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State Board of Education names head of controversial Achievement School District

New Achievement School District Superintendent Eric Hall

A controversial program that may turn over control of low-performing schools in North Carolina to for-profit charter operators has its new chief.

Members of the State Board of Education named Eric Hall, president and CEO of Communities in Schools, a Raleigh nonprofit that specializes in dropout prevention, as superintendent of the district Thursday morning.

Hall’s organization is touted for their efforts in more than 300 schools across the state, identifying high-needs kids and providing specialists who work to increase attendance and engage with parents and families.

Both State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey and N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson applauded the news in a statement Thursday.

“We are extremely pleased that Dr. Hall will lead this new initiative,” said Cobey. “His success in working with students at risk and schools with high percentages of at-risk students will only benefit the new Achievement School District. His proven ability to build partnerships will help this effort be successful.”

Prior to his work at Communities in Schools, Hall served for more than seven years as national director of education services at AMIkids, a Florida-based national nonprofit that provides intervention for troubled youths.

Hall takes over a model of education reform expected to be under intense scrutiny in its first years in North Carolina. The model, which will allow charter operators to assume control of five chronically low-performing public schools, has been implemented to mixed results, great controversy and reports of inappropriate spending in states like Tennessee, Louisiana and Michigan.

Charter operators will take over school leadership, curriculum and hiring and firing powers of the school’s staff.

Conservatives and school choice supporters tout achievement school districts as simply another option for improving academics in long-struggling schools, many of which are located in low-income locales. But traditional public school supporters point to middling results in other states as reason to look elsewhere for improving these schools, urging state officials to instead invest more in state-run school turnaround services.

As Policy Watch reported last year, the proposal spurred heated debate in the legislature over intervention in long-troubled schools and districts.  State officials are expected to move quickly on forming the district this year, with schools tapped for the program in the coming months.

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