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State Board Of Education Delays Vote On State Takeover Of Elementary in Goldsboro

Students Kamora Foxworth, left, and Odyessi McDougald, center, smile while they eat lunch at Southside-Ashpole Elementary on the first week of school as the elementary becomes the first in the state's Innovative School District.
Liz Schlemmer
File photo of students Kamora Foxworth and Odyessi McDougald, students at the Innovative School District's first school, Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Rowland, North Carolina.

The State Board of Education has delayed the vote on whether to include Carver Heights Elementary in Goldsboro in the Innovative School District, after discussion by board members that there is not enough community support for the state’s plan to take over the struggling school.

“I honestly thought they would vote to give it to [the Innovative School District],” said Wayne County Superintendent Michael Dunsmore, on his surprise at the vote.

State Board of Education members voted 7 to 5 to delay the vote until December. The outcome of that vote may be due in part to the new makeup of the board, where now a majority of members have been appointed by Democratic governors.

The Innovative School District Heads to Its Second School

The General Assembly created the Innovative School District in 2016 as a means to take over management of some of the state’s lowest performing elementary or middle schools, in an effort to turn around students’ test scores. The district currently operates one elementary in Robeson County that it took over in August. Once the State Board of Education approves a school for the district, its local school board must choose to either relinquish control of the school, or close the school and move students to other schools in the county.

Parents and teachers at Carver Heights Elementary were notified just over two weeks ago that Innovative School District officials had chosen the school to be the second in the state’s experimental district. The selection then came before a vote at the State Board of Education Thursday. Dozens of parents attended an information session with Innovative School District officials at Carver Heights Elementary in late October to ask questions and voice concerns and opposition to the takeover.

“When they came and presented to us, which was very short notice, and we pulled together a whole lot of people and we asked them what is their plan, they said, ‘Well, we don’t know yet,’” said Keith Copeland, a pastor and education chair of the Goldsboro NAACP. “How are you going to come and take over the public schools and you don’t have a plan?”

The Wayne County School Board passed a resolution Tuesday night to oppose the Innovative School District and outline the reasons why the board believes it is better positioned than the ISD to improve the school. A busload of community members from Wayne County was expected to attend the State Board of Education’s Thursday vote, but never arrived.

Innovative School District Superintendent LaTeesa Allen and former ISD superintendent Eric Hall, now Deputy Superintendent of Innovation at the Department of Public Instruction, described to the State Board of Education their process for selecting Carver Heights Elementary from among 14 schools that qualified under criteria set out by the state. They removed schools from the list that had shown growth or higher scores on end-of-grade exams in recent years, conducted site visits at the six remaining schools and looked closely at the schools’ overall test performance data.

“After we get down to that point, and we narrowed the list, we did recognize that there was one school that really stood out,” Hall said, referring to Carver Heights Elementary. Hall noted that only 18 percent of the school’s students were considered grade-level proficient in reading and math on their most recent end-of-grade exams, the lowest among any schools under consideration.

A comparison of the final 6 schools considered for the Innovative School District in 2018, as presented by ISD officials to the State Board of Education.
Credit Department of Public Instruction
Department of Public Instruction
A comparison of the final 6 schools considered for the Innovative School District in 2018, as presented by ISD officials to the State Board of Education.

In Wayne County, Many Oppose The ISD's Takeover

In its resolution opposing the Innovative School District, the Wayne County School Board stated that it has recently removed four schools from the list of the state’s low-performing schools. Wayne County Schools further argued it has an intervention model in place for Carver Heights Elementary funded by a three year, $1.3 million federal school improvement grant. The school was not chosen for the ISD the previous year for that reason. ISD officials say they used different criteria this year for narrowing the list of schools that qualified than they did last year, and also say that last year Carver Heights Elementary underspent that grant by $185,000 and failed to meet 7 of 8 of its annual benchmark goals associated with the grant.

“The unfortunate situation here is that we have a school that has had additional resources that were available to it over the past two years, and in those past two years we’ve seen a trend that in my opinion … is of significant concern,” Hall told WUNC.

Several state Board of Education members said they agreed Carver Heights Elementary is in need of additional support, but voiced concerns about the lack of community buy-in for the takeover plan.

“I’ve read the resolution. I’ve seen the comments. You don’t have community support there,” said member Patricia Willoughby.

Administrators and community members from Wayne County were not given any opportunity to speak at the podium during the State Board of Education meeting, but could be heard responding to the ISD officials’ presentation, including correcting ISD Superintendent Allen when she incorrectly stated which grade levels the school serves.

Most of those community members in attendance were African-American.

“I’m not from that community,” said State Board of Education member James Ford, “but I am from communities of color, and there are histories there of government policies being heaped upon folks without much consent.”

Vote Delayed to December

Wayne County Superintendent Dunsmore says he intends to use the additional month to continue to oppose the takeover.

“Until they can show me they can turn around a school, we’re not interested,” Dunsmore said.

Meanwhile, the ISD officials will use the time to drum up support in the community. By law, the State Board of Education must approve the selection of a school for the Innovative School District by December 15. 

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