Durham County

Two Durham schools are targets of a possible state takeover. What if DPS says no?

School children board a bus on the first day of school.
School children board a bus on the first day of school. MCT

Under state law, low-performing schools chosen for the state’s new Innovative School District must be handed to a charter school operator or close.

But what if a school district refuses to do either?

“That’s a good question,” Eric Hall, superintendent of N.C. Innovative School District, said Monday.

Durham Public Schools could pose that challenge later this year if one of its two schools being considered for the state initiative is chosen for the program.

Lakewood and Glenn elementary schools are among six from across the state being considered for the program aimed at improving student achievement.

Despite the law, Hall didn’t commit to closing a school if district leaders refuse to comply with the State Board of Education’s decision.

“I’m not sure the statute permits any option other than the two,” Hall said, but added he’s sure some other solution would be worked out before a decision was made to order a school closed.

Reform plan already approved

Durham school officials don’t want any part of the new state initiative.

Superintendent Bert L’Homme said in a statement that Durham will move ahead with planned improvements for the two elementary schools, which are among 14 in the district granted charter-like flexibility by the State Board of Education in July.

DPS will use this year to plan, then implement the charter-like changes for the 2018-19 school year.

“Our school board and staff know that our students will be served best by school reforms that come with local accountability,” L’Homme said. “We intend to move forward with our plans for Glenn and Lakewood.”

The 14 schools will have more scheduling flexibility and the freedom to route money to professional development and to support specific areas that affect student achievement.

School board member Matt Sears, who is also the parent of a Lakewood student, said the current path is the best for both schools.

“We intend to make it clear that these schools are solid institutions of learning and that a takeover will slow our progress,” Sears said.

He said local control of schools is important and that the idea of turning over schools to charter school operators has failed in other states where it’s been tried.

“I don’t intend to allow a terrible legislative idea to ruin our neighborhood school,” Sears said.

With new charter-like flexibility under the state restart model, the district essentially gets the chance to reinvent low-performing schools.

Vote set for December

No more than one school from any district will be chosen for the initiative that will place two schools under control of a charter school operator for the 2018-19 school year and up to three more the year after.

Hall will help to decide which schools to recommend after visiting the six schools under consideration and meeting with local school leaders.

He plans to recommend which schools to include at the November state board meeting, with the vote set for December.

Districts that have a school chosen for the program must approve the transfer to charter school management by Feb. 1.

In addition Glenn and Lakewood, the other four 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.

Staying the course

The Durham school board has written a letter to Hall to remind him that Glenn and Lakewood have already been approved for restart.

“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.”

Meanwhile, new Lakewood principal James Hopkins said he and his staff will continue work to improve educational outcomes for students.

“All of us at Lakewood are concentrating on our students,” Hopkins said. “We’re working toward a strong academic year for every one of our children, and that’s going to be our focus for now.”

Members of the Lakewood Elementary School PTA are planning a meeting to discuss the proposed takeover and to craft a response.

The Durham school board is also expected to address the matter Thursday when the board meets for a regular business meeting at 6:30 p.m., at the Fuller Administration Building, 511 Cleveland St.

The matter is also being discussed by the Durham Association of Educators, a teacher organization with a little more than 1,000 members. It is expected to make a public statement about the proposed takeover.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645