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Test results point to challenges of remote learning

State test results released last week show Edenton-Chowan Schools largely struggled with many of the pandemic-related challenges that state education officials say stymied learning across the state.

A press release from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction accompanying the Sept. 1 release of results from state testing for the 2020-21 school year called the results “an indicator of the formidable challenges that students and educators across North Carolina faced during one of the most severe disruptions to public education the state and nation have ever confronted.”

The state data provide the percentage of students who scored at Level 3 and above, which indicates grade level proficiency, and at Level 4 and above, which indicates college and career readiness.

Edenton-Chowan Schools district-wide were at 39.4 percent proficient and 23.5 percent college-and-career ready.

Results for John A. Holmes High School showed 32.8 percent of students proficient and 17.5 percent college-and-career ready.

D.F. Walker was at 43.8 percent and 27.5 percent respectively, and Chowan Middle was at 38.6 percent and 22.6 percent.

P.W. Moore Elementary School in Pasquotank County dramatically reflected the struggle indicated in the DPI press release, with only 14.8 percent of students testing at grade level proficiency and 6.1 percent testing college-and-career ready.

The highest overall percentages area-wide were at Grandy Primary School in Camden County, which had 78.3 percent of students at grade level proficiency and 62.1 testing college-and-career ready, and Camden Early College High School, with 78.4 percent testing proficient and 50.4 percent testing college-and-career ready.

J.P. Knapp Early College students in Currituck tested at 73.8 percent and 51.2 percent, respectively.

Perquimans County students were 46.1 percent proficient overall and 30.7 percent college-and-career ready.

Perquimans County Schools Superintendent Tanya Turner echoed the sentiments of state education leaders.

“It is evident that the pandemic had a negative impact on student achievement overall,” Turner said. “The last year of comparison was 2018-19 as 2019-20 there was no state testing administered due to school closure. Perquimans saw many points of celebration compared to state and regional averages, but also realize there are areas of concern as well.”

Turner cited specifically the challenges of remote instruction.

“Although a few students were successful with remote instruction, overall the majority of students that participated in remote instruction were at a much lower proficiency rating than students who participated in face-to-face instruction throughout the year,” Turner said.

Turner noted that Perquimans Chief Academic Officer Melissa Fields has been analyzing the school’s district’s data and preparing information to share with the district.

State officials cautioned against comparing the test results with previous years because of the unprecedented nature of the past two school years.

“Tests designed to be administered at the same time and based on typical face-to-face classroom instruction were taken under widely varying conditions, often after an entire year of atypical, remote instruction,” DPI said in the press release. “Consequently, even while the outcomes are predictably lower that past years, the results also are not objectively comparable to previous years, given the many factors that disrupted instruction as well as the administration of the assessments themselves.”

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said the 2020-21 assessment data are meant to provide information to parents, educators and the public about student performance and to help design and deploy resources and support.

“We know the 2020-21 school year was incredibly challenging for students, families and educators,” Truitt said. “We need to remember these results are only a snapshot of a year marked by extreme anomalies and extenuating circumstances. To treat these scores as though they are valid indicators of future success or performance would not only be an improper use of these data, but also would be a disservice to our students, teachers, and administrators.”

Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the board and DPI are using the results to help support schools and educators going forward in the 2021-22 year.

“The scores will allow the board, department, districts and schools to determine learning in the prior year to plan appropriately for student learning this school year,” Davis said.


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Patriotic events upcoming in Chowan

Two events of patriotic significance are coming up in Chowan County.

On Saturday at 2 p.m. there will be a program at Center Hill Volunteer Fire Department in memory of the first-responders who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

In addition, Constitution Week is Sept. 17-23, and the Edenton Tea Party Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, is planning a local observance.

Leon Evans of Rocky Hock has lined up the remembrance program in Center Hill, which will be held at the Center Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

Evans was a member of the Center Hill Volunteer Fire Department for 40 years and its fire chief for 10. His father was a charter member of the department, served as chief, and was a member for 45 years. His son served in the department for 21 years.

Debbie and Billy Hilliard of Clayton will be the speakers for the Center Hill observance.

Debbie Hilliard, a Chowan County native, and her husband Billy now work as instructors with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through Louisiana State University.

Billy Hilliard was a police officer for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Debbie Hilliard was a battalion fire chief with the town of Cary. Both are now retired. They teach online courses for students across the United States and in a number of foreign countries.

Patriotic music for the program will be performed by Margo Owens, a retired teacher in the Perquimans County Schools.

Rachel Spencer, Evans’ granddaughter, will preside at the ceremony.

The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution urges all Americans to reflect on the United States Constitution during this month’s annual observance of Constitution Week.

“There are two documents of paramount importance to American history: the Declaration of Independence, which forged our national identity, and the United States Constitution, which set forth the framework for the federal government that functions to this day,” DAR President General Denise Doring VanBuren said in a press release from the organization. “While Independence Day is a well-recognized and beloved national holiday, fewer people know about Constitution Week, an annual commemoration of the living document that upholds and protects the freedoms central to our American way of life.”

Of special interest to local residents is the connection Edenton has to the Constitution through Hugh Williamson, a signer of the document.

Williamson was born in Pennsylvania but spent much of his adulthood in Edenton.

“As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Williamson was an active debater and served on five committees,” noted Sandra Lancaster Sperry, a spokeswoman for the DAR’s Edenton Tea Party Chapter.

The DAR initiated the observance of Constitution Week in 1955.


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Edenton-Chowan OKs mandatory masking for schools

Edenton-Chowan Schools became the latest North Carolina school district last week to reverse course and require students, staff and visitors to wear masks at all school facilities.

The Edenton-Chowan Board of Education voted 6-1 on Aug. 31 to support Superintendent Michael Sasscer’s recommendation for the mask mandate.

Ricky Browder cast the lone dissenting vote. Afterward, he said although he disagrees with the board’s decision he is a team player and will support the new policy.

Browder also was the only member of the school board not wearing a face covering during the board’s emergency meeting at John A. Holmes High School. He said he will wear a mask at future meetings of the board.

Sasscer said five days a week of in-person learning for students is exciting, as is a return of sports and the community experience of “Friday night lights.”

The current transition is “fragile” and the masking requirement is important at this moment in order to solidify the transition to in-person learning, Sasscer told the board.

Families overwhelmingly want in-person learning for their children, he said. Sasscer also said his recommendation seeks to balance maintaining public health with offering excellent education for children.

The superintendent said he believes requiring masks is the best way to achieve that balance at this time.

“Our community needs school to be open for every single child every day,” Sasscer said.

Under a bill signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday, Aug. 30, all school districts are required to adopt a policy on whether face masks are optional or required. The law also requires districts to vote at least once a month on whether their existing policy needs to be modified.

That law is consistent with the intent expressed by school officials last month to revisit district health protocol at least once a month based on updated data.

Just prior to Sasscer’s presentation of his recommendation the board heard from Edenton Town Manager Anne-Marie Knighton, who read a press release from the town announcing a mask mandate for citizens at town facilities and for town employees interacting with citizens at town facilities. Knighton also read a letter from Mayor Jimmy Stallings explaining and supporting the town’s action.

The mask mandate, which took effective Sept. 1, not only requires face coverings at town facilities but also urges “all Edenton citizens, people working in businesses inside the city limits and those visiting Edenton” to wear masks when in public.

The mayor’s letter cites information received this week from Albemarle Regional Health Services about COVID-19 case counts in the community and calls the data “very concerning.”

The letter from the mayor cited support for keeping children safely in school as one of the reasons for the town’s decision.

“We all are concerned about the impacts of this ‘second wave’ and want to do all we can to help slow the spread and keep our schools healthy and to be able to maximize quality in-school instructional time for all of our children,” Stallings said in the letter.

“The Town Council and I recognize the heavy lifting you and the Board of Education members are doing to keep our schools healthy and safe,” states the letter, which was addressed to Sasscer and Board of Education Chairman Gene Jordan. “We support you and will encourage all citizens to be conscientious and do all that each individual can do to slow the spread of COVID in our community.”

The letter also indicates the town is committed to working with ARHS and Vidant Chowan Hospitals to promote the availability of the fully-approved Pfizer vaccines, as well as the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that it notes are readily available in Edenton at CVS, Walgreens and Blount’s.

Sasscer thanked the town of Edenton for its leadership and called Knighton “a champion for children.”

Sasscer also urged families and everyone in the community to do all they can to keep children safe and healthy outside school as school officials strive to keep them safe and healthy inside school.

Browder said after the vote that the mask issue has been divisive both in the community and on the school board. He said it was the first time he had seen an issue be this divisive during his tenure on the board.


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Helmet safety promoted

EDENTON – Promoting bicycle safety, one helmet at a time.

The town of Edenton, along with the Edenton Police Department have been distributing free bicycle helmets to local children over the past several weeks. The children also received educational literature promoting bicycle safety.

“Children are among the increasing number of riders experiencing bicycle-related injuries. Those five-to-14-years-of-age visit emergency rooms for bicycle related injuries more than any other sport or recreational activity,” said Edenton Councilman Roger Coleman.

The program is part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Bicycle Helmet Initiative that seeks to promote bicycle riding and to prevent injuries to children at the same time.

In July, the town of Edenton received 100 helmets in response to the proposal written earlier this year by Councilman Coleman.

According to the North Carolina Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation, less than 50 percent of children wear safety helmets. Statistics show that wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent.

The helmets were distributed to the children of Wedgewood Place, Waterford Apartments, the New Edenton Housing Authority, the Edenton Boys and Girls Club and the Fanny Parker Youth Clubs.


Volunteers needed to deliver meals to seniors' homes

The region’s Area Program on Aging is much in need of volunteers to deliver meals to the homes of older adults in the community.

Laura Rollinson, director of volunteer services, explained that before the COVID-19 pandemic there were about 1,000 volunteers for the home-delivered meals program across the 10-county area.

During the pandemic the number of volunteers plummeted to around 220.

Since then it has picked up somewhat to nearly 500, but program staff remain concerned about the number of volunteers.

“We have about half the volunteers that we had when the program was running smoothly,” Rollinson said.

The program has had to cut back to three days of delivery. Participants still get five meals a week, with one hot meal and one cold meal being delivered on Mondays and Wednesdays.

A hot meal also is delivered on Fridays.

Gates and Chowan counties are among the most hard-pressed right now. Some volunteers are delivering meals two or three times a month to make up for the shortage of helpers.

The goal is to return to five days a week of deliveries, Rollinson said.

The program, which is part of the Area Program on Aging administered through the Albemarle Commission, serves Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Washington and Tyrrell counties.

Administrators with the home-delivered meals program have noted that since the beginning of the pandemic there has been an increase of more than 60 percent in the need for home-delivered meals. At the same time, many volunteers have stepped back because of being at high-risk for COVID or living with someone who is.

Program staff have noted the gap between the need and the number of volunteers available strains the program’s ability to expand and meet the growing needs of older adults in the community.

Those interested in volunteering in any of these counties may contact Laura Rollinson at 252-404-7091 or lrollinson@accog.org.


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