Friday, August 28, 2009

I was surfing around on all the schools' Web sites, when I came across a link to on Hillsborough Elementary School's site. DonorsChoose is a site that allows teachers to post projects they need money for so people can donate money to whatever school or project they chose.

In Orange County Schools there are 12 projects across four schools — nine at New Hope and one at each of Gravelly Hill, Central and A.L. Stanback.

This is a great resource, if you're looking for your money to have a direct impact on the classroom.

JobsNOW training at dtcc

This press release from Durham Tech just came across my e-mail. It's about Gov. Perdue's JobsNOW initiative to help people train for skills for new jobs.

Durham Tech Sponsors JobsNOW Orientation Sessions
(DURHAM, N.C.) – Durham Technical Community College is hosting free orientation sessions for its new JobsNOW training that can be completed in six months or less. An orientation session is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 2, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Educational Resources Center on the college’s Main Campus in Durham. Another session will be held on Thursday, Sept. 3, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Orange County Campus outside Hillsborough.

Those attending an orientation session will learn about the seven areas of training that JobsNOW now offers. A question and answer session will be included. Financial assistance is available for JobsNOW participants who qualify because of a job loss or other factors.

All of the training is targeted to high-demand occupational fields in Durham and Orange counties. The JobsNOW initiative, created by Gov. Beverly Perdue, is a collaborative effort by the state’s community colleges and the N.C. Department of Commerce. Approximately $13.4 million of the state’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds have been set aside for JobsNOW.

Durham Tech will offer training in the following areas:

Nursing Assistant/Health Unit Coordinator
Nursing assistant instruction, technical and non-technical medical office training, and customer service skills development are combined in this training for work in hospitals and other health care facilities. Classes begin Sept. 8.

Green Landscape Designers/Solar Energy Technicians
In this Green Living Initiative program, learn about sustainable landscape designs and solar energy systems through classroom instruction. Apply the knowledge through a hands-on project that will hone the skills needed for employment in many sustainable industries. Classes begin Oct. 5.

Learn phlebotomy skills to work in hospitals, clinics, or other settings. This short-term training develops the skills for proper collection of blood and other specimens used for diagnostic laboratory testing. Classes begin Jan. 25.

Industrial Maintenance Technician
Learn general maintenance procedures as well as basic refrigeration and heating technology skills to qualify for entry-level heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) employment. Classes begin Sept. 28.

Medical Coder
Study medical terminology and other coding systems to sit for a credential to become an entry-level medical coder. Classes begin in the spring of 2010.

Under Car Care Technician
Learn about suspension, steering, brake, and emissions systems through a mix of functional and hands-on experiences in this short-term certificate training. Completers qualify for entry-level positions in the car care industry. Classes begin Sept. 28.

Biotechnology/Pharmaceutical Process Technician
This training is designed to provide industry-specific skills focused on maintaining a safe work environment; controlling, monitoring, and troubleshooting equipment; and analyzing, evaluating, and communicating about data to support the work of area biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Classes begin Oct. 5.

JobsNOW training also includes career readiness certification, workplace skills development, skills assessment, career exploration, and college placement testing. For more information about JobsNOW, contact Kelly King at 919-536-7222, ext. 4003, or visit

The Main Campus of Durham Tech is located off exit 10, Briggs Avenue of the Durham Freeway. The Orange County Campus is located off old N.C. Highway 86, exit 261 of Interstate 40, or exit 164 of Interstate 85.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fairview Park: fully funded

Good news for people who like green spaces - The N.C Parks and Rec Trust Fund announced its grant recipients this week, and two of them are Hillsborough projects.
Fairview Park received a $500,000 matching grant from the fund, which allows them to build the entire planned Phase I of the $1.2 million project. The exact look of the park was in limbo for several months, as local funds were several hundred thousand dollars short of what was needed to construct the park expansion with the full scale of amenities.

The groundbreaking date can best be described as "this fall"; some details are still being worked out. Hopefully I'll have more by the next publication.

Phase II of Hillsborough's Riverwalk was also awarded some $392,000. That project will connect Gold Park to downtown Hillsborough along the Eno River. Between these two projects, Gold Park (opened this spring), Cedar Grove Park (ditto) and the Eurosport soccer complex (this week), northern Orange County is going from "0 to 60" in park-building pretty quickly.

Also coming this week, I'll explore some combination of hospital impact numbers, town developments in the courts, rail station planning and parking studies.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pitch perfect

The Eurosport soccer complex is beautiful. It reminds me of many, many weekends spent with my family following around my brother's travel team. I played too, just not on fields as nice as the club teams did.
The new complex, which opened last night next to Gravelly Hill Middle School in Efland, has that "new field" smell, and it's a great addition to the county recreational facilities (then again, I am a soccer sympathizer). As Commissioner Barry Jacobs said, it's a little far from the center of the county's population, but that didn't seem to stop league players and parents from showing up in droves last night.
I'll post about plans for the coming week at some point tomorrow, but know this — there will be pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. If they aren't in the paper, we'll have them on our photo-sharing site within a few days of publication. Our schedule is chockablock with photo shoots, so if there's something going on we didn't make it to, let us know and, better yet, send us an image. We'll do what we can to make them available for the community to view.


A couple of things.

As promised, here is the link to the OMM decision. It's a Google document, so hopefully no one will have problems opening it. It's not too long, only about 40 pages.

But, school is now back in session, so there's a ton going on.
• The eco classroom group is meeting again this week, after a summer hiatus.
• Project House is going to be a bit different this year.
• I'll be at Last Fridays, taking pictures.
• Since the budget wasn't quite as terrible as the state had been telling everyone, some former OCS employees have been rehired.
• The schools are ready for flu season.

As always, there may be more, and I'm always glad to get out into the schools and cover events going on there, from retirement parties to interesting classroom activities. But I can't be there if I don't know about them, so drop me a like (v.shortley (at) or give me a ring.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Castillo found guilty on all charges

Nine days before the three-year anniversary of former student Alvaro Castillo firing at students at Orange High School, he was found guilty of the murder of his father and all charges relating to the shooting on the same day.
Castillo, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his father, Rafael Huezo Castillo, 65, on Aug. 30, 2006, by unanimous verdict last Friday after about one day of jury deliberation.
He was also convicted of nine charges related to Orange High School shooting, which took place just hours after he shot his father in the late morning hours. Those charges were two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, two counts of possession of weapons on educational property, discharge of a weapon on educational property, three charges of possession of weapons of mass death and destruction and discharging of weapon into occupied property.
Castillo will serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the murder, and will serve a combined 40 to 78 months on other charges, which were either consolidated or not judged upon by Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour.
Obviously, look for more recapping the trial and the final days of this month-long proceeding in next week's edition.

Awaiting further instructions ...

UPDATE, 4:30 p.m. - We have a verdict. The jury will file in momentarily.

UPDATE, 2:50 p.m.: Another "knock on the door" update - the jury has indicated they don't want to take an afternoon break. A sign that they are close to a verdict?

UPDATE, 1:50 p.m.: The jury just watched two videos again, the one filmed by Castillo after he shot and killed his father and one in which he answers reporters' questions while being led to a squad car the same day. The jury received copies of doctors' reports but were denied transcripts of two witnesses' testimony and a letter written by Castillo to Anna Rose, which was never presented as evidence.

The jury would appear, based on the evidence requested, to still be deliberating on Castillo's mindset the day of the shooting, which is crucial to the distinction between a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder, of second-degree murder or him being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Castillo's family members have alternated throughout the trial, but today, like every day so far, his mother and oldest sister are sitting in their usual seats on the left side of the courtroom. They have left the courtroom in the past few days as videos of Castillo have been aired.

Now, back to waiting ...

UPDATE, 11:54 a.m.: We appear to have a request from the jury to see several items: The transport video; "The End" video; reports from Drs. Wolfe, Bellard, Hilkey and Graham; a letter to Anna Rose; and copies of Dr. Wolfe and Deputy Ivey's testimony.

10 a.m.: The jury has passed a note to the court ... for coffee and creamer.

We're waiting out the first full day of jury deliberations in the Alvaro Castillo trial. There will be further updates to this post as we learn more. Right now, I am operating from my mobile office, as I have been for 3.5 weeks, so we'll post results as soon as we have a verdict.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Castillo trial, day 14

UPDATE: District Attorney Jim Woodall ended his closing argument with a video clip of Alvaro Castillo, alone in his room, recorded in late May 2006 - between his suicide attempt and the murder of his father and shooting at Orange High School. Woodall and public defenders James Williams and Phoebe Dee argued once more about whether Castillo knew right from wrong or whether he suffered from a mental illness so severe he should not be held accountable for his actions.

In the final video clip, Castillo says, among other things, "I am not a psychopath ... I do feel sorry for what I am going to do."

Now it's in the jury's hands.

At the outset of this trial, jurors were told it would be a three-week process, including jury selection. As of today, we head into the end of the third week of testimony and arguments, with another week of jury selection, but there is an end in sight.

Earlier this afternoon, District Attorney Jim Woodall gave his final closing argument (he gets one, followed by the defense, followed by the state again). As Woodall just said, "Back where I'm from, back east, we call this 'being in the short rows.'" He meant that as a reference to how close we are to the end of the trial, I think. I grew up in Tennessee, so I might have misunderstood.

We'll have more when we learn it.

central ptsa

The new Central PTSA leadership have done a great job so far this year (before the official start of the school year!) to get the word out about what's going on over there. To that end, they have a Facebook profile (search under e-mail:, e-mail address, Web site and blog. So, enjoy Central parents — and all of you who want to see what's going on at the elementary school. I know I'm glad to have these great resources.

status of OMM appeal

Nicole McWhirter posted on her blog her son was the "prevailing party" in the appeal. What that means, she says, is really unclear to her. I guess only time will tell.

I'm in the midst of reading the appeal, so I may have more later. There will certainly be an article in this week's (Aug. 26) paper.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

OMM links

I have finally emerged from reading the 2,000 plus or so pages from the OMM due process hearing and appeal. Since I know not everyone has the same desire to dig through days of testimony that I do, so here's a quick rundown on everything I've covered so far on this case: Here is a link to the first article I wrote, after Nicole contacted me and spoke out at a Board of Education meeting about the case and her son. Then, the district announced it would be appealing the ALJ's (administrative law judge) decision. After consulting with attorneys and the state Department of Public Instruction, the district released comments on the case, something they had previously declined to do, citing state and federal privacy laws (including FERPA). Finally, Nicole McWhirter, the mother, released appeal arguments. Now, we're just waiting to find out what the state review officer decides and whether the losing party files a civil suit. If not, the SRO's decision is final.

To read past blogs on the topic, just click on the OMM label at the bottom of this post.

Friday, August 14, 2009

rural tour

State Superintendent June Atkinson — along with federal officials — will be in Richmond County to discuss issues affecting people living in rural areas.

(I know it's not as interesting as the Castillo updates, but it's something.)

Anyway, here's the statement from the Department of Public Instruction:
State Superintendent Atkinson to Attend Community Forum with US Education Secretary

State Superintendent June Atkinson will attend a Community Forum with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at Richmond Community College (Richmond County) on Monday, Aug. 17 from 1-3 p.m.

The forum also will include U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and is part of the Obama Administration's Rural Tour, which is giving national leaders an opportunity to talk with citizens about efforts to rebuild and revitalize rural America, including rural education and workforce development.

The event will be held in the Robert L. and Elizabeth S. Cole Auditorium and Community Center on the college campus. Citizens are invited to attend the event and provide their ideas and ask questions about rural education and workforce development. Tickets and reservations are not required for this event.

Superintendent Atkinson has been focusing on workforce preparedness since the spring. She convened the State Superintendent's Career-Ready Commission in April to develop recommendations on issues pertaining to workforce development, workforce education and economic development in North Carolina. The commission is reviewing current and future labor market needs for the next decade, considering the role of entrepreneurship in economic development and examining workforce development and education with an international perspective.

"I look forward to listening to the views of citizens and leaders in the Richmond County area," Atkinson said. "Meeting the educational and economic needs of rural communities is an important element to building a strong 21st century economy in North Carolina."

For more information, please contact the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction"s Communications division at 919.807.3450.

Day 10 update

This trial is not going to be over before next week's issue. I can write than with great confidence. Barring a rapid acceleration of testimony from medical officials - since Wednesday morning, the defense in the Alvaro Castillo trial has brought forward three witnesses, the first two having been on the stand for a day or more - I'll be here for a good part of another week. We still have the prosecution's medical experts to get to, which will be at some point early or mid-week next week.

The defense's medical experts have agreed upon a number of points - Castillo suffered or suffers from both a schizotypal and schizo-affective disorder (my undergraduate-level psychology courses involving the DSM-IV have come back to me this week). Under this diagnosis, Castillo was aware that shooting people was both illegal and would hurt or kill them, but he thought God wanted him to "sacrifice" the students and his father, so he was not subject to the laws of man, witnesses said.

Two revelations from Castillo's nearly three-year incarceration have come to light in recent days that add a previously unknown wrinkle to the defense's testimony. One is his reaction to the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech - two witnesses who worked with Castillo during that time said Castillo was excited about the shooting and the "sacrifices," obsessive, they said, to the point where Central Prison staff took away his radio.

The second is Castillo's reason he stopped firing his weapon at Orange High School on Aug. 30, 2006. Witnesses for the prosecution have theorized his weapon jammed, and that Castillo was addressing the jam when a school resource officer reached him and subdued him. However, in testimony this afternoon, the jury has learned Castillo felt a pain in his chest that he interpreted as a sign from God to stop shooting. Castillo felt God spoke to him, witnesses testified, through signs but did not speak to him directly.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Castillo trial, day 9 update

As we enter the end of the second week of testimony in the Alvaro Castillo murder and school shooting trial, the defense has brought forward the most prolific witness of the trial thus far - a clinical social worker who has, for the better part of a day, been questioned on her assessment of Castillo after the shooting and the role his family background has played in his actions.

Again, this trial is not about whether Castillo murdered his father and opened fire on students at Orange High School on Aug. 30, 2006 (both sides agree on the details of that day). This case has become an argument over whether Castillo knew his actions were wrong, the legally defined point that separates "sanity" from "insanity." The argument dates back to his teenage years and in some cases long before.

Deborah Grey, the aforementioned social worker, was called to the stand late Wednesday morning, and as of the first break of the day Thursday, she's still up there (UPDATE - she stepped down at 11:20 a.m.). She has been asked to give her professional opinion, in great detail, formed after interviewing Castillo, his family and individuals related to the case, including the girl with whom Castillo showed admiration.

Yesterday afternoon, Attorney General Jim Woodall asked Grey whether portions of Castillo's journal - in which he writes he is sorry for his actions to come - could be considered remorse and a sign that he knew the legal, if not moral, implications of his actions. Grey responded that it did not prove Castillo knew whether he was wrong in committing the acts.

We're now at a point where Grey is reviewing medical diagnoses from Castillo's visits to mental health services in the summer of 2006, a period in which it has been shown two agencies debated where Castillo could best be treated. That summer, he had been prescribed an anti-depressant.

Earlier this week, the defense presented reflections on a calm, quiet and submissive Castillo, presenting a counterpoint to the young man who made meticulous preparations for the shootings at Orange, declaring them something he had to do to save the students there. This was a young man who, according to his journals, baked a pie for a former teacher the day of his attempted suicide and who the former teacher this week called "brilliant."

There are two very distinct versions of Alvaro Castillo being presented to the jury. This case would appear to rest on which version of him jurors believe is closest to reality.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Barber sponsors needed for Homeless event

Thanks to some widespread Internet problems, the paper got "to bed" much later than I had hoped last night, but it came out fine today. But, next week has already started, and we'll have some upcoming story blurbs later this week.

Something that was not mentioned about Project Homeless Connect in this week's paper is that they want a barber sponsor. In a discussion with Jamie Rohe, who currently heads the county's Partnership to End Homelessness, they are hoping to involve a faith-based group in the event to sponsor haircuts and grooming for homeless individuals. Interested barbers should also inquire if interested in donating their services (see the above link for contact information). Here are the event details:

3rd Annual Project Homeless Connect Orange County

Thursday, Oct. 8

9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Hargraves Community Center

216 N. Roberson St.

Chapel Hill

On another, unrelated note, school starts the week of Aug. 25, sports start the week before, the county commissioners meet Aug. 18, the town board reconvenes for a special meeting Aug. 20 and the school board is back next Monday. And I thought summer was short back when I was in school ....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

oc emergency services 9-1-1 issues

UPDATE: The problem is fixed as of this evening, according to a county spokesperson.

I just got a pre-recorded phone call from Orange County Emergency Services stating they are having some problems with 9-1-1.

If you have an emergency and can't get through to 9-1-1, call (919) 732-5063 instead. That number will be answered and treated an an emergency line.

on appeal

According to Nicole McWhirter's blog, written arguments in the case OMM v. OCS (shortened) are due to the state review officer tomorrow, with a decision due by Aug. 19.

In the courtroom, day 7

Sorry these posts have been spotty and relatively short. Just to update on the Alvaro Castillo murder and shooting trial, the defense is calling witnesses who have attested to Castillo's mental health, and the prosecution is consistently objecting to certain lines of questioning, such as "did you form an opinion about [Castillo's] mental health?".

The defense began calling witnesses Monday afternoon, and this case appears to be on track to be coming to a conclusion perhaps early next week. This week, I will have a story about Castillo's journals and videos, and will try to funnel thousands of words of notes into a relatively comprehensive story. Someday, I will try and post more complete documentation of the trial's blow-by-blows for anybody who is interested. That day, though, is not today.

Look for more in tomorrow's paper.

Monday, August 10, 2009

back online

Orange County Schools' e-mail issue seems to be resolved, and they are back online. Just FYI.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

ncdpi requesting some title i waivers

From the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Seeks Comment on its Request for Waivers to Federal Education Law, Title I, Part A

Public Notice is hereby given that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction plans to submit a request for several waivers to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These waivers will allow local education agencies flexibility with Title I, Part A, funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The waivers being requested include:


• Waivers of the Prohibition on Approving Schools and LEAs in Improvement, Corrective Action, or Restructuring as SES Providers

• Waivers to allow a LEA to offer SES in addition to public school choice to eligible students in Title I schools in the first year of school improvement


• Waivers to allow exclusion of Title I, Part A ARRA funds in “set-aside” calculations

• Waivers to allow exclusion of Title I, Part A ARRA funds in determining the per-pupil amount for SES

The public is invited to review and comment on these waiver requests by August 21, 2009. Interested persons may present their written comments to:

Donna Brown, Section Chief
Program Monitoring
6351 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-6351

To learn more about Title I, here is a link to No Child Left Behind, Title I, Part A, legislation.

For plain English, try this link.

For information from NCDPI, go here.

Castillo trial, day 3

District Attorney Jim Woodall is bringing forward witnesses to explain the course of events of Aug. 30, 2006, almost in the exact order they occurred. He warned the jury in his opening statements he would be presenting "very dry" testimony.

So far, we have heard from witnesses on the scene at Orange, both students and administrators as well as law enforcement officers. Then, testimony has followed Castillo from his arrest to booking and the comments he made in the interim. While in custody, Castillo told officers he had "sacrificed" his father, leading them to a second crime scene at 230 Lipps Lane. That's where we stand as of this writing.

Public defender James Williams objected to the prosecution's use of some photos from the home that showed the deceased body of Rafael Castillo, saying their graphic nature would unnecessarily sway the opinion of jury. Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour allowed the photos, saying 18 pictures from the scene had been condensed to a more reasonable three.

As stated before, the defense is more likely to dwell on family life and psychiatric evaluation of Alvaro Castillo than the events of the day in question, given that neither side disputes what happened.

On another note, I am going to be gone Thursday and Friday, but I will try to respond to e-mails before the workday Monday.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

temporary outage

Orange County Schools is facing a temporary e-mail outage, so I'm betting phone is the way to go to reach them in a hurry. I'll let you know when I get work they're back online.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Trial update

We are well on our way with the Alvaro Castillo trial. As I type, District Attorney Jim Woodall is calling witnesses from Aug. 30, 2006, to describe the scene at Orange High School, when the shooting took place.

Opening statements took place this morning and were pretty straightforward, with Woodall telling the jury what he planned to show and tell them and Williams making the case that Castillo's mental illness manifested over several years and has clear roots.

The trial is going to focus on Castillo's mental state, not whether he committed the felonies with which he has been charged. Williams' opening statement made it pretty clear he's going to focus on Castillo's family past as well as the events within a few months of the shooting at Orange.

I'll have more on opening statement and the trial up to our press deadline, which will be about midday tomorrow.

in brief

Welcome to August, everyone.

Josh is sitting in court today for the Castillo trial.

I'm working on a few things, trying to get call backs and tie up the loose ends on stories I'm working on.

Though this is not specifically our area, I thought some of you out there might be interested in the following press release, which just came across our e-mail:
Local Band & Club Hold Fundraiser for Durham Women Killed in Car Wreck

Friends of Julie Hatch and Jonel Hoogterp, two Durham women killed in a July 25th car wreck in Michigan, have planned a fundraiser for the women on Friday, August 7th at Club Steel Blue in Durham.

Friends and family established a fund for the women soon after the accident and approached the local band, Sudden Affair, about the possibility of turning its August 7th show at Steel Blue into a fundraiser. Sudden Affair's front-woman and songwriter, Andi Morgan, and Steel Blue owner, Diane Graves, who both share several friends with
Hatch and Hoogterp, were happy to make the change and worked quickly to make necessary adjustments.

"I only met Julie a couple of times and unfortunately never had the opportunity to meet Jonel, but I understand they were both wonderful people who touched the lives of many, including several close friends of mine," Morgan said. "I hope we are able to raise a substantial amount of money that can help offset the burden and loss already placed on the families," she added.

The car accident, which occurred July 25th at a family reunion in Michigan, killed 31-year-old Julie Hatch instantly and left her partner, 26-year-old Jonel Hoogterp, in critical condition. Hoogterp passed away Friday, July 31st after nearly a week in a medically induced coma at Marquette General Hospital in Michigan. Hoogterp did not have medical insurance.

The show will be held Friday, August 7th at Steel Blue, located at 1426 S. Miami Blvd. in Durham. Doors open at 8 p.m. and all door proceeds will be donated to the families. Admission is $3-15, depending on what guests wish and are able to give. Donations to The Jonel Fund can also be made online at For more information about Steel Blue or Sudden Affair, visit them online at and