News: CJ Exclusives

Robeson County school first to join Innovative School District

State Board of Education makes struggling Southside Ashpole Elementary School becomes first in state-run district unless locals reject assignment and close the school

The State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve Southside Ashpole Elementary School as the first to join the Innovative School District in 2018-19.

The ISD — originally called the Achievement School District — places the lowest-performing schools in the state under management of charter or education organizations for five years. The goal is improving school performance through awarding greater flexibility not typically afforded traditional public schools.

ISD Superintendent Eric Hall on Thursday offered a presentation explaining the process.

Southside Ashpole Elementary had a 18.4 percent grade level proficiency and a 33 percent school performance average over three years, according to 2016-17 reports. The school has gotten an F every school year since 2014-15. Sixty-six percent of Robeson County schools are low-performing, another factor that contributed to Hall choosing Southside Ashpole.

Board members Olivia Oxendine and Amy White were disappointed only one school was chosen for the program. White questioned what other factors, aside from local pushback, led to Hall’s decision.

“Pushback is not my concern,” Hall responded. “This is about doing it right. It’s about going slow to go right.”

Robeson County school leaders have until Feb. 1 to either accept the transfer or close the school.

Oxendine represents the Sandhills district, which includes Robeson, and said school officials are already talking about closing Southside Ashpole.

“I believe that by keeping Southside Ashpole open and including it in the ISD, we can work together with the community to help change the conditions, improve education for students, and promote equity and excellence in supporting students and communities,” Hall said. “If the local board decides to close Southside Ashpole, I’m concerned that the students will simply be transferred to other low-performing schools in the district. That is an unacceptable option.”

The plan outlined in the legislation moves forward, even if officials close the school, Hall said. Hall will recommend two more schools for the ISD in September and repeat the process. Under the law, SBE can choose a total of five schools for the program.