LUMBERTON — While the Board of Education of the Public Schools of Robeson County ponders closing the low-performing Southside-Ashpole Elementary School or turning it over to the state’s Innovative School District, two organizations — one for-profit and one nonprofit — have launched bids to manage the school.
The bids from Achievement for All Children of Forest City, a nonprofit, and The Romine Group of Utica, Michigan, were received last week. Nine organizations had expressed interest in running the school’s day-to-day operations, but only two bids were received by the State Board of Education.
ISD Superintendent Eric Hall said the bids will be analyzed by SchoolWorks, an independent education consultant. Hall said its recommendations should be available before the holiday.
“SchoolWorks has a long track record, and I trust they will do a good job,” Hall said on Thursday during a stop in Lumberton while on the way to Rowland to meet with parents concerning the potential transition. “I will invite the local community to interview the operator before we sign the contract.
“I won’t take an operator to the Board of Education without the community giving input,” Hall said. “If it is not a fit, I will have to continue to work with the board.”
Hall will be present on Tuesday at 6 p.m. when the Board of Education holds its monthly meeting at Southside-Ashpole, during which a public hearing will be held on the possible inclusion in the ISD. In a public meeting two weeks ago, the Rowland community expressed strong support for keeping their school open and becoming part of the ISD. That meeting was held by the town.
The written bids are online, and Hall emphasized that the process is “transparent.” Both bidders have experience in school operations.
The Romine Group operates several charter schools, including the Capitol Encore Academy in Fayetteville. The Achievement for All Students group operates three schools with demographics similar to Southside-Ashpole.
Questions continue to swirl around the untested Innovative School District, which is attempting to take over the first of five schools. The two applicants operate charter schools, but Southside-Ashpole will not be a charter school, because it cannot choose its student body.
How such a small school, with approximately 250 students, can support a for-profit school business model in one of the state’s most poorly-funded school systems is unclear. The ever-present Hall has answered every question thus far, and he promises to keep his door open.
To the question of how the ISD will coordinate with the school’s operator, Hall offered these answers: “All staff will be under the exclusive control of the Innovative School District. The principal will be hired in conjunction with ISD.
“If the school is not performing, or there are problems with staff, students, parents or the community, I will intervene,” he said.
Hall is optimistic for the future of Southside-Ashpole, one of he state’s lowest performing schools.
“Rowland is a great community,” he said. “I am optimistic about our partnership with the Public Schools of Robeson County.”
The Innovative School District was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2015. Its mission is to take over five low-performing schools to serve as a model for turning around schools. It would take control of each of those schools, including Southside-Ashpole, for five years before returning control to the local school district.
The reaction of the school board was initially negative, with John Campbell and Brian Freeman being among the most vocal. But in recent weeks the school board, perhaps because it has no real option, appears to have softened in its opposition and the votes appear to be there to turn the school over. It’s unclear if that might happen on Tuesday or perhaps at the board’s January meeting.
The deadline for a decision is Feb. 1.
Southside-Ashpole has earned an F in state grading the last three years. About 14 percent of students scored at or above grade level in math, while 19 percent scored at or above grade level in reading. Last year 40 percent of Southside Ashpole third-graders were required to repeat the grade for failing to meet literacy standards; the state average retention rate was 14 percent.
Scott Bigelow may be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at 910-644-4497.