Politics & Government

NC program to take over low-performing schools loses superintendent and principal

Updated on July 10 and July 12

The state program designed to turn around North Carolina’s lowest performing schools is now without a superintendent or a principal.

LaTeesa Allen is out as superintendent of the N.C. Innovative School District, a program in which low-performing schools are taken over by the state and turned over to outside groups, such as charter school operators. (James Ellerbe was announced Thursday as Allen’s replacement as superintendent.)

In addition, the principal of the only school in the new district — Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County — has also resigned.

The changes at the innovative School District come as two of the four deputy superintendents at the state Department of Public Instruction left last month.

In June, Maria Pitre-Martin left as deputy superintendent for district support to become superintendent of Petersburg City Schools in Virginia. State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced that Beverly Emory, the former superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, will replace Pitre-Martin.

Pam Shue resigned as deputy superintendent for early education to teach at Appalachian State University. No replacement has been named yet.

The Innovative School District was created by Republican state lawmakers in 2016 to take up to five low-performing elementary schools away from local school district control and turn them over to an outside group to run. Supporters say it’s a way to help raise student achievement. But critics say the model hasn’t worked well in other states.

The selection of schools for the program has met with stiff opposition from communities that wanted to retain control.

Southside Ashpole in Rowland, N.C., became the first and still only school in the new district in the 2018-19 school year. The school is now managed by Achievement For All Children, a company that has ties to a wealthy political donor who helped pass the law creating the program.

Carver Heights Elementary School in Goldsboro was picked to join the program, but state lawmakers passed legislation in December allowing Wayne County Public Schools to retain control of the school.

Amid the uncertainty, the state House Education Committee backed a bill Wednesday that makes various changes to how schools are selected to the program. Under the changes, no school would be selected this year. But the lowest-performing school would have to be selected annually in 2020, 2021 and 2022 with the State Board of Education picking five schools in 2023.

Last week, Achievement For All Children announced that Bruce Major had resigned as principal of Southside Ashpole to take a job working abroad. The company said it is working to find a new principal for the 2019-20 school year.

Major’s departure comes as the state will look for its third superintendent for the district in a little over two years.

Eric Hall was hired in March 2017 to be the first superintendent. Hall was promoted to the new position of deputy superintendent for innovation in July 2018 after the state Supreme Court upheld a law giving Johnson control over DPI.

Hall left in February to become chancellor for innovation at the Florida Department of Education. In March, Johnson announced that David Stegall would replace Hall as deputy superintendent.

In September, Allen was announced as the second superintendent for the Innovative School District. She had been chief program officer at Communities In Schools of North Carolina, a group that Hall used to lead.

Graham Wilson, a DPI spokesman, said Monday that June 28 was Allen’s last day on the job. But he did not answer questions about her departure or who is filling in for her.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.