School of Hard Knocks

I'm a little stunned. I knew that the University was working on designing and opening a model school for 3 and 4 year olds. What I didn't know is that city schools officials and UNC have proposed a plan to remove pre-K through second grades from Seawell Elementary School and site Seawell's youngest students at “First School”--- a model FPG Child Development Institute program designed to “assure a successful school entry experience for all children.” The pressure is on to review and accept this surprising proposal quickly and to turn Seawell Elementary School into a grades 3-5 school.

Tony Waldrop, Vice-Chancellor at UNC-CH, says the University supports the “First School” proposal and will provide a school site from the Carolina North property close to or adjacent to Seawell. City schools staff like the unique opportunity too. They project that the city schools need to build two new elementary schools within the next 6 years, and argue that this “First School” option may be lost if the city schools don't move quickly. It is expected that the cost for this new school will be less than the current budget for Elementary School #10. The opening date for “First School” would be August 2009. Construction of Twin Creeks Elementary School would be delayed.

Dialogue with the County Commissioners, the general public, and the Seawell community will begin once the School Board gives the proposal the nod.


Here I am butting in with folks who know each other well - so if I offend anyone, please don't take it personally. I certainly have read the research that supports the First School model and feel confident that it will be designed to address the achiement gap - as effectively as any top down model. In other states I have seen more cooperation between the Community College Adult Education programs and preschool programs. In several East L.A. elementary schools several years ago there were classrooms or trailers provided by the K-12 monies with teachers in them provided by the Community College. Family caretakers of the Head Start and other preschool children were subsidized and allow ed not to work if they rode the bus with the children and attended Adult Education classes (ESL, ABE, Adult High School, Parent Education) while the young children were in their classes. The adults were encouraged to go to the classrooms of the children, be a volunteer aide for the teacher, and the teachers of the children were taught how to work successfully with a more diverse group of parents. In on particular situation where data was collected, 85% of the children in this type of program graduated from high school while only 55% of the children in the group where family caregivers did not attend graduated. Joining at an early age in collaboration with parents (especially first time parents) at an early age really will help close the achievement gap and give the parent support that will carry through their children's school experience and into their family life.

Florida had a similar program Suzanne although I never saw any data on long-term impact and it was situated as an adjunct campus in the middle of one of the low income neighborhoods. Everyone learned from it, including the researchers. I also think many of the older adults really enjoyed having the kids around; made the facility seem more friendly and less intimidating.

Most of us don't know each other. Don't ever feel like you're intruding. Thanks for the comment.


There is a core group of commenters on OP, but they are incredibly inclusive. Everyone's welcome. You would be surprised how few actually know others outside this blog. I was lucky because running for office was a great way to meet a lot of people in a short period of time.

This can be a tough crowd--they don't mind calling you on a point of fact or debate a controversial stance--but if you ever meet regular commenters you will come to the universal conclusion: they are much nicer in real life.

The bottom line with these folks, and the reason I have a special place in my heart for OP, is that everyone who cares to comment does so because he or she genuinely cares about the community. And despite the occasional incivility, as a group they demonstrate remarkable restraint and empathy.

Hi Suzanne,

I am glad that you joined in the discussion.

Many of the commenters who support education agree that pre-K education and/or education of parents is important, particularly where a student would be considered at risk.

I think that the issues will be related to how this is approached.

In the programs under study that you cite, how were they implemented? Were the pre-K students in 3-4yo or 3-5yo programs, or were they 3yo-2nd like First School? Ie - where did the students experience school transitions?

Where does First School research differ from Head Start research?


I've asked Ruby to cross-post this on OP as a guest posting, but in the meantime, here's a link to a pretty disturbing story about under-the-radar experimentation with gender segregation in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools:

Note that the problem isn't necessarily the segregation itself--I've heard good arguments in both directions on that issue--but the cavalier and unscientific way in which the district is pursuing this "experiment."

I agree Eric. I've always been amazed by the ease with which the McDougle experiment slid through...

On another note, Dr. Pedersen and FPG Child Development Center staff will be available tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. at Seawell to answer questions and address concerns about "First School".

I attended the “First School Forum” at Seawell last night, hosted by Neil Pedersen, CHCCS Superintendent, and Dr. Sharon Ritchie, from the Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute, recently moved here from California. The purpose of the forum was to relate to parents the potentials around the “First School” concept, and to listen to ideas and comments.

The proposal is to build the school on UNC land right next to Seawell, put three year olds through second grade there, and convert Seawell to third through fifth grades only. The population of the two schools together would be about double the current Seawell enrollment.

My feeling is that the proposal offers financial advantages to the school system and possibly some educational advantages to a portion of the student population, but that those advantages are far outweighed by the damage the changes could cause to what is now a very well-functioning school.

For CHCCS, it seems that the biggest driver for the whole deal is money from UNC. The CHCCS district is going to have to build two elementary schools within the next six years. One is planned at the Twin Creeks site, but no site has been identified for the second. UNC would partially fund construction of the First School, making life easier for the CHCCS Board of Education.

The First School would also be a revenue generator. Mr. Pedersen pointed out that the Seawell has a hard time competing with the local day care operations for pre-schoolers, and that a new school might bring in more of those tuition dollars. Mark Peters pointed out that some of those financial gains would be offset by the capital outlay that would be required to make classrooms suitable for older kids.

UNC likes the deal because they would get an “education lab” very conveniently located on their new UNC North campus.

That's where the logic and the benefits seem to end.

It was stated that a major goal of the First School concept is reduction of the achievement gap. Seawell has one of the lowest achievement gaps in the state. With that as a starting point, how will they know if their experiments work? It seems that there would be more to learn by implementing this concept where there is more potential for improvement.

There's no way to know how the day- to-day experience at First School might look as compared to Seawell. Dr. Ritchie mentioned a half dozen educational models that might be tried. I'm not comfortable with such an unknown, especially as I do know that the Seawell model works so well. I'm also concerned that the educational researchers would need to evaluate the effects of their experiments, which might mean more tests for these young kids.

Dr. Pedersen said that one of Seawells' keys to success is the relationship between staff and families. The First School would cut the duration of that relationship in half by losing K through second grade, and would cut it in half again as the school population doubles. One third of the school population would be new every year. As one of the teachers said “you can't know a thousand kids”. Seawell is already bigger than the statewide average. Doubling the population would change the character and endanger the effectiveness of the school.

It doesn't make sense geographically to co-locate another school at this site. The Seawell district is already surrounded by other schools. According to Dr. Pedersen, the needed 60% increase in attendance zone would require “major redistricting” and busing from satellite zones. Smith Middle School would not be able to take all of the increased number of Seawell students as they do now. It would make more sense to build a school where it is needed.

Dr. Pedersen spoke of this program increasing continuity, but it seems the reverse would be true. Yes, there would be continuity from pre-school through second grade for those who send their kids to the full day pre-school, but that continuity would be broken going into third grade. The continuity would be broken again by those students who could not go to Smith, but would have to leave their friends and go to another middle school.

The CHCCS Board of Education has been discussing this proposal since 2003, but the first public hearing was last night. The Board will vote on the proposal in April, just two months from now. The meeting felt like a rushed sales job, with a little defensiveness when the hard questions were asked. One parent phrased it as “Eat this, you're going to love it.” I can see why the Board and UNC might want it, but I think there are too many disadvantages, not enough time to weigh the risks, and not enough clear advantages to the students to warrant the disruption of a great school.

Charlie, I went to the “First School” Q&A session last night too. Isn't Janine Sobolewski the best?!? (Eat this, you're going to love it!)

It was hard for the FPG CDI person to explain exactly what FPG CDI is offering because they haven't invented the ‘model' school yet.

In addition to all of your practical concerns, it seems to me that accepting the FPG CDI proposal at this point also hinges on my faith in the Institute's ability to do excellent work. If we can work out some major school stability issues, I may be able to proceed on faith here. However, I would like to see the BoE and Seawell work together with FPG CDI to make this partnership beneficial to all stakeholders. My thoughts:

1) FPG CDI does not have to disrupt Seawell in order to go forward with a school on the CN site. The UNC Board of Trustees approved the CN site for a model school. The trustees did not stipulate that the model school must be a preK-2 school. Unless the FPG CDI people can present compelling evidence that it is a good thing to sever elementary school children from a school after second grade, I can't see how we can justify FPG CDI's proposed change. My hope is that instead of the current proposal that has two schools split after 2nd grade, FPG CDI will go forward with two traditional preK-5 schools. This option preserves a highly successful school (Seawell) and gives children and families needed continuity. Clearly, the FPG CDI people want the preK-2 structure because their Institute only studies children to age 8. I feel fairly confident saying that if FPG CDI studied children up to age 11 they would not even be thinking about a split after 2nd grade.

2) FPG CDI will be doing research at the school. Much of the research will be the same kind of research that already goes on in schools: looking at a core list of information such as demographic data, assessments, report cards, etc. If the model school goes through, parents will have a say about what is on this core list. Additionally, the FPG CDI researchers will perform individual research on children and teachers. They will comply with UNC's strict research protocols. Never will they identify a child, teacher or family in their research. Participation in research is voluntary. This is all good stuff, but I have two concerns. First, the FPG CDI people will pay teachers to participate in research—much of teacher participation will be paperwork. When will teachers do their FPG CDI work? I personally want my teachers teaching my children, not filling out research forms. It would be important to me that teachers earn their FPG CDI money on their own time. My second concern has to do with FPG CDI obtaining grant money for their research. Right now, they have grant money from Kellogg and The Foundation for Child Development to “plan” their model school. No money has been secured beyond this. FPG CDI assures us that they have a 4 decade history of receiving generous grant money, and we should not worry. Is this reasonable to accept their optimistic outlook? I don't know.

There are so many questions here and so little time to answer them. I vote no on current proposal.

Janine also made the point that "they" should take time to study Seawell and see how things work before "they" propose wholesale changes. There was some evidence that Dr. Ritchie, at least, could be out of touch. As she talked about the young children being intimidated by the big fifth graders all the parents were shaking their heads and saying "no". I've heard nothing but enthusiasm for the buddy reading program, from parents and kids.

I don't have many data points about FPG CDI, but that degraded my confidence level.

I'm the 5th of 9 children. I believe in interaction between the ages--- It's so normal and the way humans were designed to learn and function.

I wouldn't put too much value in that one comment from Dr. Ritchie because she did allude to using a Montessori model which is very much about older children helping younger children.

Mary, regarding your Question #2 above -- the teachers will have plenty of assistance from interns and grad students to fill out research forms. FPG CDI is crawling with big people sitting in little chairs.

Catherine, that may be another data point for me, positive this time, high teacher to student ratio.

As I understand it, the FPG CDI and Neil Pedersen are asking the BOE whether or not to pursue a working relationship with FPG CDI to develop and run some version of a school model starting at age 3. It seems the current proposal, a pre-K-2,3-5 split with Seawell, is only one example. The BOE can decide to end conversations with FPG CDI. They can decide to fully endorse the pre-K-2,3-5 split proposal and set in motion the district activities needed to plan and build a First School next to Seawell. The BOE might decide that working with FPG CDI is a great idea but want to proceed in a different manner. With or without a specific proposal or location in mind, they can decide to begin to address the questions and concerns they have, teachers and parents have expressed as well as FPG CDI's concerns.

There are many versions of the 'let's work together' option. One can imagine a wide range from a goal to finding a way to make the site next to Seawell work (with or without a split with Seawell), working towards sighting some version of a 1st school at another location, or a goal to simply have more conversations and figure out where to locate a First School later.

Does it come down to: a) We become the first "First School" now (but only as currently proposed)--- or b) We start a conversation for a future partnership with FPG CDI and start building Twin Creeks?
This isn't what I heard on Thursday, but it is the word on the street. I really like it when people are up front about the real options.

The two options you mention, the current First School-Seawell split or the Twin Creeks sight seem likely candidates. The BOE could decide to do something else. From the information I received at the planning conference and the Seawell meetings, there has been a change in emphasis. Initially it did feel like it was the First School-Seawell split or nothing. There were good reasons for this approach- I don't think it was proposed without serious thought. Now it has evolved to a consideration of other options.

We'll see how the discussion goes next Thursday at the BOE meeting. The BOE will not make a decision on Thursday but it will be an important discussion. There will be time for public comment.


If I may babble on a bit more... I think the concerns of the Seawell staff and parents and others have made an impact. I want to thank Neil Pedersen and Sharon Ritchie for presenting information and answering questions for Seawell teachers in the afternoon (~ 2 hrs) and parents in the evening (~1.5 hrs) and Jamezetta Bedford for attending the evening meeting.

I believe the FPG folks are really interested in doing what's best for the community (as they stated at the BOE Planning conference). They are indeed interested in promoting and developing a new model for pre-K education that blends well with K-2,3 and up, including instruction, family involvement and building design. It is a large plan (where ever the school is located) yielding potentially fantastic recommendations to improve early childhood education. I also believe most if not all in the Seawell community support improvements to pre-K education, even improving/expanding the current pre-K program at Seawell and other efforts in the CHCCS.

The school district and the FPG CDI can both gain from an increased working relationship in developing and implementing an outstanding educational model, whatever that maybe. I am encouraged. I am also leary of significant changes to a model that works well at Seawell. Yes, there is room for improvement. There always will be. Even if all student needs are met, the community will change, student needs will change and the schools will need to adapt. I hope the district will find a productive way to collaborate with the FPG CDI. However, in the midst of decreased/limited state and national funding and equity concerns in Orange County, I hope the district doesn't spread itself too thin.



"I also believe most if not all in the Seawell community support improvements to pre-K education, even improving/expanding the current pre-K program at Seawell and other efforts in the CHCCS."

Not all. This is a touchy subject with many, but I'm not sure that I support expansion of the pre-K program. I know that many families can not afford to keep a parent at home with young kids, and those families need good options, but I'm not sure that an "educational setting" is best for very young children. I don't have the data support it, but my feeling is that those children benefit from being at home, and I don't back school systems' efforts to get more kids out of that environment.

Jamezetta Bedford said at the meeting on Thursday something to the effect that "more and more young children will be entering an education setting". That presumption has me concerned.

As Mark Marcoplos wrote so eloquently earlier, "I just don't want us to lose sight of the fact that growing up around family and friends, spending time outdoors, being free to follow the whims and mysteries of childhood could be a supperior “learning environment” to placing them in an institution at such an early age. When does this stop? How about putting kids in state institutions at six weeks old?"

My appologies. My intent of saying "most if not all" was that there appears to me to be a majority of people who support pre-K education. I should have just said "many".

You bring up a good question: when is a good age to start public education? Certainly some children can benefit from waiting until age 6. Others can do well at younger ages. Is the current model (age 5-6) best ?


PS. I'm not convinced mandatory pre-K public education is a good idea, for a number of reasons, including the concern Charlie mentioned.

Mr. Marcoplos has stated, “The need for highly trained educational specialists to teach how to read is vastly over-rated.”

And expert Jane Healy backs up his statement. Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist and consultant and the author of the books including Failure to Connect and Your Child's Growing Mind, states that not only are highly trained experts unnecessary but also that younger children need the freedom of unstructured play time. For example, she has stated, “sometimes 3-year-olds will pour the same sand in the same cup over and over. "There is something about that activity that the brain needs to learn that day," she says. "They need blocks and sand and loving people who talk to them in a relaxed and unpressured setting, and it doesn't need to cost that much."

Some on this thread have expressed concern about First School basically being a research lab with the children used as research subjects. And this would seem to be a legitimate concern considering the intense nature of some of FPG's research.

Some examples include:

Memory and Suggestibility in Children with and without a Developmental Disability Presenter: Jennifer M. Schaaf of FPG

The Changing Landscape of Gene Discovery and Disclosure: Implications for Early Childhood Special Education
Presenter: Don Bailey of FPG

The Family Interpretations of Genetic Knowledge Project. This study is being conducted by researchers from UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and Clinicians from UNC Department of Pediatrics, Division of Genetics and Metabolism. The Family Interpretations of Genetic Knowledge Project is located at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

A group of 15 UNC investigators led by Don Bailey, director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, were recently awarded a “planning grant” for ELSI research. Three ongoing research initiatives at UNC that will be the focus of their ELSI efforts are: newborn screening for Fragile X syndrome, The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and a new campus-wide DNA banking resource.

Others have expressed concern over funding noting that future grants will be needed. KNOWING THAT SCHOOLS ARE USUALLY SHORT OF CASH BIOTECH COMPANIES SUCH AS MONSANTO HAVE BEEN DONATING PROPOGANDA AS “EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS.” Some of this material includes coloring books and word puzzles and includes statements such as organically grown foods are dangerous.

The Organic Consumers Association has also stated that the Kellogg foundation has funded a "Biotech Front Group that Feeds Propaganda to Media"



THE CORPORATE INFLUENCE ON UNIVERSITIES THROUGH PUBLIC--PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS IS BAD ENOUGH------CORPORATE INVOLVEMENT(through grants and funding) IN HIGH SCHOOLS, ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS AND DAY CARE WOULD BE FAR, FAR WORSE. (To read more on this issue and also on Duke on UNC's new push into biological warfare defense research see my website

I'm not sure if I agree with you because what you've just posted is so disjointed. Are you comparing the FPG work to Monsanto spreading material that says organic foods are unsafe?
It seems like you have plucked some things off the FPG website without understanding or thought.

Memory and Suggestibility in Children with and without a Developmental Disability Presenter: Jennifer M. Schaaf of FPG

The FPG does a lot of research on children with DD in order to better understand how to maximize their potential. It appears that Schaaf has published on learning with Fragile X and is now trying to study how these children learn in order to better HELP them learn. To pop this title up without any explanation is misleading.

The Changing Landscape of Gene Discovery and Disclosure: Implications for Early Childhood Special Education
Presenter: Don Bailey of FPG

FGP is doing screening for Fragile X, which might also lead to the discovery of other problems or which could lead to decisions about whether to have children. You should have read about this before jumping to conclusions about what the title meant.

A group of 15 UNC investigators led by Don Bailey, director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, were recently awarded a “planning grant” for ELSI research. Three ongoing research initiatives at UNC that will be the focus of their ELSI efforts are: newborn screening for Fragile X syndrome, The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and a new campus-wide DNA banking resource.

FIrst, it might be nice to note that ELSI stands for Overview of the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) Research Program at the National Human Genome Research Institute. This program is designed to examine the crossroads at which genome research meets personal ethics. The complete project goals are listed on FPGs website, the relevant ones are:

1) Expand and strengthen an interdisciplinary team of investigators, creating an organizational structure to design and implement multidisciplinary investigations of complex and rapidly emerging ELSI issues

2) Establish partnerships with key constituents to facilitate joint awareness of emerging ELSI issues ...

3) Use three major projects to collect preliminary data in preparation for major research initiatives ...
(a) a planning project to screen 1,000,000 newborns for fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited cause of mental retardation;
(b) a study of approximately 20,000 individuals ages 23-31, followed since adolescence, and for whom collection of DNA for gene exploration is now proposed; and
(c) a campus-wide DNA banking initiative, with a goal of collecting, tracking, and sharing more than 100,000 DNA samples.

For each project, we explore questions such as: Are current consent procedures adequate? Who accepts or declines genetic testing and why? What are the ethical, legal and policy implications of translating research to widespread application? What are the training needs of healthcare providers, researchers, policy makers and government regulators?

I think you should keep the rhetoric leveled at things like "bioterrorism" in which most people are doing harmless and wasteful research while real NIH research is being cut by 5-10% across the board.

While Robins' written tone may be a little inflammatory, I think she raises a couple of good points.

Public school systems funded by corporate donations could give cause for concern. I'm sure that's already happening at some level now, but a situation like the proposed First School would require ongoing oversight, at the very least. Who would be responsible for monitoring the potential effects of corporate dollars on educational programs?

We're depending on the public school system to prepare our children for all that is to come. Given the experimental nature of the FPG CDI program, can they guarantee that their results will meet or exceed those of Seawell or any other local school? Should families be forced to take that gamble? There seems to be a strong argument for voluntary enrollment.

The First School should not be a forced experience. Your public school systems are already partially funded by the soft drink companies that have convinced parents that their products aren't bad for them, and hey, you can keep a few pennies for each dollar we make!

I think way back up the thread Anita makes a good point that this type of school could be excellent for working parents. As to the racial inequality, I know several people on the custodial staff here at University that work two jobs to get by. Poverty, as much as racial inequality, leads to poor results in school. Unless we plan on changing the system so parents can stay home with their kids and still have food, roof, and health, then perhaps we should support a school will identify techniques to improve their children's education.

Robert P.

I was not saying FPG is not engaged in useful research, my point is that it is more intense research than usually conducted in public schools. Many parents might feel uncomfortable having their children observed and scrutinized closely for more intensive studies.

Genetic data banks do make some people uncomfortable as it relates to the ability to obtain insurance and other factors. I'm not saying that the genetic studies and data banks aren't useful, but it might give some parents pause to have their children enrolled in a school so closely involved in genetic issues--useless enrollment in the school is entirely voluntary.

Charlie B. has agreed that public school systems funded by corporate donations could give cause for concern. Your statement that corporate dollars (such as soft drink companies) are already there shouldn't preclude us from not wanting to see an escalation in corporate funding.

As long as First School is voluntary and is not looked upon as an answer to overcrowding at Seawell then there is no problem. Seawell already has an excellent record and parents like having their children there. If overcrowding in our schools is a problem then we will need to take a hard look at our budget and population growth to ensure there is money and space for additional schools or expansion of existing schools. However, setting up First School to be the only choice simply because there is corporate grant money available or because it may generate revenue for a school may make parents uncomfortable and make them feel we have not adequately planned for population growth.

Your public school systems are already partially funded by the soft drink companies that have convinced parents that their products aren't bad for them, and hey, you can keep a few pennies for each dollar we make!

CHCCS has adopted one of the most stringent nutrition policies in the country. It is my understanding that soft drink machines are not accessible to students during school hours. The milk machines are, though.


Reiterating, it doesn't seem reasonable to make the First School mandatory, given the programs' experimental nature.

A voluntary First School would have to work like a magnet school, drawing the 538 kids from all over the district. As Dr. Pedersen said last week, it would cost a lot of money to bus those kids across Carrboro and Chapel Hill every day. Is there any way to estimate those costs? The financial appeal of this deal for CHCCS may not look so appealing anymore.

Aside from the ongoing costs, would busing even be practical? The First School may attract low income families who may not have the means to drive their kids to and from the school. It seems a lot to ask of 100 three and four year olds to get up at 6:00 AM for a long bus ride, probably with a transfer mid-journey.

I hope the BOE will look beyond the initial school construction costs and consider the long term financial and practical ramifications of First School.

From the meeting Dr. Pedersen and Dr. Ritchie (of FPG) had with Seawell parents, it doesn't sound like a magnet school is likely. I think they are assuming there would be enough volunteer participants within the new (60% larger) Seawell attendance zone to fill the ~100 spots in the pre-k classrooms. Under the proposal split model, the K-2 classrooms would not be voluntary.

Transcripts of the meetings with the Seawell community are now available at the Seawell SGC website. I want to thank Neil Pedersen, Sharon Ritchie, Jamezetta Bedford and everyone else at the meetings for allowing us to record the meetings. Please forgive any poor transcriptions... my typing on the parent meeting wasn't so great. Jennifer Jansen did a better job on the staff meeting.


"I think they are assuming there would be enough volunteer participants within the new (60% larger) Seawell attendance zone to fill the ~100 spots in the pre-k classrooms."

Is that just an assumption, or have you heard anyone speak of the program as voluntary?

I don't see how they could make it voluntary. If they put all the K through 2 at First School, where would the "opt-out" children go? Transported to other schools? If they have parallel schools, K-5 at both, how could they be sure to get enough volunteers to fill First School?

I don't see how they could make it voluntary, and I don't see how they could make it mandatory. The program is experimental in nature, and experiments sometimes fail. Would the BOE be honoring their commitments with a gamble that First School would be at least as good as Seawell?

My understanding is that First School would be funded primarily or entirely through grants. What might happen if the fund raisers someday failed to obtain full funding? Would CHCCS be on the hook? Public schools need secure funding through public funds.

I don't think First School has an appropriate place in the public school system, and that it should operate as any other private school does.

I found some comments about the voluntary nature of the pre-k program. Below is an excerpt from comments at the meetings (and a bit about funding). Decisions regarding funding have not been made yet. It was my understanding that the operation of grades k-2 (in the split proposal) would be funded by the CHCCS. How much of the activities are considered research and not normally done in a k-5 school, and, thus, paid for by FPG monies, has not been identified. Some of the pre-K would also be funded by the CHCCS, like it does now, but not all of it. The general statements I have heard, say UNC and FPG will cover the cost of the research, the additional pre-k classrooms and construction related to building those spaces. By "additional" I mean any pre-K classrooms that are in are added to any current pre-K classrooms that may be moved there.

Attendance in the pre-K program (parent meeting):
" ...we would expect that the pre-school children would also come form that same attendance zone which is not the case in a normal pre-K programs. So that's the kind of continuity that we're trying to achieve. All those 4 years olds we would expect to go to kindergarten that would be their assigned school the following year. … … When we started our pre-schools we create a blended model. And it's a little unusual; we expect that in Chapel Hill, one is that we are the fiscal agent for the Head Start program most head start programs are not run by the school system. We start with that, we have had a long history with head starlet. We have a similar population that is funded by more at four which is governor Easley's initiative. Those children are fully funded by federal, state or local funds. Then we also serve exceptionally... .childern. We are legally required to serve children with handicaps starting at age 3. That's why we have 3 and 4 year olds in pre-school classrooms and of course state federal and local funding for those children. Then we have tuition paying students some have their tuition subsidized through childcare networks, some of them are just paying themselves. You only have 22 tuition paying students out of 200. We used to have more. It used to be more blended than it is and the logic there was that we thought it was good for children to start of their educational careers with a diverse group of students that didn't reflect a single population whether the overly racially identifiable or the children that have some type of exceptionality. And we knew that there were people tuition interest pre-school programs... Quite frankly, what we found as those programs move out of our schools, particularly our newer schools, And go to the community or to an environment that is not as attractive such as the one we have here we have a hard time attracting tuition paying parents. We think that if we build a new school, with the support and advice from national renown school, that we would have a lot of interest from a wide variety of people in the school so that model that you see in that handout, projects that about 25% of the students who might live in the attendance zone as 3 year olds would enroll and about 50% of the 4 year olds would enroll, and the 100% of the kindergarten students would enroll. Recognizing that pre-school programs are not of interest to every family, in fact there are some families that are not excited about sending their child to a public institution at that age they believe that is too young. While the opportunity would be there it would not be a requirement to attend. "

Funding (parent meeting):
" ... The question who would fund the school. Clearly this would be a school in the CHCCS district under our BOE would have a principal which would be like any other principal in terms of certification, be on our payroll... I think it is clear that we would operate the school. "

Dr. Ritchie (faculty meeting):
"...We have to know how to fund this. One of the big problems in business is that early education and elementary education have completely different funding streams, completely different training and there is a lot of separation so really thinking about how to fund, that is really an important part of this. "
Dr. Pedersen (faculty meeting):
"...The other thing I would mention is that we would sort of have to reach an agreement with the university and FPG. So there are a number of critical issues, particularly financial ones that we need to make sure this is something we can afford to do and defend doing with taxpayers money meaning basically we want to pay for the domain of k on up but the school goes outside our legally mandated mission to some extent at least in terms of pre-k although obviously we have a pre-k program, but it certainly expands that dramatically. There are some features here that are university related in terms of needs that they have so we are looking for contribution from the university not only in terms of the site but also the facility. Then the whole operation b/c we don't have funding to operate 7 preschool classes right now and those are some pretty big hurdles that we have to overcome with the university. "

Thanks, Marc. That eases my worries about funding. It looks like Dr. Pedersen and the BOE are working to structure the finances carefully.

I didn't see anything, however, that addresses my concerns of a mandatory experimental program for K through 2. Should families be forced to take that risk, especially given that the potential benefits are so small?

We don't know the benefits, but we do know of some detriments. Doubling the enrollment would have to decrease the relationships between Seawell staff and families. 1000 kids would be a huge elementary school. The statewide average is less than 500. The 60% increase in attendance zone would require “major redistricting” and probably busing from satellite zones.


Your concern about the doubling of the enrollment and the large school size seems particularly pertinent since OP has another thread discussing studies showing that children benefit from a smaller school size.

Just a few points. I had the chance to speak with someone from FPG yesterday and I brought up First School. After that and reading the website I come away with the following:

1. This curriculum is designed to address the FACT that more students are entering school earlier and the FACT that early intervention is key for most social/psychological issues.

2. There is a chicken/egg problem they face, whether to deal with parents first or the school board first. They decided, rightly I think, to deal with the school board first and are now dealing with the parents - as was their plan.

3. The Seawell area is the only choice.

4. They envision the school being part of the Seawell campus with kids rotating through the building often enough that they don't consider it something separate, but a part of their school community.

5. They are already starting to see that their plans might have to be extended past what they "think" is the appropriate age for what they are trying to create.

6. If they come up with a model that works, it won't work everywhere. A first school in Denver will be different from one in Cincinnati or Miami. Thus, they have always been open to community ideas, plans, and arrangements.

I hope this helps. If not, skip down to the next post, I won't be offended.

Did your source also tell you that FPG CDI doesn't want to impose "First School" on an unwilling Seawell community? Dr. Ritchie said so much.

The question is: Will Lincoln Center and the School Board impose the current "First School" structure on Seawell knowing that most in the Seawell Community don't believe this structure optimally benefits students, families and staff?

In short, I agree- it's not clear what experimental programs the K-2 children at the proposed pre-K-2 First School will experience.
The content is still dictated by the state's standard course of study for those grades. I believe the material will be covered, but how will that be accomplished? Maybe new approaches will be tried and maybe it will be no more different than the differences between a classrooms within a elementary school or between classes at two different elementary schools (within the district). They said there are 3 years to do the curriculum planning so I guess we won't have an answer until after/if the BOE agrees to work with FPG. It is not clear to me how the research continuing from the pre-K program will affect individuals at the K-2 levels. Dr. Ritchie addressed it by saying they would need consent from parents to include children in the research. I guess that means without parental approval, students will not answer questionares or meet with FPG staff or whatever. Maybe the question comes to what new approaches will be tried in the First School that can not be directed at a subset of the student population. For example, all students will be a part of the experiment includes building design, location of resources (play area, music class, art, cafeteria, administration, etc.) and design of individual classrooms (the K rooms will, presumably, be appropriately designed differently than the 2nd grade and perhaps differently than in other K-5 schools). It may be quite difficult to separate the children with permission to be part of the experiment and those without. Of course, new schools are often designed differently from existing schools so considering new designs is not that new. This is a more trivial example, there will be, I think, 'experimental' instructional methods used in the classrooms for all kids.
At some point, we'll have to trust those with expertise to not take significant risks in the name of experimentation. I think they won't want to anyway since their success is greatly dependent on the success of the model (whatever it is or will be).

As Mary pointed out, Dr. Ritchie emphasized again and again how FPG wants to have an open discussion and how the discussions themselves are part of the process of deciding what's best for the community. I wonder whether FPG has made a decision since the meetings with the Seawell community that the Seawell site is indeed the only possibility. I don't want to believe that they are not really interested in discussing other options.
I wish I had more experience with elementary education because I'd like to accept the word of an expert saying it's a "FACT that early intervention is key for most social/psychological issues." It is difficult for me to think that most of these issues are solved at the pre-K level and that this is the best way. Maybe for a subset of the student population. Maybe it's an efficient way to deal with some of these issues. To think that a well designed pre-K program will make a significant difference for a majority of the children through the peer pressure and angst often experienced in middle school or high school sounds like an extreme responsibility or objective.
Even though this may be a fact, is it applicable to a pre-K-2, 3-5 split as proposed in the current model as well as a pre-K-5 or K-5 model?
Thanks for posting the information.

Thanks, Robert for relating those points.

“They decided, rightly I think, to deal with the school board first and are now dealing with the parents”
I agree that's the right order for discussions. The problem I have is with the timing. The first discussions with the BOE happened several years ago, but the first discussions with parents happened only last week, two months before the BOE is to vote.

“The Seawell area is the only choice.”
That doesn't match earlier statements about opening a school “in Chapel Hill or Durham”. I can certainly see the appeal to FPG CDI of locating First School within walking distance of their offices, but if they're really committed to the idea, it seems they would consider other sites.

“If they come up with a model that works...”
There's one of the big problems. Those of us who can't afford private school are legally obligated to send our children to the schools provided by the BOE. Is the BOE willing to gamble that the presently unknowable program developed by the FPG CDI will meet or exceed Seawell's performance?

“At some point, we'll have to trust those with expertise to not take significant risks in the name of experimentation.”

You've sounded pretty neutral about First School up until this post. This sounds like either you're in favor of it, or you think it's a done deal that can't be stopped. If you think First School should happen, can you elaborate as to why?

I don't feel at all that we have to trust FPG CDI. We can tell them that...

- The unknowns of a research educational program worry us. If FPG CDI knew that their programs would work, it wouldn't be research.

- 976 kids in an elementary school is too many. That would be more than half the size of Chapel Hill High School! The research quoted in the “Small Schools” thread says “Large schools function more like bureaucracies, small schools more like communities” and “potential for curricular adequacy (is) reached at 400 students.”

- Thanks for the offer, sorry it didn't work out as you hoped, but we want Seawell to remain the medium sized, high-performing school that it is.

Maybe my comments were biased, in favor of the educational efforts at the secondary schools. I taught high school chemistry way back in the last century in a school that had gang problems and where some problems went straight to the police. It was only for one year but the experience made a big impression on me.

PS. Strike " extreme responsibility " and read as "enormous responsibility"....

Expressing a preference was not my intent. I wanted to express my support for educational investigators if any type of "First School" is built in the district or pre-K education is researched. The 'at some point' part reflects both my belief that we can question experts only up to some extent (and we should) and my suspicion that the BOE will want to work with FPG CDI in some manner.

I view this as two issues:
1) should the BOE/district collaborate with FPG CDI on improving pre-K education and
2) should the BOE with UNC and FPG CDI build a First School on land next to Seawell and implement a split 3yo-2nd grade, 3-5th grade grade level structure.

I think there are possible benefits in working with FPG CDI on improving pre-K education. Of course, the details are what will make the difference. Hopefully the BOE will provide some framework or quiding principles to help shape that collaboration if they decide not to pursue the split proposal.

As mentioned in this thread and at the Seawell meetings, there are some significant issues regarding the 3yo-2, 3-5 split proposal that need to be figured out. Dr. Pedersen admitted that the focus up to now (well the meetings at Seawell) has been on the pre-K-2 program and that more attention will be needed to the 3-5 program and the transition between them. If the board wants to consider the split proposal, I hope they discuss how those concerns, pros and cons, will be address and that they are addressed before pursuing that proposal.

If the BOE does want to move forward with this Seawell split proposal, teachers, staff and parents will have to work at making it as successful as the pre-K through 5 format currently at Seawell. I'm trying to keep an open mind. I'd like to learn more about what might happen while encouraging the decision makers to resolve issues (as much as possible) before making changes to a successful educational environment.

More background on why the First School concept needs to be seriously considered:
Today's Herald Sun on the local dropout report and today's Fitzsimon Report (copied below)

"State education officials announced Wednesday that the high school dropout rate fell to 4.7 percent in the 2004-2005 school year. That sounds like good news and it would be, if it were true.

But it's not, according to national studies that show North Carolina continues to dramatically misreport its graduation and dropout rates. In fact, the state was cited last year as reporting the most misleading graduation rate in the country.

The press release and the headlines it generated across the state lead you to believe that less than five percent of high school students are dropping out of school, that 95 percent are graduating. In fact, the state has reported to the federal government a graduation rate of up to 97 percent in recent years.

A national report released by the Education Trust finds the actual graduation rate is just over 63 percent, meaning 37 percent of high schools students do not receive a diploma. That rate is fifty percent for African-American male students.

The state calculates the rate as the percentage of students who graduate who get their high school diploma in four years, so students who leave school are not counted at all. The study calculated the rate based on the percentage of students entering the 9th grade who graduate four years later.

That is all disturbing enough. But according to the Department's website, state officials have decided to begin reporting dropout percentage and graduation rates with the more accurate measurement beginning in 2007.

That makes this week's news release not just misleading, but dishonest. There is no disclaimer in the release, no mention that the state will be changing its calculation.

It's not clear when state education officials are going to break the news to the public that the actual graduation rate is 63 percent, not 97 percent, unless they plan to issue a press release in 2007 that the dropout rate rose 34 percent in one year.

The same day the state issued its misleading release about the dropout rate, the Alliance for Excellent Education issued a report showing the costs to states of high school dropouts in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes.

North Carolina will lose more than $10 billion a result of the more than 40,000 students who dropped out in 2004. That translates into a dropout rate of 36.5 percent. That's more than 7 times higher than the rate touted in the state's press release.

North Carolina's high school dropout rate is a scandal that ought to keep policymakers awake at night. We are losing a third of a generation every year, condemning a high percentage of them to low wage jobs or unemployment, a higher chance of ending up in prison or becoming a teen parent.
We need solutions now from state leaders to solve this problem. The first step would be for them to admit just how big the problem is and stop misleading us all."

Thanks Terri... It'll be interesting to see how the state handles the 34% increase in dropout rate next year...

Is anyone else worried about the push by the CH-C Scool Board to acquire taxing authority? How many times have we seen Pedersen present whopping funding requests to the BOC? Also troubling is the fact that school board members have allowed Pedersen to speak for them publicly.

I believe the checks and balances provided by our current system of BOCC budgeting is very important, especially in this community where we see more public participation on school issues than on any other issues. And often, its from people who may not even be living in the community a few years down the road. The impact fee discussions of past years were illustrative of the fact that a large number of people favored huge ($10-almost $20,000) impact fees on new houses.

My feeling is that if we turn over taxing powers to a board that has traditionally been very acquiescent to Pedersen and has supported more money for their system at nearly every turn, that we are creating a revenue cancer. I don't think it is too much to ask that funding requests pass through the "big picture" perspective of the BOCC.

Just to nitpick, but technically if the current dropout rate is "3%", and it increases next year to "37%," wouldn't that be more like a 1133% increase. When people talk of a 1% tax changing to a 2% tax as a 100% increase in our taxes, I think it's appropriate to use the same kind of talk with our schools.


Granted, they're all fake numbers. It must be all that "fuzzy math" I learned in high school.

Can anyone tell me where I can find a more detailed history of the dropout rates for OC /CH-C high schools? Are they published online? The H-S article only listed a one year comparison. I'm more interested in trends over time.

And are all dropouts losers?

Jason--CHCCS doesn't put those numbers online. You can get the summary numbers like those provided through the Herald, but if you want the detail you gotta ask. If you are successful in getting the details from staff, I'd love to see what they provide.

Mark--I am 100% opposed to giving the school board taxing rights. The school system is the elephant in the room when we talk about affordability of this community already. To give them taxing rights would negate any positive benefits accruing through inclusionary zoning, the Land Trust, etc. Plus I just don't like concentrations of power.

I also agree that the school board has a negligible voice. Like other boards, it needs to learn that its role is to speak for the citizens. That doesn't mean acquiescing to anything and everything said by staff.

From what I understood, the BOCC asked both school boards if they wanted taxing rights, and I think both boards say they do not.

CH Herald article on school board wanting taxing authority.

Sounds like there may be some ambivalence...

"Ed Sechrest said a polite, succinct response to the commissioners' questions should suffice.

"I would be willing to support this [taxing authority] just on the theory if we give them some words, they'll go away," he said. "

I hope Ed doesn't put up much money at the poker table.



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