Literacy coaches, school lunch help coming to NC schools

More notes from the State Board of Education: Virtual schools allowed to exceed enrollment caps and state eyeing pared-down school psychologist internship program​.

Posted Updated
School lunch
Emily Walkenhorst
, WRAL education reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina school cafeterias will get some relief soon from supply chain shortages.

A second round of federal Supply Chain Assistance funding will help schools purchase “minimally processed” or “unprocessed” foods in the event of unexpected delivery cancellations or other unanticipated events.

Those foods would likely be locally supplied, said Lynn Harvey, senior director over the state Department of Public Instruction’s Office of District Operations and School Nutrition.

Every school system will receive money, amounting to $26.7 million statewide.

The State Board of Education approved the disbursement to the schools Thursday.

It’s the latest round of help for school nutrition departments, which have struggled with staffing and supply shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Keep Kids Fed Act, approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this summer, extended summer meal flexibilities that provided millions more meals to the state’s school children the last two summers.

It did not continue free school meals for students, as they’ve had for the past two years. But this year’s state budget provides money to eliminate any costs for students receiving reduced-price lunches.

But with the implementation of full-price meals and higher prices in some school systems, Harvey said she’s worried about families’ ability to pay the full meal price.

“We do anticipate a high unpaid student meal debt in the coming year,” Harvey said.

DPI will track the debt monthly and report it back to lawmakers, Harvey said.

A literacy coach is coming to every school district

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction plans to deploy 124 literacy coaches throughout the state this school year.

Each of the state’s 115 school systems will have one literacy coach, each of the state’s eight education regions will have a literacy coach, and DPI will employ another to oversee the effort.

The state is modeling is approach on Mississippi’s literacy coach deployment — believed to have contributed to some of the state’s reading score gains.

Mississippi had more literacy coaches per capita when it showed gains, but they didn’t all serve only one school district.

In a presentation to the State Board of Education on Thursday, DPI’s Office of Early Learning Director Amy Rhyne illustrated how the coaches will be used.

They’ll play a role in deploying the state’s new, more phonics-based reading instruction program. At the school level, they’ll work with schools’ appointed literacy leaders on literacy Instruction.

DPI: Looking at smaller school psychologist internship program

North Carolina may need to pursue a scaled-down version of the school psychologist internship program education leaders envisioned this spring, Jamey Falkenberry, government affairs director for the state Department of Public Instruction, told the State Board of Education this week.

The board, at the suggestion of the Department of Public Instruction, asked the state General Assembly to approve of an internship program to help the state recruit school psychologists to the state.

Lawmakers declined. With so many school systems still lacking a school psychologist, even when they are funded for one, Falkenberry said lawmakers want more research into the problem.

“The General Assembly would like to maybe discuss a scaled-down internship program than maybe the entire state,” he told the board.

North Carolina had about 800 school psychologists last year. The state would need to hire between 1,300 and 2,100 more to meet the nationally recommended ratios of 500 students to 700 students per school psychologist. The comprehensive remedial plan agreed to by the board and plaintiffs in the 28-year-old so-called Leandro lawsuit over education adequacy calls for the state to meet those ratios.

The state budget passed in November by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper provided funding for each school system to hire one more school psychologist. The funding was eventually distributed in early 2022, but it hadn’t moved the needle on hiring before the school year ended.

The state budget passed also requires every school system in the state to have a school psychologist by July 1, but that’s likely not being met, Falkenberry said. Last he saw and what data have showed for years, is that dozens of school districts have no school psychologist at all. Beyond school systems, the large majority of charter schools don’t have one, either.

Educators and school psychologists told WRAL News last year the state’s shortage is about money: The state doesn’t fund enough positions or pay enough for positions that are funded, and state universities don’t have enough faculty to enroll more school psychology students.

In internship program, which sought more than $4 million for dozens of interns, recruited from graduate schools out-of-state. DPI officials hoped it would result in some of those interns staying put in North Carolina.

School psychologists, if they are not burdened with special education duties, can train teachers to recognize problems children might be having, help conceive of and run intervention programs to prevent behavior problems, and help students going through tough times.

2 virtual charter schools granted enrollment waiver

North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools will be able to enroll hundreds more students this upcoming school year than statutorily allowed.

North Carolina Virtual Academy and North Carolina Cyber Academy each had temporary waivers to enroll above their caps during the COVID-19 pandemic, but those expired after last school year.

Still, the schools enrolled more students than last year for this upcoming school year and hundreds more than the cap.

Capped at 2,592 students each, NC Virtual Academy had enrolled 3,425 students and NC Cyber Academy had enrolled 2,705 students as of July 29. NC Cyber Academy did not exceed the cap last year, while NC Virtual Academy exceeded it by 535 students.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction officials did not notice the discrepancy until July 29, according to State Board of Education Member Amy White, who co-chairs the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools committee.

White recommended the board allow the schools to keep those students, given the start of school later this month, which State Treasurer Dale Folwell seconded “for the sake of the kids.”

The board approved the measure without opposition Thursday. The schools cannot enroll any more students next year, even if some leave, until their enrollment drops below the cap.

The two virtual charter schools began as pilot projects during the 2015-16 school year, and they’ve operated in pilot status until this school year.

The North Carolina General Assembly extended the pilot program through the 2024-25 school year in a bill this spring.

Lawmakers pivoted away from a plan to allow the schools operate as full-status charter schools, bypassing State Board of Education review, after critics argued the schools produced poor test results.


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