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NCHSAA commissioner says race and gender played a role in legislation to dissolve the association

GREENSBORO — On a day when the N.C. legislature moved a step closer to dissolving the state’s governing body for public high school athletics, the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s commissioner said that she believes her race and gender have been factors in the attacks on the association and that she doesn’t see a path to a compromise with state senators driving the legislation.

“I believe that were I not female and African-American the approach would have been a little different,” Que Tucker said during a one-on-one interview Wednesday at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center. “I can’t help but feel that because of the climate in which we live today, that as we prepare to celebrate 50 years of Title IX, that women in leadership positions still have a hard row to hoe. I believe that is part of — not the only thing and maybe not the majority — but it is a factor.”

The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved HB 91, which would allow the NCHSAA to continue to operate with limitations for the 2021-22 school year before a newly formed and state government-appointed N.C. Interscholastic Athletic Commission took its place. The legislature, through the State Board of Education, has the power to determine the governing body for North Carolina public high school athletics.

Tucker, a Reidsville native, said she hadn’t been in contact with anyone from the legislature by early Wednesday afternoon, but she addressed the proposed overhaul of North Carolina high school athletics. The highlights (read a fuller version at Greensboro.com):

Q: You said Tuesday evening that you felt the die had been cast with the Senate hearing led by Sens. Tom McInnis (R-Moore), Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell) and Todd Johnson (R-Union). Do you still feel that way?

A: The three senators who have been the leading proponents of this dismantling, as they said, have been working on this for months. They have some friends in the Senate and I do believe that they will be able to use their power of persuasion to get it through the Senate.

Q: A journalist referred to this legislation as the “nuclear option.” Do legislators understand the potential fallout?

A: Because of the length of time that these legislators have spent on this they’re feeling now is that they’ve invested so much that they have to go with it. I think they will be able to persuade others to go, too. That’s unfortunate and I’m disappointed that at this time our politics have sunk to the level that we now believe it is OK to politicize education-based athletics at the high school level.

Q: Do legislators understand what creating a new governing body for high school athletics would entail and whether their timeline is realistic?

A: I don’t think it’s realistic that they would be able to put something in place and it function the way this almost 110-year-old organization has functioned. I don’t think that can happen in a year.

Q: Do you regret letting the association’s net assets grow to $41 million and not giving more of that money back to the schools?

A: We have to be careful not to let the $41 million guide our thinking. That’s the net assets. About $13 million of that is operating expenses, a two-year operating reserve, and when we talk about the (NCHSAA office in Chapel Hill) and its contents that’s part of that money. … About $16 million of it we can’t even touch because it’s donor-directed. … Then you have some other monies that have been invested and are board-designated which account for $10 million or so. That’s where the $1 surcharge (on playoff admissions) went, that’s where the 25 percent of the gate for endowment games went, so that the board would have the opportunity to do things like the $4 million that went to schools (during the COVID-19 pandemic). … I don’t regret any of that. What I do regret is the fact that we have not done as good a job as we needed to make sure people understood those pots of money and what’s in them.

Q: What do you see as other concerns legislators have with the NCHSAA that led to the introduction of this bill and can any of those grievances be addressed within the association’s bylaws?

A: One of their grievances really kicked in when we were in the midst of the COVID pandemic and COVID surges and we had limited numbers of people who could be in the gyms because we were following Governor Cooper’s executive orders and we were under the guidance of DHHS. I believe they feel the leadership was not sufficient and we were not proactive enough to make sure that fans could get back into the gyms and stadiums faster than we were allowing. ...

I believe that were I not female and African-American the approach would have been a little different. I can’t help but feel that because of the climate in which we live today, that as we prepare to celebrate 50 years of Title IX, that women in leadership positions still have a hard row to hoe. I believe that is part of — not the only thing and maybe not the majority — but it is a factor. I don’t think if Charlie Adams were alive and still sitting in this chair he would be dealing with this at this level. If Davis Whitfield were here I do not believe he would be dealing with it at the level I am because some of the requests that have been made of me border on … what in the world? We did PSAs that the national federation (NFHS) sent to us and were sent to radio stations. A senator sends me a letter wanting to know how much we spend on advertising because he just heard a PSA on the radio and wanting to know why we need to advertise. Really? PSAs are free and they have messages about sportsmanship and about the mental health aspect of things, about bullying, about spectator behavior, about the officiating shortage.

Q: If this legislation is signed into law, it would create a lame-duck year for the NCHSAA. Is there any way that the association would simply shut down Aug. 2 instead of serving out that year?

A: When I think about it on a selfish level, oh, yeah, I’d love to be able to just say, “Hey, take it and do whatever you want with it.”’ But I care too much about the NCHSAA. I’ve invested 30 years here. I care about the 427 member schools and the student-athletes they serve. More importantly I care about those individuals who come to work with me every day. I would want to make sure that what they want to have happen is also addressed.

Q: Would you sit down with legislators and negotiate a reorganization of the NCHSAA in a way that addressed their concerns while maintaining the integrity of the association?

A: We’ve always wanted to work with the General Assembly. We want to work with the State Board of Education. We would certainly be willing to sit down and work together, but I don’t think any of us are willing to sit down … under the conditions that you either do this or you can’t do that. We want to work with them. There just has not been a willingness to sit down and hear our side of it as we’ve tried to show the data from our point of view.

Q: Do you see a path forward that would maintain the NCHAA in some way shape or form?

A: I believe that if that was what (the bill’s sponsors) wanted, they would have already said that we want to come over and sit down at your table or brought us over to them before they introduced this legislation and asked us how we could work together. That didn’t happen and I don’t see that path at all.


Education
alert top story
Guilford County Schools offers $20K bonus to entice effective teachers to lower-performing schools

GREENSBORO — With the start of school just weeks away, Guilford County Schools is dangling a $20,000 signing bonus to entice top teachers to work in its 25 lowest-performing schools.

The district is paying for the bonuses with federal COVID-19 relief money.

To qualify, teachers have to be able to prove their ability to help students learn. Specifically, they must provide at least two consecutive years of student test data that shows they are “highly effective” teachers, based on the academic growth of their students.

Teachers are eligible for consideration if they can show that growth through elementary or middle school end-of-grade test data, or high school biology, math or English end-of-course test data.

The bonus, announced Wednesday, is open both to teachers new to the district or who would be moving from a district school to one of the designated schools. To get the signing bonus, teachers must commit to teach for at least three years.

Officials expect to have 20 to 30 or more positions to be filled that would be eligible for the bonus.

Alison Yates, the district’s director of staffing, said she is not sure how the bonus will be given out. However, if it is like recent signing bonuses offered by the district, these bonuses would be paid half in the first paycheck and half at the end of the first year.

The district first turned to similarly-sized signing bonuses late last fall and continued to offer them through the end of the 2020-21 school year. Yates said the district has had a couple of bonuses to attract teachers to lower-performing schools before that, but nothing approaching the $20,000 range.

The district started offering big signing bonuses in late November 2020 to try and help bring in K–5 elementary classroom teachers across the district as well as mathematics teachers for several high schools. At the time, the district was looking for more K-5 teachers because of social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic that were forcing the schools to limit the number of students in a classroom and split up larger classes.

They offered signing bonuses ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 and saw results.

“In the winter and spring we did see an uptick in the number of applicants who applied for positions in the district,” said Kyva Jones, the district’s director of recruiting. “We definitely got several inquiries from teachers from various states, from various school districts … so we definitely saw that interest level increase.”


Z-no-digital
Molly Tuttle, Dewey & Leslie Brown and the Carolina Gentlemen to perform at N.C. Folk Festival

GREENSBORO — Bluegrass/Americana singer, guitarist and banjo player Molly Tuttle will be among those performing at the N.C. Folk Festival from Sept. 10 through 12 in center city.

Festival organizers announced Tuttle and four other performers on Thursday for the free annual multicultural outdoor event.

They will play bluegrass, Americana, New Orleans funk and hip-hop, western swing and East African retro-pop.

The festival expects to announce 20 to 30 more performers over the next couple of weeks, said Carolyn Bucknall, its marketing and communications associate.

The award-winning Tuttle will be one of the headliners, and one of the most well-known performers at this year’s festival, Bucknall said.

She will come from Nashville to replace the previously-announced Del McCoury Band, who canceled because of a scheduling conflict, festival organizers said.

They are working to reschedule the Del McCoury Band for the 2022 lineup.

Others in the first round of performers announced are Shamarr Allen, the Hot Club of Cowtown, Alsarah & The Nubatones, and Dewey & Leslie Brown and the Carolina Gentlemen.

The Browns are bluegrass performers from Burlington. They own The Liberty Showcase Theater, a performing arts venue that brings in country acts.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the festival to go virtual.

“We are excited to welcome these talented artists to Greensboro to mark the NC Folk Festival’s return to a live, in-person celebration of folk and global roots music,” Amy Grossmann, festival president and chief executive officer, said in the announcement.

The N.C. Folk Festival spun out of the National Folk Festival’s three-year residency in the city from 2015 to 2017.

Co-produced with the city government, it typically fills downtown streets with live music on multiple stages representing an array of cultural traditions, food, arts and crafts on the weekend after Labor Day.

Here’s a look at the acts announced Thursday (and find out more at ncfolkfestival.com/lineup):

● Molly Tuttle (bluegrass/Americana). Since moving to Nashville in 2015, this native Californian won “Instrumentalist of the Year” at the 2018 Americana Music Awards.

She won Folk Alliance International’s honor for Song of the Year for “You Didn’t Call My Name,” and took home consecutive trophies for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year, the first woman in the history of the IBMA to win that honor.

● Dewey & Leslie Brown and the Carolina Gentlemen (N.C. bluegrass). The Burlington couple brings together the sounds of the late bluegrass singers Ralph Stanley mixed with Hazel Dickens.

Dewey Brown played fiddle as a Clinch Mountain Boy for Stanley for 11 years, until Stanley died in 2016. Leslie Brown’s upbringing in the Appalachian Mountains of Vansant, Va., has played a significant role in her songwriting, dancing and singing.

They run two festivals, the bluegrass gathering “Deweyfest” and “Gospelfest” in Burlington. They are releasing a new CD called “Jealousy” with their band, The Carolina Gentlemen.

● Shamarr Allen (New Orleans funk and hip hop). Hailing from the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Allen has influences in jazz, hip-hop, rock, funk rhythms, blues and country. He is the lead vocalist and trumpeter of his band “Shamarr Allen & The Underdawgs.” Allen has collaborated with renowned artists such as Willie Nelson, Patti LaBelle, Galactic, Harry Connick Jr. and Lenny Kravitz. Allen also is a music composer, writer and producer.

The presentation of Allen is funded, in part, by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council.

● Hot Club of Cowtown (Western swing). Started in the late 1990s, the Austin, Texas, band remains “conscious always that above all else, the music is for dancing and an old-fashioned good time,” The New York Times said.

American Songwriter observed that “the excellent three players of this band could be doing anything but have chosen to honor the greats of jazz and swing with their sound.”

● Alsarah & The Nubatones ( East-African retro-pop). Alsarah is a singer, songwriter and bandleader born in Khartoum, Sudan, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Alsarah & the Nubatones were born out of dinner conversations between Alsarah and Rami El-Aasser about Nubian “songs of return,” modern migration patterns and the cultural exchanges between Sudan and Egypt. The group also includes Armenian-American oud player, Haig Manoukian and bass player Mawuena Kodjovi.


State-and-regional
top story
'A new phase': Cooper moves to end North Carolina's mask mandate

RALEIGH — North Carolina health officials and Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced they will eliminate the statewide mask mandate and ease requirements wearing face coverings in schools.

The announcement comes as the the delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus, is causing a spike in new cases not seen since the height of the pandemic.

Still, there’s long been pressure on Cooper to end the mask mandate — especially as the state rebounded from the worst of the pandemic. On Wednesday, those critics finally got their wish.

The state’s new recommendations urge K-8 schools to require masks for students and staff while they are indoors but allows fully vaccinated high school students and staff to be unmasked.

The mask mandate expires at 5 p.m. on July 30 — a Friday — which is the same time the updated school reopening guidance takes effect.

Cooper and the state’s top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, on Wednesday repeatedly declined to offer specifics on how they’d enforce the recommendations and crack down on districts that move to let all students return to the classroom without a face covering.

“We know masks work,” Cooper, a Democrat, said in a news conference. “The health and safety and ability of our students to learn in person depends on school leaders following this guidance.”

Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras said in a statement Wednesday night that the district is carefully reviewing the updated guidance.

"We will take these updates into consideration as we prepare to discuss with the Board of Education and to update guidance for our schools," she said. "In the meantime, we encourage all eligible students and unvaccinated staff to get vaccinated prior to the start of the new school year."

In Guilford County, the first students return to classes Aug. 5 with the majority beginning the year on Aug. 23.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, the state’s largest lobbying group representing teachers, called the governor’s decision to eliminate the statewide mask mandate “very poorly timed.”

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in North Carolina amid the spread of the more lethal delta variant. In the last two weeks, cases have more than tripled and hospitalizations have gone up over 69%.

Making matters worse is that fewer and fewer North Carolinians are getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Cohen said 94% of new cases and hospitalizations in the state were among unvaccinated individuals. Just 24% of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated.

Cooper’s announcement follows the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday recommending “universal masking.” Students over age 2 and school staff should wear face coverings even if they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus as “a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines,” the group said in its new guidance for the upcoming school year.

Throughout Wednesday’s news conference, Cooper and Cohen found themselves trying to strike a balance between communicating the seriousness of the new delta variant and the need to implement their own masking policies.

“We are entering a new phase of this pandemic,” Cooper said. “We’ve gotten a lot of people vaccinated.”

Cooper defended his decision to end the statewide mask mandate and said he’s spoken with several governors who have already done so. He said North Carolina is working to “turn the final corner of this disease” by boosting vaccinations.


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