School Selection Process

Consideration for the ISD is initiated by the ISD Superintendent, upon an annual review of school performance data.

  • School performance score in the lowest 5% of all schools in the prior 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 established reform models for the immediate prior year
  • Must include both rural and urban schools
  • Cannot engage more than one school from a single LEA

Final List of Schools Under Consideration

  • Schools that currently receive funding through federal School Improvement Grants were removed from consideration.
  • All schools rated as a “D” in the 2016-2017 school year were removed.
  • All schools rated “F” who met growth in 2016-2017 were also removed.
  • All schools who have met academic growth in both 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 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.

In this phase, the ISD superintendent engages with the local district superintendent of a qualifying school followed by meetings with:

  • Parents/families and local communities
  • Local school principal and team
  • Local school board
  • Local county commissioners
  • In addition, the ISD superintendent and ISD team completes an evaluation of qualifying schools under consideration to support the final selection process.
  • The ISD superintendent makes a final selection of recommended ISD schools by October 15 for the State Board of Education’s final approval by December 15.
  • Qualified Innovative School Operators (ISOs) are evaluated for consideration in operating a selected ISD school. Final candidate ISO partners present to the local school board and community their goals for partnering and operating the ISD school for the next 5 years. SBE approval of a qualified operator must be made between January 15 and February 15.
  • Local school boards of identified ISD schools have until February 1st to either adopt a resolution transferring the school to the ISD or a resolution to close the school.

During this phase, the local school district and the ISD team work to establish final protocols and plans for:

  • Transfer of the school to the ISD
  • Development of contracts and agreements
  • Design and implementation planning for the launch of a local Innovation Zone (if requested by the local school board, recommended by the ISD superintendent and approved by the SBE)

Elements of Partnership & Operations

  • Transportation to be provided by local school district
  • Direct management by IS operator for a five-year contract (possible 3-year extension)
  • IS operator authorized to have direct role in making decisions about:
    • school finance
    • human capital
    • curriculum and instruction while developing the leadership capacity in such schools
  • Shall remain open to enrollment in the same manner with the same attendance zone as prior to becoming an innovative school
  • Facility and capital expenditures – Local BOE shall be responsible for facility and capital expenditures. IS operator and local BOE shall enter into an occupancy agreement establishing terms of occupancy for the IS operator
  • In consultation with ISD Superintendent, IS operator may elect to enter into a memorandum of understanding for alternative arrangements with the local BOE to address:
    • Facility and capital expenditures
    • Transportation services
    • Services for Children with Disabilities
  • The ISO shall select and hire the principal of the school
  • All other personnel retained at the school shall be employees of the ISD (selection based on feedback from the ISO and ISD Superintendent)
  • Employees shall be eligible for enrollment in the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System of NC and other benefits available to State employees
  • IS operator shall provide funds to the ISD in an amount sufficient to provide salary and benefits for employees of the ISD working in the innovative school based on the terms of the employment established by the IS operator

All contracts and agreements are signed and enacted between all parties. School personnel, leaders and I-Zone staff are identified and hired to operate the schools.

The ISD, the selected and approved Innovative School Operator (ISO), and the local district are collaborating towards the full operation of the Innovative School and Innovation Zone (as applicable). This would include identification and partnership with other local organizations, community leaders and parents/families to ensure strong engagement in the effective operation of the schools.

Innovative Schools (as operated by ISO) and Innovation Zones are engaged as partners for a minimum of 5 years, with an option to operate an additional 3 years if student and school outcomes are improving.

During the final year of operation under the ISD, the team engages in a process for effectively returning the school to the control and management of the local district.

  • This transition planning process will include:
  • Analysis of data and outcomes for students at the school
  • Assessment of teacher and school leader performance over the previous four-year period
  • Parent engagement and education activities on the transition through forums and open-house style events
  • Personnel transition plans (back to the district or other options)

Transition Phase Outcome

Transition the ISD school back to the local district or the school may be closed if the local school board elects not to receive the school back into the local district

Innovative school operator may apply to convert the school to a charter school if the local school board elects not to receive the school back into the local district


  • Strong focus and engagement in the development of the Innovation Zone model
  • Commitment to research and evaluation (5-year evaluation of the ISD)
  • Dedicated processes and practices focused on the use of research and emerging evidence on effective school improvement
  • Creating a statewide and local network of partners engaged in the work of the ISD, the Innovation Zones and our state’s ongoing efforts for continuous improvement in education