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The superintendent of the Innovative School District (ISD) — one of the most controversial and scrutinized programs in the state — is gone. And nobody is saying why.

LaTeesa Allen took over as superintendent of the ISD after Eric Hall, the first superintendent, left for a job in Florida. That was February. In response to inquiries from EducationNC, Dave Prickett, head of communications for the ISD, said that Allen’s last day was June 28. That is all he said.

Then, on Thursday, a press release from state Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the appointment of a new superintendent of the ISD: James Ellerbe, who is coming from his previous role as director of administration and strategy at the Center for Responsive Schools (CRS). There was no word in the press release as to why there has been a change in the superintendent position. 

Meanwhile, in addition to Allen’s departure, the principal of the sole ISD school — Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County — has also left.

Achievement for All Children, the operator of Southside-Ashpole, sent out this press release about Principal Bruce Major’s departure. As to why Major left, the release says only that “Major has decided to return his focus to international education and has accepted a position abroad.” The resignation was effective July 1. The release also said the school is in the process of finding a new leader.

In interviews for an article about Southside-Ashpole published in March on EducationNC, neither Major nor Allen gave any indication that they were thinking about leaving.

This all raises a host of questions, chief of which is: What is going on at the Innovative School District? Two major leaders in the program left within days of each other fairly close to the start of a new school year.

The Innovative School District, at its most basic level, is a program that was supposed to ultimately take five of the lowest-performing schools in the state and put them in a virtual district, which can be operated by outside operators, including for-profit charter or education management organizations. Its origin is legislation that was passed during the 2016 General Assembly short session. 

It has been controversial from the get go, and last year Carver Heights Elementary in Wayne County fought successfully to not become the second school in the district. Meanwhile, a bill making its way through the House would change the structure of the program. Under the bill, the ISD would not be required to pick a school this year. But after that, the lowest-performing qualifying school in the state would have to be chosen for the district each year from 2020 through 2022. That would be automatic, which would spare the state the issue of having to fight with local district’s over the ISD’s choice. More schools could be chosen for the district by the State Board of Education after the 2022-23 school year. 

Meanwhile, the ISD is about to be on its third superintendent.

Budget

Last week, reporters waited for the House to hold its override vote of Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the General Assembly’s budget. The subject was on the calendar for the House session every day, but no vote was taken. 

Meanwhile, Cooper released his and Democratic leaders’ compromise budget plan last week. That plan includes a hybrid school construction plan that incorporates both a bond and a pay-as-you-go plan, higher teacher pay raises, and Medicaid expansion — the subject that Republican legislative leaders say is the real sticking point in budget negotiations.

An adjournment resolution was filed in the Senate last week as well. It would end the session on July 22 with the General Assembly to reconvene on August 27. Assuming Cooper’s veto is sustained in the House — which is expected — the adjournment resolution’s timeline indicates that a budget solution may be a ways off.

Legislation

A host of bills have been making their way through the General Assembly. 

A bill that would make the 15-point grade scale for the state’s school performance grades permanent has passed the General Assembly and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

The House and Senate passed a bill last week that would require the state to track how many education preparation program graduates continue working in the state after two years, but the bill that passed eliminates the requirement that the data be used to sanction those same programs. That bill also now awaits the governor’s signature. 

A bill that requires high school students to take a financial literacy course passed the General Assembly and was signed by Gov. Cooper last week. 
 
The House passed a bill that would get rid of more than 20 state tests and restructure testing at every level of public education in North Carolina. That bill is now over in the Senate. 

Senate Bill 399, signed by the governor last week, would let retired teachers be hired by districts to work in low-performing schools without hurting their retirement benefits. 

State Board of Education

Last month, the State Board of Education approved a number of new charter schools to open in 2020, but two were left off the list: Wake Preparatory Academy and North Raleigh Charter Academy.

Those two were sent back to the Charter School Advisory Board for further consideration after information about their potential impact to Wake County Public Schools was sent to State Board members.

During a State Board meeting last Thursday, those two schools came back from the Charter School Advisory Board with recommendations for approval. Ultimately, the State Board concurred with the Advisory Board’s recommendations.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.