Education shouldn’t be a topic that makes a political analysis column. But here we are. Maybe the story just isn’t clear to some of us.
Southside-Ashpole is one of 27 low performing schools out of 42 countywide. In fact, it is one of the lowest performing in the state with 82 percent are not proficient in grade level math or reading.
Criteria to receive assistance from the state is to be in the lowest 5 percent of all schools. Check. Doesn’t meet growth measures. Check. Hasn’t adopted a successful model for improvement. Check. No problem so far.
Robeson is one of the poorest counties in the state. The commissioners and Board of Education have a lot on their plate just finding a plan to improve the structures to house an educational model. They are busy doing important work. We are always asking for help from Raleigh and seldom get it, so now would be a good time. Especially, when we’ve got a school system in need.
Raleigh has a plan in place. A private entity manages the school for five years if a school is selected to participate. The only employee working for the entity is the principal. That person has autonomy to bring in great teachers and a mentoring system for the students. They have a short time to demonstrate they can make a difference, so they have an incentive to make it work.
If Robeson could just get the state to pick one of our schools like Southside-Ashpole for the program. The students would clearly benefit as more resources would be guided their way. With 82 percent of the students underperforming, it can only get better. Parents wouldn’t have to worry about losing their school. Students wouldn’t be bused away. The only direction is up.
The county commissioners and Board of Education members would be relieved as well. They have born the onslaught of much criticism over underperforming schools. Selecting Southside-Ashpole as a school for the program places the pressure on the state and takes it off the beleaguered commissioners and school board. They too would join parents and students in the possibilities of success and they win both ways.
If the project fails, everyone can blame the state rather than the commissioners and school board. If it succeeds, everyone wins, especially the kids, who are the most important winners.
You’d think parents, students, commissioners and board members would be begging Raleigh to pick the school because politically or educationally, either way everyone wins in the end whether it works or stays the same. Either everyone succeeds or you can blame someone else if it fails.
Now imagine the shock that when out of 2,600 schools in the state, Southside-Ashpole is selected to receive this attention, that instead of relief it is met with resistance. It is a deer-in-the-headlights moment. Everyone understands the desire for local control, but the most the state can control is curriculum, resources and maybe the school calendar. Even politically it doesn’t make sense as it provides someone else to blame if it fails.
Nevertheless, the commissioners and school board have lined up against it. It is one of the state’s lowest performing schools. Robeson is a poor county and could use the resources. There is no successful plan to improve the school with local control. It will simply close.
Again, even if the plan didn’t work the county boards have an out and can blame the state saying, “We told you so.” Understand that the state has a huge incentive to help this school as the whole state would be watching.
If it fails, there is someone else to blame. If it is successful, the boards can congratulate themselves on being the first in the state to make it work. The boards will be stars. Best of all the kids benefit. Everyone wins. No one loses in the deal.
What are our boards afraid of — success?
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.