ROWLAND — Almost half of the staff already hired to work at Southside-Ashpole Elementary School for the upcoming school year has been retained from the previous staff.
Dave Prickett, a spokesman for the Innovative School District, of which the Rowland school is the only member, said 11 members of the new staff have been confirmed, and as many as six are close to being hired. A staff of 24 is expected when the school begins the 2018-19 school year. He pointed out that all of the teachers hired so far are certified, although legislation creating the Innovative School District only required that half the teachers be certified.
Staff at Southside from last year were not promised that they would keep their jobs at the low-performing school, but were told they could reapply. Public Schools of Robeson County administrators have said any staff members that are not retained are likely to work at one of the other schools in the system, which faces teacher shortages each year.
Southside was selected for the ISD in the fall after an initial list of about 48 schools from across North Carolina was trimmed to one.
The Republican-led General Assembly that created the program is looking for ways to improve chronically low-performing schools.
“Most of the hires and applicants are from the local or surrounding area, although we are getting applications from out of state, including from South Carolina, Mississippi, New York and California,” Prickett said. “We are continuing to review applications and conduct interviews.”
Prickett said the search for the “principal/school director” is narrowing.
“We have some excellent candidates and we hope to make an announcement on the selection very soon,” he said.
On Thursday, ISD officials met with about 30 parents and grandparents of Southside students. They provided a progress update and shared some details about how the school would function. Tony Helton, CEO of Achievement for All Children, the nonprofit that will manage the day-to-day operations of the school, was there, as was Eric Hall, the ISD superintendent.
“It was a very good and productive meeting,” Prickett said. “There was a great turnout and lots of insightful questions. We got the sense that there was genuine enthusiasm about the opportunity the ISD and AAC will bring to the school and the local community. We planned on meeting for an hour, but it lasted over an hour and a half. It was very encouraging to see this level of interest and engagement.”
The ISD officials take over the school on July 1, a week from today.
Helton was not shy about raising expectations on Thursday, sounding a theme that all children can learn.
“You wouldn’t hire a football coach if he promised to win five games next year,” Helton said. “I’m going to double the student proficiency at this school in the first year and make this an ‘A’ school in five years.”
Just 18 percent of Southside-Ashpole students scored at the proficient level last year, worst in the state.
Parents were told that the school day would begin at 8 a.m. and end at 4 p.m., the day will start with 20 minutes of character development, and continue until 10 a.m. with study in the language arts core learning area, and students will have physical education every day and either music or art every day. Parents will be asked to read with their children for 20 minutes every night, but there will be no homework.
The school will use a curriculum that Helton said has been employed successfully at more that 20 charter schools that are affiliated with Achievement for All Children.
“If this curriculum is done right, it always gets great results,” Helton said. “Nothing about this is easy, but our children’s future is worth it.”
Southside will have an expected enrollment of 242 students next year.
The idea of school uniforms was raised, and while no decision was made, those in attendance were enthusiastically in support.
The principal will work for Achievement for All Children, while staff will be state employees.
Many traditional services, such a transportation and food, will continue to be provided by the Public Schools of Robeson County.
When the idea of Southside being turned over to the ISD first emerged last fall, there was initial resistance, including from the Board of Education, whose options were limited — surrender the school or close it. Hall and Prickett spent months meeting with people in the affected community in an effort the win support.
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or [email protected]