State program offers new approach for struggling schools

Next month it will be determined if Southside Ashpole Elementary will be one of two schools in all of North Carolina to be included in a new program in which local control of the school is sacrificed in favor of a management team from the state.

The Rowland school is among four finalists from an initial list of 48, which at that time included four other Robeson schools, for the Innovative School District. So all things being equal, and they never are, Southside Ashpole’s chances are essentially a coin flip.

The program is a Republican-led initiative that would place a growing number of low-performing schools under the heading of charter school and in the hands of private entities, for-profit or not-for-profit.

Critics will scream that this is just another attempt by Republicans to dismantle the public school system to the benefit of private enterprises. Proponents can argue, convincingly we believe, that the public schools across the state are failing our children, and that outside-of-the-box thinking is needed.

Several school board members have already lined up against any local school’s inclusion in the program, sounding the tired refrain about “local control.” Given the dysfunctionality of our Board of Education, perhaps local control is the problem. Some of the board members who are yelling the loudest have been on the school board the longest, so this mess is in large part at their feet.

The mess? How about 27 of our 42 schools being classified as low-performing?

School board members will always cry about a lack of resources, but millions of dollars flow to the Public Schools of Robeson County each year because we are poor, and if the results are positive, it’s hard to see how. Graduation rates have improved, though some doubt their legitimacy, but pretty much every other education metric has been a flat-line.

Because school systems lean so heavily on local money, resources will continue to be a struggle, which is why we think a different approach might be prudent.

Southside Ashpole has a tricky demographic, with four of five students being of color, and therefore the likely product of generations who have been denied the best educational opportunities. The race they run is longer.

Without digging deep, we can assure you that other schools that were being looked at hardest for the Innovative School District are similar demographically, if not by color then by wealth.

An interesting element to the Innovative School District is that Southside Ashpole, were it included, would be unlike most charter schools in that it would not pick its students. Students in that district would continue to go there.

But the same is not necessarily true of staff. With the Innovative School District, the management team would hire the principal, who would then hire the staff, who would be employees of the state. Some educators at Southside Ashpole might remain, and others might not. Given the shortage of educators locally, it’s unlikely anyone would be dispatched to the unemployment office.

What is often lost, but should be highlighted, in this instance it is the Republicans, those who are portrayed as being hostile toward public education, who are pushing hard to improve it — and to the potential benefit of the state’s most at-risk children. We don’t know if the Innovative School District will fix what ails our local schools, but we struggle to understand how anyone can argue against a different approach in schools where failure has become not only the norm, but accepted.