The Innovative School District represents a new statewide school reform initiative that identifies perennially low-performing schools in North Carolina and tailors an improvement plan to address specific challenges and opportunities that exist at a school and the surrounding community. The ISD — the state’s 116th school district — kicked off last year, with the first school considered for inclusion in the ISD named in November 2017. That school is Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Rowland.
Since then, the ISD team and its superintendent, Dr. Eric Hall, have worked diligently to inform the Rowland community about the ISD and have made tremendous inroads in building community support for its approach to improving student performance and success at Southside-Ashpole Elementary. They have engaged parents, local officials, faith leaders, and other community members. In addition, Dr. Hall has personally participated in county commissioner and school board meetings as well as engaged in one-on-one discussions with members of these groups.
I want the parents of the students at Southside-Ashpole, the Rowland community, the local school board and anyone else with an interest in the educational outcomes at the school to know that the ISD is going to be held to a high degree of accountability. The ISD is the state’s 116th school district, its board is the State Board of Education and Superintendent Hall answers to the Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Mark Johnson, and to the State Board of Education. There are no school districts or superintendents in the state that will be more scrutinized than the ISD and Superintendent Hall.
Superintendent Hall regularly reports to the State Board of Education on his team’s activities. State Board of Education members are all aware of ISD’s efforts in Rowland and with the local school board. In conversations with Dr. Hall, he has mentioned the community’s concern that the challenges at Southside-Ashpole Elementary are continually ignored. I can promise that will not be the case moving forward. The ISD initiative and its approach to reform is a priority.
Southside-Ashpole Elementary was selected for inclusion into the ISD for a variety of reasons, most significantly because its grade level performance — the percentage of students who are at grade level for reading and math — was a mere 18.4 percent. Additionally, 66 percent of schools in the district are considered low performing and the school received the letter grade of F for each of the last three years. As a state, we cannot allow that level of performance to continue. It is a disservice to the students, their parents and the town of Rowland. It is time to act. It is time for the local school board to embrace the expertise and resources the ISD offers and work with them in the best interests of the students at Southside Ashpole.
The local school board meets tonight. Its members have had plenty of time to perform their due diligence on the relevant issues, so I personally challenge the members of the board to vote to transfer Southside-Ashpole to the ISD for a period of five years so that reforms can be put in place to improve student achievement and success. It is the right thing to do. Closing the school helps no one.
Last May I stated that it would be desirable if the local communities and local school systems would become comfortable with the concept of the ISD and recognize that it is something helpful being made available to them. I want to strengthen that sentiment; considering the performance data at Southside-Ashpole that has come to light during this process, it is now an absolute necessity that the school be transferred to the ISD so that the students can receive the quality education they deserve and that the public should demand.
William Cobey is the chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education.