The State Board of Education will vote this week on an operator for the first school in the state's Innovative School District, and the recommended contender's board of directors includes a former legislator who sponsored the bill to create the new district.
The Innovative School District's Superintendent Eric Hall will recommend Achievement for All Children as the operator for Southside-Ashpole Elementary. The Robeson County school will be part of the state's new experiment to revamp low-performing schools by handing control to an outside entity. The two groups that applied to manage the school are both charter school operators.
Hall said the two applicants for the job went through a rigorous application process by a third-party evaluator, SchoolWorks. The education consultancy recommended North Carolina-based Achievement for All Children over the Michigan-based charter management organization The Romine Group, based on their evaluations.
After an initial review, SchoolWorks rated The Romine Group higher than Achievement for All Children, but at that time, neither group was considered to have met expectations, as Hall described at an earlier State Board of Education meeting.
Both applicants regrouped and submitted further information on their plans to manage the elementary school and turn around its academic performance. Achievement for All Children won out after submitting substantial supplemental information. The only category in which it was rated as “does not meet expectations” was “special programs and at-risk children.” Hall said he would like to receive more evidence of support services the school would offer to at-risk children before giving his recommendation to the Board.
Achievement for All Children is a brand new organization that has never operated a school. It applied last fall to the state’s Charter School Advisory Board to take over operation of a struggling charter school. That decision needed approval by the State Board of Education, which tabled the issue because members raised concerns that the applicant had a conflict of interest. Its CEO Tony Helton sat on the Charter School Advisory Board, and has since resigned.
Lacking any evidence of definitive management experience, Achievement for All Children’s application for the job relied on close ties to the TeamCFA brand of operators and its curriculum. Achievement for All Children and TeamCFA submitted a memo of understanding in the Innovative School District application to define their relationship.
Hall said he would like to see the organizations submit a contract before he recommends Achievement for All Children to the State Board of Education.
TeamCFA's founder John Bryan has donated generously to Representative Rob Bryan, who introduced the bill that created the innovative school district. Rob Bryan also sits on Achievement for All Children's Board of Directors, according to the organization's application.
Hall said State Board of Education members have never raised questions of any conflict of interest during the application process.
"In the absence of any [concerns] there, my focus has to remain on the evaluation," Hall said.