community with consistency. Ironically, the Franklin School of Innovation (a public charter school across the street from the new intermediate) is housed in modular classrooms, yet parents, who want a more science-oriented curriculum for their children, are applying en masse. No one seems to care if the 6th-12th grade school is bright and shiny new, but as one of the guest speakers at the Enka Intermediate dedication intoned, “People are the heart and soul of the school.” Many parents are fed up with the status quo and common core standards which have dumbed down teaching and learning. School “empire building” is not the correct response to competition from charter schools and opportunity scholarships, instead, adopting models like the expeditionary learning style at Franklin School or a classical education model is the answer.
Until this happens, Buncombe will continue spending valuable teaching dollars on new buildings and their upkeep. Ironically, a new alternative high school in Swannanoa will be built next; it is for public school students county-wide who are struggling academically…
For Immediate Release: An Open Letter To The Media Regarding‘The Kite Runner’ Decision
Contact: Lisa Baldwin 828-243-6590
July 2, 2015
At a special called meeting today, the Buncombe County school board accepted a school district review committee’s recommendation to keep ‘The Kite Runner’ on the reading list for all high schools in the district.
Cindy McMahon, school board member said, “I am grateful that this process has happened in our community and that so many of us have read this book and are talking about it. And this is what democracy is about.”After making this statement, McMahon and the rest of the Board unanimously voted to keep the book on all high school reading lists which means the Board will not allow parents at any Buncombe high school to challenge ‘The Kite Runner‘. This decision was a slap in the face of democracy and parental rights; parents should have the right to offer input into their children’s education.
-- Lisa Baldwin, M.S. Buncombe Students First 828-243-6590 www.buncombestudentsfirst.wordpress.com “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Lisa Baldwin’s ‘Kite Runner’ Challenge delivered to the Buncombe County Schools District-Level Media and Technology Advisory Committee on June 16, 2015 (WARNING: Contains Sexually Explicit Material):
‘The Kite Runner’ is in the top 10 challenged books of the 21st century for these reasons:
Profanity demeaning to women, inaccurately assigning Judeo-Christian characteristics to a Muslim god, graphic descriptions of rape, child sexual assault, molestation, sodomy, murder, cruelty, and a child’s suicide attempt pervade this fiction book which was written at a 6th grade reading level.
I am in favor of high academic standards but due to misinformation, I’ll first address what this is not about:
This is not about a First Amendment violation. I understand that the American Library Association and National Coalition Against Censorship have threatened lawsuits are possible if this book is removed from the library. This is a false threat; I have not asked that the book be removed from the library. I have only questioned its suitability for classroom instruction and asked for its removal from the approved book list.
This is not about book banning or censorship. Stanford University professor, Thomas Sowell, puts it well: “To call a book “banned” because someone decided that it was unsuitable for their particular students would be to make at least 99 percent of all books “banned.” Few individuals or institutions can afford to buy even 1 percent of the vast number of books that are published annually. They must exercise judgment and that judgment is necessarily in the negative most of the time.
If we are not going to call every book that is not purchased [or approved] by an institution “banned,” then how will we define this nebulous but emotional word?
Usually some school or library officials decide to buy a particular book and then some parents or others object that it is either unsuitable for children or unsuitable in general, for any number of reasons. Then the cry of “censorship” goes up, even if the book is still being sold openly all over town.
If the criterion of censorship is that the objection comes from the general public, rather than from people who run schools and libraries, then that is saying that the parents and taxpayers have no right to a say about what is done with their own children or their own money.
Do you like to give books to your kids to read? The book is still available for you to do so, if you like. This is not about one parent controlling what your child reads – your child can still read the book in the library at Reynolds High School.
Do parents want their child to participate in an adult-guided discussion of this book? Then why don’t these parents discuss it with their children? This is not about stopping discussion. The ACRHS Media Committee received the teacher’s lesson plans; I did not. As it turns out, the teacher planned to focus on racism and compare The Kite Runner to Baltimore and Ferguson. This is quite a reach, in fact it borders on absurdity to compare US police forces with the Taliban and the deaths of the two African-Americans in Baltimore and Ferguson with the ethnic cleansing of the Hazara Race in Afghanistan. A discussion of this kind can only create further racial division and disrespect for our police forces. We should celebrate our civil rights laws and the abolishment of slavery. America is an exceptional country.
Yes, there is profanity of the worst kind in the book, even demeaning words like cunt, a description of female anatomy. Some say students hear those words every day. “Although students may hear profanity AT school should they hear “cunt” FROM the school? It sends the wrong message.
I support reading the time-honored classics: meat for the soul. As a parent I want to provide proper guardianship of my children, making sure they receive good nutritious foods and exercise for healthy bodies along with healthy food for their minds. Buncombe County Schools has a goal of nurturing the “whole child”. When we teach the state-mandated character education and abstinence-only sex education classes, we are nurturing mind and body. It is a contradiction to then teach sexualized literature, particularly that which is abusive. This is not mere pornography but child rape, molestation and sexual assault. The graphic description makes the reader co-conspirator with the The Kite Runner’s protaganist Amir. Not just observer but participant in the act:
Assef knelt behind Hassan, put his hands on Hassan’s hips and lifted his bare buttocks. He kept one hand on Hassan’s back and undid his own belt buckle with his free hand. He unzipped his jeans. Dropped his underwear. He positioned himself behind Hassan. Hassan didn’t struggle. Didn’t even whimper. He moved his head slightly and I caught a glimpse of his face. Saw the resignation in it. It was a look I had seen before. It was the look of the lamb….From just around the corner, I could hear Assef’s quick, rhythmic grunts.” …I pretended I hadn’t seen the dark stain in the seat of his [Hassan’s] pants. Or those tiny drops that fell from between his legs and stained the snow black.”
Even though the teacher said students could “skip that rape scene” which is in Chapter 7, the reader is continually reminded of what happened. Bare buttocks, thrusting and the drops of blood are recurring scenes in the book NOT JUST AN ISOLATED PASSAGE. When considering the book as a whole, one cannot escape the horrors of the child rapes and their consequences. The protaganist, Amir, is haunted by the scene for much of his life and the guilt is overwhelming.
This should not be about forcing children, who are not mature enough, to read this book. It should not be about forcing those who have been sexually assaulted to read a book that can cause repressed feelings to surface which may cause a child to withdraw or act out. Our heads are in the sand if we think “opt-out” forms make it home to the parent. Even if they did, the mature adult scenes and graphic description of child rape were not fully disclosed on the form. When the ACRHS SIT met last week to decide on whether to continue the opt-out policy, the teachers on the committee said students were not responsible enough to return a permission slip to teachers, so they voted to keep using opt-out forms. If students are not mature enough to return the permission slip, how is it that they are mature enough to read Rated R or X material?
Some have had the audacity to ask me why I think rape is wrong. Is it possible that Buncombe County Schools wants to normalize rape? Some have asked me if I think homosexual rape is worse than heterosexual rape? All rape is wrong. Look at another Buncombe-approved book, The Bluest Eye. Rape, incest and pedophilia are portrayed as “innocent” and “tender” just as Hassan is portrayed as a lamb.
Something is wrong with the criteria for approving these books. Buncombe uses the ALA Bill of Rights which basically says all is permissible. But all that is permissible is not good for children; boundaries must be set by adults. The ALA also has a goal of allowing internet access to pornographic sites in the children’s section of libraries in the name of “First Amendment Rights” – permissible but not GOOD for children. Why does the school district deem it so important, so essential, to include graphic depictions of rape in classroom materials for 15 year olds?
Dear Media Committee, please don’t minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of the alternative viewpoints presented. This is about using logic and reason, not emotion.
1. I am asking that if you want to explore life in the Islamic world, put a different “New York Times Best Seller” on the Buncombe-approved book list, ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books’: Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher secretly gathered seven female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran and fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, the girls in this class risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nubokov, Henry James. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.
- Examine your criteria for selecting books for the approved list. Make adjustments to ensure Buncombe pursues high academic standards and rigor. Require committee members to read the books before putting them on the list.
- Why should any sexually explicit book, that cannot be quoted in the Citizen-Times, be on the list? Why not use the movie rating system or audio visual rubric for judging which books to put on the list? A child cannot go to an R-Rated movie if they are under 18 years old without parent permission. If you keep sexually explicit books on the list, then let’s have permission slips for all minor children, under age 18. There is a way to indicate permission electronically with the parent portal.
- Be transparent and fully disclose the explicit materials in the book. The teacher told me the last minute inclusion of The Kite Runner was because she had to “wait for approval.” The truth is, the book had been on the approved list for years. The 10th grade honors class reading list she sent home at the beginning of the semester said “All Quiet on the Western Front”, NOT The kite Runner. How can I trust her to teach my child when she is not honest with parents?
Regarding parental rights and ‘The Kite Runner’
Buncombe’s School Board Policy 3210 allows parents to question supplemental materials used in the classroom. And that’s exactly what I did when my child told me he would be reading “The Kite Runner” in a 10th grade Honors English class instead of the time-honored classic, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” “The Kite Runner” is a dark and disturbing adult fiction novel set in war-torn Afghanistan and has been frequently challenged by concerned parents for its sexually explicit content. The American Library Association reported that it’s one of the most frequently challenged books of the 21st century.
Interestingly, when the teacher and administrators met with me, no lesson plans were presented nor were any verbal explanations given on exactly how the book in question, “The Kite Runner,” would be used in the classroom. The low reading level (6th grade), mature adult themes (graphic homosexual rapes of children, extreme cruelty and violence, murder, profanity demeaning to women, and a suicide attempt) didn’t matter to the teacher, only that the book was about Afghanistan. The teacher didn’t disclose to parents at the curriculum fair or the spring open house that this book would be taught during the semester. When I asked her how she was incorporating the Common Core standards into the English Language Arts curriculum, she still didn’t tell me that she planned to teach this Common Core novel in place of the classic my other three children had studied in 10th grade Honors English class.
At last week’s meeting, I expressed concerns that the book description on the “opt-out” form didn’t fully disclose the adult themes nor did it ask parents to sign an “opt-in” form/permission slip. The issue here is “full disclosure” and the opportunity for parents to “opt-in” in regard to this and any book’s content. An “opt-out” form without specific disclosure does not empower parents. Such a procedure speaks to the negligence of this system. When dealing with explicit sexual content, not only do the parents of minors have the right to know, but the school system has the legal responsibility to inform. The system failed in this responsibility from both a legal and ethical perspective.
It is well-known that “opt-out” forms remain in students’ backpacks or never make it home. Last year a parent publicized this problem during the school board’s public comment period. He had not received the “opt-out” form for his child’s sex education class and requested that “opt-in” forms be sent home when sensitive topics are to be taught in school.
The teacher did not fully disclose the deeply disturbing elements of the story to parents: the detailed, graphic description of sodomy: an older boy raping a younger boy, the rape of a child by a man, a suicide attempt related to the rape. The child rape is the central theme of the book, not just an isolated incident. How can students, “if they wish,” do as the teacher suggested, skip “a key scene, critical to the plot?”
The rape scenes might trigger emotional, traumatic or painful memories and disturbing mental images for some of the students. Even colleges have “trigger warnings” at the top of the syllabus to alert students to disturbing content; at least one college provided a “safe space” for students when a controversial topic became overwhelming for them. Is the teacher qualified to handle potential psychological issues?
Everyone needs to understand that sexual abuse as a child carries over into adulthood and parenthood and impacts any children in that situation. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Over the course of their lifetime, 28 percent of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
Nonetheless, I tried to offer a compromise but the principal rejected it. I suggested that the class continue to read the classic, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” comparing and contrasting the World War I soldiers’ experience with that of modern warriors in Afghanistan/Iraq, using appropriate excerpts from “The Kite Runner” and other books.
Instead, the principal suspended the book from classroom instruction until further review by the school’s Media Technology Advisory Committee. (No books were banned or censored.) The MTAC held a committee meeting but the school board attorney indicated that I could not attend; “the MTAC is not a public body under Article 33C of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes.”
The MTAC made the decision to keep the book on the approved list. I have 10 days to appeal the decision of a closed door meeting.
The question is, should parents have a right to see what their child is reading? If teachers want to teach controversial books, they need to do due diligence. Give parents the reading list options at the beginning of the year. This gives parents ample time before the school year starts to inspect the books and discuss options with the teacher.
Lisa Baldwin is a former Buncombe County School Board member, economist and persistent government watchdog. Prior to working with USDA, she interned with the N.C. Attorney General’s Office and the UNC School of Government.