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Six area schools on short list to become part of new state-led charter system

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KINSTON, Lenoir County - Eric Hall, the superintendent of the newly created North Carolina Innovative School District (NCISD), announced last week that schools with low-performance records across the state now qualify for consideration for a new statewide intervention model.

The program, which launched earlier this year, is focused on improving student outcomes in low-performing schools by creating a collaborative and accountable partnership with school districts and local communities. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released a list of 48 qualifying schools from across 21 school districts in North Carolina that are being considered for the program.

"These schools represent school districts from across the state that can benefit from the diverse strategies and interventions made available by the NC Innovative School District," Hall said. "Once the school selection process is complete, we will be partnering with local communities and districts to examine how we can together create innovative conditions that will help students to improve their academic achievement."

In our area, those schools are: Wallace Elementary (Duplin County); Northeast Elementary (Lenoir County); East End Elementary and Edna Andrews Elementary (Martin County); Grifton K-8 and South Greenville Elementary (Pitt County).

The program will eventually take five schools across North Carolina out of their current school districts and make them part of a for-profit charter school with its own superintendent. The home district would still be responsible for student transportation, utilities and upkeep of the school, but would give up control of everything inside of the building.

Schools on the qualifying list were identified by using the following criteria:

A performance score in the lowest 5 percent of all schools in the prior year. Offers all or part of grades K-5. Did not exceed growth in at least one of the prior three school years and did not meet growth in at least one of the prior three school years. Did not adopt one of the established reform models for the immediate prior year.

Among the list of schools currently on the list is Northeast Elementary School. Lenoir County Associate Superintendent Frances Herring said she felt "sick" knowing that her district could soon be forced to give up control of one of its schools, especially one the district has worked especially hard to turn around in recent years.

During the last year as principal at Northeast, Felicia Solomon, now principal at Rochelle Middle School, introduced new behavioral techniques to help students deal with academic and social stresses including regular yoga classes. She also started a community initiative known as Male Motivational Monday, where men from the surrounding community would come to the school once each month to speak with, read to and show support for students.

In the coming weeks, the NCISD superintendent will engage with the local district superintendent of each qualifying school. Once the list of qualifying schools has been narrowed, based on a review of data, those schools still under consideration for the NCISD will include additional evaluation activities that includes NCISD superintendent meetings with parents and families, local communities, the local school principal, the local school board and the local county commissioners. As part of the final selection process, the NCISD superintendent will complete an evaluation based on school outcomes and available information, which will include feedback from these local meetings.

Once the selection process is complete, the NCISD superintendent will work with the local community, school districts and the parents and families to identify and match a qualified charter management organization (CMO) or education management organization (EMO) to run the Innovative school under contract with the State Board of Education for a period of five years.

"Based on our research innovation districts have the best chance to succeed when they engage parents and community in envisioning each school's future," Tim Field, a senior consultant at Public Impact said. "[They] select strong partner organizations that match schools' needs, create conditions that retain and attract talented educators, and hold the schools to high expectations for making dramatic gains."

Just before the announcement of the new program, Lenoir County Public Schools earned an invitation to tell its story of transformation this month at the state conference of the school accreditation organization AdvancED. LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams announced the invitation and AdvancEd's awarding of full accreditation to the school district at the Tuesday, September 5, meeting of the Lenoir County Board of Education.

He and Herring also shared with the board highlights of the report that followed the accreditation team's visit to Lenoir County in April.

"We have not seen a better example of how to engage in a full-scale, comprehensive school system turnaround than what we have seen in Lenoir County Public Schools," a portion of the team's report read. "We have not seen so many of the 'right things' happen in a district so quickly. We simply have been very impressed. We believe strongly that your district is on the right track and that you will continue to make a tremendous progress."

At Williams' discretion, LCPS has instituted a vigorous system of teacher support, which has included the development of curriculum guides, lesson plan templates, an instructional website and professional development opportunities tied to instructional goals.

"We have worked very hard to take a strategic and comprehensive approach to school improvement," Williams said. "Our consistent and prioritized focus has been on instruction and providing the best and most effective learning opportunities a daily reality for every student we serve."

The school board, administrators and school staff members are working together to plan for the future both in terms of facilities and fiscal resources. School and district team members have developed a long list of partnerships with businesses, churches and other community groups while developing more opportunities to engage parents in schools.

With the announcement of the new program with NCISD, the future of some schools within LCPS, such as Northeast Elementary, is uncertain. NCISD is still winding down their selections and WCTI NewsChannel 12 is continuing to monitor the list of schools for updates.

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