LUMBERTON — The Board of Education of the Public Schools of Robeson County voted unanimously this week to turn over management of an elementary school in Rowland to the North Carolina Innovative School District for five years beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
The board’s action marks a first in North Carolina education.
The General Assembly created the ISD to take over and turn around five low-performing schools in the state to serve as a model for school reform. Southside-Ashpole Elementary Schoolwill be the newly created state district’s first project.
School board members were faced with giving the ISD control of the school or closing it. But Rowland residents were firmly opposed to losing their school, and several expressed that during a comment period Tuesday.
“This process did start off rough in September,” said Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, the board member who represents the Rowland area and made the motion to relinquish control. “I changed my mind several times, but I want to thank Dr. (Eric) Hall (ISD superintendent) for the excellent job he’s done communicating with us, and I want to thank the school board for working so well together.”
Board member Mike Smith said: “I’m not for closing a school. I am concerned about the process, because we’re still responsible. We’ll still be getting the calls from parents.”
“We have a school and a community. I know what this community wants, and I’m going to support them,” board member Dwayne Smith said.
Board members John Campbell and Brian Freeman were not at the meeting.
The board members put their motion in the form of a written resolution prepared by Superintendent Shanita Wooten. It noted that Southside-Ashpole is one of the lowest performing schools in the state, and that the county public schools system will partner with ISD to make the turnaround a success.
The resolution also stated that school system would hold the ISD responsible for its performance.
“The future starts tonight. There are going to be a lot of people excited about this,” Hall said.
The takeover process began in September, and the next step takes place soon when Hall is to select one of two management groups that made bids to run the school. Hall will make a presentation to North Carolina Board of Education, which will make the final decision on who manages the school.
The bidders were Achievement for All Children, of Forest City, and The Romine Group, of Utica, Michigan, who both operate several charter schools. Both are nonprofits.
“We heard from the community, and it was very clear they want their school to stay open,” Hall said. “I know this conversation has not been easy, and we are in a different place than where we started.
“We have a lot of people in Robeson County, the state and nation watching this. Is it going to be easy? Certainly not.”
Southside-Ashpole will serve the existing student body. Also, it must partner with the county schools for food service, transportation, maintenance and possibly other services.
Before the decision and in the public comment period, board members heard from a number of people urging them not to close Southside-Ashpole.
“Don’t close my mama’s school,” said Ronald Foxworth, a graduate of Southside-Ashpole and the county’s public defender, whose mother taught there for 30 years.
“A school is a beacon of light in a community. Many successful people graduated from that school.”
“To close a school is a terrible thing for any community,” said Lolita Watson, a Rowland High School graduate. “The Innovative School District will open up many opportunities for the students of Southside-Ashpole.”
In other business, school board members:
— Approved a make-up plan for recent absences caused by this past week’s snowfall. Student were out of school Thursday, Friday and Monday. Students will only be required to attend classes one extra day, on Feb. 16, because they had “banked” enough additional school hours to compensate for two of the three snow days.
Teachers will make up two days, on Jan. 20 and June 2. The exam schedule will be moved back to Jan. 12 to 18 from Jan. 8 to 12.
— Agreed to let its Construction Committee meet to make a final recommendation on the new location of the Central Office. Two sites, a building on N.C. 41 East and a plot of land on N.C. 711, are being considered.
“N.C. 711 was the consensus choice,” said board member Craig Lowry. “I’m still in favor of that location because it is favorable to everyone.”
The central office complex on Caton Road was destroyed by floodwaters generated by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Staff writer Scott Bigelow may be contacted at [email protected]