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Connelly’s ‘CommUNITY Chats’ aim to get discussions started 


Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. is meeting with parents, families and other stakeholders through a series of Monday evening “chats” designed to engage with students' families and provide updates on the implementation of the system's strategic plan. 

As part of those sessions, Connelly is taking questions and hearing concerns from the public.

Connelly’s “Committed CommUNITY Chats” are being held in each of Cumberland County’s 10 attendance districts to address successes and challenges in the county’s public school system. Connelly held a similar series of chats in 2018 when he was hired as superintendent. 

“We feel like we have a lot of things going right in the school system, but we recognize that there are opportunities for improvement,” Lindsay Whitley, associate superintendent of communications and community engagement for CCS, said about the purpose of the series of gatherings. “It's all about listening and learning and that continuous improvement cycle.” 

On Monday, Connelly led the third chat in the series at Lewis Chapel Middle School. 

“I think it was a powerful and impactful engagement with our community,” he told CityView after it was over.

CCS administrators share the district’s strategic plan during the meetings and discuss how they’re working to achieve its objectives. Highlighted in the meetings are the new SparkLab class for high schoolers — a class in which students choose their own courses from a set of STEM-based educational units — in addition to updates about an upcoming teacher salary study, the implementation of a future educators’ program, and an increased focus on social-emotional learning for K-8 students. 

Once the presentation concludes, the open forum begins. Teachers, parents and staff are recognized by Connelly, who asks them to voice their concerns, praises or other comments. 

One issue discussed in previous chats — including Monday's discussion — included teacher retention. CCS’ teacher vacancy rate is at 3.7%, Connelly shared, with 130 teaching spots open out of 3,500 total classroom positions. That puts Cumberland just below the 2022 national vacancy rate of 4%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  

Another point of discussion was increases in behavioral issues among CCS students, and the impact on teachers, other students, as well as parents. Teachers have shared personal experiences in struggling with responding to unruly students. Connelly has responded by saying his team was working on programs to help teachers in dealing with that kind of disruptive behavior. 

A 2022 study by the NCES found that over 87% of public schools nationwide reported the Covid-19 pandemic ... negatively impacted student socio-emotional development during the 2021–22 school year.

The study found the most common manifestations of that have been increases in student misconduct, outside-of-classroom rowdiness, disrespect toward teachers and staff, and the too-frequent use of prohibited electronic devices. 

Additional concerns educators shared Monday included parents’ ability to visit their children's classrooms, which teachers complained creates difficulties, among them safety concerns at schools that require background checks for all visitors. 

“I think we need to continue to look at our staffing concerns and vacancy rates, as well as helping students,” Connelly said Monday. 

The Committed CommUNITY chats will continue throughout the rest of the year, with the next chat scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at Jack Britt High School.

For more information, visit https://www.ccs.k12.nc.us/Page/9087 

Components of the CCS Strategic Plan

  • Successful students
    • Implement robust learning experiences, engagement, and challenging work.
    • Promote educational equity to eliminate gaps and ensure access for all students.
    • Develop modern learning environments that expand blended and personalized learning.
    • Create tiers of services, a comprehensive system to guide continuous improvement through support for both schools and individual students.
    • Establish career pathways and program options that allow for choice .
    • Promote choice to compete for changing careers.
  • Premier professionals
    • Recruit and retain professionals throughout CCS who deliver and support innovative instruction.
    • Ensure all schools are implementing strategic hiring practices.
    • Provide opportunities for professional growth, career advancement, succession planning, and more to strengthen classroom instruction .
  • Exceptional environment
    • Keep schools safe and secure.
    • Develop a framework to address behavioral and mental health needs of students.
    • Maximize high school graduation rates .
    • Increase capacity to create optimal conditions to serve all students.
  • Committed community
    • Develop districtwide family engagement programs.
    • Engage parents and community stakeholders in the educational process through communications.
    • Increase and strengthen community partnerships to improve school offerings .

Contact Char Morrison at cmorrison@cityviewnc.com.

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