Forum tonight addresses Southside questions

By: By T.C. Hunter - [email protected]

LUMBERTON — Tonight is the time to be heard for anyone with questions or comments about a new program that could have the state take control of Southside Ashpole Elementary School.

And if Tuesday night is an indicator, the superintendent of the Innovative School District could be in for an earful.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Southside-Ashpole Elementary School, located at 607 N. Martin Luther King Jr. St. in Rowland. Southside-Ashpole is one of four finalists for inclusion in the Innovative School District, which would place the school in control of a private enterprise for at least five years.

The meeting is open to anyone who would like to attend.

Eric Hall, the Innovative School District superintendent, is expected to give a brief presentation, after which there will be a question-and-answer session. Other members of the Innovative School District staff and consultants are expected to be present to answer questions. Also expected to be present, and who may offer comments or answer questions, are senior-level school administrators and some county school board members.

Several school member had pointed comments and questions for Hall during a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, including John Campbell.

Campbell has said he will not support the establishment of a system in which the state diverts public funds away from the public schools and puts it in the hands of a private enterprise. Hall has said the enterprise could be a for-profit or non-profit.

“I believe in local autonomy instead of the state running our local schools,” Campbell said in September. “We could have similar success without turning schools over to a contractor in the private sector if given the proper resources.”

School board Chairman Peggy Wilkins-Chavis has expressed reservations but has taken a more open-minded stance.

“I’m for anything that can help our children achieve at the highest levels,” she said recently. “If they can take our schools and come back and show us improvements that we can apply throughout the district, I’m all for it.”

Five Robeson County schools were once among 48 being considered in the Innovative School District. They were Southside-Ashpole, R.B. Dean Elementary, Townsend Middle, Rosenwald Elementary and Orrum Middle. All five are among 27 low-performing schools in the county.

The other three finalists are Glenn Elementary, in the Durham public school system; Williford Elementary, in the Nash-Rocky Mount school system; and Willis Hare Elementary, in the Northhampton school system.

The two chosen schools will be in the Innovative School District when the district begins operations at the start of the 2018-19 academic year. The names of the two selected schools will be announced in November.

Should Southside-Ashpole be admitted to the Innovative School District, Robeson County would have no choice but to relinquish control of the school for at least five years. The school would be run by a qualified charter management organization or education management organization approved by the state Department of Public Instruction.

That organization would hire the principal, who would then hire the staff, which would still be employees of the state.

Unlike charter schools, schools in the Innovative School District are not free to admit only students of their choice. Student bodies must consist of students who normally would attend the school.

A school in the Innovative School District is not required to hire existing administrators, teachers or any other staff members now working at the school. Current staff would have to apply with others for their positions.

By T.C. Hunter

[email protected]

Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.

Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.