Low-performing schools given permission relax regulations to increase student performance

Three low-performing Moore County Schools have been given approval to make changes in an effort to increase student performance, according to an overview presentation made by district leaders to the board of education in an all-day, online work session Tuesday.

The program, called Restart Schools, is a reform model intended to turnaround schools that have been rated D or F in two of the last three years, as measured by state-wide performance indicators.

The district’s three recurring low-performing schools, Aberdeen Elementary, Robbins Elementary and Southern Middle School, were given the go-head in June in 2020 by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). It will allow the schools to modify regulations, allowing them to operate more like a charter school than a public school.

Under the 5-year Restart School model, the schools will be permitted to relax teachers’ qualifications and use a lower pay scale than that of a traditional school. Also, schools can choose to extend the school day, bypass state law to change the school calendar and are permitted greater budget flexibility.

Records on the NCDPI website show that each of these schools received a D letter grade going back to 2014. Because of COVID restrictions, the traditional End of Grade test was not given at the end of last year, so school letter grades were not given for 2020.

The school letter grade, called the School Report Card, is calculated based on 80 percent of the school’s overall achievement score, and 20 percent of student academic growth. Some school board members expressed their opinion that student growth should be weighted higher, as much as 50 percent, to more accurately measure overall performance.

During the meeting, Innovation and Special Projects Coordinator Mariah Morris described how Moore County Schools will implement the Restart Schools program to the board.

“We are not using flexibilities on a whim and saying, oh wouldn’t it be great to operate with a different calendar than the school down the road,” Morris said. “That is not our purpose. Our purpose in utilizing these charter-like flexibilities are to yield positive student outcomes.”

The former North Carolina Teacher of the Year, who taught 2nd grade at West Pine Elementary School, has been chosen to lead the district’s Restart Schools program.

One of the components of the improvement plan will be to focus on literacy. “We believe that if we can give our students the gift of literacy, that is something that nobody can take away,” said Morris. “We are very laser-focused on that mission at our restart schools.”

To improve literacy, the district has partnered with North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). Teachers, teacher assistants and administrators will earn a badge by attending training sessions during the year on phonics, fluency and comprehension.

Aberdeen Elementary School Principal Dante Poole spoke to the board of education about the makeup of his school. In August of 2020, the school opened in a new building that combined students from Aberdeen Primary with Aberdeen Elementary. He told the board that 38 percent of students are African American, while only one certified staff member is African American.

“That is very, very troublesome at least for me,” said board member Robert Levy.

“It is a concern of mine, and it is not one that we have not tried to give attention to,” said Poole. “I think there are a number of dynamics that come into play as why African Americans are not coming to Moore County to teach and not becoming educators.”

Poole also told board members that 82 percent of the 640 students are considered economically disadvantaged, and 15 percent are categorized as exceptional education.

In presenting the outline of the restart program, Chief Officer for Academics and Student Support Tim Locklair quoted Jim Merrill, the former superintendent of Wake County Public Schools.

“I think the genesis was really about entrepreneurialism on the part of district leadership, and looking for the seams in policy and law where there might be room for creativity, maneuverability, flexibility, and opportunity.”

Across North Carolina, only 148 schools in 30 counties were in the restart program as of September 2019, according to information provided by Moore County Schools.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

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