News: Quick Takes

On the eve of Innovative School District vote, State Education Board voices concerns

The timeline for identifying and selecting a school to be included in the Innovative School District is too short, the vice chair of the State Board of Education said Wednesday, Dec. 5.

Members of the state education board during a meeting asked ISD representatives about their decision to select Carver Heights Elementary for the turnaround program. Vice Chair Alan Duncan voiced concerns over the short timeline to select a school and to find an operator. ISD representatives said they are constrained by statute.

Under the law, the ISD must make a final selection by Oct. 15, a deadline that’s only a few weeks after the most recent school performance grades are released. The SBE must then approve the recommendation by Dec. 15. An operator for the newly approved ISD school has to be approved no later than Feb. 15.

“I believe we need to have meaningful discussion with our legislators about whether or not the timeline is right,” Duncan said.

Duncan asked whether Carver Heights should even be selected this year, since the school has taken steps to turn things around. Wayne County public schools hired Patrice Faison, a former principal of the year with a track record of turning around low performing schools, as Carver Heights principal.

Duncan said he can’t imagine how the ISD would do a better job than WCPS in bringing in a former state principal of the year to improve the school’s performance.

SBE member Olivia Oxendine objected to the idea of a waiver from the law allowing Carver Heights to avoid inclusion.

“This would be acquiescing to the political whims and best wishes of adults and not the students at Carver Heights,” Oxendine said.

Oxendine said Carver Heights has no information listed in its actionable item plan based on the Comprehensive Needs Assessment for teaching and learning, professional capacity, and planning and operational effectiveness.

WCPS has submitted an application for Carver Heights to become a Restart school, a turnaround model available for continuously low performing schools. The school district has hired a new School Improvement Grant coordinator and new assistant principals.

Eric Hall, deputy superintendent of innovation with the Department of Public Instruction, said he recognizes that WCPS has made changes to help Carver Heights, but those changes came after the school was selected by the ISD. Improvement plans for other schools also qualified for the ISD were already under way before the ISD made its final selection.

SBE member J.B. Buxton said the ISD selection process has been difficult.

“What troubles me about this is we have set up a contest that nobody wants to win,” Buxton said.

Ever since Carver Heights was chosen, community leaders, WCPS, and Carver Heights officials have come out against the selection. WCPS leaders have sent several letters arguing against the ISD, claiming the selection process failed to consider the county’s track record for turning around low performing schools. They also contend the ISD didn’t give them enough time to respond to claims made about the school’s shortcomings and failed to fully engage the community in the decision process.

At a meeting Nov. 5, LaTeesa Allen, ISD superintendent, said Carver Heights failed to meet seven of the eight identified School Improvement Grant requirements last year. The ISD superintendent said Carver Heights didn’t use $185,256 of the available $318,969 from its School Improvement Grant during the 2017-18 school year.

In a Nov. 30 letter to the SBE, WCPS leaders said a bulk of the unspent funds were for teacher stipends if they exceeded growth. Since the school failed to meet performance goals, the money wasn’t spent. Instead, the letter says, the money would carry over to next year.

Another portion of the money was for teachers to attend a professional development conference in Texas. Instead, the school opted to do professional development in-house to avoid losing instructional time.

WCPS leaders say the ISD based its selection on faulty analysis of data, failed to take into consideration the school going through a grade reconfiguration, and haven’t been transparent enough throughout the process.

The state education board was supposed to vote on the ISD recommendation last month. It decided to wait another month to vote to give the ISD more time to engage the community. Allen told board members Wednesday the ISD has met with the Goldsboro mayor and City Council, the local NAACP chapter, Men who Care Goldsboro, and has held community meetings with parents.

WCPS may end up keeping control of Carver Heights if, that is, a provision in a technical correction bill becomes law. SB 469 is moving through the General Assembly and includes a provision allowing a local board of education to become an ISD school operator. The provision gives the local education board the opportunity to submit to the ISD a “well-defined, credible, and specific five-year plan to dramatically improve student achievement.”

“We have pending legislation that is going to move sometime in the next few days that impacts this greatly,” SBE member Wayne McDevitt said.

The board will vote Thursday, Dec. 6, on whether Carver Heights will join the ISD.