LUMBERTON — In a surprise on a split vote Tuesday, Mike Smith was elected chairman of the Board of Education of the Public Schools of Robeson County for the 2018-19 school year.
Smith, a 28-year veteran of the school board, won seven votes to Brian Freeman’s four. Freeman was vice chairman during the 20171-8 school year and traditionally would have ascended to the chair.
Voting for Smith were John Campbell, Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, Loistine DeFreece, Craig Lowry and Emanuel. Voting against Dwayne Smith, Steve Martin, Brian Freeman, Randy Lawson. John Campbell was the only person nominated for vice chairman, so no vote was required.
Before the vote, new member Linda Emanuel was sworn into office along with returning members, Dwayne Smith, Mike Smith and Brenda Fairley-Ferebee. Emanuel is a retired administrator with the system.
When the school board got down to business, it heard about the Lab School from Alfred Bryant, dean of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s School of Education, and Albert DuPont, a UNC General Administration representative.
The university is slated to take over all or part of one of Robeson County’s public schools beginning in the 2019-20 school year as a laboratory for training teachers and principals, and for turning around a failing school. The North Carolina General Assembly mandated the creation of nine Lab Schools associated with the education programs of nine UNC system campuses.
With seven weeks until a draft proposal is due to UNC, UNCP and the public schools have a lot of work to do.
“We have yet to sit down with the university as Chancellor (Robin) Cummings promised,” Fairley-Ferebee said. “How is the funding going to work?”
DuPont said the Lab Schools would receive the same per-pupil support as other PSRC schools, and the General Assembly will add between $150,000 and $200,000 for teacher and principal preparation.
The Lab School likely will incorporate elementary grades and will act as a charter school, DuPont said. It will accept applications from any student in Robeson County. The school selected must be a failing school, and students who apply must either be failing or attend a failing school.
That prompted several school board members to ask about transportation costs in such a large county. DuPont told them the state would pay additional costs.
But the sticking point for board members is the possible breakup of a community school, with an influx of students from outside the community and the expelling of students who attended the school.
Five Lab Schools are up and running in the state, and, “for the most part,” the schools have remained intact, DuPont said.
Campbell wanted to know how employment of teachers would affect their tenure with the public schools.
“The teachers and principal would be employees of the university and might take a leave of absence from the schools,” DuPont said.
Campbell asked what track record of success have the Lab Schools achieved. DuPont said the first report cards on the schools will be available in November 2019.
“This is like the Innovative School District. There is no data,” Campbell said. “We’re guinea pigs.
“Is the university ready? They are going to be stretched out on this.”
“Every indication is that UNCP is ready,” DuPont said.
With the start of the school year just weeks away, Assistant Superintendent Melissa Thompson requested two additional mentors to work with 365 new teachers.
“We are retaining one-half of our new teachers in the first year,” Thompson said. “We have four mentors, about one for every 100 new teachers.”
That got school board member DeFreece’s attention.
“Every year, I ask for more mentors,” she said. “In the past, we hired retired teachers, and it was successful.”
Assistant Superintendent Robert Locklear said exit interviews with new teachers showed that “lack of support” is the primary reason cited for new teachers leaving the system.
“They will leave by December,” Locklear said. “This is urgent.”
There also are 100 teacher positions not yet filled for the new year, and Thompson pointed out that this is the last year that non-certified or lateral entry teachers may be hired.
The matter was tabled for further review. A request to offer $3,000 sign-on bonuses to new teachers with licenses also was tabled after there was a conversation about increasing supplements for all teachers.
“This bonus is part of the competition for licensed teachers with surrounding school systems,” Thompson said.
The public schools will revisit their request for addition teacher supplement funding from the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.
The board members voted unanimously to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Innovative School District, which will take over Southside-Ashpole Elementary School for the 2018-19 school year. The agreement was accepted pending receipt of a certificate of insurance from ISD.
In other business, new Chairman Mike Smith handed out committee assignments for the year. The board has five committees.
Randy Lawson will chair the Policy Committee; Linda Emanuel will chair the Curriculum Committee; Brian Freeman will chair the Grievance Committee, Loistine DeFreece will chair the Finance Committee; and Charles Bullard will chair the Construction Committee.
The board will hold a retreat on Aug. 4 at a location to be determined.
There will be a Back to School Celebration for students on Aug. 2 at the Southeastern Agriculture Center. Free backpacks and school supplies will be handed out.
Reach Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]