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Steinburg, Smith-Ingram agree school fix should be local

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State Rep. Bob Steinburg

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rep. Bob Steinburg said last week that local school officials must take the lead in turning around low-performing schools and can count on him to support their efforts.

As the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools navigate their designation earlier this month as a low-performing school district and the assignment of an "F" grade to P.W. Moore Elementary School, Steinburg, R-Chowan, said he has confidence in local school officials' capacity to make the necessary changes in the schools.

Nancy Barbour, director of district and school transformation with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said last week that about a fifth of the state's roughly 2,500 public schools have been designated "low-performing."

Barbour explained that low-performing schools and low-performing districts alike are required to submit improvement plans to DPI. The department reviews the plans and offers feedback to the local districts, which then implement the plans.

The process keeps the responsibility for change at the local level -- which Steinburg said is where it belongs.

Steinburg said he thinks local school officials can be counted on to do what is necessary to improve student achievement, not only at P.W. Moore, but at schools in the district that have received a "D" grade.

"I don't even think the local school district is going to allow a school to continually fail," Steinburg said. "Something is definitely going to be done."

Barbour said the General Assembly has had some conversation about the definition of "low-performing" schools and districts, particularly with regard to schools that are meeting growth yet still are labeled "low-performing."

Steinburg does not support further changes in how the accountability results and school letter grades are calculated.

"I don't think we should be lowering the standards," Steinburg said. That's certainly not an option.

"It's totally unacceptable for any children in North Carolina to remain in a failing school," Steinburg continued. "Steps have to be taken to correct that situation. It's unacceptable. We can't have it.”

Steinburg said he knows all the members of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education and knows them to be very good people capable of leading the schools through necessary changes.

Steinburg said he believes parents and others in the local community are demanding improvement.

"First of all I don't think it would be tolerated locally or by the parents of the kids for very long," Steinburg said.

The local district is not left all on its own, though, because the state's Department of Public Instruction is available for coaching and assistance to local school leaders in the process of school improvement, Steinburg said.

"We are a resource to the local school district," Steinburg said. "But the folks who are closest to the situation are the local school board and the local people. It needs to be fixed at the local level.""

Steinburg said the school district needs to let him know if it needs resources to address the situation.

Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, said she agrees that decision-making responsibility belongs at the local level. But she also said DPI needs additional personnel to carry out its role in supporting local school districts that are struggling.

Also, Smith-Ingram is sharply critical of the letter grade system for schools in the state, which is based 80 percent on proficiency and 20 percent on growth. The formula should be 50-50, she said.

"If we had growth weighted the way it should be we wouldn't see as many schools labeled 'low-performing,'" Smith-Ingram said. "These grades really aren't telling us anything about the ability of the students in those schools. Instead they were telling us about the income level in some of those communities."

Smith-Ingram said the 'low-performing' label makes it hard to attract businesses to an area, which then exacerbates the economic conditions that contributed to the label in the first place.

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