News

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.

News

North Carolina principal at prospective charter takeover school pushes back

The principal of at least one North Carolina school facing the prospect of a charter takeover is pushing back.

The News & Observer posted a video Friday of Chris Germanoski, principal at Selma Middle School in Johnston County. Selma Middle is one of 41 low-performing, public schools remaining on the state’s list of schools eligible for charter takeover next year, part of North Carolina’s controversial new Innovative School District (ISD).

“We’ve done the research. We’ve put a plan in place,” Germanoski argues in the video. “…Now all we need is an opportunity to enact that plan, to follow through on that plan.”

Schools included on the state list did not meet or exceed growth growth in any of the previous three years and finished with school performance scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide. They also, according to state officials, would not have adopted any of the state’s established reform models in the prior year.

Policy Watch reported last week on the mixed reactions from school district leaders across North Carolina whose local schools were named.

It’s worth noting Selma Middle’s district, Johnston County Schools, was one of two school systems—the other being Durham Public Schools—that officially asked for state leaders to look elsewhere to test the charter takeover model, according to a WRAL report. 

That said, ISD Superintendent Eric Hall said last week that opposition from local leaders won’t sway state leaders from choosing any particular school.

“If the data points to a school that’s been struggling for far too long with too many students not meeting growth, my commitment is to listen to local boards and communities for the rationale,” Hall told Policy Watch. “But my lens is going to be about the kids. My lens can’t necessarily be about what adults want.”

Seven schools have already been removed from the list of eligible schools because they are the recipients of federal grants aimed at school turnaround.

Hall is expected to narrow down the list further by October, with the State Board of Education scheduled to tap two schools for the program’s initial year in December.

News

Report: N.C. drops seven from list of schools eligible for charter takeover

Seven North Carolina schools are off North Carolina’s list of 48 eligible for the state’s controversial charter takeover model, WRAL reported Monday.

According to the news station, state officials with the Innovative School District (ISD) removed those schools because they are receiving federal grants aimed at turning around academic performance.

From WRAL:

“Those (federal) funds would likely be lost if they were transferred into the Innovative School District,” (ISD Superintendent Eric) Hall said. “We would not want to see resources like that diminished in a school that we already know has significant needs.”

Those seven schools are: Brogden Middle and Carver Heights Elementary in Wayne County; Eastway Elementary in Durham County; Vick Elementary in Wilson County; Ashley Academy and Kimberly Park Elementary in Forsyth County; and Bruns Academy in Mecklenburg County.

WRAL’s report comes several days after Policy Watch reported on lingering concerns about the school reform model among some leaders in local districts with schools named on the state’s list of eligible schools.  

North Carolina leaders are hoping to boost performance in some of the state’s chronically underachieving public schools. The ISD model, once dubbed the Achievement School District, would allow charter operators to assume control of operations, including staffing, at two such elementary schools in 2018-2019. Another three schools would follow in 2019-2020.

Charter schools are publicly-funded institutions with greater flexibility in staffing, curriculum and calendar, something many traditional public schools have been advocating for with state lawmakers.

However, the takeover model’s spurred opposition from some who question whether local, public schools should be turned over to potentially for-profit charter management organizations. They also point to mixed results in other states as reason for pause.

Read more

News

State releases list of 48 schools eligible for controversial charter takeover

School busesForty-eight schools spread across 21 districts make up those elementary schools eligible for inclusion in the first year of North Carolina’s controversial charter takeover model, according to a list released Thursday by state officials.

The program, dubbed the Innovative School District (formerly the Achievement School District), would launch with two schools in the 2018-2019 school year.

It would potentially allow for-profit, charter management organizations to assume control of low-performing schools, part of a series of controversial reforms backed by Republicans leadership in the N.C. General Assembly and school choice advocates.

The list released Thursday does not guarantee any school will be selected for the district, district Superintendent Eric Hall said, only that it may be considered further going forward. Districts were spread across the state, although districts such as Durham, Forsyth and Robeson included a number of eligible schools.

State officials are expected to narrow down that list in the coming months, with members of the State Board of Education expected to make a final selection in December.

“These are schools that we’re going to be working hand-in-hand with for sustainable change,” Hall said Thursday.

Multiple board members expressed confidence this week in Hall, the former leader of the nonprofit Communities in Schools North Carolina.

“I think North Carolina’s going to do this better than any other state that’s done it,” said board member Becky Taylor.

However, critics have been wary of the takeover model, particularly because of its middling results and myriad controversies in states like Tennessee and Louisiana.

Eligible schools named Thursday all met a number of qualifications for inclusion, Hall said, including school performance grades in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide. Such schools would also have to fail to meet or exceed growth goals in the previous three academic years.

Hall added Thursday that district leadership for eligible schools have already been notified.

The district plan would allow five-year contracts for operations with charter and education management organizations, with annual checkups on progress.

Charter takeover is not the sole component of the district, as Hall pointed out. The district will also encompass so-called “Innovation Zones” or “I-Zones,” in which selected low-performing schools could be granted charter-like flexibility in hopes of improving performance.

Continue to follow Policy Watch for developments in the Innovative School District.

Courts & the Law, News

Cooper taps assistant public defender for Durham district court judgeship

Amanda Maris

Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed assistant public defender Amanda Maris to serve as district court judge in Durham County — the seat held by former judge and now Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham).

“Amanda brings extensive legal experience and a true commitment to improving the Durham community to her new appointment,” Cooper said. “I’m pleased to appoint her to the district court bench.”

Maris, 38, served as assistant public defender in Durham for 10 years and worked in the district’s Misdemeanor Diversion Program, which was founded by Morey.

Morey was re-elected to the judgeship in 2014 but resigned April 5 after being appointed to permanent fill the House District 30 seat after the October death of Paul Leubke.

Maris also served as an adjunct professor, teaching legal writing at the North Carolina Central University School of Law and has experience in private practice.

She shared the news about her career change Friday on her Facebook page.

“I am truly honored and grateful to have this opportunity to serve such a diverse and amazing city full of people and communities I love,” Maris wrote. “This judicial appointment is a valuable gift and responsibility, a responsibility to contribute to the fair and impartial administration of justice and to do my part to see that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend towards justice.”

Maris, who lives in Durham County with her family, has been a Board member (and President) of the Durham County Teen Court and Restitution Program since 2009 and a volunteer judge since 2007, according to her LinkedIn.

In 2009, Maris co-founded a public expunction clinic in a partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina and was a nominee for the N.C. Bar Association Chief Justice Award in 2015 for that work.

Maris is also the co-chair of the Durham People’s Alliance Education Committee and a Board member of Rebound: Alternatives for Youth, an innovative program in the state that allows students to continue their studies during suspensions.

She was one of nine people who sought appointment to the judgeship, including Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. (D-Durham, Granville), who dropped out over concerns about a judicial redistricting bill.

“Thank you to everyone who believed in me and to my colleagues who were equally qualified for this opportunity,” Maris wrote on Facebook. “I am humbled to be chosen to serve you as your next District Court Judge, and I will work tirelessly to serve you well, always.”