Video: What Will Change if One Third of RSSS Schools Become “Restart Schools”?

Posted on May 1, 2017

RFP Staff

♦ The Rowan-Salisbury School System Board of Education approved for 13 repeatedly low-performing schools to apply to the Department of Public Instruction to transform into “restart schools”. That is over a third of the 35 schools in the district. Two of those low-performing schools, North Rowan High and North Rowan Elementary, are already receiving funds from North Carolina’s Turning Around Lowest-Achieving Schools (TALAS) plan that targets “the bottom 5%” of NC schools. They are included in the 13 who will apply to become restart schools. RFP has received multiple questions about what restart schools are and what can change if the applications are approved.

According to state statutes passed in December of 2016, any restart school approved by the State Board of Education will have “the same exemptions from statutes and rules as a charter school”. The restart school model is intended to loosen restrictions on public schools that are not performing well under restrictions for NC public schools by allowing them to operate under charter school guidelines instead.

A restart school is created when a school district “converts a school or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization (CMO), or an education management organization (EMO) that has been selected through a rigorous review process” (NCDPI). Rowan-Salisbury Schools can hire another organization to manage the 11 schools or one for each school, should they all be approved as NC Restart Model schools. However, according to the statues, the district itself may apply to be the management.

The key to restart schools is a change in structures that the state approves to radically decrease the likelihood of repeatedly low-performance in each school that applies. A plan must be created and submitted for each school that applies. A copy of the document used by Dr. Julie Morrow to describe is viewable here. As seen in the screenshot below, each school will provide a detailed plan.

Morrow Slide 1

Only 19 schools were approved by the NC Board of Education to become restart schools in the 2017-2018 school year. Ten low-performing Wake County schools were among those restart schools. Ten may sound like a lot of schools, but there are close to 160,000 students attending 177 schools in Wake, which is currently the 15th largest school district in the US and the largest in North Carolina. Approximately 20,000 students attend the 35 schools in RSSS, which reveals the profile of a very large percentage of repeatedly low-performing schools in our district.

While no recording was made, the RSSS presentation to the board during the March 14, 2017 work session can be seen here.

The repeatedly low-performing RSSS schools who may now apply to become restart schools are

  • China Grove Elementary
  • Corriher-Lipe Middle
  • Erwin Middle
  • Hurley Elementary
  • Isenberg Elementary
  • Knollwood Elementary
  • Koontz Elementary
  • Landis Elementary
  • North Rowan Elementary
  • North Rowan High
  • Overton Elementary
  • Southeast Middle
  • West Rowan Middle

What Is a Restart School?

Basically, restart schools have looser restrictions that are normally reserved for North Carolina’s charter schools. Restart schools remain public schools but operate under the laws that govern charter schools. Once approved, as happens each March, the process involves closing out the operations of the school (or schools) and restarting under the charter guidelines. Teachers may either be relocated or have to reapply for their jobs. Any student who formerly attended before the transition and wishes to attend the newly formed restart school in that building must be enrolled, but charter school exemptions will otherwise apply. Research has indicated that students’ achievement can drop during the first year under such a change in the education model. Evidence has not been gathered yet to shows if the achievement drop can be recovered in later years.

What is the Timeline for Restarting a School?

A district that is approved in March and that is ready may follow a fast-track timeline to restart, as seen in this graphic:

Timeline 1

Many districts will follow a longer timeline, such as this:

Timeline 2

Images are from Center on Innovation & Improvement; National Network of State School Improvement Leaders

What Can Be Different at the Restart Schools?

 Some of the changes from public school structures could include the following, and can be different per school. Any of the thirteen low-performing RSSS schools, if approved by the NC Board of Education to reopen as a restart school to operate under charter guidelines, can

  • be exempt from providing free/reduced lunch for students living in poverty
  • be exempt from public bidding laws protecting how taxpayer dollars are spent
  • be exempt from transparency in budgeting and thus hide spending practices
  • be a self-contained financial unit, with money assigned by the number of students attending
  • hire a management company
  • operate under for-profit companies
  • be run by operators who are not required to reside in NC
  • spend funds as they see fit
  • pay the school system to provide transportation for students
  • follow different requirements for students’ transportation safety, such as using private transportation
  • decide not to provide transportation for students
  • hire fewer teachers or add teacher positions
  • hire uncertified instructors up to 50% of the teaching force
  • hire a new staff
  • choose not to hold teacher workdays for professional training
  • use an individual school calendar rather than the district calendar
  • design the school schedule differently
  • open the school earlier each day
  • close the school later each day
  • remain open all year
  • have sessions of alternating days or weeks open
  • make class sizes what they choose, either smaller or larger than public schools
  • choose their own content and curriculum
  • add a grade level above or below what is already approved (become a K-6 instead of a K-5 school, for example)
  • be subject to a low minimum performance of 60% average of all the standardized tests taken in the school for at least 2 out of 3 years as opposed to regular public schools
  • be exempt from district rules
  • lose money and need local supplementation of funds, especially if schools are small

Flexibilities RSSS Told the Board of Education It Is and Is Not Requesting 

  • Personnel – requested
  • Calendar – requested
  • School Improvement Planning Process – requested
  • Budget – not requested

 What Will Stay the Same at the Restart Schools? 

  • Participation in the state’s accountability program
  • Administration of end-of-grade and end-of course tests
  • Provision of data needed for NC School Report Cards
  • Teachers will keep their contracts (but may be required to apply to work at the restart school or be transferred)
  • Students already enrolled at a restart school will remain enrolled, if they wish
  • RSSS says that the “budget” will remain the same, but discussions indicated otherwise (Restart schools will each receive their money per school and by the number of students attending)

Who Will Run the Schools? 

In a restart school model, the district will close each low-performing school and open a new school under a charter operator, charter management organization (CMO), or education service provider (ESP), and give prior students guaranteed enrollment to the new school. The administration and funding of a restart school is guided by NC Statute § 115C-105.37B, which states

“The State Board of Education authorizes the local board of education to operate the school with the same exemptions from statutes and rules as a charter school authorized under Article 14A […], or under the management of an educational management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process. A school operated under this subdivision remains under the control of the local board of education, and employees assigned to the school are employees of the local school administrative unit.”

Charter school laws can be accessed here. The NC General Statutes for employees will remain the same, as indicated above and as seen here. An example of an application by a school in Iredell-Statesville Schools can be seen here.

What Is a Restart Management Company?

Restart schools are schools that still answer to a local system’s or local district’s Board of Education. However, they follow the guidelines for charter schools. If a private enterprise starts a charter school, they have their own Board of Education who make the decisions for that school as guided by charter school guidelines. If a Board of Education starts a charter or turns low-performing schools into restart schools, they make the decisions for that school or each individual school according to charter school guidelines.

While restart schools answer to the Board of Education, they are governed by charter school law and charter school structures may be used. Some restarts will be and most charter schools in North Carolina are independently managed. There are a few types of management used most often. EMO’s are management organizations that are for profit. The Alliance for Public Charter Schools provides some details on the largest CMO’s and EMO’s, and has been monitoring some information about the numbers, management, and enrollment in charter schools in a dashboard you can access online.

The National Council on Educating Black Children notes that little research exists yet on how management organizations like CMO’s and EMO’s match with the school populations’ needs, but some information does exist about the CMO and EMO structures and school success.

Are the Thirteen Schools Likely to Be Approved?

New research published by the Fordham Institute has indicated that it is not likely for schools using the charter structure, as restart schools will, to be approved if there is

  • “A lack of evidence that the school will start with a sound financial foundation;
  • No description of how the school will use data to evaluate educators or inform instruction;
  • No discussion of how the school will create and sustain a culture of high expectations; and
  • No plans to hire a management organization to run the school.”

The research also indicates that risks for failure with the charter school structure, also used by restart schools, include

  • Lack of identified leadership
  • “High-risk” students needing more but who are given “low-dose” programs instead of intensive supports like small-group instruction or individual tutoring
  • Curriculum that allows the child too much freedom for most children to succeed (called “child-centered learning”)

Video: A Heated Discussion with the Board of Education about Restart Schools

A Few Additional Questions We Have Heard

  • Will this change enable the district to hide low test scores and other factors and receive an inflated report card from the state?
  • Will the RSSS restart schools hire private management?
  • Who benefits? Can there be a conflict between the best for children and businesses?
  • Can segregated schools emerge from the enrollment exemptions in the charter school laws?
  • Will there be less effective teaching if less qualified or less expensive, less experienced new teachers are hired?
  • Is there a danger that management companies will hire lobbyists?
  • Can out-of-state managers make bad decisions for our local schools?
  • Won’t hired consultants be focused on money instead of kids?
  • Can indiscriminate spending bankrupt a restart school?
  • Will private management live outside NC?
  • Can for-profit thinking jeopardize instruction and learning?
  • Could for-profit managers push spending that benefits partners and friends?
  • Can overspending of taxpayer money occur because of no-bid expenditures allowed by charter laws?

Sources and Resources

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