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The State Board of Education voted 7 to 4 today to approve Charlotte-Based Achievement for All Children(AAC) as the operator of Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County — the first school in the Innovative School District (ISD). 

“I am grateful to have AAC on board to partner with the ISD,” said Eric Hall, ISD superintendent, in a press release. “It’s been an arduous process to get to this point; that was intentional. We had to make very sure that we had the right fit for the school, students and community.” 

Under the Innovative School District, five schools will be taken over by operators, which could include for-profit charter or education management organizations. The schools will no longer be run by their traditional school districts during the five years they are under ISD authority. 

AAC includes former Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, on its leadership team. Bryan was the lawmaker who spearheaded the legislation that became the Innovative School District. AAC is contracting with TeamCFA, a charter school network, in its operation of Southside Ashpole. The founder of TeamCFA is John Bryan (no relation to Rob Bryan), a prominent political contributor and supporter of school choice who advocated for the ISD. A News & Observer article explores more fully the connections between the ISD, AAC and TeamCFA. 

The discussion on AAC was extensive Wednesday, but the vote took place Thursday with little additional debate. 

Concerns from some Board members Wednesday included the lack of a track record for AAC, confusion about how it would work with TeamCFA, and mixed results in TeamCFA’s efforts up to this point in improving results for struggling students. 

Ultimately, those doubts led four members to vote against the recommendation: Eric Davis, Wayne McDevitt, Becky Taylor, and Patricia Willoughby. 

Yesterday, Taylor asked Hall to return today with stipulations or alternatives for the Board to consider. While he did not present alternatives, he did lay out a number of stipulations that will be put on AAC.

Hall said the organization will have 10 days to address the concerns that arose from the independent evaluation of AAC. He is also asking AAC to clarify its relationship with TeamCFA, provide a current financial audit, and provide continuing monthly reports, including data and activities AAC is undertaking as an ISD operator.

Hall also tried to assuage concerns by telling Board members that he will be an integral part of what happens at Southside Ashpole. 

“This is a school that I’m going to be in all the time,” he said. 

He said one of the most important pieces of this project will be the choosing of the school principal, something AAC gets to do as the operator. But Hall added stipulations to his proposal that would give him “final authority and approval” over the “selection, approval and removal of the school principal.” 

“Where the rubber hits the road is going to be in the school leader,” he said. 

He also added a stipulation to his recommendation saying he would have final decision and authority over AAC’s role in finance, “human capital,” and the school curriculum. 

No Board member who has spoken publicly about the ISD has said anything negative about Hall. Taylor, who voted against his recommendation, started off her introduction of the issue today by reiterating her faith in the superintendent. 

“He is fully invested in helping the students in Southside Ashpole,” she said. 

Board member Olivia Oxendine made the motion to approve AAC today, but not before making a few comments of her own. 

“I don’t take lightly what I’m about to do. I’m a resident of Robeson County and I’m a taxpayer of Robeson County. I was born in Robeson County, and I will probably live there a very long time,” she said.

She went on to say that no matter the vote, she wanted to make sure the Board did not forget Southside Ashpole and its students.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.