RALEIGH — Southside-Ashpole Elementary School was approved Thursday for inclusion in the Innovative School District, a new state program designed to improve student outcomes at low-performing schools.
Eric Hall, the superintendent of the Innovative School District, recommended to the State Board of Education at its monthly meeting that the Rowland school be the only one included in the district, meaning it would be managed by a private entity, either for-profit or nonprofit, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
Southside was the lone pick from an original list of 48 low-performing schools.
“The recommendation to include Southside Ashpole in the ISD offers a great opportunity for the Rowland community and its students,” Hall said in a statement. “The ISD was created to help improve academic outcomes for children in the lowest performing schools in our state. The school was selected to be part of the ISD because of their low grade-level proficiency rate, a high percentage of students not on grade-level in both reading and math, and a low average school performance score over the past three years. The students and the community deserve better than that.”
It is now up to the Board of the Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County to accept or reject inclusion by Feb. 1. If the local board says no, its only option would be to close the school and transfer its 270 students to other schools in the district.
Hall has said that is a bad option because 27 of 42 local schools have been deemed low-performing.
Hall was not warmly received by the school board, which has mostly lined up against inclusion, or during an informational forum held in October at the school. That night, he tried to answer questions, but many of those who attended walked out before he could answer.
Hall has countered the criticism by trying to reject the idea of “loss of local control,” saying the Innovative School District wants to be a partner with local educators. An op-ed piece by Hall that will be published on Saturday in The Robesonian promotes that approach.
“I understand and respect the concerns,” he wrote. “The challenge before us, however, is to get past the issues of power and control and focus on the mission that I believe everyone in this debate shares — student success and brighter futures for our children. I want to propose a new narrative, one that transcends power struggles and elicits instead an urgent call-to-action to address students’ needs across North Carolina.”
Hall has pointed out that the management entity would employ a principal, who would hire staff at the school. Current staff would have to apply to keep their jobs, but Hall points out those who don’t could probably fill vacancies elsewhere in the system.
The school would continue to serve students in its district, about half of whom are black with another third being minority.
Hall said the main change would be the Innovative School District would act as a charter school, and have autonomy to shift resources that could be used to hire better teachers. They in turn would act as mentors for other teachers.
The school would also have the autonomy to make changes to the school calender as well as the number of hours school is in session each day.
“As we work to implement strategies for the ISD, we remain steadfastly focused on the things that will have the greatest impact on our students,” Hall wrote in his op-ed. “Depending on the specific circumstances of a school, this may include the ISD serving as an intervention that helps to redesign persistently low-performing schools into higher achieving models of education; in other cases, it may be partnering with school districts and communities to collaborate on strategies that work to address the needs of the whole child by engaging partners that can help mitigate barriers to success for students in low-performing schools.”
Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education, said in the statement that a new approach is needed.
“It is imperative that we employ new ways to improve educational outcomes for students, and the Innovative School District is designed to do just that,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the progress of the district and look forward to seeing academic improvement for the students at Southside Ashpole Elementary.”
Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649.