Durham County

Which Durham schools are being considered for state takeover?

Two low-performing Durham elementary schools remain under consideration for being turned over to a charter school operator despite requests from district leaders not to have them included in the controversial program.

Eric Hall, superintendent of the N.C. Innovative School District, announced Friday that he had narrowed a list of 48 schools under consideration for the program down to six schools, including Glenn and Lakewood elementary schools in Durham. School officials in Durham have expressed skepticism about the program, including sending a letter to Hall last week saying they didn’t want to be included in the new district.

“It is hard to envision that the Innovative School District would implement strategies radically different from the ones we will adopt,” Durham school board Chairman Mike Lee wrote. “The only difference would be the loss of local control, which Durham County residents and their representatives would not support.”

If either Glenn or Lakewood is chosen by the State Board of Education, Durham school leaders would have to either accept the decision or close the school.

Under the new program created by state lawmakers, up to five low-performing elementary schools will be turned over to charter school operators. Hall will spend the next month reviewing the six schools to recommend at least two schools for inclusion in the program in the 2018-19 school year. Up to three other schools would join in 2019.

The 48 schools initially listed for consideration on Sept. 7 were picked because they’re among the lowest 5 percent of schools based on school performance. In a statement, Hall said he removed schools after using a five-step criteria, including if they received a D on the state’s school performance letter grade system last year or had met growth targets on state exams.

In addition to the two Durham schools, the other four still under consideration are Williford Elementary in Nash-Rocky Mount, Willis Hare Elementary in Northampton County and two Robeson County schools: R.B. Dean Elementary and Southside Ashpole Elementary.

No more than one school from any district would be chosen.

Hall said he’ll help decide which schools to recommend after going through a process that includes visiting the six schools and meeting with local school leaders. He plans to recommend which schools to include at the November state board meeting with the vote set to occur in December.

“Our approach to narrowing this list of schools is entirely data-driven, and we’re confident we have the right list of schools for this final phase of evaluation,” Hall said in a statement. “Now is the point where we marry the data with local insights from the people who are with the students day-in and day-out to develop the best possible recommendations for the State Board of Education to consider.”

“We truly view this as a partnership and look forward to thoughtful discussions and collaboration with education leaders and community members about this new and innovative approach.”

It’s not a partnership that Durham school leaders want though. In the letter to Hall, Lee pointed out that the schools on the list were recently approved by the state for the restart model, a program that allows low-performing schools to operate more like charter schools.

“We strongly request that the targeted initiatives to transform these schools not be derailed by including them in this experiment,” Lee wrote.

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6889, @JEJ_HSNews

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