• Bernalillo County residents support more charter schools
    Bilingual Education

    Bernalillo County residents support more charter schools

    New Mexico’s passionate and diverse charter school teachers, leaders and advocates work relentlessly to cultivate a tomorrow in which every student has access to an inspiring and meaningful k-12 public education that prepares them for our modern world. Charter schools in New Mexico are free public schools for all and are small public entities that can nimbly meet the needs of students regardless of the circumstance. As we begin a new school year that will hopefully be less impacted by the pandemic, it’s important to reflect on what we’ve learned.

    When public charter schools meet the individual needs of students, they are strengthening families, communities and the public school system. Charter schools across the state showed that, even though their campuses were closed, their schools were open to meeting the needs of families. Three Albuquerque charter schools below are an example of how public charters stepped up to the plate to put students first during the pandemic.

    • Tierra Adentro of New Mexico assigned families to its entire school staff to touch base with throughout the pandemic, ensuring their needs were being met. The school provided technology access, along with art, music and dance materials, to be able to continue their Flamenco-based and arts instruction while students were learning from home.

    • Sandoval Academy of Bilingual Education (SABE) kept all of its extracurricular activities going when students were learning remotely, including cooking in the classroom. As soon as they had the chance to serve students in person, they moved quickly to take advantage of the opportunity.

    • Digital Arts Technology Academy (DATA) used a video-game platform to host students for their classes, group projects and document storage. The system worked well for them and provided a platform that most students could easily navigate and were familiar with.

    These Albuquerque-based public charter schools found ways to keep students engaged and learning during the pandemic.

    This student-first action from public charter schools is one reason Bernalillo County residents have such high regard for their charter schools. In December 2020, Public Charter Schools of New Mexico teamed up with partners to survey 500 residents with the help of Research and Polling Inc. The findings were moving. Over 75% of Bernalillo County voters want more charter school options, a finding that held across all ethnicities. Further, in our polarized political world, having additional charter schools resonated across the board with all political affiliations: the finding included 76% of Democrats, 78% of Republicans and 76% of Independent voters.

    Public charter schools in New Mexico reflect the amazing diversity of our state, and each school chooses to put those students first when making decisions. We all know a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work for our children. Let’s create more public school choices so every child has a chance to go to a school that meets their needs. It’s a big reason why the people want more.

  • York County Senior College to hold both online and in-person courses this fall

    York County Senior College to hold both online and in-person courses this fall

    York County Senior College will hold class both online and in-person this fall.

    The all-volunteer organization provides classes for those age 50 plus, who seek on-going intellectual stimulation and sociability with peers. It’s an affordable program with no prerequisites, no entrance exam, no homework, and no tests and no credits.

    In dealing with the impact of COVID-19, YCSC has adapted to online courses via Zoom, and to a totally online registration program called CourseStorm, which can be accessed through the website yorkcountyseniorcollege.org. More in-depth course descriptions are available in CourseStorm.

    For more information, go to the YCSC website address: yorkcountyseniorcollege.org or email [email protected] or call (207) 282-4030.

    To register for a class: on the website click the Courses/Sites tab, then scroll down the page to the CourseStorm link. Membership (still only $25/year) in senior college is required to register for a course, and all courses are $25 each. Online registration eases and speeds up the process for students and YCSC administration and provides students with immediate confirmation of the registration. While online registration is preferred, mail-in registrations can be made by mailing your check payable to YCSC with your name, address, email address, phone number, and the course(s) for which you wish to register to: YCSC, UMA/Saco Center, 4 Scamman St., Ste. 18, Saco, ME 04072.

    Online Zoom classes include:

    Mondays: Ancestry – Fred Boyle – Sept. 20, 1 p.m., 8 weeks

    Tuesdays: Writing from Memory – John Forssen – Sept. 7, 9:30 a.m., 6 weeks

    Wednesdays: Book Talk – Arlene Jackson – Sept. 8, 10 a.m., Every other week for 8 sessions

    Chair Yoga for Today’s Lifestyles – Andrea Brown Gleason – Sept. 8, 10:30 a.m., 5 weeks

    Introduction to Addiction – Jeff Goldsmith, MD, DFASAM – Sept. 22, 1 p.m., 5 weeks

    Thursdays: 1960s: The Loss of Innocence – Lorraine Dutile Masure – Sept. 9, 10 a.m., 8 weeks

    Conservatives and Liberals; Not Conservatives Vs. Liberals – Mike Berkowitz – Sept. 9, 1:45 p.m., 8 weeks

    Introduction to Meditation – Jeff Goldsmith, MD, DFASAM – Sept. 23, 11:30 a.m., 8 weeks

    Fridays: History of York County Communities – Series of 3 community overview lectures, 2 p.m.

    Oct. 1 – ‘The Kennebunk Area’ – Cynthia Walker, Brick Store Museum

    Oct. 15 – ‘The Saco Region’ – Anatole Brown, Saco Museum

    Oct. 22 – ‘The Sanford/Springvale Community’ – Tom Gagne, S/S Historical Society

    Onsite, in-person courses, to take place at the UMA Saco Center:

    (Masks required, as well as proof of Covid-19 vaccination)

    Tuesdays: Basic Drawing – Michelina Callahan – Sept. 7, 1 p.m., 8 weeks

    Thursdays: Carolyn Chute: Redux (‘The Beans of Egypt, Maine’) – Kathleen Harder – Sept. 9, 10 a.m., 6 weeks

    Onsite, in-person courses, at the Anderson Learning Center in Springvale:

    (Masks required, as well as proof of COVID-19 vaccination)

    Fridays: Beginning Watercolor – Judith Gaudet – Sept. 10, 9 a.m., 8 weeks

    Open Art Group – Gary Wood – Sept. 10, 9:30 a.m., 8 weeks

    Writing Memoirs – Fleurette Bannon – Sept. 10, 9:30 a.m., 8 weeks

    Outdoor course:

    Thursdays: Plein Air Painting – Pat Wood – Sept. 9, 9:30 a.m., 6 weeks – 1st meeting at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Saco

  • County Executive Bellone Announces the 100 for 10 Farmland Preservation Initiative
    STEAM Initiative

    County Executive Bellone Announces the 100 for 10 Farmland Preservation Initiative

    Suffolk County to dedicate $100 million over the next 10 years to preserve at-risk farms.

    Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has announced the 100 for 10 Farmland Preservation Initiative that will invest $100 million over the next 10 years to preserve the remaining at-risk farms across the county and encourage inter-municipal cooperation. The new funding program, which was included in the County Executive’s proposed Capital Budget unveiled on Friday, will bolster the County’s nationally recognized farmland preservation efforts and motivate surrounding municipalities to join the push to conserve all remaining unpreserved farmland.


    “One of the many things that makes Suffolk County incredible is our unparalleled farmland, and Suffolk was a pioneer when it came to preserving farmland,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone. “Despite the ongoing pandemic, we moved full steam ahead with our first in the nation farmland preservation program and today we are committed to preserve the remaining 10,000 acres to ensure farming is forever cemented as part of the fabric of Suffolk County.”


    Agriculture is an essential element of Suffolk County living and Long Island economic development. With $226 million in sales, Suffolk County is the 4th highest ranking County in the state of New York in terms of the total market value for agricultural goods produced. Suffolk is home to 560 farms that employ more than 4,600 people. These farms grow and provide locally sourced food to area businesses and restaurants and serve as the foundation of Suffolk’s rural character and tourism economy. 


    Fifty years ago, the Nassau-Suffolk Comprehensive Plan Summary in 1970 recommended the preservation of 30,000 acres of farmland in order to sustain the long-term viability of Long Island farming. Shortly thereafter, in 1974, Suffolk County created the first in the nation Farmland Development Rights program. Since the creation of the program, Suffolk County has preserved over 11,000 acres. Additionally, other local municipalities and land trusts have preserved 9,000 acres, bringing the countywide total to 20,000 acres.


    Through the new 100 for 10 Farmland Preservation program, Suffolk County will work with its municipal partners to preserve the remaining 10,000 acres and finally reach the goal of 30,000 acres to permanently protect the economic viability of agriculture. Suffolk County has already preserved 143.5 acres of farmland in 2021. This much needed capital funding from the 100 for 10 Farmland Preservation program will help preserve these important farms and encourage additional farmers to join the farmland preservation program. 


    Farmland preservation expenditures are investments in Suffolk County’s long-term future. It enhances the economic viability of the farming operation and keeps them in permanent production. These farms continue serving as the power-horses of Suffolk County’s economy, while preserving the County’s natural resources and remaining on the tax rolls.


    The new capital funding is intended to motivate and inspire County-wide action. Suffolk County will be working with all ten towns, private land trusts, and New York State to ensure the County is able to meet the preservation goals. As part of the effort, the County is reaching out to the five East End supervisors who have access to Community Preservation Fund (CPF) funding and to New York State to convene a meeting about how the County can effectively partner to meet this critical goal for our region. At this time, the County also invites farmers to sign up for the program today. More information, including an application, can be found here

  • Wake County offers ,500 bonus for new special-ed teachers
    Special Education

    Wake County offers $3,500 bonus for new special-ed teachers

    Triangle school districts are offering thousands of dollars in recruitment bonuses to attract new special-education teachers to educate students returning to class later this month.

    Last week, the Wake County school board approved a $3,500 teacher recruitment bonus to fill dozens of vacancies in the special-education program, which has some of the hardest to fill jobs in the district. Wake joins districts such as Durham Public Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools that approved new teacher bonuses to make sure that their most vulnerable students have teachers for the new school year.

    “Special-education teachers serve a critical role in our classrooms serving the unique needs of students who often require specially designed instruction and support to help them be successful,” AJ Muttillo, the Wake County school system’s assistant superintendent for human resources, told the school board last week.

    “With a 6.8% vacancy rate and needing to fill approximately 100 positions, we expect a $3,500 recruitment incentive will help us attract the quality candidates that we need to fill these positions.”

    But the bonuses also create tensions because it means some current special-education teachers will make less money than less or equally experienced colleagues. Salaries for North Carolina public school teachers are primarily based on years of experience.

    “I can’t support a bonus where there are going to be newly hired people, particularly first years, who are going to be making more than people who have worked with us for probably something like three to five years,” said school board member Jim Martin.

    Martin was the lone Wake school board member who voted against the recruitment bonus.

    High special-ed teacher vacancy rates

    Special-education teachers have the challenge of educating students who have learning disabilities and other special needs. In addition to their classroom time, these teachers spend hours both preparing for and attending Individual Education Program (IEP) meetings mandated under federal law for special-needs students, Muttillo noted.

    “It’s not surprising that in the last few years the applicant pool for these positions has grown smaller and smaller,” Muttillo told the board.

    Muttillo said a university that Wake County has come to rely on had only had one person graduate from its special-ed teacher training program in December.

    While Wake County’s overall teacher vacancy rate is about 3%, Muttillo said it’s 6.8% for special-ed teachers. It’s 2.4% for regular education teachers.

    The shortage is particularly large, at 11.6%, in Wake County’s regional special-education programs, which serve students with the most severe needs. School board member Karen Carter, who used to be an instructional assistant in a regional program, said it’s particularly critical to get those positions filled.

    “We need to do what we can get to highly qualified teachers in these positions,” Carter said.

    Districts compete with hiring bonuses

    Special-ed teachers hired between July 1 and Nov. 21 will get paid $1,750 after their first three months in Wake. They’ll get the remaining $1,750 if they’re still working in the district as a special-ed teacher on Oct. 31, 2022.

    Wake is using a similar plan for other hard-to-fill positions, such as $1,200 signing bonuses for instructional assistants and bus drivers. Wake has seen an increase in the number of applicants for both positions since offering the bonuses, according to Muttillo.

    Muttillo cited how Wake is facing competition from other districts that are offering bonuses.

    Durham Public Schools is offering $3,500 signing bonuses for hard-to-fill teaching positions, including special-education jobs. Durham is requiring teachers to stay on in the district for three years to get the full bonus.

    “As we continue to strive to fully highlight all that Durham has to offer for potential candidates across all of our positions, we also recognize there is great competition both inside and outside the educational ranks,” said Alvera Lesane, Durham’s assistant superintendent for human resources, in a news release. “Additionally, DPS along with our competitors are trying to secure additional talent to catch up on COVID losses.

    “The recruitment bonuses will entice those who have perhaps been contemplating Durham as a destination to come join us to serve our students in various capacities.”

    The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system is offering $2,500 recruitment bonuses for hard-to-fill teaching positions, including in special education. School administrators said in documents that the district “has seen a growing trend of candidates having competing offers from other districts during the hiring process.”

    Bonuses send ‘mixed message’ to current staff

    But the bonuses create an issue of fairness by paying more money to a new hire who may have less experience than a current employee.

    “Our current special education teachers, they’ve worked incredibly hard especially during the last year to meet the needs of students and they all deserve recognition for what they’ve done over the past six months,” Muttillo said. “And a lot of times when I come here and I ask for these bonuses, it really delivers a mixed message to our current employees.

    “It’s not a message we like delivering. But it’s recognizing the urgent need and critical need and ever-changing conditions to ensure that we can adequately staff these positions.”

    Wake school board members blamed part of the problem on the state not providing enough funding for education in general and salaries in particular.

    “It might even look and feel like whack-a-mole,” said school board chairman Keith Sutton. “We’re just kind of putting a bonus and you know adding a bonus here. But it’s the convergence I think of a number of factors that stem everywhere.”

    Sutton asked staff to report back on how much it would cost to make sure that special-ed teachers who are in their first couple of years don’t make less money than the newly hired educators.

    Muttillo also promised that once they got the positions filled for the new school year that administrators would focus on helping with salaries of existing employees. One area, he said, might be raising salaries of all special-education teachers.

    Carter, the board member, said Wake school employees need to get a detailed plan for raising salaries.

    “Our staff deserve to know very specifically where we are headed,” Carter said. “I think that’s important and that’s a big step in showing appreciation and respect for everything they do for our students.”

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    Profile Image of T. Keung Hui

    T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.