I was heartened by the community meeting that was held on Nov. 28 at the Expo Center in Rowland regarding the Innovative School District (ISD). The outpouring of support from the community to keep Southside-Ashpole Elementary open was remarkable and inspiring. Those in attendance, including district school board member, Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, Mayor-elect Michelle Shooter, Town Clerk David Townsend, the Rev. Shawn Mitchell, parents and other community members, emphasized that the school is an essential part of the community and a treasured asset to the rown of Rowland.
If the Public Schools of Robeson County approves the transfer of Southside-Ashpole Elementary to the ISD, the Rowland community will get to keep their school and the ISD will be responsible for developing a school improvement plan and delivering results. Many in the community are wondering what that plan is going to look like.
I understand the desire for details. The challenge and the opportunity is that there is no off-the-shelf plan to improve schools. Although there are similarities among schools and communities, an effective improvement plan must be responsive to what is unique about them. To bring positive and systemic change to Southside-Ashpole Elementary, it is important to understand the specific circumstances and conditions that exist there. That is a process.
To begin the process, we need to identify and select a proven innovative school operator to partner with the ISD and the local community. That will occur over the next several weeks as the operator applications are assessed. Then, through data review, observation, and very intentional conversations with school administrators, staff, parents, and other partners, as well as the knowledge and experience that the ISD and the IS operator bring, a plan will be developed that is tailored to the specific needs of Southside-Ashpole. The plan will address barriers that may exist — both academic and non-academic — and identify the curriculum, resources, staff, support network, and specialized programs that will be needed to improve student performance.
More specifically, strategies will include the deployment of an instructional monitoring plan to ensure that school lesson plans align to NC Standard Course of Study standards — with a strong focus on reading and math achievement; conducting staff development training to build teacher capacity in instructional best practices; and providing comprehensive family and community engagement activities to maximize human and financial support. These efforts and others, will help foster improved student growth and achievement. Once the plan is implemented, there will be continuous review and analysis to determine and track student progress.
With an unwavering focus on outcomes, the ISD will take a continuous improvement approach to student achievement. This approach entails periodically assessing what is working, what could be done better, and making any necessary adjustments to the plan.
Accountability and an unwavering commitment to excellence is our foundation for school improvement. In that respect, the spotlight will be on the ISD; not only from the Rowland community, but also from the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Board of Education and the general public … as it should be. A student’s education is precious and its quality is vital to ensuring success and expanding future opportunities. As one parent put very succinctly, “failure is not an option.” I could not agree more.
Eric Hall is the superintendent of the Innovative School District.