Some North Carolina school districts are rushing to take advantage of the ability to operate low-performing schools more like charter schools, while others are taking a more cautious approach.
The State Board of Education voted Thursday to allow eight schools, including four in Johnston County, to use the “restart model” as a way to improve school performance. Schools in the program have the same flexibility of charter schools when it comes to setting calendars, spending state money and hiring teachers.
But the state board also voted Thursday to trim the list of Durham schools that will use the restart model from 14 schools to two. New Durham Superintendent Pascal Mubenga made the request after citing the potential high cost of operating so many restart schools at the same time when the district has to find money to meet state-mandated smaller elementary school class sizes at other schools.
“Dr. Mubenga really wanted to get into the school district and understand what was going on in all the low-performing schools in Durham before he committed all of the schools to a restart program,” said Nancy Barbour, director of district and school transformation at the state Department of Public Instruction.
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Durham still plans to use the restart model at Glenn and Lakewood elementary schools. Both schools had been considered for a new program that allows the state to take over low-performing schools.
Charter schools have historically been given more flexibility than traditional public schools because they are meant to be laboratories for innovation. For instance, charter schools aren’t bound by the state’s school calendar law and have more flexibility to spend money from the state, and all of the teachers don’t have to be licensed.
Traditional public schools have long clamored for the same flexibility as charter schools, but state leaders have only been willing to offer it to struggling schools.
Local school districts
About 100 schools in the state have received permission to use the restart model. Wake County has 12 schools in the restart program and will ask the state for permission to add seven more.
Wake Superintendent Jim Merrill has said the new model requires school leaders to think differently since they can do far more things than they’re used to doing. For instance, two of the Wake restart schools have used their flexibility to add 10 days to the school year.
Johnston County already has been using the restart model at two schools.
In the newly approved applications for Benson Middle, Selma Middle, Benson Elementary and West Smithfield Elementary, school leaders say they will use the flexibility to have longer school days on Mondays through Thursdays. This will allow students to be sent home early on Fridays so that teachers can use the time for professional development.
Wake used a similar approach in 2009 when all students had more time added to the school days on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays so that schools could be dismissed an hour early each Wednesday.
Johnston County school leaders also say the new flexibility will increase the pool of job applicants since they will now be able to hire unlicensed teachers. In their applications, district officials say the four schools are in a very small and rural area, making it difficult to hire staff.