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Wayne County Schools fires another volley against ISD

With the State Board of Education slated to make a final decision this week on the inclusion of Wayne County’s Carver Heights Elementary School into the Innovative School District (ISD), Wayne County Public Schools leaders have sent a second letter to the State Board of Education challenging the ISD’s recommendation. 

The letter reiterates concerns expressed in an initial letter sent prior to last month’s State Board of Education meeting and also answers questions asked by State Board members. 

“We ask this Board to decline action on this recommendation unless and until the deficiencies in the process be remedied, and the lack of evidence supporting the recommendation be provided. Furthermore, we request an opportunity for the Wayne County Board of Education to be heard,” the letter states. 

The State Board was slated to make a decision on the school last month but kicked the vote to this month in order to do further investigation. Prior to that decision, Wayne County Schools leaders had sent a letter questioning the selection process. They cited Wayne County’s track record in turning around low-performing schools and criticized the ISD leaders for not allowing Wayne County adequate opportunity to respond to the ISD’s findings about Carver Heights. 

The latest letter addresses a number of matters, including the school’s use of a School Improvement Grant (SIG). 

One of the points brought up about Carver Heights by ISD leaders was that it had almost $319,000 in available funds last year from a School Improvement Grant but hadn’t met seven of the eight goals of the grant and hadn’t used about $185,000 of the money available. 

“Notwithstanding the statements at the SBE meeting, suggesting that there was no explanation nor any justification for a portion ($185,256.88) of the budgeted SIG dollars not having been spent last year, there are reasonable explanations as to why these funds were unspent,” the letter states. “Furthermore, and notably, it was always known that these unspent funds would not be lost, but would be approved as carryover funds.”

The letter goes on to explain that the bulk of the unspent funds was for teacher stipends if they exceeded growth. Because performance goals weren’t met, the stipend money wasn’t spent and would be carried over until the next year. Another chunk of that unspent money was for a professional development conference that was ultimately scrapped in favor of in-house professional development so that instructional time wouldn’t be missed. The letter goes on at length to address the statements made about the School Improvement Grant at last month’s State Board meeting. 

The letter also says that the ISD’s analysis of Carver Heights’ growth and performance data didn’t take into account a change in the student population during the time period analyzed by the ISD. That change came about because of new feeder patterns and the reconfiguration of some schools in 2016-17. The letter continues to question the selection process that resulted in Carver Heights being chosen for the ISD, and challenges what Wayne County Schools leaders call a lack of transparency in the selection process. 

Here are the exhibits that accompanied the letter sent by Wayne County Schools leaders. 

Exhibit A Student Population and Reconfiguration

Exhibit B School Initiatives Comparison Chart

Exhibit C Graph School Performance Grades

Exhibit D Transcript November 1, 2018 SBE Meeting

Exhibit E. INSD-002 Evaluation of Qualifying Schools Under Consideration for the ISD

Another letter has also been sent to the State Board of Education ahead of this week’s meeting by Schwartz & Shaw P.L.L.C, the firm representing the Wayne County Board of Education. The letter discusses a public records request to the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) the firm sent seeking information about the ISD process. The letter says that State Board Policy regarding the “vetting and analysis” of Carver Heights was not followed according to the documents the law firm has been able to obtain from DPI.

“The lack of response to the public records combined with the inability of the Wayne County Board of Education to appear and be heard before the SBE makes the ISD Selection process one-sided,” the letter states. “The SBE has received incorrect information and data regarding CHES during ISD staff presentations.” 

Wayne County Public Schools has also brought in a new principal to Carver Heights, Patrice Faison, a former state Principal of the Year that the district describes as having a proven track record in turning around low-performing schools. 

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 a district which will eventually include five low-performing schools from around the state. The schools could be turned over to for-profit charter management organizations. 

The legislation establishing the ASD also gave 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. Further tweaks to the program by the General Assembly changed its name to the North Carolina Innovative School District and 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. 

Last year, Robeson County’s Southside/Ashpole Elementary was picked to be the first school in the ISD. It started in the new district this fall under the operation of a non-profit charter management organization, Charlotte-based Achievement for All Children

The State Board of Education meets Wednesday and Thursday and will decide if Carver Heights will join Southside/Ashpole in the ISD. Find the agenda here

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.