Roses and raspberries, June 26

June 25, 2013 

Roses to Superintendent Tom Forcella and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board for initiating a conversation about class rank.

The competition for high academic standing is intense. Students work hard and take hard courses, which receive more weight, in their quest to achieve the best rank. Their standing is including in high school transcripts, and their GPA, extra curricular activities and the like help college admissions officers sift through the stacks that land in their in box.

But now some colleges and universities are saying they have given grades too much emphasis. A report on National Public Radio last week noted how some colleges are de-emphasizing SAT and other scores in the search for more well-rounded students who have demonstrated aptitude in a broader range of activities.

Forcella broached the topic in his monthly column in The Chapel Hill News a few weeks ago (CHN, June 9, Last Thursday, the school board picked up the conversation. The problem, they say, is that students in their quest for better rank, are routinely foregoing classes they might like to take but won’t for fear of lowering their standing. This is the antithesis of education, and if the NPR report is accurate may not even be necessary at some schools.

Local school leaders are talking with the state and college admissions officials. As correspondent Tom Hartwell reported Sunday, a state Department of Instruction official at least concedes the system used statewide “probably deserves an upgrade.”

School leaders should continue this conversation. Let’s not restrict young people’s pursuit of knowledge by the need to finish first, or as close to it as you can get.

Raspberries to state legislators who are forcefeeding a 1,300-home development near Jordan Lake down Durham’s throat.

The Durham City Council has twice rejected 751 South, a massive development proposed near the lake, which supplies drinking water across the Triangle and from which the Orange Water and Sewer Authority may someday draw.

Jordan Lake, because of its geography, was never the ideal spot to put a water supply. But unchecked development upstream has badly polluted the lake. New rules meant to reduce the sources of pollution are on hold as Republican lawmakers discuss new remedies many doubt will improve upon the old.

And now, the state House is debating a bill that would force annexations and the water and sewer service that goes with them when the property owners requests it.

Proponents argue the bill would boost economic development, but make no mistake. The bill is aimed squarely at 751 South; bill sponsor Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, is a college friend of Cal Cunningham, an attorney for developers Southern Durham Development.

Senate Bill 315 was headed to a hearing in the House Finance Committee on Monday as today’s print edition of the The Chapel Hill News went to press. (For coverage, see

“I can’t tell you what‘s wrong with this bill,” Chairwoman Julia Howard, a Davie and Forsyth County Republican, said last week. “If it smells funny, it’s funny.”

It’s too soon to tell the bill’s fate. A similar measure failed by a single vote last time, and the Durham City Council anticipated another move by developer-friendly lawmakers when they rejected 751 South again this time.

Howard is, of course, right. This bill is as “funny” as it gets. But as many in Orange and Durham counties are seeing with the legislature this session, no one’s laughing.

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