Support for ISD inclusion grows in Rowland

It isn’t often that we say we told you so, but today we will do just that.

We refer to our insistence in this space that in the end, the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County, which is without any muscle in the tug-of-war for Southside-Ashpole Elementary School, would never elect to close the school and would instead cede control to the state’s Innovative School District, even if that happens as members cursed silently.

All signs are pointing strongly in that direction, but the brightest was displayed Tuesday night when several dozen members of that community and all of those in attendance raised a hand when asked who would oppose closing the school. School board members, who are elected, had to be paying attention.

It will be the school board members, and not the parents, who make the call on the school’s future, but board member Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, who represents Rowland, strongly suggested Tuesday that the votes exist to keep the school open.

If that is their sentiment, a generous conclusion is that school board members are beginning to realize that the 270 students now stuck in one of 27 low-performing schools in Robeson County have a better chance at getting a quality education if Southside-Ashpole essentially becomes a charter school.

Or it could be school board members don’t want the backlash that would follow closing the school and depositing those 270 students in nearby neighborhood schools.

The best part of Tuesday night was that it became obvious to us that parents of the students at Southside-Ashpole are beginning to see the Innovative School District for what we believe it to be — a lifeboat. At some point, and it passed long ago, it should have been clear that the formula being used at Southside-Ashpole wasn’t working, and that something else should be employed.

Shawn Mitchell was among those at Tuesday’s forum, and his evolution is indicative of a lot of those who were there.

“When I first heard about it, I was 100 percent against it,” Mitchell said. “Why are they picking on our little school?

“Now, I believe it is a good opportunity for Rowland. This is a new day for our children. Finally, they will be getting on grade level and ready to compete.”

Eric Hall, the superintendent of the Innovative School District, doesn’t pretend to possess a magic bullet. He cautioned parents on Tuesday while attempting to enlist them.

“Changing the education system at Southside-Ashpole begins here, not in Raleigh,” Hall said. “The key is creating partnerships and a shared vision and using the flexibility the new law gives us.”

That flexibility includes shifting resources to bring stronger teachers to Southside-Ashpole, not only to educate students but to work with fellow teachers to sharpen their skills. The school will also have the flexibility to tailor its calender and school day to better meet the needs of its students.

There will be more talk before the deal is done, and Southside-Ashpole’s transition to state control will begin in earnest. But that is clearly the road the Rowland school is on, and while it will at times be bumpy, it will be much less so with parents in support.

They might be the most important ingredient to success.