Here’s an idea: What if we took five low-performing schools from across the whole state — both urban and rural —and put them in their own district? We could call it an “Achievement School District.” It would be overseen by an Achievement School Superintendent who was appointed, not by those schools or any of their previous districts, but by the state.
And that superintendent would, of course, hire an AS Operator: the person “authorized to have a direct role in making decisions about school finance, human capital, and curriculum and instruction for the achievement school while developing the leadership capacity in such schools.” (Decisions about ‘human capital’ means — among other things — how to facilitate a ‘reduction in force.’)
Although the AS Operator and Superintendent would have discretion over all funds and first right to use any facilities, the local school district would still provide bussing, transferring of records (both student and personnel), and help the ASD in whatever way needed, even though they wouldn’t see state funding for the students now in the ASD.
We could study the progress of these schools over a five-year period and at the end of the five year period, close the schools and send them back to their original districts, turn them into charter schools, or extend the contract for another three years before making any major decisions.
If this sounds like a great idea, get excited! House Bill 1080 is placed on the calendar for consideration by the full chamber on June 1st. It received house approval in an 18-11 vote “two days after House Speaker Tim Moore approved a handful of last-minute appointments to the House Education Committee, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. John Bradford III, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, raising questions of whether the appointments were made to ensure the bill’s passage this week.”
If you, like State Superintendent June Atkinson and representatives of North Carolina Association of Educators, are worried about funding a program that has had mixed results in other states and would make it harder to ensure public dollars are actually benefiting the most needy schools, then call your representatives and let them know.
You could ask them, for example, why they aren’t making plans for the schools to become “Innovation Zones with a leader appointed by the local board of education [that] attract high-quality staff at schools through the use of incentives, favorable working conditions, and development of partnerships to develop human capital,” before moving to the ASD instead of only offering the option for those zones to other schools in a district if that local district agrees to send a school to the ASD.
Steps do need to be taken to heal our schools, but we need to address the root problems now. We can do that with the proper allocation of funds and support for our schools, by providing services and pre-k funding for our children, and removing the bureaucratic ropes that tie teacher’s hands, rather than try a radical, unproven method for five schools and waiting eight years to see whether it worked.
Jennifer Brick is a freelance writer and former teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.