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7 Guilford County schools told to improve scores or get turned over to an outside group

RALEIGH Low-performing schools around North Carolina — including seven from Guilford County — are being put on notice that they need to improve over the next few years or else they could be turned over to an outside group such as a charter-school operator.

State education officials on Thursday released a list of 69 schools that qualify for inclusion in the Innovative School District based on their low state test scores.

The lowest-performing schools that remain on the list for four years in a row 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 schools of any district on the list at eight, followed by seven in Guilford County and Nash-Rocky Mount. Charlotte-Mecklenburg had four schools.

The Guilford County schools that made the list are:

  • Wiley Accel/Enrichment
  • Ceasar Cone Elementary
  • Montlieu Academy of Technology
  • Welborn Academy
  • Ferndale Middle
  • Gillespie Park Elementary
  • Vandalia Elementary

The new list is the latest attempt to try to reshape a program that has gotten off to a rocky start.

The Innovative School District 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 say it’s a way to help raise student achievement. But critics say the model, which has been used in other states, is a way to privatize education.

Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County is the only school in the district and ended the program’s first year with an “F” grade, not meeting academic growth and a drop in the percentage of students passing state exams.

“We all agreed that we were not ready for another school to be entered into the ISD next school year,” Cecilia Holden, legislative director for the state board, said at Thursday’s meeting. “The General Assembly listened.”

Senate Bill 522 will become law on Monday unless Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes the legislation. State education officials were hopeful Thursday that the bill will not be vetoed.

In return for not picking a school this year, the legislation will require the state’s lowest scoring school in the 2019-20 school year to be transferred to the district for the 2021-22 school year. It also requires the lowest scoring school in the 2020-21 school year to join the district the following school year.

The automatic selection comes after some communities have fought against their schools being taken over.

Senate Bill 522 also creates the new multi-year system for determining which schools will be added in the future. It also expanded the schools eligible for takeover to include middle schools and high schools.

The 69 schools identified Thursday make up the lowest performing 5% of schools in the state. If they’re still on the qualifying list after two years they’re 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 be automatically turned over the Innovative School District.

James Ellerbe, the superintendent of the Innovative School District, said he had spoken to the superintendents of the 30 school districts who have schools on the list.

Ellerbe said he will work with the 69 schools to try to help them improve their performance so they can get off the qualifying list.

Celebrating our veterans

Bright sunshine made the red, white and blue of more than 200 American flags all the more vibrant as they were put on display Friday by Guilford Rotary Club members. The flags are being flown in a Field of Honor at the Triad Farmers Market off Sandy Ridge Road over Veterans’ Day weekend as a way for the community to celebrate heroes in their lives and in their communities. The club’s second annual event offered residents a chance to sponsor a flag for someone special. For $50, someone could sponsor one flag in honor of a hero with a personalized memorable flag medallion that the sponsor keeps. For an additional $25, the sponsor may keep the flag. For more information about this annual event, go online and visit guilfordrotary.club/flags-for-heroes-fundraiser.

Greensboro acquires final piece of Downtown Greenway land from Norfolk Southern, clears way for completion of biking and walking path

GREENSBORO The final piece of land is in place for the Downtown Greenway and construction should begin next year on the last phase of the 4-mile walking and biking trail around downtown.

The city on Friday closed an $8.5 million deal with Norfolk Southern to convert an inactive railway corridor into the western leg of the Downtown Greenway. The deal also allows the city to build a trail that branches off of the greenway on its northwest corner and extends from West Smith Street northwest to Markland Drive near the Target shopping center on Lawndale Drive.

The western phase of the Downtown Greenway extends from Spring Garden Street to West Smith Street.

In all, the right of way deal includes 3.1 miles that will allow the greenway to link to the existing A&Y Greenway that extends 9 miles to Summerfield and beyond, Greensboro City Manager David Parrish said.

“This is a significant day for us,” Parrish said. “It’s something we’ve been pursuing for 11 years.”

Action Greensboro, a community development group, has been working with the city to oversee the construction and acquisition of the land in four phases. Parrish said Friday’s deal was completed with money from city bond funds, $1.5 million from Action Greensboro and $4.4 million from the state of North Carolina.

“This section is particularly unique with the College Branch Stream running alongside what will become the greenway path,” said Dabney Sanders, the Downtown Greenway project manager for Action Greensboro. Sanders said in a news release, “Stream restoration work, the addition of site furnishings, and public art will make this a beautiful part of the greenway to travel through, as well as a destination.”

“This is truly exciting news as we can now close the gap and complete the Downtown Greenway,” Mayor Nancy Vaughan said in a news release. “To see this project come to fruition is a testament to everyone who has worked so hard on this project. The Downtown Greenway will serve generations of Greensboro residents.”

In all, the Downtown Greenway will cost roughly $43 million, the city said in a news release, which includes about $13 million in private donations and $30 million in public money from both local bonds and state and federal funding. Earlier this year, the VF Foundation and VF Leaders announced a legacy gift of $1.5 million to Action Greensboro to support the continued development of the Downtown Greenway and this funding will help support this acquisition, according to the city.

Construction of the Downtown Greenway is also progressing along Murrow Boulevard. The eastern section of the greenway will run alongside Murrow Boulevard from East Gate City Boulevard to Fisher Avenue and North Greene Street where it will connect with the current open section. Work is underway on new traffic signals and a new traffic pattern at Murrow and Gate City boulevards, and construction is expected to be complete in October 2020.

In 2001, the Greensboro Center City Master Plan identified the Downtown Greenway as one of three major projects, including Center City Park and the Greensboro Grasshoppers downtown baseball park. The Downtown Greenway was then included in the city’s 2006 Bicycle, Pedestrian and Greenway/Trails Master Plan, that included the greenway as the hub of an envisioned 400 miles of Greensboro trails and greenways.

It was also selected as the city’s signature project for Greensboro’s 2008 bicentennial, and in 2010, the greenway was named the top priority of the Greensboro Downtown Economic Development Strategy.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Alarm bells: As the holidays approach, The Salvation Army is short on bell ringers. Page A2

Governor vetoes teacher pay bills, seeks higher raises

HIGH POINT — The Guilford County Association of Educators on Friday backed Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of bills that increase teacher pay. Instead, the organization is demanding the state give raises that increase pay faster and more equitably.

“We thought it was a slap in the face and a slap in the face should be rejected,” said Todd Warren, the association’s president.

The group also announced plans to picket outside some Guilford County Schools next week. Educators are looking to highlight what they say is the legislature’s failure to meet demands they laid out in the spring and to pass a budget.

The bills that Cooper vetoed included teacher raises of 3.9% over two years, including increases for longevity. The bills also included a 2% raise for non-instructional staff.

On Friday, Republican leaders were quick to denounce Cooper’s actions.

“His refusal to raise teacher pay in favor of playing political games on separate issues is causing real harm to educators’ families,” N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore said in a news release.

Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden said in a news release that Cooper “uses teachers as pawns, blocking their pay increase then trying to convince them it’s all the Republicans fault.”

Warren sees it differently.

He believes the Democratic governor and state lawmakers are bound to approve a raise for school employees this year, given the political environment and recent increases for other state employees.

By vetoing a smaller raise, he thought Cooper could help put pressure on lawmakers to come up with a bigger one.

Cooper alluded to that in a news conference Friday, saying the state shouldn’t accept the raises approved last week by the GOP-controlled legislature, not “when we have an opportunity to do more.”

Warren said that the Guilford County Association of Educators is demanding a 5 percent raise for school employees in the first year of the budget. They would then come back and negotiate for an additional smaller raise to cover cost-of-living increases in the second year.

That, he explained, is very different than the 3.9 percent raise over two years that Cooper vetoed. It’s not just that it’s smaller, but a portion of it wouldn’t kick in until the second year.

Warren also said the vetoed raises didn’t meet other requirements, such as a $15 minimum wage for all employees, including cafeteria workers and bus drivers.

“You are talking about bus drivers and custodians that will see maybe $17 more in their check in Senate Bill 354 that was put before the governor,” he said.

Warren spoke to the media at a news conference Friday afternoon at Ferndale Middle School in High Point, along with two local lawmakers lending their support: state Sens. Gladys Robinson and Michael Garrett, both Democrats.