Five NC schools get preliminary approval to be more like charters

Five traditional public schools, including two in Wake County, are on their way to being free to add more days to the academic calendar and to channel more support to beginning teachers.

The State Board of Education on Thursday gave school districts preliminary approval to “restart” four elementary schools and one high school.

A recent board policy, based on a 2010 state law, lets districts ask for permission to give charter-like flexibility to traditional schools. To be eligible, the schools must have been low-performing for two of the past three years.

Nearly 400 schools were eligible this year, and five applied. Barwell Elementary and Walnut Creek Elementary in Wake and Goldsboro High School in Wayne County have asked to initiate their changes in time for the next school year. E.M. Rollins Elementary in Vance would use next year as a transition year. Haw River Elementary in Alamance plans to initiate the changes in fall 2017.

State board members said the districts trying the new approach to school improvement were “pioneers” and “trailblazers.”

“I applaud the districts for their initiative,” said board vice chairman A.L. Collins. “It’s difficult to reform a school while you’re running a school district.”

The changes would come at a time of increased pressure on struggling schools. Schools where many students are not proficient and show less than excellent growth are labeled low-performing under a new state law. And they feel increased competitive pressure from charter schools, which multiplied rapidly after the legislature lifted a 100-school limit in 2011.

In addition, a House select committee is considering a program that would have charter school operators run a handful of low-performing schools around the state.

The restart application for Rollins Elementary in Vance directly addresses the competition from charters. Rollins has the highest percentage of students withdrawing to enroll in charter schools of all elementary schools in the district. Vance wants to extend the school year and add instructional time at Rollins.

Wake wants to add instructional time for students and create more time for teacher planning and professional development at Barwell and Walnut Creek. One of the goals is to institute structured mentoring programs for beginning teachers at those schools.

Wayne wants to align Goldsboro High School’s academic calendar with a school of engineering on its campus and with a local community college. It also wants to use charter schools’ ability to hire instructors who don’t have teaching licenses. Up to half the teachers in charter high schools can be unlicensed. The school would be able to hire working professionals as foreign language, science, technology, engineering and math instructors, the application said.

The board is expected to give the plans a final vote in May.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner