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Union County prepares for back-to-school

UNION COUNTY, NC – More than 41,000 Union County public school students are scheduled to return to class on Monday, August 29.

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Five New School Resource Officers to Strengthen District Elementary School Safety

UCPS develops a career preparation program based on agriculture and STEM

Over 95% of classrooms are currently staffed with a teacher, 118 positions remain vacant

This year’s school year is hopefully the first since 2019 not to experience a severe disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Superintendent Andrew Houlihan.

“I think No. 1 will be continuous improvement academically, we’ll have our accountability results that we’ll file here in about a week,” Houlihan said. “We can’t wait to see how we fare compared to other districts. But, we know we’re not where we need to be when you look at where we were in the 2018 school year, 2019. So we have a lot of urgency this year, I’ve talked to our directors and our team about… it’s time to pick up the pace. We’re back in a formal environment opposite face to face, like we were last year, post COVID, we hope.

The district will see a number of other changes for students, parents and staff this year.

“The Sheriff’s Office has received additional funding to provide more ORS which will be focused in our elementary schools. So this year we will have one SRO for two elementary schools. In years past, it was a 1 to 3 initiative. We really want to come to a 1 to 1 environment, where there is an SRO for every elementary school,” Houlihan said.

The five new school resource officers were part of a $1 million county budget item approved this summer.

Houlihan said they also focused on teachers’ ability to recognize threats, active shooter formations, and students’ mental and emotional health. Additionally, Houlihan said the district has placed an increased emphasis in recent years on the physical security of school buildings.

Once the students are in the classroom, it is very likely that they will have a full-time teacher. Classrooms in the district are 95% staffed and there are 118 vacant teaching positions, according to Houlihan.

“The [hiring] the swimming pool became a puddle. We need to do something different in education to recruit and engage high school students who are interested in this educational path. Compensation has a lot to do with it, here at UCPS we do everything we can using all available funds to provide stipends, incentives and bonuses,” Houlihan said outside Sun Valley Middle School on Tuesday. .

According to Houlihan, a hiring and retention initiative that the UCPS school board approved earlier this summer appears to be working.

In early August, the school board approved a $4,000 bonus for desperately needed teachers at four specific schools. New teachers in the English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Exceptional Children subjects will receive the payment spread over the 2022-23 school year.

Current teachers at the same schools will receive a similar retention bonus of $4,000 spread over 10 months during the school year.

Eligible schools are Monroe Middle and High School, Forest Hills High School, and East Union Middle School.

“What we’ve seen at these schools is that our vacancies have gone down a bit, but more importantly, our teachers have decided to stay with us. So from a retention and recruitment perspective, this initiative seems to be paying off,” Houlihan said.

School board members were upset earlier this summer when county commissioners approved a budget with lower-than-expected funds for UCPS, jeopardizing future staff increases and bonuses. Decisions on how to revamp the planned budget under the county’s approved allocation are still pending.

In the meantime, Houlihan assured parents that each school has a staffing plan and a backup staffing plan, should vacancies persist through the school year.

When it comes to getting students to school, the district transportation department is only short of a few drivers. Despite no shortages compared to last year, Houlihan asked parents and guardians to be patient with bus routes and school car lines next week.

The district is currently short of more than a dozen bus drivers, a significant reduction in vacancies from last year, Houlihan added Tuesday. By this time last year, the district needed 40, according to previous reports from Spectrum News 1.

“If your child takes a school bus, that’s what you can use to track their route, it has GPS, to know when the bus is approaching your stop, that’s going to change,” Houlihan said, referring to the district’s new Edulog Parent. Portal app. For details on how to download, click here.

There will also be a shift in nutrition services this school year after the United States federal government shut down a school lunch voucher program.

“Please complete a free and reduced lunch application. The federal government ended the waiver this year for free lunch for all. It is therefore very important that we get as many people as possible to complete these documents s ‘they qualify,’ Houlihan urged parents and families.

For more details on how to apply, click here.

Finally, Union County Public Schools are expected to expand career readiness programs this school year. UCPS has extended its Ag Tech program to the Forest Hills School Group this school year, providing students with a college career preparation path focused on science and agriculture. The STEM and agriculture-based curriculum will prepare students for academic or career opportunities in related employment fields.

This is UCPS’ latest attempt to prepare students for in-demand careers. Earlier this summer, the district launched several career camps, which aimed to give students a free opportunity to experience job-specific training over the summer. The camps are already expected to return and expand next summer.

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