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State reviews improvement plans: New law requires 4-year wait for flexibility reforms

Posted 11/16/19

The N.C. State Board of Education is reviewing a restart application for two Wilson County public schools identified as candidates for state takeover in its Innovative School District because of …

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State reviews improvement plans: New law requires 4-year wait for flexibility reforms

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The N.C. State Board of Education is reviewing a restart application for two Wilson County public schools identified as candidates for state takeover in its Innovative School District because of continually low performance.

In September, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction issued a list of the 5% worst performing schools based on data from the 2018-19 school year.

Wilson County Schools had two elementary schools on the list.

B.O. Barnes Elementary was No. 6 on the list with an overall score of 3, an F, and Margaret Hearne Elementary was No. 25 with a grade of 35, another F.

“We don’t want any schools on that list,” said Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills. “The schools don’t want to be on that list. Their performance was lower this year. That’s why they were identified. We want to remedy that. They do too, more than anyone, for their students.”

Mills said that while Barnes and Hearne qualify for the Innovative School District, new legislation passed in the N.C. Senate this month makes it clear that the schools would have to remain on the list for the next four school years to be selected for the ISD. If that were to happen, the schools would have been placed on a watch list in 2020-21, a warning list in 2021-22, selected for the ISD in 2022-23 and begin the first year of operation in the ISD in the 2023-24 school year.

“Previously if you were in the lowest 5%, then you were identified as being eligible to be in the Innovative School District,” Mills said. “This just passed, so this is the new process for identification, and it’s not a one-year process now. You have almost a stoplight approach to being identified — notification, warning, time for interventions time for support — before we go to that next step.”

“The process seems to be more in line with what we do for interventions with students and interventions with schools individually,” Mills said. “Senate Bill 522 has added some stoplights in there for every school system, so that is a lot different from where we started in terms of identification.”

Gov. Roy Cooper allowed SB 522 to become law without his signature on Nov. 11. When both legislative chambers pass a bill, the governor can sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law by choosing not to take action on it within 14 days.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wilson said the State Board of Education is currently reviewing the district’s restart applications for Barnes and Hearne elementary schools. A decision is expected at the state board’s December meeting.

The restart application has four flexibilities: calendar, licensure, budget and curriculum.

“We feel that those flexibilities will help the schools grow at a faster rate rather than not having the flexibilities,” Wilson said. “Many schools would love to have the flexibilities that are listed in here. With these flexibilities, these schools will have a greater opportunity to make some changes for the students.”

On calendar flexibility, WCS has asked that Barnes and Hearne be given the opportunity for teachers to begin the school year earlier.

“That would cover some professional development for them,” Wilson said. That will allow teachers to be trained, whereas there are not a lot of professional development days built in a calendar.”

Budget flexibility would allow the two schools to use extra funds for curriculum that would be tailored to the individual schools’ needs.

Licensure flexibility would give the two schools the opportunity to hire from a larger pool of educators

“Schools currently fall under the guidelines that everybody has to have a certain license to be able to teach students, and if they are not then they need to be working toward a particular course of study to do that,” Wilson said. “With this license flexibility, this individual may not have to have that particular license, then they could do that with a work history.”

Finally, flexibility in the curriculum could focus certain needs of the school’s students.

“I would rather say that we could buy a program to where we could scaffold the learning at a different level to where the students could reach the grade-level standards,” Wilson said. “We are in the process and have already talked with four different companies. We are hoping that we are going to get approved by the state board in December because we are trying to be proactive in that.”

Administrators are speaking with principals about which programs would be best for their schools.

“It would definitely be trying to find the educational resources that these students need to meet them where they are, but we have got to find the resources that are going to scaffold to get them on grade level,” Wilson said. “We can’t just meet them where they are and then just leave it there, because then they are never going to be able to make up enough growth to be along with the rest of their peers within the district and the state.”

“There is a lot of room for improvement at these schools,” Mills said.

EACH SCHOOL IS DIFFERENT

“We are concerned about the academic performance as measured by the tests,” Mills said.

State-issued school report cards for Barnes Elementary show academic growth of 56.3%, which does not meet expectations. The school’s most recent end-of-grade math grade score was 27, and its end-of-grade reading grade was 32. Some 45% of the students entering kindergarten are proficient. Some 78.8% of the students in the school are economically disadvantaged.

Margaret Hearne Elementary’s report card indicates the school had 55.8% academic growth, which does not meet expectations. The school’s EOG math grade is 39, and its EOG reading grade is 37. Some 8.3% of students entering kindergarten are proficient. Some 78.5% of the school’s students are economically disadvantaged.

Mills said for teachers and administrators, there is “a constant conversation about where we are today, ‘Tomorrow I have got to get here, and next week I have got to be there.’”

“We are not doing anything in isolation. Everything is connected from our PLCs (professional learning communities) to our behavior conversations, to the work we are doing with our data to the conversations we are having about leadership,” Mills said. “Everything has to line up. Sometimes it is easier to line some things up than others.”

“It is just a continuous conversation and refocus on what we want to do next and reevaluate and check as you go,” Mills said.

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