The recent decision by State Board of Education to name the operator for Southside Ashepole School is a clear example of what it means to innovate on behalf of low-performing students in North Carolina. A review of past End of Grade trends for Robeson County confirms that status quo practices and procedures must be replaced with leadership renewal, instructional vibrancy, and robustly-engaged community partners. Continuing down the same path is not a pro-student direction. We owe them something better.
In many respects, the changes that the ISD model has and will continue to generate make the reform seem as systemic as ending segregated schools more than four decades ago. I am referring to the layers of influence that must come to bear now and in years ahead: human will, financial resources, leadership and power, and changes in attitude and beliefs. After all, the goal of reversing persistent school failure depends on many moving parts.
From building grassroots support in the Rowland community to the high-level work of policy making, the ISD activities led by Dr. Eric Hall, the ISD superintendent, represent a new frontier in tackling school failure in North Carolina. Those who work on this frontier must be intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally equipped to work hard, accept criticism, learn new ways of teaching, frequently communicate with parents and families, master a new curriculum, and know how to innovate.
Aside from the personal traits, the leader and teachers must have the backing of “converted” naysayers, those who finally “see the light” and insist on a different way of educating children in Robeson County.
I would encourage interested citizens to visit the school next year and to talk with students and staff. The depth of low performance is best seen in the eyes of a struggling student: one who cannot read well, make sense of math, or needs a textbook to “catch up.” Every Robesonian must know that the academic struggles of our students today will result in our economic struggles for years to come.
In his presentation to future principals attending the 13th annual UNCP School Leadership Conference, Jason Griffin, the Wells Fargo NC Principal of the Year, advised the audience not to retreat from doing what others see as fearful. He further stated that principals must be honest in telling teachers, staff, and parents that changing directions on behalf of students is a fearful enterprise. Having transformed a small elementary school in Perquimmons County from a “D” to a “B” in two years, Griffin knows how to spot and avoid the rough spots on the road to school and student success. Smart leaders do these things well, and in turn, they win the support and confidence of teachers and the community. These change agents focus on culture, beliefs, norms, excellence, and unifying everyone’s vision of a successful school and a well-educated student.
The months ahead will be an intense ground game toward the August opening of Southside Ashepole. With the ISD operator decided (Achievement for All Children), the important steps of recruiting and hiring the best staff are next on the horizon. The students deserve every citizen’s best wishes and constructive participation. I think of this tiny school in Rowland as North Carolina’s K-5 laboratory campus.
Olivia Holmes Oxendine serves on the State Board of Education and chairs the Education Standards and Practices Committee. She is also an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and School Counseling at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.