LUMBERTON — A defiant note has been struck by the superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County in the wake of a county elementary school being selected for inclusion in a new state program designed to improve student outcomes at low-performing schools.
“We are working on correspondence to ISD Superintendent Eric Hall, North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson, and State Board of Education Chair William Cobey,” Shanita Wooten said. “The Public Schools of Robeson County school board and the Robeson County commissioners voted to draft a resolution and a letter, which will be sent by me. Those documents will be discussed at the Nov. 9 school board meeting.”
Wooten didn’t reveal what the letter is likely to say, but board members who answered The Robesonian’s call on Friday were fairly clear in their disappointment.
The state Board of Education approved on Thursday Southside-Ashpole’s inclusion in the Innovative School District. The school in Rowland was the only school selected from an original list of 48 low-performing schools. Selection means Southside-Ashpole could be managed by a private entity, either for-profit or nonprofit, beginning with the 2018-19 school year, or it could be closed.
“Personally, I’m disappointed,” said Craig Lowry, a Robeson County school board member.
Part of his disappointment derives from the fact that the only school in the state chosen for inclusion in the Innovative School District was Southside-Ashpole, Lowry said. He questioned the idea that Southside-Ashpole is the only school in North Carolina to qualify.
“That’s really hard for me to accept,” Lowry said.
“I’m still a little concerned that out of all of the whole state of North Carolina they chose one and it happened to be Southside-Ashpole,” said Mike Smith, county school board member.
He isn’t sure what the board or district leaders will do next.
“We’ll probably be talking about this during the meeting on Thursday,” said Dwayne Smith, a school board member.
The Robeson County school board has until Feb. 1 to decide to accept or reject the state Board of Education’s decision.
“It really comes down to the local school board,” Hall said. Hall has an op-ed piece into today’s The Robesian in which he stresses that he wants to work together with local education officials.
If Southside-Ashpole’s inclusion is rejected the county board must pass a resolution to close the school at the end of the current school year, he said.
“I think closing the school is the wrong decision,” said Hall.
Closing the school means transferring Southside-Ashpole’s 270 students to other public schools in Robeson County, he said. Given that 27 of 42 local schools have been deemed low-performing, some or all of the students could be moved to another low-performing school, and that will not improve their chances for academic success.
“That is not a good option, in my opinion,” Hall said.
Hall has not been warmly received by the Robeson County school board, which has mostly lined up against inclusion, or during an informational forum held at Southside-Ashpole in October. That night, he tried to answer questions, but many of the people who attended walked out as he was speaking.
Hall has countered local criticism by trying to reject the idea of “loss of local control.” The Innovative School District wants to be a partner with local educators, he said.
The school would serve only students from its existing district. The private entity would hire a principal, who would hire staff that would work for the state. Existing members of the staff would have to apply to keep their jobs, but Hall says those who aren’t rehired could find work elsewhere in the system, where there are almost 50 vacancies.
The charter school would have the autonomy to shift existing resources, which Hall says could mean better teachers. He has said the school could also tweak the school calendar and how many hours attend class a day.
Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.