An oversized reason that we have supported the idea of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School being the guinea pig for the Innovative School District is our complete lack of confidence in the ability of the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County to do better for the children who attend the Rowland school.
This isn’t a conclusion we reach gleefully, but is based on the school board’s history, recent, distant and in between. As has been said repeatedly, Southside-Ashpole is not alone, but has 26 sister schools in the 42-school system that are also low-performing, and there is nothing to suggest any of that will change.
This is not intended as an indictment of the system’s administrators or the teachers and staff, most of whom we believe work hard and perform their jobs admirably. Rather, our disgust is with the leadership, if that is the right word, that is displayed by a school board whose dysfunctionality was in full bloom during the year just ended, first with its clumsy firing of former Superintendent Tommy Lowry and then when its racial division was on display during its failed and juvenile effort to replace Lowry.
We have little hope for meaningful change on the school board.
We do have hope, however, for the children at Southside-Ashpole.
One reason is the state is heavily invested in success there. It’s no secret that Republicans, who are in control in Raleigh, are trying to change the public school paradigm in North Carolina, with an emphasis on choice, vouchers that make choice possible, flexibility that charter schools provide, and rewarding teachers not for clocking in, but for results.
The Innovative School District is a critical part of that effort, and for that ripple to rise into a wave there has to be success in Rowland. It is noteworthy that Southside-Elementary is the only school picked out of 2,600 or so in the state for inclusion in the ISD, so it will be given the state’s full attention. If progress cannot be demonstrated at Southside-Ashpole, then there will be little for Republicans to point to as a success in arguing that the ISD be expanded to include more schools.
Another reason for our optimism is Eric Hall, the superintendent of the Innovative School District, who has in recent weeks launched what we believe has been an effective campaign to rally the Rowland community in support of Southside-Ashpole. Hall has promised transparency in the process, and a next critical step in providing that will be on Friday when a community meeting is held during which representatives of the two entities that have applied to manage Southside-Ashpole will be questioned by key stakeholders with the public having a front-row chair.
Hall understands instinctively what our school board doesn’t, that the Rowland school can only succeed if the people it serves rally around it. An immediate blessing of the conversation concerning the ISD has been that the community mobilized, initially in opposition out of fear, but now because residents are hopeful and believe positive change can be achieved.
We encourage those served by Southside-Ashpole to turn out in force on Friday and continue to ask the tough questions while demanding better for their children.