Education, News

Test scores, staff turnover show rocky start for controversial school takeover program

Shortly after the school year ended at Southside-Ashpole Elementary School, Bruce Major, principal of the only school in the state’s Innovative School District (ISD) resigned abruptly after one year.

Major wouldn’t be the only ISD departure over the summer. He was followed by ISD superintendent LaTeesa Allen and Tony Helton, who directed Achievement for All Students (AAC), the firm selected by the state to manage Southside-Ashpole.

ISD leaders have revealed little about the departures. It’s not clear whether Major and Allen left on their own or were forced to leave.

And the only thing we know about the Helton situation is that he resigned as southeastern regional director of Team CFA, the firm that created AAC to manage Southside-Ashpole, on Aug. 12 and was replaced by Tricia Cotham, a former Democratic lawmaker from Charlotte.

Still, the picture of the first year at Southside-Ashpole is slowly coming into focus as a result of the release of state test scores and a report evaluating the school’s first year.

State test reports show the Robeson County school made little academic progress, ending its first year under ISD with a state letter grade of “F” and not meeting growth expectations. The percentage of students passing state exams also dipped, although there was some improvement in third-grade math scores.

“We wish it were a glowing report,” said state School Board (SBE) member Amy White. “You can see the glass half full or you can see it half empty. We can see it as an opportunity for improvement, advancement for the betterment of students at that school.”

Lawmakers created the ISD (under which management of struggling schools is turned over to private, charter school operators) in 2016 with the stated objective of helping to improve academic achievement in the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools, but the plan has sparked great controversy and met significant opposition from parents, teachers and school district leaders.

So, critics of the ISD are watching closely to see if the experiment will work as promised, particularly after several schools initially considered for the district along with Southside-Ashpole, but not selected, performed better.

Trip Stallings, director of policy research at the Friday Institute at N.C. State University, who conducted the evaluation of Southside-Ashpole

Dr. Trip Stallings – Image: NC State

for the SBE, said it’s not a referendum on ISD.

“When we have one school for one year, it’s really hard to say that this is an evaluation of ISD,” Stallings said. “That’s going to be hard to say when there are five schools, frankly, but it’s going to be a little more legitimate at that point.”

Stallings said the report shows the “things we learned on the ground at one school” that can help to improve that school and others that might be brought into the ISD later.

Specifically, Stallings was asked to look at academic growth and achievement, learning conditions and student behavior, school-community engagement and school culture.

Stallings found little improvement in school culture. And a “significant division” between staff and leadership had emerged by the end of the school year. Read more

Education

Veteran educator chosen to lead state’s only ISD school

Kenneth Bowen

North Carolina educator Kenneth Bowen has been named principal of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School, the lone school in the state’s Innovative School District (ISD).

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

Thursday was Bowen’s first day on the job at Southside-Ashpole, which is located in Robeson County. He replaces Bruce Major who abruptly resigned July 1 after a year on the job.

Bowen, a Scotland County native, is a UNC-Pembroke alumnus. He earned a doctorate in educational leadership from East Carolina University.

Bowen comes to Southside-Ashpole from UNCP, where he was coordinator for grants and leadership in the School of Education.

Before that, Bowen worked for 15 years in public schools in North Carolina and South Carolina. He served as an assistant superintendent, a teacher and a high school principal.

The Bowen hire caps a busy summer for the state’s ISD.

In addition to losing the principal of its only school, the ISD was also forced to replace Superintendent LaTeesa Allen whose last day on the job was June 28.

N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) officials have not released any details about Allen’s departure. She was appointed to the post about nine months ago.

Veteran educator James Ellerbe has replaced Allen as superintendent of the ISD.

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

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.

 

Commentary, Education

Editorial blasts ‘double standard’ on charter school accountability

Be sure to check out this morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record (“Coddling charter schools”). In it, the authors do a fine job of summing up the way state lawmakers have allowed the charter school experiment to stray from its original stated goal of creating “incubators of innovation” and how they’re currently attempting to do even more harm. As the editorial notes:

“A bill passed by the state Senate would lower standards for charter schools, allowing them to operate even if their students are performing worse than children in traditional public schools. The bill says that charter schools should be renewed for 10 years unless the percentage of their students who are proficient on end-of-grade tests is more than 5 percentage points worse than students in the local district.

This continues an unacceptable double standard in accountability for charter schools. Remember, the premise was that charter schools would provide sound educations for their students while leading the way in innovative approaches that might be models for all schools. Instead, they would be allowed to fall behind and hurt the cause of education across the state.

If that’s not bad enough, the bill also would eliminate the enrollment cap on two struggling online charter schools, Connections Academy and North Carolina Virtual Academy. Both are virtual schools that have consistently received “D” grades on the state’s performance report cards for schools, and their students are not meeting growth expectations.

The editorial rightfully calls for rejection of the proposed changes and concludes this way:

It’s hard not to think that lowering standards and expanding charters is related to legislators’ support of vouchers that give parents tax dollars to send their children to private schools. Both programs give lip service to “choice,” and both have contributed to a disturbing resegregation of schools….

Charter schools were supposed to improve education across the state, not undermine it. And they certainly weren’t supposed to roll back the progress that’s been made over the last half century by helping to resegregate the schools.

This misguided bill should not become law.

Click here to read the entire editorial.