NC narrows list of schools under consideration for state takeover

Building support for state takeover of schools

Eric Hall, superintendent of the N.C. Innovative School District, explains why he dropped two schools from consideration for state takeover and how he's trying to build public support for the program.
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Eric Hall, superintendent of the N.C. Innovative School District, explains why he dropped two schools from consideration for state takeover and how he's trying to build public support for the program.

Two low-performing schools, including one in Durham, are no longer under consideration for being taken over by the state and handed to a charter school operator in 2018 in an attempt to raise student achievement.

Eric Hall, superintendent of North Carolina’s new Innovative School District, announced Wednesday that Lakewood Elementary in Durham and R.B. Dean Elementary in Robeson County were dropped from a list of schools being considered for the controversial new program. Four elementary schools, including Glenn Elementary in Durham, are still under consideration with two to be chosen for state takeover in December.

The news was cheered Wednesday by Durham school leaders who had been trying to get their schools removed from what they call an unproven education model. If a school is chosen, the district has to accept the state’s decision or close the school and reassign the students and staff.

A wealthy retired businessman from Oregon says his "significant economic resources" helped get passed a state law that will have charter operators over up to five low-performing elementary schools.

“Now, we will focus all of our attention on saving Glenn from this experiment,” Durham school board Chairman Mike Lee said Wednesday. “I look forward to that challenge.”

But Hall said Wednesday that test scores at the schools under consideration are “quite concerning” when only one out of four students is proficient in reading. He said the program is causing people to have tough conversations about why it’s gotten to the point that their schools are being considered for state takeover.

“We can’t forget that we have students that are waiting for some type of intervention and we need to do that because the parents and the families, they want what’s best for their children,” Hall said at the State Board of Education meeting. “We know that.”

Under the new program created by state lawmakers, up to five low-performing elementary schools will be turned over to charter school operators in the next two years. State law says at least two schools are to be picked for the 2018-19 school year and the rest in 2019.

Hall will recommend in November which schools to include in the district. The state board is required to vote by December.

The option of handing one school instead of two schools to a charter school operator for the 2018-19 school year was laid out Wednesday.

“This is an opportunity for us to do this right,” said state board member Becky Taylor. “Do we need to come out with two right away or is it better to start with one?”

Hall said they could delay transferring one of the two schools for a year, telling the school that “if you meet growth (on exams), we could revisit this conversation.”

Movement on the new district has ramped up over the last month since Hall on Sept. 7 identified 48 schools that were eligible. Two weeks later, he narrowed the list to six schools statewide with two each in Durham and Robeson counties.

Hall has said districts that cooperate with the new program will be given more flexibility with how they operate their low-performing schools. But Durham school officials say they’ve already gotten flexibility from the state to help their schools without giving up local control.

On Tuesday night, more than 240 parents, teachers and elected officials rallied at Lakewood Elementary to oppose state takeover of any Durham schools.

“Durham will fight, and if you hadn’t experienced a fight about education, get ready,” Lee said Tuesday night.

In contrast, state board member Olivia Oxendine said Wednesday that both schools from Robeson County are in dire need of help and would welcome intervention from the new district.

Over the past two weeks, Hall visited the six schools. He said he dropped the two schools because only one school can be picked from any district.

In addition to Glenn, the remaining schools under consideration are Williford Elementary in Nash-Rocky Mount, Willis Hare Elementary in Northampton County and Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County.

Lee said he received an email from Hall Wednesday morning letting him know that Lakewood would be removed from the list.

“I’m extremely excited about Lakewood being removed from the list and also excited that Hall and the committee selecting the schools are listening to the community,” Lee said.

He said Hall cited new leadership at Lakewood and the belief that the school has the tools in place to improve academic outcomes as part of the reason Lakewood was removed.

The program is modeled on achievement school districts that have been used in other states. Critics have cited how those districts haven’t raised achievement to argue that the North Carolina model won’t work either.

“We don’t have to live in the shadow of other states that are trying similar models,” Hall said. “We can write our own narrative on how this looks.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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