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State School Board Backs Judge's Sentiments On Poorly Performing Schools

Posted March 8, 2006

— North Carolina's Board of Education Chairman says there is no plan to shut down any schools next fall in response to a state court judge's warning.

In a written letter last week, Judge Howard Manning Jr. warned that if 19 of the state's poorly performing high schools don't start doing better, he'll order them closed unless the state makes sweeping changes, including replacing principals at the schools.

Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said the state Department of Public Instruction will send out letters to schools backing Manning's sentiment, but not the immediate deadline.

"We certainly take the letter that the judge sent seriously," Lee said.

But despite Manning's request, Lee said no schools would be shut down immediately.

"I'm confident that we'll avoid a train wreck when it comes to whether or not these schools will open," he said.

Lee and other state education agencies agree changes are needed, but they want time to let programs and pressure work.

"I would hope there'd be an outcry in schools from people saying what can we do to save our schools," said Eddie Davis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Manning points to schools such as East Wake High School in Wendell, which uses grant money to develop specialized programs within a school.

"We have to find other, more creative ways to do it," Lee said.

Because of Manning's history in a decade-long lawsuit to bring equality to poorer school districts, his reputation indicates he won't wait long to see action.

Lee said the state education board won't continue to wait either.

"I can say under no uncertain terms, if there is no response, we'll take steps to close schools or not allow them to open," he said.

The state's own testing and accountability program is supposed to prevent schools from continuing to fail year after year, but the school board says its model needs adjusting.

Wake County has success with its policy to bus students to create a socio-economic balance in all of its schools. Some leaders say other school systems should do that.

In all, 21 counties are directly impacted by Manning's letter -- seven locally.

Most have only one school on notice, but Charlotte-Mecklenburg has 10 high schools. School officials there said they will not shut down schools.


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