RALEIGH — “It’s going to be a fun place for those kids to go to school,” Tony Helton said.
Helton was speaking recently of Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Rowland. The CEO of Achievement for All Children signed a contract Thursday with the State Board of Education to manage Southside-Ashpole for five years beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
Southside-Ashpole is the first school to become part of the Innovative School District, which was created by the state General Assembly in 2015 in a bid to turning failing schools into successful schools. The contract Helton signed set a goal of doubling the number of proficient Southside-Ashpole students, which stands at 18 percent of 250 students, in the contract’s first year.
Achievement for All Children is headquartered in Forest City, near Charlotte. It is a new nonprofit organization that is preparing to break new ground in North Carolina education. If successful, it could serve as a model for turning around other troubled schools.
Although newly chartered, Achievement for All Children is not entirely new. It is affiliated with TeamCFA, a company that runs 13 charter schools. Helton also is TeamCFA’s chief executive officer.
“We chose to create a separate organization because Southside-Ashpole is not a traditional charter school like our other schools,” Helton said.
Many of the programs used by TeamCFA, including its curriculum, will be employed in Rowland. Southside-Ashpole’s 2018-19 teachers, who have yet to be hired, will use a humanities and science curriculum called Core Knowledge and a mathematics curriculum that was developed in Singapore.
The Core Knowledge Foundation’s website reads in part, “The Core Knowledge Curriculum Series™ provides comprehensive, content-rich learning materials based on the Core Knowledge Sequence. Student readers, teacher guides, activity books, and other materials are available for language arts and history and geography. Materials for science, music, and visual arts are in development.
“The Core Knowledge language arts curriculum provides comprehensive materials to teach reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. The program is free to download and available for students in preschool through grade 5.”
Helton said the curriculum is a proven winner.
“I’ve worked at all levels in the schools, from football coach to teacher and principal, and I’ve worked with Core Knowledge for several years,” he said. “It’s a tremendous curriculum.”
The curriculum requires inspired teachers and administrators to make it happen, he said. The new teachers will have to be willing to trade in the curriculum they have been using and learn a new program.
Hiring a principal will be the first step, Helton said. Then teachers will be hired. Helton is not ruling out hiring teachers who already are at Southside-Ashpole, but their jobs are not guaranteed.
Helton has visited Rowland and Southside-Ashpole about a dozen times he said, “to get a feel for the school and the community.”
“The most important thing right now is to get a school leader in place,” Helton said. “We will advertise the position.
“We’re looking for someone who will rise to the challenge and will work with some great people. Yes, they could be local people.
“This is not going to be easy, but we believe Southside-Ashpole will be an ‘A’ school within five years. There are benchmarks in our contract.”
Achievement for All Children will receive the same per-pupil funding that all schools get in Robeson County. The operator will receive $100,000 administrative fee in the first year that will increase slightly each year.
The Public Schools of Robeson County was faced with closing Southside-Ashpole or turning the school over to the ISD. The PSRC will continue to provide transportation, food services and maintenance for the school.
Only two charter school organizations bid to manage Southside-Ashpole. Although the contract with the State Board of Education was approved unanimously, Achievement for All Children was approved by the board on a 7-4 vote.
Still, Helton is confident as he plunges headlong into preparations for the next school year.
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 of [email protected]