ROWLAND — Southside Ashpole Elementary School is one of four schools remaining as candidates for inclusion in the Innovative School District, a new program that would have the state taking over the administration of two schools in North Carolina.
Another Robeson County school, R.B. Dean Elementary, was eliminated after being on a list of 26 schools still being considered. There were 48 schools initially on the list, all low-performing, and five Robeson County schools were among them. The other three county schools on the list of 48 were Townsend Middle, Rosenwald Elementary and Orrum Middle.
The other three finalists are Glenn Elementary, in the Durham public school system; Williford Elementary, in the Nash-Rocky Mount school system; and Willis Hare Elementary, in the Northhampton school system.
Eric Hall, superintendent of the Innovative School District, announced the four finalists during a meeting of the N.C. State Board of Education this week. The final two schools well be announced in November. The Durham system has indicated it would fight if Glenn Elementary is selected.
Brenda Fairley-Ferebee is the school board member whose district includes Southside Ashpole Elementary, located in Rowland.
“I’m against one of our schools being included in this district because I don’t have all the information about it …,” she said. “The timing is bad. Things of this magnitude should have been started and discussed beginning in June when schools were out, not when school has just started.”
The Innovative School District grants charter or education management operators control over the school for five years. After their contract ends, control of the schools returns to the local districts, unless the local school board, Innovative Schools District superintendent, and state board choose another option.
Student performance at the four final schools rank among the lowest 5 percent in the state. In the four remaining schools, 75 percent of the students aren’t considered academically proficient.
“We’re seeing proficiency rates that are quite concerning,” Hall told State Board of Education members.
Hall made a presentation to the Public Schools of Education Board of Education on Sept. 12, dimissing the notion of a state “takeover,” and stressing it would be a partnership. But local school members who have commented have mostly lined up against it.
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.
Lisa Washington is principal of Southside Ashpole Elementary, where about 280 students in grades pre-kindergarten through fifth are enrolled. About half the school’s students are black, a third are American Indian, and the rest a mix of Hispanic, white and other races.
Fairley-Ferebee, after speaking, softened her stance somewhat.
“This may be the best thing in the world for us. I just don’t know,” she said. “If there is one good thing we can say about all of this is that we won’t know if it can help us if it’s not tried.”
Fairley-Ferebee said she believes the bill passed by state legislators is not really aimed at improving the public schools, but an effort to help fund charter schools — an attempt to “merge out” public schools in favor of charter and private schools.
She said among her concerns is who will actually teach the students and how much the transition will cost the Public Schools of Robeson County. She is concerned that the state Department of Public Instruction has not made public what charter school organizations are being considered to operate the schools.
She said she has spoken with Hall, calling him “very helpful.”
“He has provided clarity to my questions,” she said. “He sounds like a man who is honest and sincere.”
After Hall spoke to the local school board, board members John Campbell and Loistine DeFreece came out strongly in opposition of the program.
“I believe in local autonomy instead of the state running our local schools,” Campbell said. “We could have similar success without turning schools over to a contractor in the private sector if given the proper resources.”
Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, school board chairman, was more receptive.
“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.”
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649. Staff writer Bob Shiles contributed to this report.