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.


Mary, quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes ?

This is me walking into a firestorm - I don't get what is wrong with this proposal. I'm not saying I support it or don't, I just don't understand the negative tone. Enlighten me. :)

Care to elaborate, Will?


Potestatem obscuri lateris nescic?

I always find it disturbing when the the state-run compulsory school system expands to include even youinger kids. Although I realize that this is not compulsory, it is a step in the direction of turning children over to the school system at a younger and younger age. I think this is not healthy and poses a danger to society.

Do you think commercially run daycares are better choices for parents Mark?

Has anyone been to FPG lately? If folks are upset about anything, it should be that such a wonderful idea is jammed into such a building.

Cooperatively or community run daycares would be my choice if the children can't be with their family and friends. Very complicated - our whole society is run with the upbringing, education, and health of children as a low priority.

The negative tone is my emotional reaction to having the school my 3 children attend changed. I'm attached to the way things are. I love my school.

On the one hand, I think I understand the reasons why UNC has thought through this proposal without public input to this point. On the other hand, it's a little unsettling to have proposals that deeply impact me crafted without my knowing. I do have the information now, and maybe now is soon enough--- I don't know, I need to think about this…

What is really bothering me is this feeling I have of being surrounded by the University. Maybe I've had too many past lives in battle, but I kind of feel like I'm being conquered. I'll have the University subsidized fire station in front of my house, my school is being invaded by UNC; 63 acres behind my house is going to be the home of University housing… and all of this doesn't even include the impact of Carolina North.

I want to know what UNC is planning for those 63 acres. It certainly is no coincidence that UNC is helping my fire station and school along. Maybe I should feel grateful… I don't know…

I also want to know what the tax consequences are for the schools, the towns, and the County when UNC develops housing behind me. I want to know where University largesse ends, and the company town begins.

I want to know how the day to day experience for my children would be different than at Seawell. I read some of the FPG website, and it helped very little.

quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes?Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts.

POTESTATEM OBSCURI LATERIS NESCISYou don't know the power of the dark side.

Hey Latin nerds! Are these translations correct? Google can be so handy. :)


I hope I don't offend--but what did you expect? Chapel Hill is a University town. I knew that when I moved here in 1982. UNC has always been the two ton gorilla. In fact, when I first moved here, the public school's spring break was planned to coincide with UNC's spring break.

Did the University own that 62 acres behind youbwhen you bought your house? If so, surely you expected them to use it someday?

I know who owns the undeveloped 10 acres behind mine.


If I were a parent, I'd be very upset with the school system for its lack/delayed communication on this issue. Here are a couple of the questions I would want the school board to answer:

1. Educating 3-5 year olds is a school readiness issue. Last I heard Head Start was the most prominent and successful school readiness program in this area. How will this new program differ from Head Start? (In other words, why do we need this?)

2. Who will be attending this new school? We know we have a minority achievement gap and my suspicion is that it's really a low SES problem if the school would look at its data from that perspective. Will this new school be taking students from Seawell and other (middle class) northern neighborhoods or will it also pull from FPG elementary and Carrboro where there is a more diverse student population (racially and SES)?

3. The minority achievement gap is the most significant performance problem in our school district. According to the literature, children who come to school ready to learn lose the benefits of early age programming by late elementary/middle school. Wouldn't new resources be more appropriately allocated to working with those children rather than introducing a new school readiness program?

4. What is the research FPG Institute is working on in relationship to this new school? Please provide a white paper, with full references, for parental review. A well-publicized expert forum after parents have had a chance to review the white paper would be helpful.


Not offended Melanie. Silly me, I expect a Bolin Creek Park and Preserve for future generations to enjoy!

Part of the beauty of our current pre-K through 5 system is that we get to know our most challenging students early and we develop relationships with them that carry over through the important early years. Imagine what it will be like for Seawell staff to accept 6 brand new third grade classes every year and have to learn all these children all at once from scratch!

I attended the SGC meeting last night when this was discussed.

I guess the most troubling thing to me is that this looks pretty "cooked" at this point, but that may not be the case, particularly given that about a dozen major questions were posed at the meeting.

Looking at this from a "how does this impact Seawell?" point of view, it seems to me that they should leave Seawell as a K-5 (since it is a successful school) and enroll students for the First School from other parts of the district (open enrollment or pick neighborhoods). As I understand the current plan, the Seawell district will be enlarged to include 1000 kids, with the younger going to First School and the older going to Seawell.

What is under study? The 3 year old to 2nd grade First School? Seawell as a 3rd-5th grade school? If not the latter, then why mess with it? Keep in mind that at least half of Seawell will require MAJOR renovation to accomodate older kids if this route is taken.

There was concern expressed at the meeting that the K-5 provides a level of continuity that allows the staff to identify and provide assistance to children in a manner that benefits students. I have observed that the staff really does a great job of this.

I have requested an electronic copy of the memo and will share it when I get it.

I will bring up other issues when I have time.


Terri -

the headstart program in the local schools has only a very few number of slots for children from households that are not economically challenged. I don't know if this program is aiming at other demographics..

Why not just add grades 4, 5 and 6 ???
that seems like the logical thing to do..

It was stated that they will try to make the 3-4yo population representative of the CHCCS population.

Mark, just joking with Mary. From what I read last year, the goals of this project seem well-researched.

In a recent Herald column, Chancellor Moeser wrote that the new "First School" is being planned in collaboration with the FPG Child Development Institute. The FPG Child Development Center (pre-school) is its laboratory. One surmises that the University plans to expand and re-brand what is essentially a research operation and will certainly remain so.

The kids, in other words, are research subjects -- studied very closely in terms of learning styles and effective teaching strategies. First School could turn out second-graders who expect or need the same amount of attention.

Robert P. notes that the existing FPG facility is inadequate for the Institute's purposes. That's been true for a long time.

While I don't know anything about how this will interact with or affect existing schools, I think we should welcome the possibility of a visionary new school being built in our community.

I have a great deal of respect for the researchers at FPG Institute, but if this is a visionary program they need to explain why and help the community understand what value it adds to the current system and what impact it will have on student assignments and per student costs.

And I am dead serious about wanting to know why we need a new program that doesn't address the most serious problem faced by this school district (minority/low SES achievement). That problem has been ignored or poorly handled for more than 20 years by this 'enlightened' community. We need to see action on addressing those problems before we take on something new that will once again distract the school board and district administrators.

Mark, I agree about welcoming new schools but I also agree with that Terri is right on about minority - or perhaps more importantly income - achievement gaps. That should be top priority over "student readiness", seems to me. And how does All Kinds of Minds at FPG interact with this? As a parent of kids at Carrboro Elementary, which I love, I'd appreciate more resources thrown at my school. Every time a new school opens (i.e. Rashkiss and Southern Village), lots of Carrboro's best and brightest teachers bolt to a new classroom. In the Rashkiss case, bright students LEAPed too. I can't blame them but it ain't good for Carrboro either. On the other hand Carrboro does have the dual language program, which is unique and fantastic.

This leads me to another question that I've never been able to answer: while most 4th graders in the district go on field trips to the beach, Carrboro never has done this. It's my understanding that Carrboro instead has always chosen to use its discretionary funds buying classroom supplies so families don't have to carry that load. Does this ring true to folks? If yes, why is it that only Carrboro feels compelled to choose b/w a big field trip and classroom costs?


My son (now a Junior in college) went to the beach as a 4th and 5th grader. He went to Carrboro Elementary. That might have been a specific grant...we moved into Chapel Hill right after my younger son finished third grade, so I don't know if the classes went that year. I don't remember my younger son going to the beach as a fifth grader at Estes...

And I certainly helped supply classroom supplies when my kids were at Carrboro. In fact, when my older son was in kindergarten, I supplied the left-handed scissors for his class. His K class was formed a week into the school year (because they had too many kids in the classes) and his class had NO lefty scissors. And several lefty kids! I also supplied tissues, markers, etc. Perhaps the policies have changed since my children left Carrboro. (It HAS been nine years.)


interesting. thnx Melanie.

Melanie, at Carrboro Elementary, I am sure that there were more than just "several" lefty kids.


Well, there were only several lefty kids in my son's kindergarten class. The other four classrooms were equiped. His just wasn't because it got cobbled together after school started. They didn't even have FURNITURE for the first few days of class...


Terri- A major goal of the First School model is to address the achievement gap early in a child's education. According to the FPG Institute, in recent studies, about half of the achievement gap between different socio-economic groups exists before entry into kindergarten. The pre-k through 2nd grade format is supposed to offer an aligned curriculum to better prepare all students for academic success.

How will this play out in the CHCCS since the achievement gap appears to be much more significant at the middle school and high school levels? Of course any achievement gap should be addressed, but will the data from this proposed school really benefit the cause? Are achievement gaps in other districts more significant at the elementary school level and thus provide a better proving ground for this model?

Mark M,
First School is a big step in what you call “the direction of turning children over to the school system at a younger and younger age.” As far as I can tell the entire thrust behind First School is to reduce the achievement gap by having public schools capture children at age 3.

The premise upon which First School seems to be based is what Marc states above, "According to the FPG Institute, in recent studies, about half of the achievement gap between different socio-economic groups exists before entry into kindergarten."

An FPG Development institute Planning Proposal memorandum says, “The trend toward public school involvement in services for young children is likely to grow in the coming decade. A viable scenario is that in the next 10-20 years, schools could become the primary agency for meeting the childcare and learning needs of 3 and 4 year olds.”

FPG Development Institute hopes to provide a model to the nation for a comprehensive public school prekindergarten program.

I don't know, but I would not jump to the conclusion that First School "doesn't address minority achievement."

And as far as allocating CHCCS resources, my understanding is that UNC (or one of its benefactors) is paying for this new building. They are definitely donating the site for the school - two sites for schools actually.

The primary issue seems to be that the public doesn't know uch about this plan. School Board, tell us more!

UNC is probably not paying for all of the building. The FPG DI Planning Proposal memorandum states, "The university will assume primary responsibility for fundraising, and the building would be a university facility. We are currently seeking donors to help with the construction costs. One possible scenario is that the school system would contribute to the cost of a portion of the building through fixed-term lease arrangement."

The CHCCS memorandum states, "The University would not expect to contribute to funding to construct portions of the facility that the District would be building in a traditional school. The District wouldn't pay fot the portion of the building that it would normally not be constructing... The bottom line is that we would expect the school's portion of this project to be less than the current budget for Elementary No. 10 at Twin Creeks. A major savings would be the cost of bringing utilities to the site. We also do not anticipate having to purchase the property from the University."

Obviously it's a complicated issue. 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?

Mary, I agree with you, and I wonder if we aren't putting our efforts in the wrong basket. I worked briefly in the public health sector, and I saw some parents who really did not know the basics of how to parent---it was not that they did not care, it was simply that somehow that basic body of information had never been transmitted. I saw parents that did not understand how much food their child needed, how much water, or how much physical contact or conversation or play. They did not know many of the simple things they could do to help their children develop well physically and mentally. They were very receptive to education about these issues.

It seems that one solution we've invested in as a society is this idea of early childhood education that removes children from the home at younger and younger ages and puts them in relationship with an "early childhood education expert" in order to overcome some of these deficits in their home life. Perhaps another approach would be to invest similar resources in helping their parents be better parents and in helping parents provide their children with these types of enrichment in their own homes.

I simply cannot buy the idea that somehow children need to be in school at 3 years old in order to be successful at 30. I am supportive of high quality child care for those parents who need it in order to work, but I do not want our culture to send a message to parents who want to stay home with their children that somehow their kids are at a disadvantage.

I would rather try to help parents who want to stay home provide the best possible homelife experience. I'd like to see our country provide "stay at home" subsidies, not just "child care subsidies."

Oops, I meant Mark I agree with you.


I haven't reviewed the plans for First School so this is purely speculation but I suspect their underlying theory is based in large part on basic literacy (reading and numbers). Children from low-income homes are exposed to more non-educational television and less written and numerical materials than children in middle-to upper class homes. When they come to school, the disparity in readiness creates one of the most significant social problems of our era (IMHO). If we want children to have equal opportunity regardless of race or SES, then we need to get them into the 'system' earlier and make sure they have middle-class opportunities at a young age. Pardon the bluntness. I see both sides of this issue, but I have many many questions and I stand by those that I posted yesterday.

This is a school board issue--are they going to review this proposal from a critical, local context or are they going to automatically jump at a 'free' school? Are they going to give the public plenty of time to review and discuss the pros and cons of this proposal or will they do like they did on the new high school testing proposal and push it through despite public skepticism?

For those who have been here for a while--didn't Frank Porter Graham elementary used to be a University school? What happened to sever the relationship?


According to the article in the N and O this morning, the school will be built next to Seawell. Given the dedication of the staff at Seawell, I have no doubt that they will work closely with the staff at the new school to guide the children smoothly into 3rd grade. With Seawell overcrowded again, it would also relieve the campus. I think there is the potential for a great team approach to teaching all these kids with increased facilities and professionals.

David, I went on the 4th grade trip to the beach years ago at Seawell and it was the WORST trip I have ever been on!! I was so glad that Ephesus didn't do it when my son was in fourth grade. You should be glad your kids didn't go, too.

The need for highly trained educational specialists to teach how to read is vastly over-rated.

Anita explained gave alternative idea on where we could focus.

Additionally, it seems to me that the fact that so many people don't have basic life skills is somewhat of an indictment of our public eduction system.

Thoughts about First School:

Are the children research subjects? If they are research subjects, what kind of research are children participating in? Is it the kind of research that requires parental permission? If so, enrollment at this school will need to become a matter of parental choice. In terms of attendance, right now the CHCCS system says, “In redistricting for this school, First School and Seawell would share the same attendance zone. Some students would enter First School at age 3 or 4 on a voluntary basis while others would enroll in Kindergarten. Pre-schoolers, presumably, would be drawn primarily from this same attendance zone. The classes would be blended, meaning there would be Head Start and More at Four students, exceptional education students, and tuition paying students.”

Second, who initiated this proposal and who gains from it? I don't know enough about this proposal right now to have a firm opinion, but my initial reaction is that the proposal mostly benefits UNC, the CHCCS budget office, and perhaps preschoolers--- it seems not necessarily to benefit the teachers, staff, children and families who attend Seawell Elementary School. As far as I know, no one from Seawell was in on the planning process of this proposal. This omission seems like a flaw. Seawell is one of the District's most successful schools—it's a school of excellence with long-standing traditions which set it apart from other elementary schools. I believe part of the reason Seawell is successful is that Seawell has a core, stable, committed and gifted staff who do an excellent job of nurturing Seawell families and promoting a sense of community. I don't think one can minimize the positive effects of having a core stable staff who interact with families over 6 plus years.

I am all for giving 3 and 4 year olds what they need to be successful, but lets slow down, evaluate and set things up so that we benefit all stakeholders involved in this decision. Would we be better off setting up these two schools so that we have two pre-K through 5 elementary schools? What are the objections to structuring this way? What age/grade students will UNC work with?

At the very least, if we go through with this proposal, we need to address issues of emotional adjustment to third grade and EOC Testing accountability. I would like to see UNC commit to funding additional counseling/social work positions at Seawell to help handle the student transition to Seawell.

It's not about having highly trained specialists to teach children how to read Mark. It's about constant exposure to words and numbers. Children in lower-income homes don't have as many books, newspaper, or magazines available to them in the home; their parents are less likely to be seen reading or calculating; their neighborhoods have less signage; they don't travel as much so their neighborhoods and homes are the environments that establish their frames of reference.

In essence, their environment does not convey the message that literacy (words and numbers) is a vital aspect of everyday life. Schools are built upon the basic assumption that words and numbers are the basic operational tools of life. If children come to schools without already having embraced that assumption, they are at significant disadvantage. As are the schools that have to balance their services between those who already 'fit the mold' and those that don't.

it sounds like you're concluding that the only way to help lower-income children get access to better learning environments is to bring them into the school system. Do you disagree with Anita's suggestion that parental education is another way to go?

Carolyn and I met with Sara Mansfield last night, (you know but others may not, she's a kindergarten teacher at Seawell), and my understanding is that she was on the planning committee. She has been involved in the FPG program for some time and is favorable towards it.

Personally, my gut reaction is negative but I'm trying to postpone judgement until I learn more.


I was laying out what I assume to be the rationale behind the First School proposal. If you look at the questions I suggested the School Board needs to answer about this project, you will see that I am skeptical of its benefit to meeting the most pressing needs of the local system (minority/low SES student achievement). While I understand the barriers those children face in terms of literacy, details such as school assignment must be addressed before we can determine whether or not the First School approach is the best solution to solving our problems.

I understand this is still in the proposal stage. The BOE, FPG DI and UNC will have to work on the details and address concerns, so my comments are really for information gathering.

The First School proposal will indeed ease overcrowding at Seawell. But is it the best way to handle increased enrollment?
Clearly there is a need for Elementary School #10- Seawell isn't the only school at capacity in a some grades. If this First School were to open in Aug. 2009 (as planned) it would be considered Elementary School #10 (instead of the Twin Creeks site). Based on current student population projections, Elementary School #11 (at Twin Creeks) would then be required in 2010. If the First School is not built, the Twin Creeks site would have ES #10 in 2008 or 2009 and ES#11 would be needed in 2012-1013 (location not yet determined). Will the First School really save construction costs over the next 6-7 years?

Changing Seawell to a 3-5 school will invovle many changes. This is a bigger issue than simply opening up a new school. At Seawell, half of the teachers will leave (grades k-2 and the pre-k program) and not necessarily to First School (that hasn't been decided yet). Seawell was really designed for the earlier grades- the pods are more open, for example - so there will be construction costs to set up 3,4,5 type classrooms.

I haven't heard about benefits for a 3-5 school (vs. the k-5 model).

I'm waiting to hear more from Dr. Pedersen and the school board at their planning conference next Thursday. The First School proposal as it stands may or may not be extremely helpful in reducing the SES achievement gap. That's part of the goal of the project: does the pre-K-2 model work? I'm hoping to gather more information by sharing our concerns with the BOE.

Laurad- My daughter went on the 4th grade beach trip last year at Seawell and had a blast. Maybe they're working out the kinks...

Charlie, I have a lot of respect for Sara. Knowing she was there makes me feel better about the process.

thnx Marc. I'm generally not a one size fits all person, but I don't like it that some schools can/do send their 4th graders to the beach and others don't/can't. That's a really good experience that a lot of kids (like mine) won't have. Of course I also fear that raising this concern is more likely to kill the beach trip for everybody as opposed to ensuring everyone gets to go.

Documents are now available at

Document Manager -> First School



Go to the Document Manager -> First School

(I navigated in and copied the URL without noticing that the real URL was being obscured)

I'm curious about where the Carrboro BOA stands on this proposal. Since the majority of growth in south Orange is expected to take place in the NTA, wouldn't the Twin Lakes site be a better site for Carrboro?

Twin Creeks is the site for elementary 10. I think the first school is being called elementary 11, even though elementary 11 is supposedy now being targeted to be built before 10. Confused yet? :)

Would Carrboro be better off with a Twin Creeks school that hosts grades K-5 or with the First School (3yo-2nd)? I haven't thought about it enough to have an opinion.


For anyone who is interested, here is the performance data for minority and low SES students in all elementary schools in the CHCCS. Excerpted from the Chapel Hill Carrboro School ReportCard for 2004-2005

Elementary SchoolBlackHispanic Economically DisadvantagedLimited English Proficiency Disabilities
Sewell 74.2 87.5 80 78.9 81.5
FP Graham 66.1 76.7 65.9 74.1 65.6
Glenwood 78.1 89.5 78.0 76.2 72
McDougle 71.1 66.7 69.2 50 68.1
Carrboro 63.3 67.5 60 51.3 51.9
Ephesus 57.1 85.7 68.1 78.6 51.4
Estes Hills 60.8 71.4 61 64.7 57.9
Scroggs 88.2 73.3 73.3 80 80.6
Rashkis 74.4 57.1 65.7 83.3 63.6

Frank Porter Graham, McDougle, Carrboro, and Ephesus seem to have the lowest performance among these students.

Actually, Terri, if you add the percentages up, I guess you can come up with a ranking. This is it, from worse to best:

Carrboro 294
Estes Hills 315.8
McDougle 325.1
Ephesus 340.9
Rashkis 343.8
FP Graham 348.4
Glenwood 393.8
Scroggs 395.4
Sewell 402.1

Let me know if my math is bad.

This is a gross ranking. Statistically, you would need to know the n's for each group for each school and assign weights to get an even distribution. Too much work for a cold, rainy, lazy Saturday afternoon.

Instead, I will go back to my delicious book.



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