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Innovative School District Superintendent Wants LEAs To Know He's A Partner, Not A Foe

NC Innovative School District

Enacted by the General Assembly in last year’s budget legislation, the Innovative School District (ISD), is set to begin accepting schools into the ISD by the 2018-19 school year. The title of the program, initially called the Achievement School District, was changed in this year’s budget legislation. The aim of the initiative is to improve the state’s lowest-performing schools by shifting governance from their home district to a statewide school district, known as the Innovative School District, where selected schools will be operated by a charter or education management organization (CMO/EMO). The General Assembly has directed the State Board of Education to select at least two schools for inclusion in the ISD for the 2018-19 school year and to select a total of five schools for the ISD by the 2019-20 school year. Work began in earnest for implementation of the ISD with the hiring of the ISD’s Superintendent, Dr. Eric Hall, earlier this year.

Dr. Hall, formerly the president and chief executive of Communities in Schools of North Carolina, understands the ISD initiative is not without controversy.

“I recognize that similar models have been used in other states with mixed results,” Dr. Hall said. “However, I am confident that with a strong focus on state and local partnerships and a commitment to local community engagement in the process, we can together create innovative conditions that ensure the academic success of students.”

As superintendent of the statewide school district aimed at improving the state’s lowest performing schools, Dr. Hall wants to collaborate with LEAs and avoid having a divided strategy.

“I have worked most of my career with schools as a teacher, school administrator and in other local and state-level leadership positions,” Dr. Hall said. “I do understand and appreciate the hard work that our schools are doing day-in and day-out. I also understand how critically important it is to the success of our students in this new innovative model that the ISD and local districts partner to design and implement strategies that work.”

It is anticipated that all five schools in the ISD will be elementary grade levels. A list showing prospective schools that qualify for selection for the ISD is expected to be released during the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education in September. To qualify for the ISD, a school must meet the following criteria:

1. School Performance Score in the lowest 5 percent of all schools in the prior year.

2. Did not exceed growth in at least one of the prior three school years and did not meet growth in at least one of the prior three school years.

3. Did not adopt one of the established reform models for the immediate prior school year.

After the release of qualifying schools that may be selected for the ISD, Dr. Hall expects to work with local school districts and communities to determine a final selection of schools for the State Board to approve during its December meeting.

“In order for this model to be effective, we have to work together to evaluate the diverse circumstances that perhaps limit a school’s ability to drive significant student achievement outcomes,” Dr. Hall said. “At the same time, this work has to be done in partnership with the community so that the innovations deployed in those schools selected to partner with the ISD are owned locally as part of a sustainable strategy for long-term success.”

In addition to selecting schools to include in the ISD, Dr. Hall will also be evaluating candidates charged with operating the statewide school district. With the application process starting soon, Dr. Hall will be recommending a proven and/or credible CMO/EMO for State Board approval in February 2018 to operate selected schools for the ISD. To be eligible for consideration, a CMO/EMO must either have a record of improving performance of persistently low-performing schools or have a credible and specific plan for dramatically improving student achievement in a low-performing school. In addition, Dr. Hall said he “wants to identify CMO/EMO operators that understand the critical importance that partnerships will play in this model, while also having operators that share common values with the local communities they will be serving”.

A draft timeline for the implementation of the ISD’s operation is as follows:

September 7, 2017 | Public release of qualifying ISD schools (for start-up in 2018-2019)

September 29, 2017 | CMO/EMO Notice of Intent to Apply due

October 16, 2017 | Application for qualified CMO/EMO operators opens

November 17, 2017 | CMO/EMO applications due

December 7, 2017 | Final State Board of Education approval of ISD schools for 2018-2019 school year December/January Presentations by CMO/EMO to local school boards and communities identified for partnership with the ISD

January 15 - February 15, 2018 | Final State Board of Education approval of contracts for CMO/EMO partners with 5-year contracts

February 1, 2018 | Final resolutions by local school boards with notification to the ISD superintendent; CMO/EMO preparations with ISD and local school district for start-up operations

June 2018 | CMO/EMO preparations continue with ISD and local school district for startup operations

Dr. Hall recently appeared on the weekly television series Education Matters to discuss the ISD initiative. That episode can be watched in full here.

Information that Dr. Hall presented to the State Board of Education in July on the status of the ISD Initiative may be found here.

Adam Pridemore