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Charter School Operators Vying For Innovative School District Haven't "Met Expectations"

File photo of Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County.
Liz Schlemmer
Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County will be the first school in the state's new Innovative School District.

The State Board of Education has granted  the Innovative School District an extra 60 days to choose an operator for its first school.Innovative School District Superintendent Eric Hall requested the extension to the February 15 deadline set in state law. The General Assembly enacted the new district to take over low-performing public schools and improve their students' test performance. The district is set to open this fall with control of Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County.

Hall said he was not yet ready to make his recommendation after two charter school operators applied for the opportunity to run the school.

"When I think about the recommendation I made today, I have great confidence we are doing the right thing," Hall said. "If we're going to have a partner at the table with us in designing and implementing a strategy to improve student outcomes, then my commitment to that community -- and to the students and families of that school -- is that we get the very best partner possible to do that work."

Earlier this month, a third-party consultant evaluated the two applications and concluded that neither "met expectations" for the job. The Romine Group is a Michigan-based charter school manager that also operates Capitol Encore Academy in Fayetteville. Achievement for All Children is a new North Carolina-based non-profit partnered with the charter school support network TeamCFA.

The evaluations conducted by the consultancy SchoolWorks are available on the Innovative School District's website.

SchoolWorks determined that neither applicant has a proven track record of improving low performing schools. The evaluations say The Romine Group's record of improving school performance is inconsistent and Achievement for All Children has no record of operating schools.

Achievement for All Children applied to take over operation of Aristotle Preparatory Academy this August, but the State Board of Education did not approve that transfer and instead referred the issue to the state ethics commission for issues of conflict of interest. Achievement for All Children's CEO Tony Helton is also the CEO of TeamCFA, which previously operated Aristotle Preparatory Academy. He also served on the state's Charter School Advisory Board, before resigning last fall.

Hall said he would like to continue negotiations with the two applicants to clarify their plans to improve Southside-Ashpole Elementary. He said he still has questions about their budgets, curricula and plans for day-to-day operation.

"My hope is that one of the two entities will be able to step forward as a clear partner," Hall said. "But at the same time, I want to be sure to be clear that we do not just have to go with one of these two operators.  I think the support of the state board today shows we are open to exploring other options if we need to."

Hall'spresentation to the State Board of Education this week suggests that other entities besides charter school operators could be chosen to run schools in the new Innovative School District. He suggested a non-profit, university or business with a credible plan and leaders with proven records could also meet the requirements set by state law.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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