LUMBERTON — Two Robeson County public elementary schools, R.B. Dean and Southside Ashpole, are among the remaining six being considered for inclusion in the state’s newly created Innovate School District, a plan not embraced by some local school board members.
R.B. Dean and Southside Ashpole are on the short list that was trimmed from 48, according to a state Department of Public Instruction press release. Other schools being considered are Glenn Elementary and Lakewood Elementary schools in Durham, Williford Elementary School in the Nash-Rocky Mount school district, and Willis Hare Elementary School in Northampton County.
According to the DPI news release, only one school from any school district can be selected.
County school board member, John Campbell, said Friday that he has seen reports related to similar districts established in other places, such as Tennessee, and the “track record is not good.”
Campbell is adamant that he will not support the establishment of a system in which the state diverts public funds away from the public schools and puts it in the hands of private sector for-profit schools.
“I believe in local autonomy instead of the state running our local schools,” he said. “We could have similar success without turning schools over to a contractor in the private sector if given the proper resources.”
Campbell said he has received a number of emails from individuals who feel the state’s creation of the Innovative School District is nothing but the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s “invasion and attack on the public schools.”
“It’s seen as a takeover by the state of our local schools,” he said.
Since Sept. 7, data from the 48 schools in 21 school districts across the state have been analyzed to reduce the number of schools to be removed from local school districts’ control. The state plan is to have only two schools moved into the Innovate School District begins operating during the 2018-19.
Townsend Middle, Rosenwald Elementary and Orrum Middle had been on the list of 48. All five county schools are low-performing.
“Our approach to narrowing this list of schools is entirely data-driven, and we’re confident we have the right list of schools for this final phase of evaluation. Now is the point where we marry the data with local insights from the people who are with the students day-in and day-out to develop the best possible recommendations for the state Board of Education to consider,” Innovative School District’s Superintendent Eric Hall said in a statement Friday. “We truly view this as a partnership and look forward to thoughtful discussions and collaboration with education leaders and community members about this new and innovative approach.”
The next step in the selection process is to organize school visits and conduct a comprehensive needs assessment for each site, according to the DPI release. Hall will identify at least two schools to recommend to the State Board of Education for selection at its November meeting.
Should one of the schools be admitted to the Innovative School District, Robeson County would have no choice but to relinquish control of the school for at least five years. The school would be run by a qualified Charter Management Organization or Education Management Organization approved by the state Department of Public Instruction.
Unlike charter schools, schools in the Innovative School District are not free to admit only students of their choice. Student bodies must consist of students who would normally attend the school.
A school in the Innovative School District is not required to hire existing administrators, teachers or any other staff members now working at the school. Current staff would have to apply with others for their positions.
Hall discussed briefly at the Sept. 12 meeting of the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education how the district is being established and will operate.
The district is defined as being focused on “improving student and school outcomes in low performing schools by creating a collaborative and accountable partnership with school districts and local communities.”
Hall told board members that schools are eligible to be put in the Innovative School District if they are among the lowest 5 percent of low performing schools in the state; if they consist of students in grades K-5; and if over the past three years they have not made or exceeded anticipated growth.
According to longtime Robeson County school board member Mike Smith, a Robeson County school may not be ordered into the new district. He is not sold on the idea that the state’s new Innovative School District is what’s needed to make improvements in the Robeson County schools.
“There are too many questions that need to be answered. But if they can do something different that works in helping our students succeed, I will be a team player,” Smith said recently. “I’m for anything that will improve the performance of our Robeson County students.”
Robeson County school board member Dwayne Smith said board members need more information about how the district will operate and how it will benefit Robeson County students.
“We will find out more about all of this at our next board meeting, I’m sure,” Smith said. “I’ve got to know more before I’m going to jump on the happy wagon.”
Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, school board chairman, expressed more optimism about what the Innovative School District could do for students in Robeson County.
“I’m for anything that can help our children achieve at the highest levels,” she said. “If they can take our schools and come back and show us improvements that we can apply throughout the district, I’m all for it.”
Wilkins-Chavis, a former teacher, admitted she has some reservations. However, trying something new and different from what has been done in the past might be what is needed to improve the performance of the district’s schools, she said.
Board member Loistine DeFreece, a former educator, made it clear to her fellow board members at the Sept. 12 meeting that there has been research done that shows not all students and schools benefit from the kind of school district now being established by the state. She strongly suggested this research be reviewed by board members before they make a decision to support such a system.