Robeson County agrees to turn struggling school over to management organization

The Robeson County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to turn one of its elementary schools over to a management organization instead of shutting down the school.

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Kelly Hinchcliffe
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Robeson County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to turn one of its elementary schools over to a management organization instead of shutting down the school.
Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Rowland will be the first school in North Carolina to take part in the state's new Innovative School District. The controversial new program, which was approved by lawmakers in 2016, will take five of the state's lowest-performing schools and hand them over to charter or education management organizations to try to improve their performance.

Two schools will be chosen next year and two more the following year. Schools that are chosen but don't want to participate must close their doors.

Robeson County's decision to turn Southside Ashpole Elementary over to a management organization means the school board will no longer have a say in the staffing, instruction or other educational matters at the school. However, the board will still be responsible for maintaining the school building, making sure it has the appropriate furniture and equipment and providing transportation for the students.

The two organizations being considered to take control of Southside Ashpole Elementary are Charlotte-based Achievement for All Children and Michigan’s The Romine Group.

The school will be transferred into the ISD for a period of five years, beginning in the 2018-19 school year. At the end of the five years, the school will be transferred back to the local district.

"This is a real opportunity for Southside Ashpole, the Rowland community and the local school board to work together with the ISD and the school operator to help improve student performance," Eric Hall, superintendent of the ISD, said in a a statement. "The outpouring of community support for this initiative has been incredible, and I cannot thank the Rowland community enough for engaging with the ISD. To maximize student success and to ensure that the reforms the ISD will bring to the school are sustainable, that support is welcome and necessary."

But not everyone has been supportive of the ISD. Hall faced intense pushback from some of the schools he considered taking over. Last fall, the Durham County Board of Education told Hall it was prepared to fight if he tried to take control of Glenn or Lakewood elementary schools, which were on his short list for consideration. They were eventually removed.

Robeson County officials were hesitant at first as well. School Board Chairwoman Peggy Wilkins-Chavis previously said she would likely vote to close Southside Ashpole Elementary rather than let it join the ISD, saying "the state just did us wrong," but she changed her mind.

At Tuesday's Robeson County school board meeting, members of the Rowland community, including Mayor Michelle Shooter, Town Clerk David Townsend and others showed their support for the transfer, according to Hall.

Southside Ashpole Elementary was selected for inclusion into the ISD based on the following criteria:

  • Grade-level performance for the most recent school year was 18.4 percent
  • The school received a performance letter grade of F for the past three years. All North Carolina public schools have received A through F letter grades since 2013-14, when the General Assembly passed legislation requiring it.
  • Poor overall school district performance – 66 percent of schools in the district are considered low-performing

"We can now move forward with identifying and selecting a proven innovative school operator to partner with Southside Ashpole and the Rowland community to develop a school improvement plan that is tailored to the specific needs of the school," Hall said.

Included in the school improvement plan will be:

  • Teacher/staff training
  • Tactics for addressing academic and non-academic barriers to achievement
  • Curriculum that meets the North Carolina Standard Course of Study standards to ensure students are prepared to move to the next grade level
  • Details related to resources, staffing needs, support networks and supplemental programs to assist in improving student performance


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