The State Board of Education in a 7-5 vote agreed Thursday, Nov. 1, to delay for another month a decision on whether to approve the recommendation of Carver Heights Elementary to the Innovative School District.
ISD Superintendent Latessa Allen and Deputy State Superintendent of Innovation Eric Hall explained the reasoning for selecting the Wayne County school. They cited continually low academic performance and several years of failures to meet growth.
Student behavior at Carver Heights has improved, and community and parental involvement has increased, Allen said, but data shows a majority of students aren’t meeting grade-level proficiencies in core subjects. Over the past three school years, Carver Heights got an F on its School Report Card and hasn’t met growth for the past two school years.
The statute governing the ISD requires that the past three school years be considered when determining whether a school qualifies for inclusion. Wayne County Public Schools contends the ISD didn’t take into consideration the fact Carver Heights recently underwent a grade reconfiguration.
In 2016, Carver Heights Elementary was awarded a $1.3 million federal School Improvement Grant to fix its low performance. The grant is for five years, starting in the 2016-17 school year.
Allen 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.
SBE member Olivia Oxendine asked whether Carver Heights has given a reason for not using all of the available grant money for the school year. Allen said she hasn’t gotten an answer.
Wayne County Public Schools and the local community have pushed back on the recommendation of Carver Heights to the ISD.
“The ISD’s actions have sown chaos, scared teachers and staff, and through their own ‘plan’ will keep the school in a holding pattern for the next eight months until a charter school company takes over our school,” WCPS Superintendent Michael Dunsmore said in a news release.
Dunsmore said WCPS has a proven track record with turning around low-performing schools. On Oct. 30, the Wayne County Board of Education approved sending a Restart School application to SBE. During the special meeting, the local school board hired two new administrators, including a new principal, to lead turnaround efforts at Carver Heights.
Goldsboro community members interjected a few times during Allen’s presentation Nov. 1. They took issue with how she described Carver Heights. Some shouted, “That’s not true.”
Several SBE members voiced concerns during the meeting. They said the ISD didn’t do enough to engage the Goldsboro community before recommending Carver Heights. New State Education Board member James Ford questioned whether there was a way to have more robust engagement with the community. He wasn’t alone in emphasizing community dissatisfaction.
“You don’t have community support there,” SBE member Patricia Willoughby said.
Willoughby said the process for picking the first ISD, which ended up being Southside Ashpole in Robeson County, seemed more deliberate compared to this process.
“I’m looking at the timeline with this, and it’s pretty quick,” Willoughby said.
On Oct. 8, ISD leaders held a community event at Carver Heights to address the possibility of choosing the Wayne County school. Soon after, the school was picked as the ISD recommendation.
“We do realize there was a short turnaround, and so we’re operating within that timeline. But even during that time after having that public meeting we continued to engage with the community,” Allen said.
The ISD program operates on a strict timeline governed by statute, but some board members were concerned the process was moving too quickly to have a thorough discussion with the community. SBE member Reginald Kenan, who represents the district in which Carver Heights sits, motioned to delay the vote.
Oxendine was among those who wanted to move forward on selecting the second school for the ISD and said kids in these schools are failing.
Four other SBE members — Amy White, Todd Chasteen, Jill Camnitz, and State Treasurer Dale Folwell — voted against the motion to delay.
“It’s just dismaying that we’re splitting hairs over failure,” Oxendine said. She asked what board members hoped to accomplish by further delaying the vote.
State Board of Education Teacher of the Year, Freebird McKinney, said delaying the vote would allow more time to garner community support.
Seven members voted to wait until the December meeting to decide on the recommendation. SBE members Kenan, Wayne McDevitt, Willoughby, J.B. Buxton, Ford, vice chairman Alan Duncan, and chairman Eric Davis voted to delay.