CEF director sounds off on student performance, Leandro and more



Jaime Detzi, the executive director of the Chatham Education Foundation, says she’s always had a passion for public education. She supports students in Chatham through her job at CEF and other volunteer roles within the county, and this week, in this expanded conversation, she tackles a variety of important subjects — including student performance, the Leandro decision’s potential impact, and criticisms of the county’s board of education.

Detzi and her husband Chris have three children — one a proud graduate of Northwood High School majoring in biology at N.C. State, a high school senior at Northwood high school heading to college to major in nursing in the fall, and an 8th grader at Margaret B. Pollard Middle School.

Detzi has a B.S. in Environmental Resource Management from Penn State University and has done graduate studies in business.

The Foundation works with, and within, Chatham County Schools. How do you assess the latest school performance results, and the low scores among elementary and middle school students in reading and math? Has looking at any of those results made you re-think the Foundation’s approach in Chatham County?

The Chatham Education Foundation (CEF) is fully committed to supporting our students and staff and knows that understanding the impact of the schools’ and our efforts requires us to look at and well beyond test scores.

Our donors and volunteers look at results and can see the positive impact their generosity is having on the learning and well-being of students. Their feedback confirms this, as well as their understanding that school report cards, as currently designed, and the use of tests to rate and rank schools often masks important stories of success. We continue to advocate that growth in performance along with other factors related to life success should be included more significantly in school impact reports.

CEF is also working to advocate and partner with other organizations whose missions focus on serving needs that impact education, such as socio-economic challenges.

These factors notwithstanding, we know the public is concerned about performance data as reported and want to emphasize that we work hard to examine student learning results as a means of focusing and assessing our priorities. That is why you see literacy, college and career readiness, STEM, professional development and innovations as areas we support.

Let us be clear that we agree with the district’s assessment that Chatham County Schools (CCS) have much to celebrate with the recent accountability results and also indicating that there are specific opportunities for improvement.

Let’s first start with the areas of celebration. Chatham County Schools met or exceeded growth in 94% of tested subjects — our students are meeting or exceeding growth projections. The only subjects that growth was not met were Math 1, Math 3 and 8th grade science.

While we are third in the region (behind Wake and Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools) for district-wide grade level performance composites (a culmination of assessments), there are areas where students are struggling and CCS approaches the assessment results as an opportunity to go from good to great.

Literacy is a consistent focus for CEF and the 2021-2022 accountability results show it should remain our main focus. An area of opportunity for our elementary schools are literacy interventions, where 49.5% (state average 46.5%) of our 3rd graders were grade level proficiency down from the pre-COVID rate of 61%.

As with the vast majority of districts, Chatham, and CEF have worked to address this challenge directly and with urgency. At the request of CCS, CEF will continue to partner and support literacy resources for students, including co-leading, with CCS, a county-wide collaborative Chatham Reads. Third grade literacy proficiency is a common metric to predict both high school graduation and future earning potential. Research confirms that literacy begins at birth — not the moment a student walks in the kindergarten classroom. CEF will continue to support K-12 literacy initiatives in CCS and promote community collaboration for birth through five resources.

As a community, it is imperative we offer quality early learning opportunities, parenting classes, and basic health care to our families and students prior to entering kindergarten so they are on track for third grade literacy proficiency.

As mentioned, the Chatham Education Foundation’s focus on literacy is consistently a large portion of our work; however, last year, as we grew and expanded our donor base and extended community relationships, we added a new focus, high school academic success and college readiness.

At the request of the Chatham County Schools’ Superintendent, Dr. Anthony Jackson, CEF began fundraising to supplement financial support for AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). AVID is a proven system of student learning strategies, student agency, and teacher professional development that increases academic success and college readiness. Dr. Jackson states AVID “disrupts the predictability of who succeeds and who fails”.

CCS is in the process of expanding AVID to all of the 6th-8th grade students in addition to our high schools. The CEF board believes this proven systems’ expansion is an essential and logical step to increasing academic success, academic rigor, teacher effectiveness, student organization and study strategies, that will open doors for students after high school, including four-year colleges. For students enrolled in AVID in Chatham County, 100% were accepted into a four-year college. This past month, CEF invested in what we hope will be the first of many $10,000 donations to CCS this year for AVID expansion.

You’ve been vocal about the Leandro case on behalf of Chatham County students and schools. With the GOP now taking a 5-2 hold in the N.C. Supreme Court, what do you believe is the future of Leandro in N.C.? Will politics continue to block this funding from entering public schools in N.C.? What’s your outlook?

The Leandro Remedial Plan, created by a bi-partisan consultant, is a systematic plan to allow the state of N.C. to meet its constitutional obligation for a sound and basic education for ALL students in N.C. The recent ruling by the N.C. Supreme Court is an extraordinary win for the students of N.C. today and for generations to come. Every child, every community, every family whether republican or democrat benefits from this decision. The majority opinion states, “For twenty-five years, the judiciary has deferred to the executive and legislative branches to implement a comprehensive solution to this ongoing constitutional violation. Today, that deference expires.”

The judges on the bench during the October 2022 ruling will change their political makeup in the new year. But what will not change in the new year is the constitution of N.C. If the new judges reverse this ruling, it will render all decisions made by the N.C. Supreme Court temporary — therefore we do not anticipate this case will be overturned. The next step for this lawsuit is referral back to the trial courts to set the amount required by the governor to release to the school districts. Of note, Governor Cooper has long stood behind the need for N.C. to fully fund the Leandro Remedial Plan and will in no way block the release of these funds.

While we are hopeful, a recent tweet by Brent Woodcox — a legislative attorney for N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger — said last week. “Prediction: Not a dime of taxpayer money is ultimately spent on this unprecedented and unconstitutional order before it is blocked and reversed by a newly seated N.C. Supreme Court next year.”

We still foresee the release of funds for years 1 and 2 of the Leandro Remedial Plan. The funds for years 3 through 8 are still outstanding and we might reasonably anticipate an additional lawsuit by those seeking to block these funds from being allocated to our public schools. We trust the public, as they come more and more to understand the issues, will advocate for full implementation of the Comprehensive Remediation plan.

It is important to note how these funds could specifically impact Chatham County Schools. When (and not if) Chatham receives their portion of the fully funded Leandro Remedial Plan they will receive a 32% budget increase from the state or about $18 million for K-12 and an additional $5.6 million for early education. To illustrate in tangible terms, for K-12, these funds could allow:

• 46 more instructional assistants

• 5 community coordinators (supporting students wrap around services - food, mental health, etc.)

• 62 more nurses, school psychologists, counselors and social workers

• 140% more for textbooks and instructional materials

• $1,286/teacher for professional development

We are hopeful that this bi-partisan issue to meet just the low standard of a sound and basic education for ALL students will be met and exceeded by our elected officials. We encourage all voters to ask Leandro based, education questions of officials and candidates in order to understand their willingness to provide what is constitutionally promised to our students — a sound and basic education.

For those worried about increased taxes, these funds are available in the current N.C. reserve funds, and no tax increases are required to meet this standard. It is also important to understand that needs not funded through the state often put pressure on local governments and create local tax challenges.

We encourage N.C. to take bold actions, to get back to a time, prior to 2008 when N.C. was seen as a leader in public education and improve our current ranking — 49th in the nation in funding effort for public schools. Our students — and our communities — deserve more.

With Del Turner’s defeat of Jessica Winger, incumbents maintained their seats on the Chatham County school board. What do you believe that means for the future of Chatham County Schools? How will CEF work to build on the progress the board made last term?

The Chatham Education Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to engaging our community as public school advocates and to raise funds and resources to support innovation and education excellence in the Chatham County Schools. We will work in step with the board of and members elected by our electorate.

From the outside, it seems as though some of the struggles our students encounter in public schools are simple to solve, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. CEF attends a variety of informational sessions and also creates opportunities to learn from and dialogue with district leadership to understand the nuances of how the system addresses all student needs. We encourage all to engage productively in a variety of ways available to learn about, dialogue with, and provide perspectives to the district leadership.

The entire system must excel for all parts of the system to succeed. This system begins the day the child is born and carries through until the day they graduate from a Chatham County high school. The system includes on track health and development beginning at birth; supported and supportive families and communities; and high quality birth through 8-year-old learning and attendance.

In addition, this system includes enhancements outlined by the Leandro Remedial Plan — including a quality teacher in every classroom, a quality principal in every school, adequate and equitable school funding, a reliable accountability system, support for low-performing schools, high quality and accessible early learning programs and an opportunity to explore high-quality postsecondary pathways.

CEF will continue to work with the Chatham County Board of Education and the CCS administration to meet the needs of ALL students in Chatham County Schools — as we put students first.

And how, as a Foundation and supporting nonprofit, do you respond to, or reflect on, the criticism of the board and of student performance here?

CEF is proud of the hard work our students, teachers and staff showed this past school year. We have a LOT to celebrate and we cannot forget to take a step back and celebrate the wins of students, teachers and staff. Here are a few that stand out to the foundation:

• Chatham County Schools were the 10th best district out of 115 in ACT scores

• Chatham County Schools were 2nd in the region in 5th grade science

• 17 of 19 Chatham County Schools exceeded growth expectations

That said, celebrating the wins in no way diminishes the Chatham County Schools’ efforts to ensure that ALL students are succeeding. We know that with every positive percentage, there is a percentage of students not meeting grade level standards, and CCS is dedicated to closing those gaps and making bold changes to ensure all students succeed. CEF will continue to partner with the district in order to help provide the resources needed (and regrettably not fully funded through state budgets) to support and enhance student growth and achievement. Detail of how we do this and the impact of our work is available on our website www.ChathamEducationFoundation.org.

CCS must stop to celebrate their wins! It builds student and staff morale and plays an important role in teacher retention. While simultaneously celebrating wins, CCS assess student needs and consistently plans and implements changes to increase student success. The Chatham Education Foundation supports researched based, proven programs implemented in CCS and encourages our residents to learn more, give time in our schools through the CCS Education Volunteer Corp (email jaime@cefmail.org for more details) and donate to CEF to bring additional resources to CCS students.

Education has become a political battleground across the state and the country with the rise of extremism pushing for things like book banning, anti-LGBTQ policies and using “Critical Race Theory” as a catch-all to use hateful rhetoric. How do you believe we can combat extremism in the classroom and maintain civility in education?

The answer to combat extremism in the classroom is simple — RESEARCH and FACTS. If you read any research on what increases student success in the classroom, you will not see book banning, anti-LGBTQ+ policies or the opposition to CRT as the way to increase student success. We should not be distracted, yet instead we need to work to educate and inform and build on the shared interests that the majority of the school community see as important for their and the community’s children.

Research indicates that to improve student outcomes students need:

• quality instruction - Teaching matters more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.

• small class sizes

• parent support (asking child about their day, providing homework help, etc. )

• the belief by teachers that all students can learn

When community efforts focus on the research backed programs/systems to improve student outcomes we most readily can close our opportunity gaps so all students succeed.

What surprised you about the election? What do the results in Chatham mean for the future of education policy in the county?

What surprised me most about the election was the passion residents from both parties showed to support public education. With members of all parties working together to align their enthusiasm for research-based resources and school district systems support, then we really have a chance here in Chatham to continually grow success for ALL of our students.

The future of our education policy in Chatham is dependent on CEF’s (and other local organizations’) ability to bring people from all parties together to supplement key educational resources that increase student achievement. There is a role county government, the state government, Chatham County Schools and our community must play to build the foundation and system in which promotes consistent quality and increases student achievement.

The Foundation is exploring a new fundraising campaign. What can you share about it?

Chatham Education Foundation has two operational objectives. The first is raising funds and resources to support programs offered by the Chatham Education Foundation including Chatham Reads. Chatham Reads last year put 14,000 new, high-interest books in the hands of CCS students, distributed 6,600 gently used books into the community where they were needed, and thanks to the Oak Foundation granted funds to the Chatham Partnership for Children to assess the Pre-K landscape in Chatham County.

Our second objective is to fundraise and therefore give supplemental funding to specific resources identified by the Chatham County Schools leadership team. This year and next our fundraising will result in the support of AVID and we encourage all residents to take a look at this system and why CCS and CEF believe it is a key element to increase student academic success and college readiness.

What’s in store for the Foundation in 2023?

This year CEF is focused on three things.

One, to serve as a catalyst between the community and CCS. We will meet with more community members interested in public schools in Chatham and partner with them to find ways to supplement resources aligned with the 2022 One Chatham CCS strategic plan.

The second is to spread the word in our community about the AVID system — why it disrupts the predictability of who succeeds and who fails, and to encourage donations to allow for the expansion of AVID to all middle schools.

Last, but not least, we will continue our work with community partners and CCS on the strategies outlined in our plan for Chatham Reads. We know that to meet 3rd grade literacy proficiency there are many pieces of the puzzle that create the system of success. We will work with our community, nonprofit partners and county government to implement strategies that increase student literacy success. This year our focus is book access and understanding barriers that prevent all families from accessing a quality Pre-K program. We are also promoting the importance of reading with our children daily.

If you are interested in learning more about our work and how to get involved, please reach out to me (jaime@cefmail.org) or visit our website www.ChathamEducationFoundation.org.