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Which low-performing NC schools could be taken over by a charter school operator?

Eastway Elementary School in Durham could be taken over by a charter school operator.
Eastway Elementary School in Durham could be taken over by a charter school operator. File photo

North Carolina is moving closer to turning over two low-performing elementary schools to a charter school operator in 2018 after identifying Thursday which 48 schools are under consideration for the program.

The schools eligible for state takeover are in 21 districts from across the state and include five schools in Durham and one in Johnston County. Eric Hall, superintendent of the new Innovative School District, will spend the next month determining which ones will be recommended to be part of the controversial new effort to boost achievement at low-performing schools.

By December, the State Board of Education will vote on which two schools to take over and which companies will be in charge of operating them in place of their school districts. All the schools under consideration are among the lowest 5 percent of schools based on school performance.

“We’ve got to use this as an opportunity to get better,” Hall told the state board Thursday. “We’ve got to use this as an opportunity to start partnering and collaborating in ways that we have not done before.”

The Innovative School District, originally called the Achievement School District, is a program created by state lawmakers to eventually turn over five elementary schools to a charter school operator. The goal is to have two schools chosen for the 2018-19 school year with three more schools joining in 2019.

The new district has come under fire from critics, including many Democratic state lawmakers and the N.C. Association of Educators, who have questioned turning public schools over to education management organizations and charter management organizations.

NC school performance grades

The local schools under consideration in Durham are Eastway, Eno Valley, Fayetteville Street, Glenn and Lakewood elementary schools. In Johnston County, Selma Middle School is under consideration because it has fifth grade.

Hall has talked about collaborating with the districts and the community to get them to give up their schools for the program. In return, districts would be able to operate some or all of their remaining low-performing schools with the same flexibility given charter schools. The concept is called i-Zones, or innovation zones.

But Durham Superintendent Bert L’Homme expressed skepticism Thursday about the Innovative School District.

“I have enormous respect for the principals, teachers and staff at these schools,” he said. “I know their dedication and their plans for improvement. I see nothing in the Innovative Schools District plan that promises instant improvements, especially at the cost of taking control away from our families and our community.”

North Carolina is one of several states to try the achievement district model.

In Tennessee, students in Achievement District Schools have not done better academically than students in comparable low-performing schools that weren’t taken over. The head of Tennessee’s district recently announced she would step down as state leaders debate whether to continue the program.

The schools that will be in the new North Carolina district are supposed to be from around the state and represent both urban and rural areas. Only one school will be picked from each district for the new program.

School boards will have until Feb. 1 to either transfer their schools or to close them.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson said the new program is one of the innovative strategies that North Carolina can use to address the problem of low performance at high-poverty schools.

“It’s very exciting that using that scale and those resources, we can drive the results that will increase performance and opportunities for students,” he said.

Durham Herald-Sun reporter Greg Childress contributed.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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