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Walt Unks/Journal  

Packages head down the line for distribution at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Concord, N.C., Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The Concord center is similar to the facility that is being built in Kernersville.

Reagan High teacher focuses on making Latin fun and engaging

PFAFFTOWN — Jessie Craft was in shock the first time he asked a question in Latin and one of his students spoke back to him in the same language.

At the time, Craft, who currently teaches Latin at Reagan High School, was a teacher at Glenn High School.

“I was floored,” Craft said. “I was so impressed. I was so excited. That was fuel for my fire.”

Now, in his second year at Reagan, he has conversations with students in Latin, and uses all sorts of tools to make the language fun and engaging — from a big, fake spider to YouTube videos to a popular video game.

Amy Johnson and Michael Canace, 18-year-old seniors in Craft’s Latin — Level 4 and 5 — class, said they like Craft’s style of teaching.

“It’s like a new way of learning Latin,” said Johnson, who has been taking Latin for seven years under three different teachers since middle school. “I’ve always been taught just the grammar. We’ll focus on, say, two sentences for the whole class and just take notes. But, Mr. Craft actually teaches us how to read Latin …. And he speaks to us in Latin.”

Canace said Craft has a “unique, not traditional” method of teaching.

“We try to speak in Latin as much as we can,” Canace said. “Instead of grammar, we try to read stories. Right now, we are reading letters from Cicero to Caesar ….Since it’s letters, we get to learn about different styles of writing.”

The decline and rise

Based on Craft’s observations, the number of people who have been registering for Latin courses and the number of Latin programs in the education system in the United States and Italy, has been on the decline for the past 50 or more years.

He believes a possible reason for this drop-off is the way Latin was being taught.

“The way that Latin has been taught for the past 100-plus years is (the) strict grammar translation method,” Craft said. “On day one, before you’re really learning the language, you’re learning what a pronoun is, a subject and nominative, so you’re learning how to talk about language first.”

He has found that this teaching method is great for some people, but not for everyone.

“I found it to be beneficial and I enjoyed it, but the problem is, and what studies will show, is that the majority of humans don’t really excel in that environment,” Craft said.

He said he and some other teachers want Latin to be inclusive for everyone.

Mary Pendergraft, a professor and chairwoman of classics at Wake Forest University, also said that the number of Latin programs has been falling.

“That is not always by choice but because a real problem with not enough Latin teachers,” said Pendergraft, who is also president of the American Classical League, an organization of teachers of Latin and Greek. “Many universities are scaling back teacher-training programs in languages in general and there are just not enough Latin teachers.”

Back at the start of the decline in the 1970s, she said, languages were beginning to be less valued than sciences.

Today, some schools offer a variety of languages, giving students more choices, but, nationally, a large percentage of students take Spanish, she said.

Still, some programs are growing, primarily in K-12.

“He (Craft) would attribute that, as some people do, to different pedagogies, using for instance Latin as a language of instruction, not (speaking in) English talking about Latin but talking in Latin to the students,” Pendergraft said.

Craft used the grammar translation method his first three years at Glenn High School, then realized that just talking about grammar wasn’t connecting with his students.

“After struggling and seeing so many students failing left and right (in Latin),” he said, he decided to try something different, starting with the Minecraft video game.

“It’s basically the video game version of Legos,” he said. “You get into a game and everyone can play at the same time and together in the same world, and you build.”

He said his students were learning culture by building cultural artifacts and loved building in the game, but one of his colleagues criticized him, wanting to know how students were learning Latin without the language.

Over a summer, Craft researched second-language acquisition, the process by which people learn a second language. Then he progressed to teaching Latin like a language.

“What they’re suggesting for us to do is to teach language not too differently than if you were teaching it to a child,” he said of experts in second-language acquisition.

“What they’re saying is to use meaningful communication that was comprehensible. You’ve got to use vocabulary that the kids use, that they understand.”

He said there are several ways to help students understand the language.

Craft often draws pictures, providing an image along with words in Latin, in his classroom, and is extremely animated in front of his students.

His projects with the Minecraft video game include building a Roman temple and a Roman house.

He has been building a model of Ancient Rome block-by-block through Minecraft.

“It’s been a six-to-seven year project now, rebuilding, but I’ve basically finished the whole city,” he said.

In December 2016, Craft made his first YouTube video, which focused on what a Roman apartment looked like. He now has more than 110 videos on YouTube at Divus Magister Craft. Most of them are in Latin with English subtitles.

He has been invited to teach at a Latin language school in Italy this spring, and has held a virtual class in which 70 adult students were in Italy while he taught them from Winston-Salem.

He also has self-published books and has various resources online at magistercraft.com for teachers and students.

From Italian to Latin

Craft is originally from Johnson City, Tenn. He has a bachelor’s degree in Italian from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and a bachelor’s degree with initial licensure in Latin from UNC Greensboro.

He became interested in Latin while he was studying Italian at UTK.

After graduating from UTK, he moved to North Carolina in 2006 and worked in Charlotte as a regional sales manager for the U.S. subsidiary of an Italian gelato ingredient company call PreGel.

He said he was happy to use the Italian language in his job and excited when he got the opportunity to teach people how to make gelato.

“I had always wanted to teach, even since high school,” said Craft.

It took prompting from his wife, Silvia, who grew up in Urbino, Italy, and is now a professor at Wake Forest University, to convince him to go back to school in 2010 for his teaching license.

Craft has been teaching full time since 2013. He simultaneously taught Latin at Mount Tabor High School for the last three of his five years at Glenn High. He joined Reagan High during the 2018-2019 school year.

Craft was honored by the Classical Association of the Middle West & South with the 2017-2018 Kraft Award for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching. He has been nominated for the 2019 SCS (Society for Classical Studies) Awards for Excellence in Teaching at the Precollegiate Level.

Brad Royal, Reagan High’s principal, said that Craft puts students first and makes learning come alive.

“I think that his innovative style and his energy and enthusiasm, coupled with the fact that he’s built strong relationships with kids has been a tremendous recipe for success for him and, most importantly, our students,” Royal said.

Walkertown lawyer who helped lead white supremacist group could face license suspension over how he handled client funds

Harold Ray Crews, the Walkertown lawyer who helped lead the state chapter of a white supremacist group, failed to provide complete records about how he handled client funds despite numerous requests, the N.C. State Bar alleges in a petition.

The State Bar is asking for an order requiring Crews, who has been an attorney since 1999, to appear in front of its Disciplinary Hearing Commission and explain why he should not have his law license suspended for not complying with an investigation into allegations that he mishandled client funds.

A hearing on Crews’ case is scheduled for Feb. 21 in Raleigh. He is still licensed to practice law, but in an email to the State Bar, he said he has closed his law firm and has focused on document review.

Crews could not be reached for comment. Both his office phone number and his home number appear to have been disconnected. In 2017, he declined to speak with a Winston-Salem Journal reporter about the white supremacist group, the League of the South, telling the reporter to “go away.”

According to the petition, the State Bar audited Crews’ trust accounts in March 2018. That audit showed that Crews had not properly documented how much money was going in and out of two trust accounts he had set up at First National Bank. In fact, he had not reconciled those accounts since they were opened in 2013, the petition says.

The petition does not mention how much money was in each trust account. The State Bar gave Crews four months to demonstrate that he had fixed the problem, but Crews failed to do so, according to the petition.

On Aug. 18, 2018, the State Bar filed a grievance against Crews to “address the apparent violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct stemming from the 2018 procedural audit.” On June 18, 2019, Crews was served a letter of notice. In that letter, the State Bar told Crews to provide copies from March 2018 through May 2019, proving that he had reconciled the accounts.

Crews said he needed until July 17, 2019, to provide that information. Then on July 14, 2019, he asked for more time and said he planned to hire an accountant to help him. Two days later, he provided an electronic link containing a portion of the trust account information. The State Bar found problems with how he handled at least one of the accounts.

“The ‘reconciliations’ also appeared to reflect multiple instances of overdisbursements from the trust account and unidentified or unidentifiable funds,” the petition says.

Crews asked for more time and the State Bar said it would grant his request if Crews entered into a preliminary injunction prohibiting him from handling any more trust accounts. A consent order was entered into on July 29, 2019. That order is still in effect, Katherine Jean, legal counsel for the State Bar, said Thursday.

The State Bar sent letters in November and December 2019 requesting that Crews provide information, including all client ledgers. In its petition, the State Bar says Crews has failed to provide all the information it has sought, including canceled checks, bank statements, deposit slips, and documentation of wire and electronic transfers. The State Bar says Crews is required to maintain all of that information in order to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Crews has served as the chairman of the League of the South’s North Carolina chapter. The league, which was formed in 1994, promotes white Southern nationalism and was one of the white nationalist and neo-Confederate groups that participated in the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. During that rally, white nationalist James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one person and injuring more than 20.

Crews was at the rally and two months later he obtained an arrest warrant from a city magistrate in Charlottesville for DeAndre Harris, a then-20-year-old black man who was severely beaten by a group of white nationalists. Crews alleged that Harris had hit him in the face with a flashlight. Harris was eventually acquitted of charges that he assaulted Crews. Three men were convicted of beating Harris.

Teacher pay boost and quarter-cent sales tax increase are focus of Forsyth County groups

Forsyth County teachers may not be able to campaign for a quarter-cent increase in the local sales-tax rate that would be used to boost their pay, but that’s not stopping various local groups from getting the word out for them.

The groups include the Forsyth County Association of Educators, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Council of PTAs and an unnamed ad hoc group.

In addition, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools offers information about the March 3 ballot measure on its website at www.wsfcs.k12.nc.us/Page/114860.

Their efforts are just in time for Thursday’s start of early voting for the March 3 primary election.

Val Young, the president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, said association members are trying to visit various groups, including clubs and local government town and council meetings, “to try to get as many citizens as possible to understand the importance of it.”

Young said it is important to provide people with information about the verbiage that’s going to be on the ballot.

“It does not say that the money is for teacher supplements,” she said.

According to a sample ballot on the Forsyth County Board of Elections website, the quarter-cent sales-tax proposal’s ballot title is “Forsyth County Local Sales and Use Tax.” The question is worded: “Local sales and use tax at the rate of one quarter percent (0.25%) in addition to all other state and local sales and use taxes.”

Voters have a choice of “for” or “against.”

Young has found a way to get people to ask questions about the tax request.

She drives around town with a bright, yellow baseball cap on the dashboard of her car. On the front of the cap is a white, yellow, black and blue logo that displays in printed words: “Vote For ¼ Cent Sales Tax For Teachers.”

“I guess, I’m going to be branded, the yellow hat lady,” Young said, laughing.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Council of PTAs plans to have people stationed all day outside of early-voting sites and Election Day polling places.

“We’re very excited to throw our support behind the teachers,” said Donald Dunn, a consultant to the group.

Gayle Anderson, a retired president and chief executive of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, is a member of the unnamed ad hoc group, which includes community volunteers and some county commissioners.

“Everybody’s all working together,” Anderson said.

She said the group has focused on getting yard signs out and organizing to have volunteers at the early-voting sites to hand out a simple informational sheet about the quarter-cent sales-tax increase.

“What we’re finding, sort of anecdotally, is that people have not yet quite figured out that this is on the ballot,” Anderson said. “And if they know there’s something on the ballot when you read the ballot language, it doesn’t tell you anything (about education).”

She also said that people are visiting civic groups to present facts about the proposal, not to lobby for it.

“Just to say this is what it is,” Anderson said.

The sales tax

In September 2019, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved putting a quarter-cent increase in the local sales-tax rate before voters.

If voters approve it, the extra revenue it generates will be used to raise classroom teacher pay supplements. Each teacher is expected to receive an increase of $2,000 to $3,000 a year.

The quarter-cent sales tax is expected to bring in $13 million its first year then increase to more than $14.3 million by 2025.

The current sales-tax rate in the county is 6.75%. The increase would raise that to 7%.

Items that would exempt from the tax include groceries or unprepared foods, gasoline, motor vehicle and home sales, rent, and prescription medication.

“The sales tax is paid by everybody, not just people who live in Forsyth County and spend money here. … We’re estimating 40% would be paid by people who are outside of the county,” said Anderson.

The tax is expected to lower Forsyth County’s property-tax rate by 1 cent.

According to the school system’s website, roughly 540 teachers, about 15%, leave the school system each year. As of November 2019, 30 positions for licensed teachers were vacant.

Don Martin, the vice chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners and a member of the ad hoc group, spoke of the differences in the 2018 general election and the 2020 primary.

In 2018, voters said “no” to a quarter-cent increase in the county sales-and-use tax rate to pay for a new courthouse and provide leftover money for the local school system.

Martin also spoke of how the wording on the ballot in 2018 did not help toward a “yes” vote, primarily because the ballot language is specified by law.

He said it was kind of an “either/or” situation back then.

“Do you want to build the courthouse with property taxes or do you want to build the courthouse with sales taxes?” Martin said.

He also said that the county did not spend a lot of money getting its message out and it started campaigning rather late.

This time around, commissioners are hoping that the current proposed quarter-cent sales-tax increase will allow the county to roll back the property-tax rate by 1 cent.

“This is not do you want to pay for it one way or the other?” Martin said. “It’s basically do you want to pay for it, period, because if we don’t get this, we can’t do it, period?”

He said they have done a much better job so far of getting the word out about the sales tax leading up to the primary.

“We will continue to get the message out that the quarter-cent sales tax is only for teacher salaries,” Martin said. “It’s a teacher supplement. It’s adding to our local supplement.”

Classified employees

Although the quarter-cent sales tax is for teachers, several people said that they also support classified school employees.

“Everybody is concerned about them getting a pay increase also, so we really have to get that message out that they are going to be a priority on the school (system’s) budget,” Young said.

“All the funds that are being saved from getting (teacher) supplements from the quarter-cent sales tax, will help tremendously to get their (classified staff) increase.”

Young, who refers to classified staff as the backbone of the schools, said she wouldn’t be able to do her job as a teacher if it wasn’t for her teacher assistant, the school cafeteria workers and bus drivers.

“When you teach in upper grades and you only get a TA (teacher assistant) maybe once every two or three days, you work around it,” she said. “You get used to it. But I taught kindergarten last year and to have that extra hand in the room was invaluable.”

Ronda Mays, a school social worker for the school system, said she is glad there has been talk that classified employees will get some sort of pay boost next year.

But, Mays said, “that does no good for people this year. Employees in this district have worked a whole year without seeing anything.”

Four Republicans vie for three seats in Forsyth Commissioners District B primary

Four Republicans are running to fill three county commissioner seats in the March 3 primary.

Richard V. Linville, David R. Plyler, and Gloria D. Whisenhunt are the incumbents and Terri Mrazek is the newcomer.

Because there are just three Democrats running for the three available Forsyth County commissioners’ seats, Gull Riaz, Christopher Smith and Eric Weiss will not have to run in the primary.

Linville has served on the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners for 40 years.

“Generally, any kind of work or anything one has been involved in the more experience and time they are in it they acquire more knowledge as they go,” Linville said. “Therefore I think they are able to do a better job at what they are doing.”

He considers himself an effective member of the board, saying that when difficult times arose, he “used thoughtful judgment to resolve the issues.”

He wants to be re-elected to continue to provide services in the most effective way, to pay close attention to the county debt and to continue to work on economic development matters.

Linville said he, other county commissioners and county staff come up with different ideas and consider them as they constantly look for new and better ways to do things.

“When you’re making efforts to try to be more efficient, I think that’s making progress,” he said.

Linville said the county is in a good financial position and that its services are good.

“Almost all the time there are new school facilities that are being worked on,” he said. “As far as emergency services, we’ve about got the state-of-the-art of that.”

But the county needs to watch its debt, especially now that it is getting a new courthouse, he said.

Linville said that the proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase that will be put before voters in the March primary will be an additional funding source for teacher (pay) and would be an easier method to generate money for teachers than raising the property tax rate.

As for economic development, Linville said it has evolved over the years in the county, including the use of incentives.

But he said he has always looked at each incentive project on a case-by-case basis.

“I think that we should be careful and make the best selections of where to spend money,” he said.

Linville said, “Basically I want to stay with the traditional services, improve what we can, and in the end try to keep the property taxes as low and as reasonable as can be.”

Plyler is the chairman of the board of commissioners.

He wants to be re-elected because he continues “to play a role in providing quality in all respects for schools, the economy, and recreation such as Tanglewood and Triad parks.

He spoke of several issues facing the county including the loss of corporate headquarters and race relations.

“We’ve got to do something to keep the people who are making us what we are here and make it possible for them to flourish,” Plyler said.

He said relationships are better than they used to be, but there is still the need for a better understanding between the races.

Time, transparent communication and dialogue is needed to help solve this problem, he said.

Education is another concern of his, including the teachers, who he describes as “the people who mold the minds of our children.”

He said that the county needs the best teachers it can get, but to achieve that, it needs qualified, well-paid teachers.

He believes he has been effective as a commissioner, saying that while he was on the board, there has been the near completion of three new libraries in Forsyth County, plans to start construction on a Hall of Justice, planning for a Family Justice Center and future facilities, priority attention on WS/FCS schools and communications with the Forsyth legislative delegation to improve quality of life for all citizens.

He is most proud of the county’s education policies; $40 million for new libraries in Kernersville, Clemmons and Winston-Salem; and its support of IMPACT, a public/private community program designed to teach third-graders to read, during his years on the board of commissioners.

“I want to see if we can meet with members of the community to open dialogue that would allow us to listen to the problems, needs and interests of the people who live in our county,” Plyler said of the board. “We haven’t done that in years.”

Whisenhunt sees herself as “a watchdog for the taxpayer.”

“They have my upmost concern,” she said. “I never forget that this is the taxpayers’ money and government.”

She also said, “I am not afraid to vote “no” if I believe an issue is not beneficial to the taxpayer.”

When it comes to issues facing Forsyth County, Whisenhunt is concerned about the county’s debt and tax rate.

“I believe we have to put the breaks on our debt, which is about $72 million,” she said.

That amount, she said, does not include the new courthouse or the money the board of commissioners has committed to the new Kaleideum building.

Whisenhunt is proud of the fact that she was instrumental in bringing Stepping Up to the county. The program focuses on reducing recidivism among women and men with substance abuse or mental illness in the county jail.

“In February, we’re getting ready to have our third graduation,” Whisenhunt said. “That little piece of paper is just as important to them as to some folk’s college degree.”

She said she and other people in the county have encouraged Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers Inc., a residential therapeutic community based in Durham, to open an addiction rehabilitation facility in Forsyth County.

“They have a 95 percent success rate,” she said. “It is a two-year program. I think it could be extremely beneficial to our community.”

Whisenhunt is most proud of the fact that the county’s public health and social services departments consolidated to become Forsyth County Health and Human Services during her current term on the board.

“I think it is going to be a much better service for our citizens,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s all on one campus....It’s just a joint effort to serve the people now.”

She said that the number of terms a commissioner serves on the board is entirely up to the voters.

This is the first time Mrazek is running for political office.

She said freedom is the reason she is in the race for Forsyth County Commissioner, saying that the incumbents who are running in 2020 have been commissioners for a long time.

“Freedom is having choices,” Mrazek said. “If I chose not to run, voters would not have a choice.”

She said if only three people run in the Republican primary, all three of them would win.

“I can bring a fresh perspective to the issues we are faced with in Forsyth County,” she said.

She said her priorities in life are God, her family, work and play.

“If voters are looking for a strong, conservative to have their voice, then I think I’m that right candidate,” she said.

She said that Winston-Salem has one of the worst child poverty rates in the U.S.

She said it is discriminating that free school meals for students with lunch debt in the local school system do not include a meat or entrée as the regular meals.

“You can’t do right halfway....Right is making sure that every student in school whether they have the ability to pay or not gets the same rights as the other child and we don’t differentiate them from the other students,” she said.

She is in favor of voter picture IDs, saying she doesn’t see them as racist or discriminating.

“We didn’t say that we would differentiate a special group and separate them,” Mrazek said. “We said all registered voters should provide a picture ID to vote.”

She wants to see pride return to Forsyth County, saying that when she drives around the county, she often sees trash along the roads.

“I would like to run a campaign or encourage a civic organization or somebody to run a campaign on making Forsyth County beautiful again and teaching our young people the responsibility to not waste and respect where they live and how they live,” she said.

Mrazek favors the creation of programs to give homeless people a sense of dignity by putting them back to work.

She said she is 100 percent in favor of fair wages for teachers and all people employed in the county, but wonders how a quarter-cent sales tax increase “will affect people who are just getting by.”