News: CJ Exclusives

Wayne County Public Schools, Goldsboro community not happy with ISD selection

Wayne County Public School officials haven’t welcomed the Innovative School District’s decision to recommend Carver Heights Elementary with open arms.

Since the ISD considered including Carver Heights Elementary in the school turnaround program, WCPS and some Goldsboro residents have offered noisy opposition.

Wayne County school leaders sent a letter Oct. 31 to the State Board of Education and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, expressing “serious concerns and great dismay” about the possibility of Carver Heights joining the ISD. WCPS Superintendent Michael Dunsmore and WCPS Board of Education Chair Patricia Burden wrote the letter.

“The ISD is without a proven school turnaround record, without a strategic plan to assist our children, and without any accountability to the taxpayers, parents or children of Wayne County,” Dunsmore and Burden wrote.

WCPS school leaders say the selection process for the ISD has been inconsistent with statutory requirements outlined in the legislation governing the ISD. Last year, the letter says, Carver Heights was excluded for consideration because it received a $1.3 million School Improvement Grant. The SIG grant is for five years and is intended to help schools implement changes to improve academic performance.

Last year, Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County was the first school to join the ISD. WCPS assumed Carver Heights would’ve been exempt this year, too, but on Oct. 15, ISD Superintendent LaTeesa Allen sent a letter informing WCPS her intent to recommend Carver Heights for inclusion into the ISD.

“Inconsistent criteria makes it impossible for school systems to effectively plan or make meaningful decisions about low-performing schools, as the criteria are not articulated and ever-changing,” Dunsmore and Burden wrote.

David Prickett, a spokesman for the ISD, said Carver Heights’ grant was one of the candidates considered for the first ISD school. The ISD found some problems when it looked at how Carver Heights’ had managed and implemented the grant.

“According to the federal 2017-18 SIG Year in Review report, Carver Heights Elementary failed to meet seven of the eight identified goals in the grant,” Prickett said in an emailed statement. “For the 2017-18 school year they did not utilize $185,256.88 of the available $318,969.75 from the grant.”

A lengthy debate about the ISD selection process at the November meeting led to an SBE vote delaying until next month its decision on the ISD’s recommendation. If the state education board decides to approve the recommendation, WCPS will can either accept the transfer of Carver Heights into the ISD or close the school for good.

Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said WCPS and the Goldsboro community should be focused on the school’s struggling academic performance.

“The one thing that I noticed from the letter and the exchange was that there was an emphasis on process instead of student performance, and that’s the most disconcerting aspect of the exchange,” Stoops said. “Certainly student performance should be the ultimate priority versus the process.”

Continuous low academic performance was a major reason Carver Heights was chosen. 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 Oct. 15 letter to Wayne County school leaders says student learning time wasn’t maximized, teaching vacancies persist, and stakeholders are unaware of the direction of the school.

Wayne County school leaders argue Allen’s letter “contains inaccurate or false information and conclusory allegations, unsupported by any evidence or exhibits.” Teaching vacancies aren’t uncommon, they argued, and recent hurricanes have severely affected the school and its student population. The school leaders contend ISD officials failed to consider Carver Heights went from a K-4 school to a 3-5 school in 2016-17.

“There is the question of whether Carver Heights has been the same school for the required three-year period,” Dunsmore and Burden wrote. “As a grades 3-5 school only since 2016-17, there is complete performance data only for that one year and overall performance data (but no EVAAS results) for 2017-18.”

Prickett countered the assertion.

“The grade reconfiguration at Carver Heights Elementary was considered during the selection process, but the associated data was insufficient to remove them from selection,” Prickett said.

Despite the grade reconfiguration, Stoops said the lack of growth is particularly troublesome.

“They showed extreme negative growth,” Stoops said. “The students who were at that school regressed, and that’s the trend that I think the ISD was most worried about is the fact that despite grade reconfiguration, not only was there no growth, students took a step back.”  

Amid the ISD debate, WCPS has asked Carver Heights to participate in the Restart School program, which would grant the school charter-like flexibility to turn around the chronic low performance.

The school hired two school turnaround experts: Patrice Faison, a 22-year educator, was hired as the new principal for Carver Heights; and Terri Cobb, who has had decades of experience with school administration, was picked as the school’s new School Improvement Grant coordinator.