Education, News

Two charter schools opposed by Wake County Board of Education are moving toward 2020 opening date

The State Board of Education (SBE) on Thursday gave final approval to two controversial charter schools opposed by the state’s largest school district.

Despite opposition by the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), the SBE approved 2020 openings for Wake County Preparatory Academy and North Raleigh Charter Academy on separate 7-3 votes.

The Wake Prep charter was approved with the provision that the school only enroll 915 students the first year instead of the planned 1,605. In the second year, the enrollment is projected at 1,420 the second year and 1,620 the third.

The school will operate as a K-10 school the first year before expanding to a k-12 school the second year.

Meanwhile, North Raleigh will operate as a K-6 and add grades 7-9 over the next two years. The school will project an enrollment of 615 students but can accommodate 765.

Both schools will conduct a weighted lottery as a strategy to increase diversity. One big criticism of charters schools is that they lead to school segregation.

SBE Chairman Eric Davis and board members JB Buxton and Jill Camnitz cast the three votes against approving the school’s charter applications.

Before the vote, Buxton asked if the schools plan to offer “quality” programs not offered by existing schools in the area.

He said the schools’ program offerings don’t appear to be innovative.

“That feels like something I’d find in schools, not only in that community but across the state,” Buxton said. “This is why I grappling with these two. It doesn’t feel like they’re adding quality seats to the community. I believe they’re adding options, but relative to the education being offered, they don’t seem to be bringing anything different.”

Dave Machado, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, disagreed, pointing out that Wake Prep’s management firm Charter One has a long record of success in Arizona bring innovation to school settings.

He noted that Charter One requires service projects, participation in learning communities and an entrepreneurial course that high school students must take.

“I think they’re very innovative in the things they’re doing outside of the regular curriculum North Carolina requires,” Machado said.

Turning to North Raleigh, Machado noted the school’s Board of Directors also oversee Cardinal Charter Academy, which carries a perennial “B” state performance grade.

Last month, in what amounted to an impact statement, leaders of the WCPSS urged the SBE to not approve the schools’ charters.

“In all these applications, it is not difficult to see how the proposed charters would increase de facto segregation, decrease efficient utilization of public facilities and add no significant variety or innovative instructional programs in a county where parents already understand and strongly support traditional schools,” Wake County Board of Education Chairman Jim Martin and Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore wrote in a June 3 letter to the SBE. “Charter saturation is an appropriate way to describe this situation.”

Martin and Moore noted that there are 10 schools within five miles of the sites in northeastern Wake County that are proposed for Wake Prep. And five of the 10 schools are charters, which enroll a combined 4,000 pupils.

Wake Prep officials make a case for the school on its website.

They contend WCPSS has more than 20 schools with capped enrollments, more than 19,000 students in trailers, 9,000 students on charter school waitlists and more than 3,000 students on Wake Prep’s interest list.

Last month, members of the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) pushed back against WCPSS officials, contending their concerns reflect “philosophical” differences about the value of charters, rather than fear of school re-segregation or charter saturation.

The CSAB recommended the SBE approve the two schools.

Steven Walker, vice chairman of the CSAB, said at the time Wake officials have taken the position that if “parents aren’t making the choice we like, maybe we shouldn’t let them have the choice.”

The impact of charter schools is being felt throughout the state. The number of charters in North Carolina has swelled to nearly 200 since state lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap in 2011.

Education

Veteran educator James Ellerbe appointed superintendent of state’s Innovative Schools District

James Ellerbe

Superintendent Mark Johnson didn’t waste much time naming a new superintendent for the state’s Innovative School District (ISD).

On Thursday, Johnson announced that James Ellerbe will replace LaTeesa Allen as superintendent of the school district created to help turnaround low-performing schools.

Allen’s last day on the job was 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.

One of Ellerbe’s first task will be to find a principal for the ISD’s only school, Southside-Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County.

Bruce Major abruptly resigned July 1 after a year on the job.

Ellerbe comes to NCDPI from the Center for Responsive Schools where he served as director of administration and Strategy.

Ellerbe has been a teacher and a principal in North Carolina public schools. He’s served at NCDPI in numerous roles including interim director of district and regional support and as a district transformation coach.

Johnson also named Robert “Bo” Trumbo director of the Center for Safer Schools.

According to the press release, Trumbo comes to NCDPI after a distinguished career as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

His duties included investigative responsibilities as well as protective assignments; a 5-year tour with the Presidential Protective Division and Counter Assault Team.

Trumbo also held numerous supervisory assignments during his stint with the Secret Service.

On Thursday, Trumbo emphasized the importance of working in partnership with local school districts.

“Hopefully, we can become a clearinghouse, a resource to support districts,” Trumbo said.

He replaces Kym Martin, the wife of former North Carolina Chief Justice Mark Martin.  Judge Martin resigned in February to become dean of Regent University law school in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“I am pleased that we are able to add both of these individuals to our team here at DPI,” Johnson said in a statement. “They are uniquely qualified and bring valuable experience to these two important positions. I look forward to working with each of them in their new roles.”

Education

House Education Committee backs bill to transform Innovation School District’s selection process

The state’s Innovative School District (ISD) would not get a new school this year under a bill backed by the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

But the school district created to turnaround low-performing schools would get a new school each of the next three years afterward, and more could be selected by the State Board of Education in subsequent years, if the bill becomes law.

The bill is a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) to Senate Bill 522, which initially made changes to state law affecting charter schools.

It has been revived as a vehicle to change the way ISD schools are selected, and how they operate.

The PCS, for example, changes the definition of a qualifying school. A school must be among the lowest 5 percent of Title 1 schools when it comes to school performance grades to qualify for the ISD.

The bill could help state officials avoid the messy ISD selection process that has led to boisterous protests in communities by first placing schools on a qualifying list, a watch list and warning list before it could be swept into the ISD.

State law currently requires officials to look at a school’s performance the past three years before it can be considered for inclusion in the ISD. The ISD superintendent shouldered much of weight of selecting a school, which was then sent to the State Board of Education (SBE) for approval.

The PCS calls for the SBE to automatically transfer the lowest performing school into the ISD from 2020-21 through the 2022-23 school.

It also called for a low-performing school to spend one year on a watch list and another on a warning list, and if the school is one of the five lowest qualifying schools on the warning list, the SBE would be required to transfer the school to the ISD.

But an amendment brought forward by State Rep. Ashton Clemmons, (D-Guilford), was approved that gives local school districts one more year to right the ship before being swept into the ISD.

Schools would first be placed on a qualifying list, then spend a year on a watch list, and another on a warning list if academic achievement doesn’t improve.

Clemmons noted that the extra year was included in House Bill 798, the House’s earlier attempt to transform the ISD selection process. The bill did not make it out of the Senate.

“When we are talking about schools and families and communities having the three-year process provides time for them to get their strategies in order, to get their interventions in order,” Clemmons said. “To do the work that needs to be done to turnaround a school, we know that research is very clear, it takes three years to show progress in turnaround efforts.”

State Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, (R-Wilkes). Co-chairman of the committee, said he had mixed feelings about the added year.

“There’s advantage and disadvantages to how we had it before,” Elmore said, referring to HB 798. “When you consolidate, the positive is that state level interventions can come quicker.”

Leeanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the N.C. School Board Association, said it’s important to give local education officials time to do the work needed to improve struggling schools.

“You’ve also demonstrated this in your budget,” Winner said. “You put in place a $30,000 bonus for principals to go to low-performing schools for three years. To only give them two of those three years to do that work seems not to fit together.”

The discussion about the proposed rules and administrative changes comes as the ISD looks for new leadership.

Former superintendent LaTeesa Allen’s last day on the job was June 28. N.C. Department Department of Public Instruction officials have not shared any details about Allen’s departure. She was appointed to the post only nine months ago.

Bruce Major, the principal of the ISD’s only school, Southside-Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County, also departed, effectively resigning July 1.

 

Education

North Carolina high school students must pass course in economics, finance to receive diplomas

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday signed into law House Bill 924, which requires students to pass a course in financial literacy as a graduation requirement.

Cooper signed the bill despite objections from critics who complained about the circuitous route the bill took to land on his desk.

The bill’s financial literacy provision was appended by the Senate onto an unrelated education bill and then returned to the House for a concurrence voted without any further discussion by a House committee.

Critics also pointed out that financial literacy is already taught as part of the high school civics and economics course. A separate course, they complained, would crowd out vitally important classes.

The one-credit course in economics and personal finance will be one of four full-course credits in social studies required for high school graduation.

Students entering the ninth-grade in the 2020-2021 school year will be the first to need the financial literacy credit to graduate.

Supporters of HB 924 argued the bill is a needed in an era where high school students, particularly those headed to college, are asked to make life-changing financial decisions (student loans) as soon as they walk across the graduation stage.

The bill was championed by Lt. Governor and 2020 gubernatorial candidate Dan Forest who has said the state could retool the state’s social studies curriculum to create room for a semester of financial literacy.

Forest said adoption of the bill would be transformative for students.

“I think transformative to the education of our young people and I think that’ll be transformative to our state and nation as well,” Forest said.

The law requires students to receive instruction on economic principles and personal financial literacy instruction that would include:

  • The true cost of credit,
  • Choosing and managing a credit card,
  • Borrowing money for an automobile or other large purchase,
  • Home mortgages,
  • Credit scoring and credit reports,
  • Planning and paying for post-secondary education, and other relevant financial literacy issues.
Education

State’s Innovative School District is operating without a superintendent, and its one school doesn’t have a principal

Former ISD Superintendent LaTeesa Allen

The state’s Innovative School District (ISD) is without a superintendent.

LaTeesa Allen, who was appointed to the post by Superintendent Mark Johnson in September 2018, is no longer employed by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Policy Watch has learned.

The details surrounding Allen’s departure were not immediately available Monday. Policy Watch will update this story as more information becomes available.

Graham Wilson, a spokesman for Johnson, said Allen’s last day was June 28. He provided no further details.

The ISD was created in 2016 through legislation enacted to improve student outcomes in low-performing schools across North Carolina.

As superintendent of the ISD, Allen oversaw the state’s only ISD school, Southside-Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County.

The school also lost its principal Bruce Major on July 1.

Tony Helton, CEO of Achievement for All Children, which operates the school, told The Robesonian that Major has done an “exceptional job” but didn’t provide any details about why he left after only one year on the job.

“He gave his heart and soul into moving the needle at Southside-Ashpole and building strong relationships in the community,” Helton said. “We appreciate all that he has done and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Major was hired in July 2018.

Meanwhile, Allen’s departure could further delay efforts to bring four more low-performing schools into the ISD by 2021 as required by state law.

Allen had acknowledge that adding four more schools by 2021 would be a “bit of a challenge.”

Schools tapped for ISD have vigorously pushed back against being taken over by the state.

“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 told Policy Watch in January.

Carver Heights Elementary School in Wayne County most recently fought off efforts to be forced into the ISD. The school successfully submitted a “restart  application” to the State Board of Education to avoid a state takeover.

Under the “restart” school reform model, the school was given “charter-like” flexibility to operate, meaning it’s allowed to operate free of some of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools.

Allen replaced Eric Hall who left in March to become chancellor for innovation at the Florida Department of Education.

When Johnson hired Allen, he touted her experience working with “education systems and partners in other states.”  He said Allen would provide “valuable perspectives in how we approach accelerating student growth and achievement in low-performing schools.”

Before coming to N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Allen worked as the chief program officer at Communities In Schools of North Carolina (CISNC), a statewide nonprofit organization that supports students at-risk of dropping out of school.

As a member of the senior leadership team, Allen oversaw the development, strategic planning, service delivery and management of a portfolio of statewide programs focused on student achievement, college and career readiness, and juvenile justice.