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Governor puts all hands on deck during omicron surge, and other news

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Update Feb. 11, 2022, 9:43 a.m.: Governor Cooper extended this order through April 15th, and he is also providing an extra 24 hours of Community Service Leave for state employees. They can use this leave “to work in North Carolina schools as substitute teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff and other needed roles.”

Here is the press release. See original story below.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that state employees can use volunteer days to help out in the state’s K-12 schools — driving buses, filling in for teachers, or even helping out in the cafeteria.

Schools have faced severe shortages due to COVID-19 this year, and the omicron surge is only exacerbating matters. EducationNC wrote about the impacts on school transportation earlier this week. Cooper said in a press release this policy will ensure students’ in-person education continues.

“It is critical that we keep children learning in the classroom safely,” said Cooper in the press release. “This policy will encourage state employees to lend a helping hand to our students at a time of severe staffing challenges for our public schools.”

Cooper’s move means that state employees can use paid leave to volunteer in schools. They will also get to keep whatever pay they make filling in. According to the press release, “full-time state employees are eligible for 24 hours of paid community service leave each calendar year. This leave may be used by state employees with supervisor approval and will not interfere with or delay state government operations.”

“We appreciate Governor Cooper’s willingness to move quickly to address the current staffing crisis caused by the omicron variant,” Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras said in the press release. “This is one more tool we can use to keep our classrooms and schools open for our students.”

Guilford County, in particular, has been hard hit by bus driver shortages during this most recent COVID-19 surge.

Cooper’s order went into effect Wednesday and lasts through Feb. 15.

Assistant principal accelerator

Education leaders are partnering to help fill the unmet need for more than 250 “trained school leaders” each year by creating an assistant principal accelerator program.

The partnership between the Belk Foundation, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and the North Carolina Principal and Assistant Principals’ Association will focus on assistant principals “with a high potential for being fast-tracked in the principalship,” according to a press release.

“By investing in our assistant principals early in their careers, we make an investment in the future of North Carolina students and teachers,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt in a press release.

Assistant principals who enter the program will “receive targeted leadership development and coaching from proven practitioners in the field,” with the aim of having them enter and help turnaround some of the North Carolina schools with the most critical needs, according to the press release. NCPAPA will lead the program, beginning with 20-25 assistant principals.

First in FAFSA

High schools around the state have been taking part in the 2021 NC First in FAFSA Challenge. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the results from the challenge are in.

The challenge invited high schools from around the state to compete against similar schools in two categories: FAFSA Completions and FAFSA Completion Growth compared to last year.

Here is the full list of winners:

Ocracoke High School, Highlands School, Weaver Academy, North Wilkes High School, Central Academy of Technology and Arts, North Surry High School, Marvin Ridge High School, Person High School, Nantahala School, Hiwassee Dam School, Cabarrus-Kannapolis Early College High School, Greene Early College High School, Henderson Collegiate High School, KIPP Gaston College Preparatory.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.