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Since early 2016, the North Carolina State Board of Education has provided a little known option for schools that face challenges in “making the grade.” A state-designated “Restart” status provides a mechanism for select schools across the state to adopt charter-like flexibility as it relates to operations and staffing.
Currently, there are 148 schools across the state that have been granted this designation. Granville County Public Schools now has four schools in the process of applying for this special state-approved flexibility: Creedmoor Elementary School, West Oxford Elementary School, Butner-Stem Middle School and Northern Granville Middle School.
Under this state policy, a school may apply for “restart” status and begin the process of implementing additional flexible and innovative ideas to help improve the academic performance of its students. Examples of this flexibility include changes to the school’s calendar, daily schedule and instructional hours.
A school may also consider looking at different models for staffing the school, including different employee contracts, educator licensure requirements and types of positions assigned to the school. Finally, this status allows for increased flexibility as it relates to funding and budgets, which can have benefits for some schools in certain situations. There are no additional or separate funds made available to these schools.
“Applying for restart status is really about making sure we have all the tools at our disposal to increase academic performance in these schools,” Granville County Public Schools Superintendent Alisa McLean said in a press release. “It’s not so much about having to do more, but rather just being able to do things differently. Our board of education understands that in today’s shifting challenges in public education, we must have the flexibility to address each school’s individual needs. The restart model will provide some options for us that were previously unavailable, and I am excited about the new opportunities for our students and their families. Really, it’s a chance to ‘reboot’ and take it to the next level — I see it as version 2.0 for these four schools. I’m thrilled they have this opportunity.”
The four schools have committed to a planning period prior to implementing the new options, which will include an important window for stakeholder input. Not only does the school staff need to build consensus and plan of action, but the parents and community need to be involved as well.
“It is critical that the school drive this innovation and change,” McLean said. “Our principals, teachers and parents must work together to choose what works for their students. Much like the regular school-improvement process, this restart implementation is about choosing what fits for them — this is not a scenario in which I or our board of education will mandate certain changes, but instead work with our schools to provide support and guidance in the process.”
So far, the district has had several planning sessions to make sure state policies and guidelines are fully understood. Applications are being developed and plan to be submitted early during the new year. The 2020-21 school year will likely be a planning year for these schools, with perhaps a few key operational changes being made incrementally.
“The idea is to enact these changes carefully and deliberately, and make sure the school is 100 percent on board,” McLean said. “We don’t want to rush this and place burdens on a school that already faces challenges.”
While North Carolina is only three years into this new school status, there are other states across the country which have been exploring models which provide greater flexibility to public school structure. While no conclusive research has been published analyzing these flexibility models, schools do appreciate having more control and say over how their schools are run. Northern Granville Middle School principal Brenda Williamson shared her perspective in a release, adding, “If we are going to compete against charter schools, private schools and homeschooling, then we should be allowed to play by the same rules. Getting this increased flexibility presents some exciting possibilities for us. I am excited about working with our staff and community to take NGMS to the next level. I will put our public schools up against any organization out there. As we like to say in GCPS, we are on the move.”