Jess Clark

Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.

Jess graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015 with her master's in Journalism and Mass Communication. As a graduate student she was lead writer and managing editor for WholeHogNC.org, a special multimedia report on North Carolina’s hog industry from UNC’s award-winning series, "Powering A Nation."  Her broadcast experience comes from working as a reporter and producer for Carolina Connection, a student-produced radio newscast from UNC's School of Journalism and Media, where her work received multiple national awards. She has also interned with the production team for WUNC's "The State of Things" and reported for WCHL on local schools and state policy, among other issues.

When she's not reporting, Jess is singing second soprano in the Choral Society of Durham, searching for taco trucks or dreaming of her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Ways to Connect

Teacher, school, hallway
Jess Clark / WUNC

Reductions in state funding have forced school districts across the state to cut millions from their budgets. Durham Public Schools is planning to cut more than 90 positions at the end of the month. But parents, employees and activists are questioning the district’s decision to cut employees closer to the classroom, while leaving in place administrative positions.

UNC School of the Arts high school junior Hunter Schafer breaks the law every time she uses the women's restroom at school.
Emme Black

One of the largest groups most affected by House Bill 2, or HB2,  is the state’s public school students. More than a million North Carolina students spend most of their day in facilities where they are now prohibited from using restrooms that do not correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates. This new law presents problems for the state's transgender students and conflicts with several school districts’ practice of allowing students to use the restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Student protestors rallied outside the UNC Board of Governors meeting.
Jess Clark

About a hundred protestors rallied outside the UNC Board of Governors meeting in Chapel Hill Friday morning. Many protestors said they were there to object to the election of UNC System President Margaret Spellings and to her directive to colleges and universities to comply with HB2.

Pat McCrory
James Willamor / Flickr Creative Commons

Governor Pat McCrory proposed a 5 percent average pay increase for North Carolina teachers and a
 a 3.5 percent average bonus.

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg)
NC General Assembly

 Lawmakers are drafting a bill that would allow charter schools to take over five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) wants lawmakers to approve the takeover legislation in the short session. But Bryan is championing the proposal, despite research showing a similar charter takeover in Tennessee had minimal impact on student performance.

Thomasville sophomore Denise Dominguez takes AP music theory, one of the hardest AP classes.
Jess Clark

Advanced Placement classes, or AP classes, are the gold standard for high school coursework. Students who take them can get college credit, and nice boost to their college applications. But not every student has equal access to AP classes, especially in rural districts. We take a loot at how Thomasville City Schools, a small district in Davidson County, is ramping up its AP program, and trying to expose a wider variety of students to college-level work.

A Nature Conservancy crew member sets a backfire at Nags Head Woods Preserve.
Aaron McCall/The Nature Conservancy

The fire began Tuesday night and has since burned 200 acres--about a fifth of the preserve. Several vacation homes are in the path of the flames.

Crews with the state forest service and the Nature Conservancy are trying to contain the flames by digging fire lines, and by burning portions of land in the fire's path to reduce fuel.

Nature Conservancy spokeswoman Debbie Crane said Thursday, gusty conditions aren't helping crews' efforts.

Jordan Lake, Durham, NC
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

The state is asking the public to weigh in on how Jordan Lake's water will be divvied up for the next 30 years.

students with laptops in classroom
Enokson / Flickr/Creative Commons

Wake County Public Schools plans to ask permission to run two elementary schools like charter schools.

Riverside High School students called for the release of Wildin Acosta outside Congressman G.K. Butterfield's Durham office.
Jess Clark / WUNC

UPDATED March 20, 2016 On Sunday morning, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Sarah Salaña issued an order preventing the deportation of Riverside High School student Wildin Acosta before his case has been heard by an immigration judge. Congressman G.K. Butterfield says he worked through Saturday night with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) to convince Saldaña to use her executive authority. This is apparently an about-face from Salaña's decision on Friday night not to intervene.

Student, Classroom, school, class
Tom Woodward / Flickr Creative Commons

More than 5,600 new students have applied to receive Opportunity Scholarships, or school vouchers, for next school-year. That's up from about 3,400 the same time last year.

Congressman GK Butterfield poses with Hillary Clinton.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hillary Clinton spoke to an audience of more than 1,500 at Hillside High School in Durham, asking for their votes in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Many in the crowd sported sunburns as they packed into the hot gymnasium—battle scars from the hours-long line they waited in to hear Clinton speak.

Hassina Kiboua works with refugees in Ireland. She observed an art class at the Newcomers School.
Jess Clark

Visitors from seven European countries were in Greensboro Monday to learn how the Doris Henderson Newcomers School educates newly arrived immigrant students.

This DPI map shows the highest and lowest 3-year dropout rates by district.
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

A Department of Public Instruction (DPI) report shows after seven years of progress in reducing high school dropouts, last school-year the state's dropout rate ticked up to about 2.4 percent. That's a slight rise from about 2.3 percent for the previous year.

As part of the 2013-14 state budget, the State Board of Education is required to study virtual charter schools and propose draft rules.
Ian Usher via Flickr

North Carolina’s first virtual charter schools are challenging a report that more than a quarter of their students have withdrawn.

photo of Wildin Acosta
Courtesy of the Acosta family

On a cold morning in late January, Riverside high school senior Wildin David Guillen Acosta started his car to warm it up for the drive to school. He went inside his family’s Durham apartment to grab his book bag, and when he came back out, two Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, or ICE officers, were waiting for him.

Teacher, school, hallway
Jess Clark / WUNC

State lawmakers are looking into ways to train better school principals and keep them in schools that need them.

Image of the warning areas from the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service

School districts across the state are closing early today in anticipation of thunderstorms, strong winds and possible tornadoes.

Wake, Durham, Johnston, Cumberland and Sampson County schools are among dozens of districts letting out about three hours early this afternoon. District officials say the dismissal is an unusual precaution. But they want to make sure students are safe at home and not on the bus when the severe weather is expected to hit.

UNC-Chapel Hill senior Jailen Wallis (center) loves the idea of teaching, but the pay and the working conditions loomed too large as drawbacks to the profession.
Courtesy of Jailen Wallis

 UNC-Chapel Hill senior Jailen Wallis has always been tempted to become a high school English teacher.

The North Carolina Supreme Court will likely have an opinion on teacher tenure within six months.
Jess Clark

The North Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in the state's fight to get rid of teacher tenure.

Durham students wearing the gele in celebration of Black History Month.
Jamaica Gilmer / The Beautiful Project

On the first day of Black History Month, Durham School of Creative Studies (SCS) students Natalia Artigas, Assata Goff and Naima Harrell showed up to school with their heads wrapped in geles, a colorful fabric many black women wind around their hair as a sign of cultural pride.

The State Board of Education wants to get rid of Standard VI, a piece of teacher evaluations some say is too punitive.

Standard VI requires teachers to meet expected student growth on state standardized tests. If they don’t, principals have to take action against them. That action can range from placement on an improvement plan to dismissal.

Image of June Atkinson, who has been the North Carolina state superintendent since 2005.
North Carolina Democratic Party

Senate Leader Phil Berger is criticizing the Department of Public Instruction for a budget it proposed in January. Documents show the department wanted to use about $2 million meant for a literacy program to fund positions the department axed to meet state-mandated budget cuts.

Wanda McLemore teaches a transitional fourth grade class at Falkener Elementary. The first half of her class is whole-group instruction.
Jess Clark

Forty percent of the state’s third-graders tested below grade level in reading last school year. Those are levels of achievement many parents and legislators say are unacceptable.

The state has been trying to boost reading scores for the last two years with a law called Read to Achieve. But is it getting schools what they need to improve scores?

classroom
David Schott / Flickr Creative Commons

Lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow charter school organizations and charter management companies to take over the state's lowest performing schools.

An image of child sliding down a sidewalk
Jess Clark / WUNC

Snow, sleet and ice continue to cover the state. Meanwhile, many people are staying safe as they experience the wintry weather. Take a look at what people are up to as the storm sweeps through:

The UNC-system saw its highest enrollment ever last fall, and data show minorities are driving the system's growth.

Teacher pay increases may be a possibility in the upcoming legislative session, according to Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), who chairs the House committee on education spending.

children reading
U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

Guilford County Schools says it needs more resources and teacher training to boost reading scores.

Latino child
Lillian Zepeda / Flickr Creative Commons

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped close the health insurance gap for North Carolina's Latino children, according to a national report.

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