Leadership of Carver Heights Elementary School is back in the hands of Wayne County Public Schools.

The state Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved the district’s Restart application. The outcome thwarted efforts for the state to take over the school.

The Restart Model of school reform means WCPS will be given “charter-like flexibility” to operate the school. The district has two years to demonstrate academic improvements or again face becoming part of the Innovative School District beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, officials said.

The ISD was created by the state in 2016 to turn around repeated low-performing schools.

Even before last week’s vote on the Restart application, school officials were implementing changes to remedy issues at the school.

The district was notified in the fall of the possible takeover by the ISD. In the months since, efforts to address the problems included hiring a new principal, Patrice Faison, a former state Principal of the Year with a reputation for effectively turning schools around.

In addition to petitioning the state board to accept the Restart application, the district had hoped to be granted a reprieve from state lawmakers.

Last month, the General Assembly passed legislation that allowed the district to apply for the Restart model. At its November meeting, however, the state board of education maintained its stance for Carver Heights to become part of the ISD.

The legislation also repealed the requirement that the state board select at least two schools to transfer to the ISD as early as the 2019-2020 school year.

Superintendent Michael Dunsmore called the state board’s unanimous decision a vote of confidence in the ongoing efforts currently in place at Carver Heights.

“Carver Heights is still under our control and will remain that way for the next two years,” he told the school board at a special called meeting Friday morning. “The remainder of this year is a planning year for our Restart application and then the two-year period will go into effect for the next two years.”

Dunsmore said the legislative representatives will visit the school Tuesday morning.

“House Majority Leader John Bell was very instrumental in this whole process with us, and Sen. Don Davis was very involved and instrumental in all of this, and they’ve asked, they want to come out and visit the school, see the students, meet the staff,” Dunsmore said.

Dunsmore commended efforts of assistant superintendent Tamara Ishee and district staff for doing a “fabulous job” in creating plans that led to approval by the state.

“The state board and DPI (Department of Public Instruction) even noted that our application and that work was probably the best they’ve seen to date,” Dunsmore said.

Richard Schwartz, school board attorney, expressed appreciation for the additional time and effort that went into the process over the past few months, which included working nights and over the holidays.

“In getting us to the result we got (Thursday), we faced extraordinarily long odds back in October, with a real stacked deck,” Schwartz said. “It was the biggest uphill battle you could imagine, and to get the result we got (Thursday), with the changes that have been made since October, is just phenomenal.

“It took a lot of really hard work (from the staff). Now the burden is on everybody in this room and the folks out at Carver Heights to prove that the confidence that was placed in us is not misplaced and gets really good results.”

Faison also reacted to the state board’s decision, saying she was “elated” and acknowledged all the work that has gone into demonstrating that the school has lots of in-house and community support.

“Since November, my teachers have stepped up to the challenge of implementing powerful changes that will turn our school around,” she said. “While there is still much work to be done, it is validating that our efforts have garnered the support of both the North Carolina General Assembly and the state board of education.

“Through both the board’s and the legislature’s actions over the past few weeks, Carver Heights now has the opportunity to prove to everyone that our students and staff have the ability to do great things.”