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Education issues in Bladen County 

By Erin Smith

Bladen County Schools are working to meet the class size mandates put in place by new legislation and it has some classrooms feeling the pinch.

“I know we have had several discussions (about class size),” said Bladen County Schools Public Relations Director Valerie Newton. She added there have been discussions with the Bladen County Board of Education ensuring the school system is following the new state guidelines.

“I know we have had a couple of classrooms in three different primary schools we have needed to look at,” said Newton.

The new class size guidelines were adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in April 2017. The legislation is intended to reduce class size in grades K-3. According to reports, the bill calls for school districts to achieve an average class size of 20 students per class in grades K-3 and a maximum class size of 23 students by the 2017-18 academic year. The bill also calls for an average class size to be equivalent to the student-to-teacher ratio currently in effect in grades K-3 by the 2018-19 academic year.

BladenOnline.com has received complaints from parents regarding students who have had transfers approved and the students are now being required to move back to their original school.

Newton said the school district staff is looking at the numbers and various scenarios to ensure the district meets those requirements but she did not go into specific detail regarding the plan.

As of Tuesday, there are seven teaching positions which are currently vacant in Bladen County Schools. The vacancies include positions for the following:

*6-8 Language Arts teacher at Clarkton School of Discovery;

*6-8 Math and Science teacher at Clarkton School of Discovery;

*6-8 Language Arts Teacher at Tar Heel Middle School;

*Exceptional Children’s Teacher at Bladenboro Primary School;

*English Teacher at East Bladen High School;

*Math Teacher at West Bladen High School;

*Music/Band Teacher at Clarkton School of Discovery and East Arcadia School.

In North Carolina, teachers can enter the teaching profession through what is called Lateral Entry. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction website, to qualify for Lateral Entry teaching in North Carolina, one must meet the following criteria:

You must pass the “Praxis II Test for middle grades (6-9), secondary (9-12), and K-12 (including Exceptional Children: General Curriculum) license areas. You must also complete the Pearson Testing for North Carolina: Foundations of Reading and General Curriculum – for Elementary Education and Exceptional Children: General Curriculum licenses only.”

Lateral Entry teaching candidates who meet the criteria mandated by the state of North Carolina will be issued a Lateral Entry Teaching license for the approved program area in which they plan to teach. They must also have a prescribed plan of study which must be completed within three years, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

When asked about projections for student enrollment for the next five years, Newton said there are no projections for the next five years. Newton pointed out that enrollment numbers can fluctuate from year-to-year and can be impacted by the birth rate in the county, and the number of families moving in or out of the county.

According to the US Census Bureau’s Quick Facts Population Estimates for Bladen County, the county’s total population is estimated to have decreased by 4.1 percent between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2016. The Quick Facts Population Estimate also showed 21.3 percent of the Bladen County population as being under the age of 18 on July 1, 2016, and it shows 5.2 percent of the population under the age of 5 years old. By comparison, the Quick Facts Population Estimates for Bladen County shows 23.1 percent of Bladen County’s population was under the age of 18 on April 1, 2010, while 6.1 percent of the population was under the age of five years old on April 1, 2010.

To read the entire Quick Facts Population Estimate, go to https://www.census.gov/ quickfacts/fact/table/ bladencountynorthcarolina/ PST045216.

Concerns have also been expressed regarding drugs and drug use in the county’s schools. Newton said members of the Bladen County Board of Education staff have taken part in the Bladen County Opioid Task Force community forums that were conducted at Bladen Community College. Newton said the school system will remain involved with the task force.

The school system was not represented at a Bladen County Opioid Task Force meeting held at the Bladen County Health Department last week.

The Bladen County School System does offer drug prevention and education programs such as the G.R.E.A.T. program in conjunction with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office to the county’s middle school students.

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