We have a serious problem with underperforming schools

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.

North Carolina has a serious problem with underperforming schools. Nearly 20 percent of schools in the state have a grade of D or F in school performance, accounting for more than 250,000 students.

If there is anything that can unite us, it’s the conviction that we must do better for our children. There is no one simple solution for these schools. The scale of the problem necessitates swift and bold action. The Innovative School District is but one tool in what should be a broad sweep of reform, innovation and progress for education in North Carolina. As I reflect on the Innovative School District's first year, I feel there are many lessons for us and others in the state. (Editor's note: Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Rowland in Robeson County was the first school chosen for the Innovative School District, a new state program to take over up to five low-performing elementary schools and turn them over to third-party operators.)

I am grateful for the spirited dialogue, and even tough conversations we’ve had with communities, education leaders, parents, teachers, and state and local policy makers. At the root of all these conversations is a common goal – improving outcomes for students. To this end, the Innovative School District has studied data, listened to communities, and has been intentional about learning from other state and local educational leaders working to confront similar challenges. All of this has crystallized our mission and informed how we want to move forward in our second year.

First, we recognize that educators and school administrators are often tasked with being problem-solvers. The role of educators is far bigger than the job of simply teaching a curriculum. It encompasses engaging with students and other faculty to find solutions to all students’ learning barriers. I’ve spent a lot of time these past six months with educators, parents and community members in Rowland to truly understand the challenges facing the students and the school, while focusing on the opportunities for real transformation.

It’s my pledge that the Innovative School District is and will remain a partner to these schools in problem-solving for the whole child, for Southside Ashpole Elementary and future schools. The Innovative School District, the selected school operator and the school principal will work together to improve the outcomes in these schools and hold each other accountable for the success of these students. With our first round of school and operator selections behind us, the work has only just begun.

There have been many comparisons between the Innovative School District and other states that have implemented similar strategies for school improvement. A key differentiator for us is having the benefit of learning from the successes and mistakes of others; we are actively talking with and learning from the efforts in other states. This is why the Innovative School District started smaller, with just one school; we wanted to ensure that we dedicated the necessary time and resources to get it right.

We’re also leaning on data and experts to guide our process. From educational consultants helping us evaluate prospective school operators, to research organizations developing a success measurement framework, we are putting safeguards in place to ensure the Innovative School District is accountable and results-oriented.

When it comes to our schools, one size does not fit all. What was implemented in another state will not necessarily work for schools in North Carolina and what was implemented in one community will not always work in another. The Innovative School District is committed to a dynamic and iterative process; we will constantly strive to improve our practices for the benefit of students. As we push ahead into our second year, I continue to welcome collaboration, candid conversations and above all else, solutions for helping our children seize every opportunity.

Eric Hall, EdD, is superintendent of the Innovative School District.