State Board of Education OKs transition from Southside-Ashpole to PSRC

RALEIGH – The North Carolina State Board of Education approved Thursday the transition of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School from the NC Innovative School District back to the Public Schools of Robeson County.

The school was transferred into the NC Innovative School District (ISD) after a unanimous vote by the Public Schools of Robeson County’s Board of Education in 2018 to avoid the closure and consolidation of the school. The state budget which became law in November 2021, mandated the transfer of the school back to PSRC.

The State BOE approved a request made by PSRC “for the transition to be completed no later than July 1,” according to a press release from the school district.

“I appreciate our local board of education’s support and approval of welcoming Southside-Ashpole Elementary School back to the Public Schools of Robeson County,” said Freddie Williamson, Public Schools of Robeson County Superintendent.

“We also want to extend our gratitude to the State Board of Education for their support, their confidence, and for allowing Southside-Ashpole Elementary School to return to our district one year earlier than the original plan. We believe that this will be a smooth transition and allow us to continue to maintain our focus on providing the quality academic instruction our students deserve, ”Williamson said.

Williamson said the school district intends for the school to remain open after the transition. PSRC also plans to add a Pre-Kindergarten program to the school.

“The school is not going away. The only difference is it is no longer a part of the ISD model, ”said Olivia Oxendine, a State Board of Education member.

ISD did not “materialize”

In 2019, the failing school received a performance grade of 30, according to North Carolina School Report Cards. Reporting requirements were waived for the 2020-21 school year. Thus, the school did not receive a score for that year.

Students were welcomed to classrooms in July 2019 under the ISD. The new school district was created by the General Assembly to turn low-performing schools into high-performing schools. Southside-Ashpole was the first project in the effort.

“The ISD did not materialize according to the legislation,” Oxendine said. “It was very experimental, but that’s the way innovation goes. I hope we learn some lessons from it. ”

The state could launch another program in the future like the ISD and could learn from this one, she said.

Oxendine said she could not point to a reason why the ISD failed. She said the school had enough funding and support from the NCSBE and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

“Maybe the legislation might have been a bit too ambitious,” she said.

Turnover at ISD

The ISD has seen much turnover since it took over the school.

Since the transition to ISD, the school has had three principals.

Bruce Major resigned in July 2019 after serving since July 2018. In addition, Isabel Jones took on the role in July 2021, replacing Kenneth Bowens.

There have been four superintendents of the Innovative School District, according to a spokesperson for NCDPI.

Opposition to the ISD

NC Rep. Charles Graham remembers “vividly being very adamantly opposed to an Innovative School District.”

Graham told The Robesonian that funding should be given to low-performing schools to address needs “as opposed to cherry-picking like the Innovative School District did.”

“We could’ve used those funds in a better way,” he said.

Graham said he has not seen data on school performance.

“The General Assembly gave the funding and the General Assembly has removed the funding based on this year’s appropriations,” he said.

Graham said his take on the matter was that performance did not measure up to expectations.

“It was presented to the community without a lot of community input,” Graham said of the ISD. “I think that led to the school being less successful.”

The decision for the school’s initial transfer into the ISD was met with opposition from members of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, school board and community in 2017.

In one instance, more than half of approximately 200 people, including parents of students, educators and community members, present during a 2017 forum in the school gymnasium walked out one hour into the event, which concerned the ISD’s takeover of the school.

Looking ahead

“Classroom renovations are underway to comply with the licensing requirements set forth by the state. We are excited to bring Pre-K back to this community; this program provides an opportunity to set the foundation for future academic success, ”according to the PSRC press release.

“Southside-Ashpole Elementary School will become the 37th school in the Public Schools of Robeson County and will add 229 students to the current student population,” according to the release.

Oxendine said students should not feel the change.

The current principal and teachers should remain in place, she said.

The PSRC has offered professional development in an array of programs for the transition, according to the school district.

“The professional development provided by curriculum supervisors prepared Southside-Ashpole Elementary teachers to lead their students in deeper learning and in developing a broad range of cognitive and socio-emotional skills,” according to the release.

“Southside-Ashpole Elementary School teachers are beginning to participate in Classworks professional development sessions so they can begin implementation of the universal screener,” the release reads.

Southside-Ashpole Principal Isabel Jones also has participated in professional development sessions.

“The Public Schools of Robeson County were always supportive and extended assistance to myself and the faculty of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School,” Jones said. “I want to thank the State Board of Education for their support of Southside-Ashpole. This is a great opportunity for our students, and I look forward to continuing the work of improving Southside-Ashpole Elementary School under the direction of the Public Schools of Robeson County. ”

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