Durham County

Not all DPS low-performing schools likely to get charter-like flexibility. See why.

Durham Public Schools officials, including Superintendent Pascal Mubenga (left, back to camera), discuss issues with Restart participation with DPS Board of Education members including Matt Sears (center, white shirt) and staff members at a DPS school board work session Thursday.
Durham Public Schools officials, including Superintendent Pascal Mubenga (left, back to camera), discuss issues with Restart participation with DPS Board of Education members including Matt Sears (center, white shirt) and staff members at a DPS school board work session Thursday. gchildress@heraldsun.com

School leaders have had a change of heart about operating all 14 of the district’s low-performing schools under the state’s Restart school reform model.

At the urging of new Superintendent Pascal Mubenga, the school board on Thursday approved a request to seek permission from the State Board of Education (SBE) to reduce the number of schools subject to the Restart model to three or four.

Mubenga said operating three or four schools given “charter-like” flexibility would be more manageable financially and give the district a better chance at success. He also noted the fiscal challenges the district will have as it prepares to deal with the state’s mandate to reduce K-3 class sizes.

“I think when you guys made that decision, there were others factors we did not consider when it came to the financial impact,” Mubenga said.

He noted that Wake County Public Schools only started its Restart efforts with two schools.

“I think starting with 14, we’re going to have a lot of negative implications with our finances,” Mubenga said.

Mubenga said the remaining 10 or 11 schools would still receive the attention they need, just not under the Restart reform model.

He said a letter making the request to operate fewer schools under the Restart model would be drafted and sent to the SBE for it to consider on a “first read” in January and hopefully approved by the SBE at its February meeting.

Operating fewer schools would be less expensive for the district because there are extra costs associated with the exceptions granted charter schools, DPS officials said.

The schools could, for example, extend the school day, change calendars, route more money to professional development, support specific areas that affect student achievement.

The 14 schools were in their planning year, so school officials weren’t sure what the final costs would have been to operate all of them under the Restart model. But Paul LeSieur, the district’s chief finance officer, said the extra dollar costs would have been somewhere in the “millions.”

Low-performing districts and schools in North Carolina are defined by the General Assembly and are based on each school’s School Performance Grade and Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) growth.

According to state law, low-performing schools are those that receive a school performance grade of “D” or “F” and a school growth score of “met expected growth” or “not met expected growth.”

Two DPS elementary schools — Lakeview and Glenn elementary schools — that were the target for possible state takeover by the North Carolina Innovative School District (NCISD) are among the 14 low-performing schools that were scheduled to operate under the Restart model.

School officials and others used the fact that the two schools were slated for Restart in their argument against the takeover. DPS initially had five schools under consideration for the NCISD. Lakewood and Glenn were among the finalists.

School board member Natalie Beyer said she is concerned about state officials putting DPS schools back in the bull’s eye for a takeover by the NCISD.

“That sounds like a reasonable plan to me,” Beyer said. “My only concern and distrust a bit is the state takeover and Innovative School District and whether that puts any of our schools back at risk of immediate takeover.”

The state granted the 14 schools “charter-like” flexibility in July. The move gives them more calendar flexibility to target their needs and provide more professional development, as well as increase daily instructional time.

It also gives the DPS flexibility to route more money to professional development, support specific areas that affect student achievement and to convert positions including teaching assistants.

In addition to Glenn and Lakewood, the restart schools are Bethesda, Eno Valley, Fayetteville, E.K. Powe, Sandy Ridge, and Y.E. Smith elementary schools, Brogden, Shepard, Lowe’s Grove, Githens and Lucas middle schools and the Southern School of Energy and Sustainability — Southern High School.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

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