State nears decision on school takeover

Williford Elementary.jpg

Williford Elementary School


Staff Writer

Thursday, October 12, 2017

NASHVILLE — Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools should know Friday whether or not Williford Elementary School will be recommended for inclusion in the new N.C. Innovative School District, but school board members still approved a joint resolution Wednesday to let the state know that it wants no part of the plan.

“This resolution is saying that we as a community are not interested in this type of intervention,” said Wendy Wilson, chairwoman of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education. 

The joint resolution was signed on Wednesday at a special called meeting of the school board and will be presented to Nash County commissioners for signature on Monday. It may also be presented to Edgecombe County commissioners and the Rocky Mount City Council for consideration as some members of these boards have expressed interest in the process. 

“I guess my opinion is sometimes difficult things bring communities together and the more unity we have in the community overall to look at the needs of our children, that is a positive thing,” Wilson said.

The joint resolution likely will come too late to affect the decision of whether Williford will be one of the two schools chosen by Dr. Eric Hall for recommendation for inclusion. However, it may have an impact on the N.C. State Board of Education, which will finalize the list in December.  If Williford is not notified of its inclusion on the list Friday, the whole issue may be moot for this year anyway.

Leonardo Williams, who is working with Hall in the formation of the Innovative School District, said Tuesday that Hall and his staff are looking at more than grades at this point in the decision-making process. 

“He is looking at a collaboration of quantitative and qualitative data,” Williams said. “Dr. Hall spent time at each school and spent time with the principal to put the story behind the numbers. He really is trying to make this the most friendly intervention process. This really is not a takeover or takeaway. It’s more so that we are coming in as an intervention.”

Williams was interviewed at a public forum debate on education Tuesday in Rocky Mount. N.C. Sen. RIck Horner, R-Wilson, also spoke out on the issue during an interview after the debate.

“This is a local decision, but if they don’t want any help, then they should tell everybody to go away,” said Horner, who served on the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education for 14 years. “The Innovative School District is going to look for people who want to be helped.”

Horner also said that he personally feels the idea of becoming a part of the Innovative School District has some merit but feels a community buy-in is imperative.

“I think it’s the wrong decision myself,” Horner said. “If I was on the school board, I would ask for someone to help these children. The school can be helped, but if the parents and the population around that school don’t want any help, let them go. You can’t help anyone that won’t help themselves.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education also signed updated grant application that was approved Tuesday by Nash County commissioners. The application requests $15 million in funds from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund for construction of a new Red Oak Elementary School building. The grant mentions a plan to consolidate three schools in the process: Swift Creek Elementary, Cedar Grove Elementary and Red Oak Elementary schools. However, Jefferies stressed that the application does not mean that these schools will be consolidated.

“This is very easily misconstrued as the board has made a final decision,” Superintendent Dr. Shelton Jefferies told the school board. “You all have been resolute in your task of me that any decisions made persistent to reassignments or potential school consolidations, we were going to engage in a deliberative process whereby we engage any impacted community via town hall meetings and focus groups before any finalization is made.”

Jefferies said the schools were identified through a 2013 long-range facilities study as the most antiquated elementary schools in the district.

Jefferies also said the grant proposal had been strengthened by Nash County’s commitment to pay for the cost of the project not covered by the grant. 

“We found those edits made by Nash County to be acceptable because there’s some additional language Commissioner Davis committed to just before this meeting,” Jefferies told the school board. “In that language, Nash County would commit to being responsible for any cost of the building above the grant award.”