State Board of Education okays Carver Heights “restart” without controversial private takeover

Without comment, the State Board of Education on Thursday approved a “restart application” that allows Carver Heights Elementary School to avoid a state takeover.

Under the “restart” school reform model, the struggling Wayne County school will be given “charter-like” flexibility to operate, meaning it will be free of some of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools.

The school must show academic improvement over the next year or risk being swallowed up by the controversial Innovative School District (ISD) beginning with 2021-2022 school year.

The ISD was created in 2016 to allow the state to place consistently low-performing schools under the control of private operators such as nonprofits.

“They have time now to implement and delay their entry into the Innovative School District,” said James Ellerbe, the state’s assistant director of district and regional support who oversees school transformation programs.

Wayne County Superintendent Michael Dunsmore told Policy Watch last week that the restart at Carver Heights has technically already begun.

The district has hired a new principal, Patrice Faison, a former Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year award recipient, who has gained a reputation for turning schools around.

“She’s known as a mover and a shaker,” Ellerbe told SBE members on Wednesday, noting that Faison, while principal at Oak Hill Elementary School in High Point, made 19.4 percent growth in composite score, which was the highest for both the district and the state.

Charter-like flexibility

In its “restart application, Wayne County Public Schools (WCPS) was granted calendar flexibility – the district plans to add 30 minutes to each school day beginning this month. And the school’s instructional staff will get five extra professional development days, beginning in the summer.

WCPS will also be granted licensure flexibility so the district can use “highly skilled” members of the military, arts and music communities in Carver Heights Classrooms.

“These community members have special skill sets (e.g., foreign language speakers, trade, and industry specialists, professional musicians and artists) but we can’t use them as classroom teachers because of licensure restrictions,” WCPS officials said in the restart application.

The district also has budget flexibility to enable Carver Heights to pay teacher performance and growth bonuses, master teacher stipends, professional development stipends and pay for extended day and extended year and other such cost.

The district requested and was granted curriculum flexibility to implement what is referred to as “Balanced Literacy” instructional blocks to allow teachers to integrate instruction across content areas to make learning more relevant and meaningful while emphasizing literacy, vocabulary, reading and writing.

It took approval of a state technical corrections bill passed during last month’s lame duck legislative session to pave the way for Carver Heights to resubmit its restart application.

The bill also repealed a requirement that the State Board select at least two qualifying schools to transfer to the Innovative School District no later than the 2019-2020 school year.

ISD must have five schools by 2021

The decision to allow Carver Heights to move ahead with its restart plan means the ISD must bring four more schools into the district by 2021 as required by state law.

Currently, the ISD has one school, Southpole Ashpole Elementary School in Rowan County.

LaTessa Allen, superintendent of the ISD, acknowledged Thursday that adding four more schools by 2021 will be a “bit of a challenge.”

The school district in Durham and others where schools where tapped for ISD have vigorously pushed back against state takeovers.

ISD Superintendent LaTeesa Allen

“We know it’s going to big task, but we know the greater task is going to be to move students forward, and that’s what we’re going to stay focused on,” Allen said.

When asked if ISD would try a different strategy to make the district more appealing, Allen said ISD strategies are led by legislation approved by the General Assembly.

“Of course we’re always looking at ways to improve what we do,” Allen said. “We want to ensure we’re working collaboratively with our State Board [of Education] and our districts, and communities as we’ve done before to make sure this process works for all of us and students.”

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