Letter to Parents and Families Regarding COVID-19

March 11, 2020

Dear Parents and Families,

The North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD) continues to monitor the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19). As of March 10, 2020, there were seven confirmed cases in Wake County, North Carolina. While no cases have been confirmed in Robeson County, the District is aware that the situation could change quickly. The ISD along with the school operator, Achievement for All Children, is consulting with the Public Schools of Robeson County, Robeson County Health Department and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to ensure our students, families and staff are prepared.

The school has a cleaning plan in place to provide regular and routine cleanings of common surfaces throughout the day. High contact areas such as doorknobs, classrooms and cafeteria tables are being given additional attention. Custodial staff is onsite at the school cleaning the building through out the day. The cafeteria staff are utilizing an antimicrobial solution to clean tables before and after meals. Please remind students to wash their hands regularly and not touch their faces. If your child has a fever or feels unwell, please keep them at home.

Safety is our top priority, therefore the following precautions for field trips are in effect until further notice:

  • Any school-sponsored international field trips will not be approved
  • Out-of-state field trips to any location with confirmed cases of the coronavirus are suspended
  • Local field trips to areas not impacted by the coronavirus may continue if they were previously approved by the Superintendent

Any additional district updates will be provided at www.innovativeschooldistrict.org. For more information on COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus. You may also visit the North Carolina Division of Public Health at www.ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus for statewide updates.


PDF – Coronavirus COVID-19 Parent Letter

Southside-Ashpole Elementary is awarded over $132K in School Safety Grant Funds

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Center for Safer Schools has approved the Innovative School District’s (ISD) application for funding under the FY 2019 NC School Safety Grant Program. The funds, totaling over $132,000, will go toward school safety equipment ($19,047) and students-in-crisis services ($113,274) at Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Rowland, NC.

Achievement for All Children (AAC)—the non-profit entity that operates Southside-Ashpole—was instrumental in supporting the ISD in completing this grant. Their School Director at Southside-Ashpole Elementary, Dr. Kenneth L. Bowen, said, “We look forward to utilizing these funds to better serve our students and staff. The school safety equipment funds will be used for a long-awaited transparent security wall in the entrance lobby of the school, repairs to the perimeter fence around the school property and a digital safety and response platform that will connect staff and send alerts to computers and mobile devices as necessary. The funds for students-in-crisis services will be used for a school nurse and a behavior specialist to help with the physical, mental, emotional, and social health needs of students and provide support as they grow and achieve.”

According ISD Superintendent, Dr. James Ellerbe, “There are a lot of great things going on at Southside-Ashpole this school year. Students are learning and growing, and the family- and community-engagement has been outstanding thanks to Achievement for All Children and Dr. Bowen’s leadership along with the great people of Rowland. These new funds are going to only enhance the many positive things already going on at the school.”

Tricia Cotham, President of Achievement for All Children is “thrilled to get this new funding. It will help to build on our safe and nurturing  environment at the school and provide added supports to the students in our quest to improve growth and achievement.”

Southside Ashpole Elementary concludes its first year under the ISD with testing, graduations, and awards

The week of June 10-14, 2019 marked the final week of school for the students at Southside Ashpole Elementary (the first school transferred into the Innovative School District) and it concludes the first year of operation under Achievement for All Children and the leadership of School Director Bruce Major. This last week of school was a busy one, with EOG testing, awards programs, and graduations. There was a graduation event for the kindergartners moving up to 1st grade and one for the 5th graders moving on to middle school. Both were well attended by parents, family members and others from the local community.

Friday, June 14th was 5th grade graduation and awards day at Southside Ashpole Elementary. Mr. Major’s parting advice to the 5th graders, as it was for the graduating kindergarteners earlier in the week, was to “READ, READ and READ.” He stressed that reading sparks imaginations, broadens perspectives, advances language skills and opens windows to the world around us.

Local pastor Reverend Shawn Mitchell—who is a valued supporter of the school—gave the commencement speech at the 5th grade graduation. He implored them to value the educational opportunities available to them and to find a way to make a difference in the world. He stated that today, “you have the right to be proud, you have the right to laugh, you have the right to cheer, and you have a right to clap, but remember to take that same emotion and enthusiasm with you to middle school and give it your best effort.”

Below are some photos of the graduations and student award presentations.

Teacher & Staff Appreciation Day at Southside Ashpole Elementary

As part of the 2019 National Teacher Appreciation Week, on Wednesday, May 8th, the Innovative School District (ISD) Superintendent LaTeesa Allen and the entire ISD team spent the day at Southside Ashpole Elementary in Rowland, NC. We wanted to express our appreciation for all the hard work and dedication exhibited by the staff throughout the school’s inaugural year as part of the ISD. A catered lunch was provided, and teachers and all support staff were presented with certificates of appreciation and a gift. They earned it and far more.

To the staff at Southside Elementary, THANK YOU for all that you do to help your students grow and achieve!

The pictures below will give you an idea of how the day went.


Making a Difference at Southside Ashpole Elementary! (Watch the videos)

Below are two videos that highlight what’s going on at the Innovative School District’s (ISD) inaugural school, Southside Ashpole Elementary in Rowland, NC.

In the first video, you’ll see how, after some initial trepidation, the local community embraced the partnership with the ISD. Through this partnership, work began to create the conditions necessary to increase student growth and achievement at the school.

 In the second video, the school director, educators and students talk about a what’s happening at the school. New attitudes and a focus on accelerating student growth are making a difference.

Seeking School Operators for the 2019-20 School Year – Notice of Intent to Apply

Seeking School Operators for the 2019-20 School Year

Notice of Intent to Apply

The North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD) is seeking proven* and credible* applicants to partner with our district and local communities to ensure strong outcomes for students in some of the state’s lowest performing schools.

The Notice of Intent to Apply is the first step in the ISD team’s planning process to ensure that we identify partner applicants with a strong commitment to the local communities we will be serving. If you have any questions regarding the process or timeline for applying, please email lateesa.allen@dpi.nc.gov or call 919-807-3435.

All prospective applicants for the North Carolina ISD must submit this Notice of Intent to Apply by 5:00 pm EST on October 12, 2018 via email to NCISD@dpi.nc.gov.

Instructions for submitting Notice of Intent to Apply

* Proven – “The entity has a record of results in improving performance of persistently low-performing schools or improving performance of a substantial number of persistently low-performing students within a school or schools operated by the entity in this State or other states.” NC Statute 115C-75.8

* Credible – “The entity has a credible and specific plan for dramatically improving students in a low-performing school.” NC Statute 115C-75.8

Learn more about being an Innovative School Operator

Schools Under Consideration for Transfer into the ISD for the 2019-20 School Year

1. Carver Heights Elementary – Wayne County Public Schools
2. Gaston Middle – Northampton County Schools
3. Hillcrest Elementary – Alamance Burlington Schools
4. Williford Elementary – Nash-Rocky Mount Schools

5. Fairview Elementary – Guilford County Schools
6. Hall-Woodward Elementary – Forsyth County Schools

Learn more about how schools qualify for consideration

Qualifying Schools Announced for Possible Inclusion in the NC Innovative School District


(Raleigh, NC)— Dr. Eric Hall, Deputy State Superintendent of Innovation and founding Superintendent of the North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD), announced today the names of the qualifying low-performing, schools in the state and those that will be considered for inclusion in the ISD for the 2019-20 school year. The qualifying list, which includes both rural and urban schools, is determined by school performance data provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Accountability Division.

Last year, 48 schools were on the qualifying list compared to 14 this year. Of the 14, six are rural schools and eight are urban schools. The number of low-performing districts—districts with over 50% of their school considered low-performing—decreased from 11 to seven. “These reductions show that school systems across the state are taking strategic steps to improve student growth and achievement in their district,” Dr. Hall commented. “It is important to note that schools that adopted one of the state’s established reform models were removed from the qualifying list. It is our hope that these interventions will be successful and lead to improved student outcomes,” Dr. Hall added.

The following criteria was used to identify qualifying schools:

  • School performance score was in the lowest 5% of all schools in the prior year (2017/2018 school year)
  • Includes all or part of grades K-5
  • Did not exceed growth in at least one of the prior three school years and did not meet growth in at least one of the prior three school years
  • Did not adopt one of the state’s established reform models for the immediate prior year

Qualifying (Low-Performing) Schools

  1. Ashley Academy – Forsyth County Schools
  2. Brogden Middle – Wayne County Public Schools
  3. Carver Heights Elementary – Wayne County Public Schools
  4. Eno Valley Elementary – Durham Public Schools
  5. Fairview Elementary – Guilford County Schools
  6. Forest Park Elementary – Forsyth County Schools
  7. Gaston Middle – Northampton County Schools
  8. Hall-Woodward Elementary – Forsyth County Schools
  9. Hillcrest Elementary – Alamance Burlington Schools
  10. Kimberly Park Elementary – Forsyth County Schools
  11. Renaissance West STEAM Academy – Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools
  12. Stocks Elementary – Edgecombe County Public Schools
  13. Vandalia Elementary – Guilford County Schools
  14. Williford ElementaryNash Rocky Mount Schools


The ISD narrowed down the list of 14 qualifying schools to a list of schools under final consideration by removing:

  • All schools rated as a “D” in the 2017-2018 school year
  • All schools rated “F” but met growth in 2017-2018
  • All schools who have met academic growth in both 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 and earned a “D” rating for those same years

Qualifying Schools Under Consideration for Transfer into the ISD


  1. Carver Heights Elementary – Wayne County Public Schools
  2. Gaston Middle – Northampton County Schools
  3. Hillcrest Elementary – Alamance Burlington Schools
  4. Williford Elementary – Nash-Rocky Mount Schools


  1. Fairview Elementary – Guilford County Schools
  2. Hall-Woodward Elementary – Forsyth County Schools

The ISD will now begin the task of selecting two to four schools for transfer into the ISD for the 2019-2020 school year. Dr. Hall explained, “Once we make final selections from the list of schools under consideration, we will begin partnering with local communities and districts to examine how we can work together to create innovative conditions that will help students improve their academic growth and achievement.” Additionally, the ISD superintendent will work with families and local partners to identify and match qualified operators to run the selected schools under contract with the State Board of Education for a period of five years. At the end of the contract, the schools will be transitioned back to the control and management of the local school district, unless other options are agreed upon by the local school board, the ISD Superintendent and approved by the State Board of Education.



About the NC Innovative School District (ISD)

Established in 2016 through legislation enacted to improve student outcomes in low-performing schools across North Carolina, the ISD works in partnership with local communities to design and implement strategies for school improvement, creating innovative conditions for accelerating student growth and achievement. For more information, visit www.innovativeschooldistrict.org.




Education Building MSC 6312

Raleigh, NC 27699-6312


The ISD – A Year in Review

This month marks one year since I started the journey to serve our state and local communities as the founding Superintendent of the North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD). As I reflect on the past twelve months, I marvel at the progress we’ve made. Last May, we took the first steps to transform legislation into an operational set of systems and processes for implementation in the real world. Today, we are partnering with an Innovative School Operator, planning for our inaugural school year, recruiting for a proven school leader, preparing to hold a career fair to hire teachers and support staff and engaging with thought partners to inform our work as a new statewide school district. It’s been a whirlwind of activity and a lot to navigate, but it’s also been immensely rewarding.

A year ago, when I was hired by the State Board of Education and joined the team at the Department of Public Instruction, I entered an environment that was both familiar and foreign. In my previous position as CEO of Communities In Schools of North Carolina, I was a strong partner with DPI so I came into this new role with existing relationships at the agency. At the same time, while transitioning into this work—that was not only new to me, but also for the state and the agency—a learning curve existed for me and others as we worked together to align and, in some cases, create systems and policies to accommodate the structure of the ISD. This undertaking occupied the first several months of work on the job and gave me, other members of the ISD team, DPI staff and our partners the opportunity—and challenge—to engage in experiential learning and develop new working relationships.

Fast-forward to the Fall of 2017 and the focus shifted. The ISD released its first set of qualifying low-performing schools at the September State Board of Education meeting. This list of 48 low-performing schools spanned 21 local school districts across the state.

Identifying the schools for potential inclusion into the ISD was one thing, announcing it publicly was another. The local school districts and communities with whom we were seeking to partner took note, considered the possible implications and engaged in public discourse. It was new and involved change, so naturally there was considerable debate. Ultimately, Southside Ashpole Elementary in Rowland, NC, a rural community in southern Robeson County, was unanimously approved by the state board and the local school board for transfer into the ISD.

Since our first meetings with the community, we’ve worked hard to establish and cultivate meaningful relationships with different stakeholders in Rowland. We’ve succeeded in building a broad base of support from community members in Rowland and surrounding Robeson County. While there is much to do, these relationships have set the stage for implementing authentic innovation that will help create conditions for improving student achievement, which is the ISD’s mission.

Positive and sustainable change starts at the local-level and empowers the community as the owners of that change. To that end, the ISD created a community advisory panel in Rowland comprised of members of the local school board, a county manager, the town mayor and town manager, a local faith leader, a parent from Southside Ashpole and the local district superintendent. Together, we’ve engaged in open and honest conversations, are working to craft a vision for the school and the local community, and building genuine trust based on shared goals.

As I have said repeatedly over this past year, the ISD is about partnerships. We are committed to improving the outcomes for students in low-preforming schools and we are reaching out and learning from others who are engaged in similar work across the nation. We want to discover what has worked, what hasn’t and how best to navigate the challenges and opportunities moving forward.

Overcoming Barriers to Student Success

Research indicates that students who are not reading on grade-level by the time they start 4th grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Minority students living in poverty and not reading on grade-level by the 4th grade are six times more likely to drop out. To compound that, data also shows that a disproportionate number of low-performing schools have higher than average impoverished and minority student populations. And, it is probably no surprise to learn that students who do graduate and yet continue to struggle in attaining critical core foundational skills in reading and math are at a tremendous disadvantage regarding future career opportunities. It is an urgent matter!

Based on 2017 data, of the over 2,600 public schools in North Carolina, 505 of them are currently designated as low-performing based on data from our state’s accountability system (that’s an increase of 16 schools since 2015-16 school year). Over a quarter of a million students are enrolled in these schools. Out of the 505 low-performing schools, 468 of them have been deemed low- performing for at least two out of the three most recent school years (that’s an increase of 53 schools since 2015-16 school year).

This means that roughly one out of every five schools in our state is classified as low-performing and does not meet expected student outcomes. Over the past few years, the number of low-performing schools has increased, which deepens the challenge facing students in our state who are already not performing at grade-level in reading and math. It’s a troubling trend that should concern everyone.

The barriers to success that exist at low-performing schools both inside and outside the classroom are not new, but we need new ways to confront them. More funding is often the refrain we hear when these issues are discussed, but history shows us that funding alone is not the solution. Yes, funding matters and investing in educator talent and leadership are key components of the positive change we need to bring, but simply putting more money into something without an accountable and evidence-based approach won’t change the trajectory of our schools. Since 2010, for example, over $140 million in federal School Improvement Grants have been invested in North Carolina’s low-performing schools with little impact on outcomes.

We can’t keep repeating and refueling failed strategies. Authentic innovation is needed so we can reimagine the possibilities in our schools. The legislation that created the ISD was put in place so we could engage in this conversation and explore new options for addressing the academic and non-academic barriers that impact student achievement in low-performing schools.

The flexibilities that the ISD has sets North Carolina apart from other states. We are a state-wide district charged with selecting and operating low-performing schools in coordination with the local community and engaged partners with a shared goal of improving student achievement and success. One of the key partners in the ISD initiative are the Innovative School Operators (ISOs) who serve under a 5-year contract with the State Board of Education to implement a plan and strategy for improving student achievement. An ISO could be a college, a local non-profit organization, a corporation, or even a proven school leader who is interested in launching their own entity to transform low-performing schools. The options for what an operator may be are broad, which enables the ISD to explore the possibilities and develop new strategies for each school engaged in this approach. We also have the flexibility to design a school transformation plan with an operator that is tailored for a specific school and community and can transform the circumstances that perpetuate low achievement in our schools.

Resources from Public Schools of North Carolina

Low-Performing School & District Plans

Additional Resources & Materials