The Wayne County Board of Education continues its fight to retain control of Carver Heights Elementary School, voting Tuesday to seek approval from the state board of education of a Restart application to turn around the low-performing school.
The special called meeting was held in anticipation of the state board’s Thursday session, at which it is slated to determine the status of the school. Several weeks ago, the N.C. Innovative School District notified Wayne County Public Schools of its intent to recommend the central attendance school be taken over by the ISD beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.
Dr. Michael Dunsmore, WCPS superintendent, has maintained that district leadership would fight the takeover, arguing that WCPS has a strong case in its favor.
At meetings earlier in the month with the county commission and a public meeting at the school, representatives from the ISD laid out its intent, which consisted of two options — taking over running CHE or facing closure.
The hastily scheduled meetings, and lack of a specific game plan offered by the ISD, only served to galvanize school leaders and stakeholders of the school, resulting in a door-to-door campaign by the Goldsboro/Wayne Chapter of the NAACP and efforts to send a message to the state board.
This past weekend, Dunsmore and Sylvia Barnes, NAACP president, were interviewed on the TV show “Education Matters,” along with Iris Robinson, a parent and grandparent.
Dunsmore updated his board and leadership team on a meeting which took place Tuesday morning. In addition to Dunsmore and Barnes, school board chairwoman Patricia Burden met with the state board chairman and a member of his board.
“We went over four pages of talking points. Most of that focused on the fact that the ISD did not follow their own statutes in making the determination,” Dunsmore said. “We weren’t given an opportunity to refute, which we did today.
“I think there’s a lot of issues in the way they handled it. In fact, Dr. (Eric) Hall (ISD director) himself made the comment that any takeover takes five years, and yet as most of this board knows, the board of commissioners and others, when you asked him what their plan was, the answer was, ‘We don’t have a plan. We need to come in and figure that out before August.’”
The superintendent said the ISD process contained “a lot of errors and omissions” and had not been done with any fidelity.
For one thing, he said, WCPS implemented a school regrouping plan two years ago as part of its strategic transformation efforts. The move migrated all students in grades 3-5 from North Drive and School Street elementary schools as well as fifth-graders from Dillard Middle to Carver Heights. Since the state statute requires approval of an ISD takeover by the state board be based on data from a three-year period, that is not feasible as Carver Heights only has two years of data.
He also refuted the legitimacy of the ISD.
“The ISD has no track record for innovation and school turnaround and has yet to offer a comprehensive plan for how it will support student achievement at CHE and has publicly stated that it will evaluate the school in the coming months in order to develop any strategies,” he said.
There is also growing concern that any moves to transfer the school to the ISD will mean it is operated by a private company with no accountability to the Wayne County taxpayers.
Drafting a resolution to that effect, it also alluded to the fact that WCPS has had some success of its own in this area.
“Since 2016, WCPS has removed four schools from the state’s low performing list and has improved the performance of six other schools currently on the list, demonstrating that the district has a track record for improving struggling schools,” Dunsmore said in reading the resolution adopted 5-1 by the board.
Another success story can be found at Goldsboro High School, the beneficiary of a Restart model after it was approved by the state board in 2016.
At that time, WCPS had 11 schools in the district considered low-performing. The school board voted to focus efforts on GHS, with the model giving the district flexibility to make changes in such areas as calendar and instructional programs.
According to the N.C. State Board, local school boards may request the school improvement model for schools identified as low-performing.
Dunsmore told the News-Argus he was very encouraged in the tone of the meeting with the state officials. And while it was an informal conversation, he said WCPS is prepared and backed by sound documentation to represent its case.
“I’m very encouraged that we will win this battle, and we’re prepared to go the nth degree with our students and what we’ve accomplished to date and what we will do moving forward,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The district is providing two buses for anyone interested in being part of the contingent traveling to Raleigh on Thursday morning. They will depart at 7 a.m. from the administrative offices on Royall Avenue.
“We are unable to talk at that meeting, which is why we met (Tuesday morning),” Dunsmore said. “We’ve probably got 30 pages of documentation, if not more, the state board will have in front of them.
“We know by statute they have to identify a school. We only want a fair and equal process and not to have a member of DPI (Department of Public Instruction) making that decision for them.”
There is still much more work to be done, Dunsmore added, but said he is excited to continue tackling the needs at Carver Heights.
To view the Oct. 27 airing of Education Matters, visit ncforum.org.
For access to the audio live stream of the Thursday state board meeting, go online to stateboard.ncpublicschools.gov. According to the agenda, the vote is projected to be held around 11:45 a.m.