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A&T prepares to leave behind history and tradition in stunning move to Big South


Take a deep breath, Aggies. This is a good thing.

N.C. A&T, the largest historically black university in the country, is preparing to leave the MEAC. The decision isn’t so much based on the Aggies outgrowing the league it’s been in since its inception, but that they’ve simply outrun the rest of the conference.

A&T had been considering such a move for some time. But not only did the Aggies want out of the league formed in 1971, they needed a soft place to land.

A&T is expected to announce this morning that it will join the Big South Conference effective July 1, 2021.

It’s a good fit. The league is somewhat tighter in territory than the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and it has some potential for new and old rivalries. Hampton, which left the MEAC in 2017, is a Big South member along with North Carolina schools High Point, Campbell, UNC-Asheville and Gardner-Webb. All of the league’s 11 full members are in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

From a travel standpoint alone, this is a great move. And as hard as it will be to leave behind traditional rivals such as N.C. Central, not to mention A&T’s annual trip to the Celebration Bowl, the new league is partly symbolic of the university’s stated goal of becoming a “transformative” university in research and in athletics.

Chancellor Harold Martin told the school’s faculty last August that such a move would be a sign of growth and success and should be seen as the school’s “aspirations.”

That hope is about to come to fruition.

Yes, it’s going to cost the football program a shot at the $1 million haul the Celebration Bowl has provided in four of the last five years, and so you could be looking at a temporary budget situation that could be problematic.

But A&T would save in travel costs without annual trips to MEAC schools such as Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M along with trips to Delaware State and the three Maryland schools in the MEAC.

The Aggies could also supplement the budget through scheduling “money-guarantee” games against bigger and richer FBS programs.

There have been several forays into the decision to leave — studies and mock plans for moving out of the MEAC. And most of those discussions were based on the likely scenario that A&T would be forced to compete as an independent, a school without a league, while wandering and waiting for an opening in some unknown conference.

Hampton’s move to the Big South changed the thinking, both from A&T leaders wary of playing as an independent and from the Big South itself, which has carved out a niche in the region after years of looking for an identity.

The league now enjoys a period of relative tranquility after a long and uneasy time of transition, inviting schools such as UNCG, Davidson, Liberty and Elon, only to watch them move on.

The MEAC, on the other hand, is crumbling as some of its schools deal with financial nightmares.

Now comes the period of uncertainty for A&T. The flagship university of the MEAC and HBCUs nationwide is getting ready to spread its wings and follow its own path, one that will lead to unknown territory outside its historic footprint but also to unrealized potential away from its comfort zone.

Not everyone will be happy about this decision. Change is difficult. A&T fought long and hard to establish its history and traditions within familiar places and among familiar faces.

Now it’s off to the next big thing, not just for football but for a research university with its eyes on a new horizon, breaking out of its East Market Street mold into a regional think tank in fields such as technology, engineering, mathematics, science, business and economics.

A&T isn’t the same school it was 10 years ago, even five. And five years from now, we’ll look back on this move as inevitable. For now, it’s just stunning.

Oops! Some N.C. teachers were told they would be getting merit bonuses. But they’re not.

RALEIGH — A computer glitch has mistakenly caused some North Carolina third-grade teachers to be told they were getting thousands of dollars in bonuses when in fact they are not.

The glitch also is delaying millions of dollars in state bonuses for third-grade teachers who do deserve them.

The General Assembly set aside $10 million in bonuses to give to third-grade teachers based on how their students performed on the state’s end-of-grade reading test last school year. But the January bonus checks were delayed after the N.C. Department of Public Instruction discovered an error resulting in some third-grade teachers being mistakenly identified as qualifying for the bonus.

“NCDPI has informed the General Assembly of the issues related to the third-grade reading bonus and that (school districts) and charter schools will not likely meet the requirement to pay this bonus in the month of January, given the revisions were not completed until the end of January,” Tom Tomberlin, the DPI’s director of educator recruitment and support, said in a Jan. 28 memo to the state’s school systems.

“NCDPI understands that teachers will be disappointed to learn that they are no longer eligible for the … bonuses.”

According to state records, $9.8 million in reading bonuses will be distributed to 2,717 third-grade teachers across the state.

The bonus glitch was first reported Wednesday on Justin Parmenter’s blog. Parmenter is a language arts teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and a critic of the state’s teacher bonus system.

“Now imagine receiving a letter in December saying that you’d earned bonuses worth several thousand dollars,” Parmenter wrote. “You make plans to pay off medical bills, you go ahead and book a spring break flight — maybe even quit a part-time job in anticipation of the windfall. Then weeks later you’re told that you actually didn’t earn anything — but the teacher next door did. What’s that going to do to collaborative spirit?”

Wake County Schools learned about the issue before third-grade teachers were notified they were getting bonuses or money was distributed, according to Lisa Luten, a spokeswoman for the school system. A total of $1 million in bonuses will be given to 278 Wake teachers.

In 2017, the state began giving merit bonuses for teachers based on the performance of their students. It’s now grown across multiple grade levels to cover $38.7 million in state funding this year.

Some educators argue that teachers should be getting raises and not competing for bonuses. But the Republican-led state legislature has pushed for the merit bonuses for teachers and for principals.

“I can understand how there might be opposition to paying excellent teachers for great work in a socialist country like North Korea, but I don’t understand why unions like the NCAE would oppose paying excellent teachers big bonuses in America,” N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement in 2018.

For many of the bonuses, the state contracts with SAS Institute, based in Cary, to calculate value-added ratings — that is, how much of students’ year-to-year progress on exams can be attributed to the teacher, the News & Observer previously reported. That method is considered fairer than bonuses based on student proficiency, which is influenced by the advantages or disadvantages children bring from home.

For third-grade reading, teachers qualified for bonuses if their value-added score for their students reading exams was in the top 25% statewide or in their school system. Teachers can qualify for both bonuses, giving them up to $7,000 a year.

But on Jan. 10, Tomberlin sent schools systems a memo saying the third-grade reading growth results were under final review. He told public school systems and charter schools to not process any payments related to third-grade teacher reading bonuses until further bonuses. He said that the other teacher bonuses were approved for payment.

In the Jan. 28 update, Tomberlin said the DPI confirmed that a coding error was found in the third-grade reading data that was sent to SAS. He said that when SAS was asked to re-run the EVAAS ratings it was determined that there were changes to teacher scores.

“These changes to third-grade reading growth indices mean that some teachers who were previously identified as eligible … are no longer eligible,” Tomberlin said.

He also said that some teachers previously deemed ineligible are now eligible.

Tomberlin said the data was updated and the bonus money will be given to the school systems and charter schools for distribution to teachers.

Parmenter blamed the errors on SAS. But Trent Smith, a spokesman for SAS, and Graham Wilson, a spokesman for the DPI, said SAS was not at fault.

“The fact that SAS wasn’t the first to notice the error raises important questions about whether this is the first time the wrong teachers were identified as having earned the bonuses,” Parmenter blogged. “The mixup also presents a great opportunity to revisit whether this is the best way for North Carolina to be spending $39 million a year.”

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Ahoy! The best selling point of this N.C. island mansion is that it comes with its own shipwreck. Page A2

Trump celebrates his acquittal at the White House, calling his impeachment a 'disgrace'

WASHINGTON President Donald Trump on Thursday celebrated his acquittal in the US. Senate trial at the White House, telling a crowd of Republican allies that his impeachment was a “disgrace” and that he “went through hell unfairly.”

Trump boasted of his acquittal by the Senate as he opened his remarks Thursday afternoon, at one point holding up a copy of The Washington Post’s front page, just as he did during the National Prayer Breakfast a few hours earlier.

“We went through hell unfairly — did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I’ve done things wrong in my life, I will admit — not purposely, but I’ve done things wrong,” Trump said, prompting a few laughs from the audience.

“But this is what the end result is,” he added, holding up the front page for the crowd.

The president went on to criticize the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election led by former special counsel Robert Mueller, describing it, as he frequently has, as a “witch hunt.”

“It was all bull----,” Trump said.

Trump singled out several Republican lawmakers for praise Thursday afternoon. He paid particular attention to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who led the push in the Senate for his acquittal and has also shepherded a record number of judicial confirmations through the chamber.

“Mitch, he stayed there right from the beginning,” Trump said. “He never changed. And Mitch McConnell, I want to tell you, you did a fantastic job. ... He understood this was crooked politics. This was crooked politics.”

Trump later reprised his attacks on U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican to break with the party to vote for conviction on one of the two articles of impeachment. Trump accused the senator — at first, without naming him — of using “religion as a crutch.”

“Never heard him use it before,” Trump said. “But today, you know, it’s one of those things. But it’s a failed presidential candidate, so things can happen when you fail so badly, running for president.”

He then heaped praise on the other senator from Utah, Republican Mike Lee, calling him “incredible.”

“Say hello to the people of Utah, and tell them I’m sorry about Mitt Romney,” Trump said, claiming that Lee is “by far the most popular senator from the state.”

Trump turned his fire on U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the lead House impeachment manager, and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as he continued his remarks.

“They’re vicious and mean, vicious,” Trump said. “These people are vicious. Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person.”

Trump also again raised doubts about whether Pelosi is sincere when she says she prays for him.

“She may pray, but she prays for the opposite,” Trump said. “But, I doubt she prays at all.”

Pelosi had chided Trump for his comments lashing out at Democrats and Romney at the bipartisan, multifaith National Prayer Breakfast. Romney was the only Republican to vote for Trump’s conviction.

As his remarks continued, Trump raised the spectre that he could be impeached again by Democrats and equated his conduct toward Ukraine with jaywalking.

“Because if they find that I happen to walk across the street and maybe go against the light or something, let’s impeach him,” Trump said. “So we’ll probably have to do it again, because these people have gone stone cold crazy. But I’ve beaten them all my life, and I’ll beat them again if I have to. But what they’re doing is very unfair, very unfair.”

Moments before, Trump predicted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., would become speaker of the House as a result of his impeachment — a scenario that would diminish Trump’s prospects of getting impeached a second time.

“I will say that you’re going to be speaker of the House because of this impeachment,” Trump said to McCarthy, one of the many congressional Republicans at the event. “And I’m going to work hard on it.”