07 N1907P68002CPoor-performing schools in North Carolina have been put on notice that they need to improve their academic performance over the next few years or they could be turned over to outside groups such as charter schools. State education officials have made public a list of 69 schools that qualify for inclusion in the Innovative School District based on their low state test scores. Low-performing schools that remain on the list for four consecutive years are slated to be taken over by the Innovative School District, which would hire a group to run their day-to-day operations.

Forsyth County had the most poor-performing schools of any district on the list at eight, followed by seven in Nash-Rocky Mount and six in Guilford County. Charlotte-Mecklenburg had four schools. There were two schools in Wake and Johnston counties and one each in Cumberland, Harnett and Iredell counties. T.C. Berrien Elementary on North Street is on the list in this latest attempt to reshape a program that has gotten off to a rocky start. Coincidentally, Berrien students are now attending classes at W.T. Brown School in Spring Lake because of structural issues.

The Innovative School District concept was created by Republican state lawmakers in 2016 to take up to five low-performing elementary schools away from local school district control and turn them over to an outside group to run. Supporters of the program said it’s a way to help raise student achievement. But critics say the model, which has been used in other states, would privatize education.

Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County is the only school in the Innovative School District and ended the program’s first year with an F grade, not meeting academic growth and with a drop in the percentage of students passing state exams. Recently, state lawmakers changed how schools are picked. Four more schools were to be added to the district for the 2020-21 school year. But after lobbying from the State Board of Education and State Superintendent Mark Johnson, lawmakers passed a bill that says no schools must be added for the next school year.

In return, the legislation requires the state’s lowest-scoring school in the 2019-20 school year to be transferred to the district for the following school year. It also requires the lowest-scoring school in the 2020-21 school year to join the district the year after that. The 69 schools identified this month make up the lowest performing 5% of all schools in the state. If they’re still on the qualifying list after two years, they will be moved to a watch list. Schools that are still on the qualifying list after three years are put on a warning list. The five lowest performing schools that were on the warning list the previous year and were also on the qualifying list for four years in a row would automatically be turned over the Innovative School District.

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