School board should stand with ISD, not aside

We don’t know if it will happen on Tuesday or during a school board meeting in January.

But the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County, as we have said all along, will vote to surrender control of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School to the state for inclusion in the Innovative School District. It’s not that we had special insight when making our prediction; we understood before our board did an obvious fundamental truth: The school board has no choice.

Some board members still elected to puff themselves up, perhaps believing that is what the voters wanted, but they didn’t make themselves look strong, they made themselves look weak.

When they do surrender Southside-Ashpole, school board members should do so not at the end of a barrel, but because they recall their campaign pledge to make decisions in the interest of the kids, and accept that the best way for students at Southside-Ashpole to succeed academically is to extricate them from the local school system.

Students there are failing by every education metric, but this is the most eye-opening: A full 40 percent of third-graders last year did not become fourth-graders this year because they could not read well enough to be promoted. Ponder that for a bit.

As reported in a page 1A story today by staff writer Scott Bigelow, two entities — one nonproft, and one the dreaded for-profit — have put in bids to manage the school. That number, in our mind, is disappointing given that nine had originally expressed interest.

SchoolWorks, a national consultant on educational issues, will make a recommendation on which of the two — Achievement for All Children of Forest City, a nonprofit, or The Romine Group of Utica, Michigan — should win the contract, but it is not binding.

Eric Hall, the superintendent of the ISD, has promised that the pick will be made in consultation with the local community, and while it’s easy to doubt his sincerity, we advise against it. We have spent a lot of time with Hall, and find him not only truthful, but passionate, determined, and the kind of person we would trust with our child’s education.

We believe the folks in Rowland, where Hall has spent a lot of time lately, are finding that out as well.

All things being equal, which they never are, we would prefer a nonproft over a for-profit if only because of optics. We wonder as well how profit could be found in a school the size of Southside-Ashpole.

Although the school board has stepped aside because it had no choice, we remind its members that it’s never too late to enlist in this effort, and what they should really do is step forward and work with Hall, the ISD, Southside-Ashpole and the Rowland community.

Given that academic achievement at Southside-Ashpole only has room to move in one direction, that is where we expect it to head. When it does, parents and students at the system’s other 26 low-performing schools will notice, and insist that whatever strategies are working in Rowland be implemented at their schools.

School board members, assuming they are still school board members, would look better if they appeared to have stood with Southside-Ashpole — and not against it.