LUMBERTON — The Board of Education of the Public Schools of Robeson County unanimously approved a joint resolution Thursday with the Robeson County Board of Commissioners opposing the takeover of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School by the state’s Innovative School District.
The resolution asked for time to hatch a plan locally to improve the school, where just 18.4 percent, or fewer than one in five, are working at grade level. The resolution states that “local control” that is “accountable to the public” is preferable to being included in a state school district.
However, the resolution stopped short of closing Southside-Ashpole, which is the only option the North Carolina General Assembly gives the school system.
“We are concerned for the success of our students,” the resolution states. “We believe that academic excellence is possible for all students.”
The resolution was read aloud by board member Brian Freeman, who became heated when questioning Eric Hall, superintendent of the new state-sponsored district. Hall was there to give school board members an update.
“This is an unproven model that failed in Tennessee,” Freeman said, raising his voice. “You’ve offered no plan except that you will hire a new principal and interview the existing classroom teachers.
“When we ask what is so innovative, you show us nothing,” he said. “These are our children.”
Hall noted that 66 percent of Robeson’s schools were given “F’s” by the state.
“I hear no plan,” Hall said. “I hear about blame, power and control.
“We have an amazing opportunity here,” he said. “We will know where we’re going when we sit down and see what are the road blocks to success.”
Hall said the Innovative School District brings no new money to Southside-Ashpole, but he has flexibility with budgets, curriculum, school calendar, hiring, pay and more.
The school board will make a decision on closing Southside Ashpole early in 2018, and ISD would take over for the 2018-19 school year. It would run the school for five years.
Southside-Ashpole is the first school in North Carolina to be selected for the takeover, and it will be followed by four additional schools.
Board Chairman Peggy Wilkins-Chavis also spoke out in opposition to the takeover.
“The whole thing is wrong,” Wilkins-Chavis said. “I visited Southside Ashpole and the principal and teachers are scared.
“Mr. Hall will be their superintendent — in Raleigh,” she said. “The teachers were good enough to pass the test, but they may not be good enough to teach at their school next year.”
Hall aid the best outcome for the children is for ISD to work “hand-in-hand” with the school district “in support of all children” in Robeson County.
In other matters, the school board is taking steps to design a new kindergarten through eighth grade school and heard from architect Robbie Ferris of sfL+a Architects, headquartered in Raleigh. He invited board members to tour schools in Horry and Hoke counties.
The board heard that plans to resurface all high school tracks and to building an athletic complex for Red Springs High School await the green light from the schools and athletic directors. The school currently uses city baseball and softball fields and is the only high school without such a complex.
The school board had a drawing for five gift card winners from among 253 teachers qualified who had perfect attendance for the quarter.
The board also heard from Planetarium Director Ken Brandt, who reported he has given shows to more than 1,000 school children and 500 members of the public in his inflatable planetarium located a the Robeson County Partnership for Children in Lumberton. The permanent planetarium was destroyed by flooding a year ago by Hurricane Matthew.
The board went into closed session to consider student transfers, personnel and legal matters.