ROWLAND — With the start of school nine days away, students returning to Southside-Ashpole Elementary School won’t see many familiar faces among the ranks of teachers and administrators.
The school, with about 200 students, was taken over by North Carolina’s Innovative School District, which rehired just two teachers. The new staff and leadership will attempt to turn a failing school, where fewer than one in five students are working at grade level, into an “A” school in five years.
The new teacher cadre is comprised of licensed, or soon to be licensed, teachers from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Dillon and Hamer, S.C., and Laurinburg, Durham, Fayetteville and Pembroke.
Two teachers, Melissa Thompson in first grade and Joanne McGirt in second grade, were the teachers rehired by the Innovative School District and its hand-picked management company, Achievement for All Children, of Forest City. Calls to get interview with the teachers went unanswered.
Tony Helton, CEO of AAC, described the new staff and school as a “positive place for scholars and their families, staff and community.”
“The staff of Southside-Ashpole has excited our entire school community,” Helton said. “Particularly inspiring was the number of people who were drawn to our school because of the mission to give these scholars the opportunity at a quality education as promised in our state’s constitution.
“The staff understands that every child can learn, the students of Southside-Ashpole are hungry for education, and they will be treated to a fun, fair, and challenging school. Our school is part of our community and every person that enters Southside-Ashpole will see the commitment to becoming a top school in not just Robeson County but our great state of North Carolina.”
Achievement for All Children is affiliated with a larger charter school operator, but while Southside-Ashpole is not a charter school, it has some charter school features when the new academic year begins.
Students will have a longer day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The students have been fitted for uniforms. They will wear khaki pants and royal blue polo shirts that reflect the school colors.
Southside-Ashpole students, who are virtually 100 percent minorities, will study from a curriculum used successfully by other charter and international schools, Helton said. The students will have regular art and music lessons, and physical education every day.
Transportation and food service will be provided by the Public Schools of Robeson County. The school also will offer special education and speech services, among others.
Southside-Ashpole students will be as safe as possible, Principal Bruce Major said. The Innovative School District applied for and was awarded a $33,333 state School Safety Grant for a full-time school resource officer. The grant will be matched one local dollar for two state dollars. Funding for the Southside-Ashpole experiment is otherwise the same local and state, per pupil allocation as other schools managed by the Public Schools of Robeson County.
Major, who developed a track record as a successful turnaround specialist at his last North Carolina school, is excited for the school year to begin.
“I’ve gotten to know the staff over the past week two weeks as we engaged — and continue to engage — in some pretty intensive staff development,” Major said. “I am encouraged by the desire and commitment I see as they prepare to take on the hard work of turning a school around.”
All of the staff from Southside-Ashpole who were not hired by the ISD were placed in schools throughout Robeson County, PSRC Superintendent Shanita Wooten said. Thirteen former teachers were reassigned, and one retired.
The remaining classified staff members also were placed in other schools, Wooten said.
The former principal, Lisa Washington, was reassigned to St. Pauls Elementary School as an assistant principal.
“Our administrators were very conscientious of where these staff members lived and they worked diligently to reassign them in areas close to their homes as much as was feasible,” Wooten said.
Southside-Ashpole is the first of five North Carolina school to be taken over by the Innovative School District. It has a five-year mandate to dramatically improve academic performance at the low-performing schools it manages.