The State Board of Education has approved Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County to be included in the state's new innovative school district. The initiative was created under state law to bring together low-performing schools and turn over their operations to charter school management companies.
The new district's Superintendent Eric Hall recommended the school at the Board's October meeting, after a process of narrowing down a list of 41 eligible schools, to four schools, then to just one.
Hall fielded questions about why he recommended only one school instead of all four under consideration, when the district is capped at five schools. In Hall's presentation to the Board, he showed that Southside Ashpole was the lowest-performing out of the four, and that it had shown continual decline in the percent of students who tested at grade level proficiency.
Board member Amy White asked whether Hall had considered other factors, besides widely-known community pushback from some of the other schools on the list.
"I want there to be no doubt about the fact that pushback is not my concern," Hall responded.
He explained it was important to start with one school to learn from that process along the way, as the district grows to encompass more schools in future years.
"This is about doing this right," Hall said. "To me this is not about going fast. It's about going slow. It's about going slow to go right, because we are capped at five schools."
Hall also said that focusing on one school meant that he and the charter school operator would have an opportunity to better get to know the school's needs.
"We need to be in that community, we need to understand what's important to that community. We need to understand what the barriers are to success," he said.
Some of those barriers may deal with academics or school leadership, or they may be related to poverty and related issues.
Hall also suggested that by not including some of the other schools under consideration, those schools' districts would be under more urgent pressure to enact their own plans to restart the schools. He said he will remain in communication with those schools' superintendents about their progress.
The Board will now accept applications from potential charter school managers who will compete to take over the school and turn it around. Robeson County Schools can adopt a resolution to approve the school's transfer to the innovative school district for the 2018-2019 school year, or decide to close the school. If the school closes, the students would be transferred to other schools in the district, a majority of which have also been deemed low-performing.