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State Board of Ed Chair: Potential charter takeover schools had “plenty of time” to make improvements

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey

As public school officials narrow down their list of schools eligible for the first year of a controversial charter takeover program, the chair of North Carolina’s top school board says the low-performing schools being considered are due for a change.

“There is reason to believe that they’ve had plenty of time to deal with these failing schools,” said board Chairman Bill Cobey. “I would hope that, as we go through the process, they would be willing to accept the fact that maybe we need to try to something different.”

Cobey’s comments come with leaders in the state’s Innovative School District (ISD) releasing a list of six remaining schools. That list includes two schools apiece in Durham and Robeson counties, as well as schools in the Northampton and Nash-Rocky Mount school districts.

Those schools include:

Durham Public Schools – Lakewood Elementary

Durham Public Schools – Glenn Elementary

Nash-Rocky Mount Schools – Williford Elementary

Northampton County Schools – Willis Hare Elementary

Robeson County Schools – R.B. Dean Elementary

Robeson County Schools – Southside Ashpole Elementary

In Durham, at least, local officials have made no secret of their opposition to the Innovative School District, which could allow for-profit, charter management operators to assume control of operations and staffing at a public school.

But Cobey, like ISD Superintendent Eric Hall, says local opposition won’t necessarily deter state leaders from tapping a school for charter takeover.

“I think we live in a world where people are open to innovation, respect innovation,” Cobey said. “They don’t want to just wait for things to happen and just listen to people say, ‘Oh, we’re handling it.’ I think people are impatient. They want change now. For the children, you just don’t get another year.”

Cobey added that he does not believe the proposal to constitute a “takeover” of local schools, calling the ISD a “fairly modest” program.

Nevertheless, the initiative—a favorite among school choice backers—has spurred intense opposition from many public school leaders. Similar districts in Louisiana and Tennessee reported middling results and intense controversy among locals.

In December, the State Board of Education is expected to tap two schools for the program’s first year in 2018-2019, with another three schools to join the following year.

Schools eligible for inclusion were chosen because of poor academic scores over the past three years. ISD officials plan to conduct site visits with eligible schools and conduct needs assessments before choosing two schools to recommend to Cobey’s board in November.

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