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State official recommends Robeson County elementary—excludes Durham, Rocky Mount, Northampton schools—for Innovative School District

(Note: This is a developing story; check back for updates.) The leader of North Carolina’s Innovative School District (ISD) will recommend a Robeson County elementary for the first year of the state’s Innovative School District, Policy Watch has learned.

The selection excludes schools on the short-list from Durham, Nash and Northampton counties.

Robeson Board of Education Chair Peggy Wilkins-Chavis confirmed the selection Friday afternoon for Policy Watch.

It comes one day after the contentious state program received a “rude” welcome from locals in a community forum Thursday, according to The Robesonian.

“The ISD is moving forward with a recommendation to start with one school in the initial 2018-2019 academic school year in order to help create the right conditions to support accelerated achievement for students at Southside Ashpole Elementary,” ISD Superintendent Eric Hall said in a statement.

“Our goal is to work collaboratively with the Public Schools of Robeson County, parents, teachers and community leaders to develop innovative strategies in schools that promote improved student outcomes. For those schools under consideration for the ISD yet not recommended for selection at this time, this is an opportunity for them to focus attention and energy at the local level on improving student outcomes based on district plans. The ISD looks forward to continued engagement with local communities on these strategies moving forward. I believe that working together we can establish a national model for how state and local partnerships are created with a single goal for promoting equity and excellence in supporting students and communities.”

State law limits the district to five schools. However, Hall was initially expected to pick two schools for the program’s first year in 2018-2019 before he suggested this week that he might pick just one school.

The controversial school reform program could allow charter management organizations, including for-profit companies, to assume control of operations and staffing in struggling schools.

Hall’s selection comes after several weeks of whittling down an initial list of 48 schools, chosen because they reported school performance scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide and did not meet growth goals in at least one of the last three years.

The proposal’s earned stinging rebuke from some local leaders, communities and advocates, even as supporters like Hall argued the program would spur fresh ideas in schools with chronic academic problems.

Similar efforts in Tennessee, Michigan and Louisiana have delivered mixed results thus far.

The N.C. Association of Educators, the state’s top advocacy organization for teachers, blasted the ISD after the news Friday.

“Communities, parents, and educators have been standing up for weeks to this state-led charter takeover of  public schools approved by the General Assembly,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell.  “The big out-of-state money that led to this unproven and unaccountable school takeover scheme was exposed by the media this week. Instead of handing over our students to those who want to dismantle public schools and make big profits, our elected leaders should be investing in the resources it takes to help our students be successful.”

Members of the State Board of Education are expected to formally receive Hall’s recommendations next month, with a vote scheduled for December.

Under state law, schools chosen for the ISD will have to accept the takeover or close.

Schools left out of Hall’s recommendations include Rocky Mount’s Williford Elementary, Northampton County’s Willis Hare Elementary and Durham’s Glenn Elementary, which has been a rallying point for Triangle-area critics of the takeover proposal in recent weeks.

“Now the real hard work begins of making sure we’re never on that list again,” said Durham Board of Education Chairman Mike Lee, who’s been bitingly critical of the ISD.

In a statement, Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools (NRMPS) Superintendent Shelton Jefferies indicated he was “pleased” with the decision.

“NRMPS will remain focused and committed to quality instruction for our students at Williford Elementary School.”

Last month, some Rocky Mount officials indicated they might have closed their school if state officials chose Williford Elementary for the takeover district.

The selection process for the program’s operators is still underway, with members of the State Board expected to vote on Hall’s recommendation in early 2018. As Policy Watch reported Thursday, it’s a process that’s also come under criticism.

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