Frequently Asked Questions


In 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly established in law a new school district, created to improve student outcomes in low-performing schools across the state. The North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD) will partner with local communities to design and implement strategies for school improvement, creating innovative conditions for accelerating student achievement.

The ISD will oversee the transfer and operation of five of the state’s lowest-performing public elementary schools and put them under the management of qualified Innovative School Operator (ISO), The school(s) will be selected and transferred to the ISD beginning in the 2018-2019 school year and the final group of schools will be selected and transferred to the ISD by the 2019-2020 school year. The ISD consists of two primary interventions – Innovative Schools and Innovation Zones.

These are schools that have been identified by the state as low-performing schools and have been approved by the State Board of Education to be operated under the ISD by an ISO. These partners will work under contract for five years, with performance expectations that must be met annually. At the end of the contract, the school shall be transitioned back to the control and management of the local school district, unless other options are agreed upon by the local school board and the ISD Superintendent, and approved by the State Board of Education.

If a local school district partners with the ISD for the transfer of a low-performing school for operation as an Innovative School, that district may apply and be considered for the creation of a locally controlled Innovation Zone (I-Zone). The I-Zone is a strategy that provides a group of low-performing schools within a local district the opportunity to benefit from additional flexibilities, often aligned with those provided to charter schools in the state. These zones and their schools are established and managed by a separate division in the local district, using matching funds from the state. This local I-Zone office will be managed by a proven educational leader and support team, employed by the local school district, solely focused on the improvement of these schools.

School Selection Process

Schools were using the following criteria:

  • Schools that earned an overall school performance score in the lowest five percent (5%) of all schools in the state in the prior school year and
  • Include all or part of grades K-5 and
  • 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 and
  • Did not adopt one of the established reform models in state statute in the immediate prior school year

The following criteria is used to narrow the list of qualifying schools:

  • Schools that currently receive funding through federal School Improvement Grants were removed from consideration
  • The ISD then removed all schools rated as a “D” in the prior school year 
  • The next step was to remove all schools rated “F” who met growth in the prior school year
  • Then all schools who have met academic growth in the prior two school years and earned a “D” rating for those same years were removed
  • All schools that are in a district with less than 35 percent of their schools designated as low performing were removed

Per the state statute, each district can only have one school included in the ISD for a five-year period. This means that a local school district could not have more than one school selected to operate as a part of the ISD, unless the local school board requested other schools for consideration.

The State Board of Education will select the schools based on the recommendations of the ISD Superintendent.

Transfer & Operational Processes - ISD Schools & I-Zones

No, this is a time-limited state-level intervention and partnership between the ISD and the local school district. It equates to a short-term transfer of a selected school to the ISD to support the operational and instructional needs of the school for a period of five years. This partnership will also allow additional flexibilities, via an Innovation Zone (I-Zone), to benefit other low-performing schools that remain under management by the local school district.

The Innovative Schools will be operated by a qualified ISO with proven experience in achieving strong student outcomes. The Innovative Schools will continue to be operated in the existing school facility, under the same local school name with many of the same features parents have come to know and appreciate in their current school. The primary difference will be the ability of the contracted ISO to design and deliver innovative learning opportunities for students in a manner that promotes improved student achievement. This may be the adoption of new teaching strategies, learning programs and/or other options that are proven effective for accelerating student outcomes.

External evaluators will examine the applications of potential operators and analyze the organization’s strategies, how those strategies align with the comprehensive needs assessments of the schools, and the success of previous projects. Local perspectives will also be considered to ensure the applicant is the right fit for students, parents, the community and local district partners.

The state statute does not specify a requirement for either a for-profit or a non-profit.  Operator applications are open to both non-profit and for-profit providers.

The ISD seeks partners that understand and have experience in addressing both the academic and non-academic barriers that impact student achievement in low-performing schools. A partner, i.e., an Innovative School Operator (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.

By general statute, an ISO or “entity” falls into two categories:

  1. 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.
  2. The entity has a credible and specific plan for dramatically improving student achievement in a low-performing school and provides evidence that the entity, or a contractual affiliate of such an entity, is either currently operating a school or schools in this State that provide students a sound, basic education or demonstrating consistent and substantial growth toward providing students a sound, basic education in the prior three school years.

Once a school is selected and approved for operation under the ISD by the State Board of Education, the local school board has two options to consider:

  1. Approve the school for transfer into the ISD
  2. Close the school and transfer the students into other district schools

Yes, if the schools meet the outlined criteria for qualifying ISD schools.

Operational control of the schools selected for the ISD, including staffing decisions, instruction and other educational matters, will be operated under the selected ISO and monitored by the ISD. The students will continue to benefit from the same school services including the same building, equipment, transportation and meal offerings.

Per the state statute, all staff will be interviewed by the ISD and the selected ISO partner with the goal of identifying and hiring the best possible team for the students in the school.

The ISD will monitor student and school outcomes.  The selected school will continue to be measured per the existing state accountability system, with a school grade assigned each year like all other public schools.

While we expect the academic outcomes of the students to improve, the school colors, mascot, meals, equipment, buildings and transportation are all expected to remain the same. The goal is to maintain a strong focus on the history and values of the schools, and their unique position in the community.