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ISD narrows in on management organizations for Southside Ashpole

Innovative School District Superintendent Eric Hall announced to the State Board Wednesday two finalists to take over the Robeson County school chosen as the first Innovative School District. He also released the name of the independent consultant who will evaluate the two groups, as well as the organization that will be in charge of evaluating the success of the ISD during its lifespan. 

The two groups that want to take over Southside Ashpole Elementary School are Charlotte-based Achievement for All Children and Michigan’s The Romine Group.

The group in charge of evaluating the two organizations is SchoolWorks

Hall described Schoolworks as a national organization that works with states, local districts and entities in consultation and evaluation. He said it has a 20-year history behind it. 

“Very proud of the fact that we have this relationships with Schoolworks,” he said. 

According to the News & Observer, Achievement for All Children is connected to John Bryan, a contributor to North Carolina politicians and school-choice groups. And on its board of directors is former Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) who introduced the bill that created the ISD. 

The Achievement School District (ASD) bill was passed during the 2016 General Assembly short session. At the heart of the legislation is the creation of the district with five low-performing schools, but it also gave school districts that participate the opportunity to pick up to three other low-performing schools in their districts to join an innovation zone. Schools in this zone would have charter-like flexibility but would continue to be managed by the school district. 

The last budget tweaked the ASD program slightly, changing its name to the North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD). It also added a provision that if a district participating in the ISD has more than 35 percent of its schools identified as low-performing, then all of those schools could become part of an Innovation Zone should the district elect that option. 

The application deadline for organizations wanting to operate the Robeson County school in the ISD was December 1. According to David Prickett, communications consultant with the ISD, more organizations had indicated they wanted to participate than the two who actually applied.

“Several organizations showed some initial interest and submitted an Intent to Apply, but no one withdrew after officially applying,” he said in an e-mail. 

Hall said in an interview that he was not concerned that only two organizations came forward. 

“It’s always great when you can see that there are a lot of individuals who are interested in doing this work,” he said. “But I think I’m not as concerned in quantity as I am quality. “

State Board Chair Bill Cobey said in an interview that he wished more than two had applied, but that the Virtual Charter School Pilot only had two applicants as well when it started. 

“If there’s somebody that our evaluator says is capable of taking over, this is not a big project,” he said. “I know it has been controversial; it is not a big project. And apparently there’s not really money in it.” 

Hall said he did not know yet why other organizations that had expressed interest decided not to move forward, but he is eager to find out. 

“We need to understand that so that it will help inform our process next year,” he said. 

Next year, the ISD will pick two or three more schools to join the ISD and go through the same process of having charter or education management organizations apply. 

During questioning from the Board, Hall noted the language in the ISD law is broad on who can run an ISD school. It refers only to an “entity,” and he said that going forward, an “entity,” could be something other than a charter or education management organization. 

“The beauty is when you look at the word ‘entity,’ it gives us the ability to think broad and hard,” he said. 

It is still not clear if the ISD is going to move forward with Southside Ashpole at all. 

Robeson County has not yet decided whether to allow the school to become a part of the ISD. Education leaders in the community have pushed back on the ISD, but their only other option under the legislation is to close the school. 

Robeson County School Board Chair Peggy Wilkins-Chavis took issue in a previous interview with the process the state has taken with the ISD. 

“The state just did us wrong,” she said.

Cobey said the citizens of Robeson County want the ISD in their district.

“I think in Robeson County, they’re coming face to face that only 18 percent of those kids are on grade level, and the community wants better, and they don’t want to close the school,” he said. “I think the local community is saying let’s try something else.” 

Hall also announced the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation will spearhead efforts to evaluate the ISD that will eventually be a five-school district. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.