Leader of firm hired to manage Southside-Ashpole has abruptly resigned. Former state lawmaker Tricia Cotham now heads firm.

Tony Helton

Tony Helton, one of the state’s most influential charter school leaders, has resigned his post as southeastern regional director of TeamCFA, the school management firm that oversees Southside-Ashpole Elementary school, the first and only school in the state’s Innovative School District (ISD).

Helton reportedly resigned Aug. 12. The reason behind his sudden departure from TeamCFA was unclear Friday. The Charlotte-based charter school network runs as many as 13 schools in the state, as well as charters in Arizona and Indiana.

Efforts to reach Helton were unsuccessful Friday.

Helton’s Linkedin page states that he is now chief executive officer at Tutelage Education Solutions, LLC, which is presumably a school management or consulting firm. The company was formed July 1 and is based in Forest City.

Tricia Cotham

Policy Watch learned that Helton has been replaced by former state Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Democrat from Charlotte, who served in the state legislature from March 2007-Jan. 2017.

Cotham could not be reached for comment Friday.

But her Facebook page states that she is now president of Achievement for All Children (AAC), a firm formed by Helton in 2017. AAC co-manages Southside-Ashpole with TeamCFA.

Cotham has also posted pictures of Southside-Ashpole classrooms in her Twitter feed, which she shared with new principal Kenneth Bowen.

Lawmakers created ISD in 2016 to begin the work of turning around some of the state’s lowest-performing school.

The selection of AAC to manage Southside-Ashpole raised eyebrows because the firm didn’t have a track record of turning around low-performing schools. And its partner, TeamCFA, had shown mixed results in its attempt improve academic achievement at such schools.

The connection between AAC and John Bryan, an Oregon resident who contributes heavily to school choice causes in North Carolina and political campaigns, was also cause for concern among critics of the selection.

AAC’s board of directors included former Rep. Rob Bryan, (R-Mecklenburg) who introduced the bill to create the ISD. According to media reports, John Bryan contributed about $17,000 to Rob Bryan’s campaigns for the state legislature over a three-year span, from 2013 to 2016.

John Bryan and Rob Bryan are not related. Rob Bryan currently serves on the UNC Board of Governors.

Cotham’s entry into state politics is noteworthy because she was appointed to the House in 2007 by then-Gov. Mike Easley to replace state representative James Black.

Cotham’s Linkedin page lists her most recent employment as a senior partner at BCHL Strategic Partner, a lobbying firm.

She is also a former Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools’ social studies teacher and assistant principal.

The summer has been one of significant change for Southside-Ashpole after only one year in the ISD.

ISD LaTeesa Allen suddenly resigned June 28. N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) officials have not shared any details about her departure. She was appointed to the post only nine months ago.

Policy Watch has filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request seeking personnel information for Allen allowed under state law but NCDPI has been mostly unresponsive to the request filed more than a month ago.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson replaced Allen James Ellerbe, a veteran North Carolina educator with a track record of improving low-performing schools.

Southside-Ashpole’s principal Bruce Major abruptly resigned July 1 after a year on the job. He has been replaced by Bowen who began work earlier this month.

 

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