State provides hope for Southside-Ashpole community

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

— Unknown

If you were adrift alone and in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and a ship came along and tossed you a rope, odds are you would grab it.

That is what could happen, figuratively at least, at Southside-Ashpole Elementary Schools in Rowland, which is being extended a lifeline by the state. But the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County, motivated by territorialism and indifference, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, which is blissfully uninformed, and the Southside-Ashpole community, which can claim confusion, all apparently would swim hard in another direction.

They do share one thing, however: None has an answer for the chronic problems that plague Southside-Ashpole, which serves a poor and minority community. The Board of Education shoulders the most blame, because it is that board’s leadership that has 27 of our 42 schools deemed as low-performing.

There are many metrics by which Southside-Ashpole’s failure can be measured, but perhaps this is the most depressing and eye-opening: Just 18 percent of its students are proficient in reading and math for their grade level, which has them so far behind they are unlikely to ever catch up. The problem is not recent, but is systemic.

The lifeline is being extended by the General Assembly, which is led by those mean old white Republicans, which explains some of the skepticism. Legislators created what is called the Innovative School District, and Southside is the only nominee for inclusion in the state. Details are in a page 1A story today, but essentially a private entity would manage the school and hire a principal, who would hire staff.

As part of the Innovative School District, Southside-Elementary would be a charter school and enjoy some autonomy, but it would could not pick its students, and would serve those in the district. It could tinker with the school calendar and schools hours in a day, but it would remain the same in most ways.

The biggest difference is that the management entity and principal could reallocate resources, and we are convinced that would be done in an effort to hire better teachers, who would then act as mentors for their peers. Educators there who were not rehired could find work elsewhere in a school system that currently has about 50 vacant teaching positions.

It is comforting to know that the commitment is for five years, and the state, if the program is going to grow, is heavily vested in success at Southside-Ashpole. A full-court press is our expectation.

While the school board and county commissioners have been defiant, and community members not in a listening mode when Eric Hall, the superintendent of the Innovative School District, held a forum to inform, expect all of that to change in January.

At that time, the school board is almost certainly going to be presented with two choices: Either surrender control of the schools, or padlock it.

Shutting it down means that about 280 students, almost all poor and minority, the majority of whom are black, would be bused to other schools in the district. We can guarantee you the leadership in this county, both on the school board and county commission, isn’t going to allow these students to attend school in “their” communities.

Likewise, when Southside-Ashpole parents figure out their children would be bused to schools farther down the road, they are likely to begin to understand that they are fortunate that theirs, out of 2,600 schools in the state, has been selected for what amounts to an all-hands-on-board approach.

We can’t say as we write this that the Innovative School District will succeed, and that Southside-Ashpole will be transformed, and students there given a chance at success. Absent that, however, we see no hope for anything beyond more of the same.