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Robeson May 14 letter

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May 14 letter from Robeson to State Board

Published in: Education
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Robeson May 14 letter

  1. 1. 1 Public Schools of Robeson County Post Office Drawer 2909 Lumberton, North Carolina 28359 (910) 671-6000 Fax (910) 671-6024 Public Schools of Robeson County Post Office Drawer 2909 Lumberton, North Carolina 28359 (910) 671-6000 Office of the Superintendent May 14, 2019 Mr. Eric Davis, Chairman North Carolina State Board of Education 301 North Wilmington Street, Room 212 6302 Mail Service Center Raleigh, NC 27699-6302 Chairman Davis, I write to you today as a concerned citizen of Robeson County, Public Schools of Robeson County graduate, future parent of a child who will hopefully be attending the Public Schools of Robeson County, but most importantly, Superintendent. As I reflect on my professional career, I must acknowledge that the Public Schools of Robeson County has much to celebrate and be proud of. During my tenure, I am proud to say I have worked with a highly talented staff at the central office and in our schools. The district has instructional leaders and innovative educators who are challenging the status quo. My interactions with administrators, teachers, and staff members demonstrate time and time again that an incredible number and array of educators and stakeholders have accepted the challenges of preparing our students for their future, not our present. We have expanded networks and increased engagement with stakeholders that bring new voices to transformation initiatives we are attempting to implement. Despite budget cuts, potential school closures, looming staff reductions and a worsening political environment, employees have remained committed to, and focused on, overcoming the challenges facing education in our untrusting, wounded and divided community. Over the past two years, data shows students are showing progress, however, the school board has become an obstacle to further improvement. Sabotage of the district image and financial management, along with micromanagement by board members, continues and seems to be worsening. The superintendent and board members’ contentious relationship and differing leadership philosophies have hindered the district/school improvement process. The issues between the school board and senior leadership have distracted the staff and students in the district. Ego-driven conflict at the top has slowed our progress. The resulting turmoil is jeopardizing the orderly administration of public education in Robeson County. The underlying issues centered on power and control continue to manifest and serve as a major distraction to our most important focus; improving teaching and learning, inspiring excellence, building character, and impacting the future through academics, arts, and athletics. The split and fractured board must focus on reconciliation. If they decide against this, the split board will continue to undermine any superintendent’s authority, erode public confidence in the district and make long-range planning difficult. It will be virtually impossible to accomplish our board-approved strategic goals. It is my belief that we can do better with direct guidance, assistance and support from the North Carolina State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction. Without direct intervention, with adult issues in Robeson County, we will not be able to sustain the progress we have worked hard to achieve. It is evident that local governance and systems, needed to move the system forward, are not in place within the Public Schools of Robeson County. The constant interference from board members creates an unstable environment and morale is worsening at an alarming rate. The board has
  2. 2. 2 difficulty distinguishing the role of making policy versus giving individual directives to district and school employees. Furthermore, the Public Schools of Robeson County is facing an extreme financial crisis. Insurance money from recent hurricanes is being used to continue daily operations. Also, student enrollment has declined, funding from the state has decreased and the flexibility to transfer funds has been taken away. I am deeply concerned that the Public Schools of Robeson County Board is making decisions that are unaffordable and undermine the many quality teachers, principals and central office employees who are trying to make a difference for students. The board of education is unable and/or unwilling to make sound financial decisions in order to sustain a financially viable school district. Rapid, politically motivated changes, which bring self-gratification to only a few who thrive on power, must cease immediately. The district simply cannot sustain itself at the current level of spending. Sound financial decisions to sustain a financially viable school district are not being made despite the dilapidated facilities, environmental concerns, and safety issues evident in our schools. The poor state of some local school facilities—which, in North Carolina, are traditionally funded by local governments and not the state—contributes to a system that deprives some of a “sound basic education”. The focus of the board continues to be new capital projects/improvements despite warnings from the County’s local government/administration to eliminate or drastically reduce capital spending. The board refuses to develop and/or adhere to any prioritized list of needs and politics continually influence decisions made by board members. The Public Schools of Robeson County has chronically been known across the state for its poor academic performance and has received repeated warnings and recommendations from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction that have not been followed. As a result, we currently have a corrective action plan pertaining to our exceptional children program and are working to correct all deficiencies. We will do the same if other corrective action plans are developed from audits of current programs and departments. The district is in dire need. We are requesting that the State Board of Education take a direct role in the district’s budget, employment decisions, and capital projects. Without the necessary interventions, the continued instability will make it difficult for the Public Schools of Robeson County to meet its goals. Additionally, we are asking for the North Carolina State Board of Education to assist with district improvement planning. This would include identifying deficiencies and outlining strategies to bolster achievement. The district improvement plan may address financial, management, and instructional practices, as well as assist with the development of specific academic goals. We are asking for technical assistance from a team of experts who can assist with monitoring and offer recommendations on improvement efforts along with helping train district and school personnel. Our schools have resources, however, there is little autonomy, which limits the flexibility in the strategies used by staff to help such schools execute needed improvements. While I am committed to improving the Public Schools of Robeson County, I am concerned that we do not have the expertise or capacity to make strategic moves to facilitate change. Without direct intervention, it will continue to be difficult to foster school reform or change initiatives. A mechanism for monitoring, free of reprisal, is needed to determine progress and effectiveness. Monitoring with fidelity and reliable program evaluations will guide the support and technical assistance aimed at improving student achievement. Our goal is simple. Sustained improvement. Once this occurs, local control may be reestablished by returning the district to the control of the local board and superintendent. Providing a high quality education to our students is far too important to the future of our county and state to wait for an extensive bureaucratic process or to allow resistance from adults who would like to maintain the unacceptable status quo. I welcome a review by the State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction or Courts, but will continue to use any and all tools at my disposal to ensure that we are providing every student the opportunities needed to be successful. I have remained committed
  3. 3. 3 to transparency and will continue to do so in the future. I will have open and honest communication with those I serve. Because of that commitment, I am compelled to submit this letter to prevent the disclosure of inaccurate, misleading and incomplete information to the public. Sending this request for assistance is a bold and necessary action to make sure the board and I are fulfilling our statutorily defined roles and working together for the benefit of all students. The children in Robeson County deserve an opportunity to learn and we, in the Public Schools of Robeson County, have a moral responsibility to provide a quality education for all of our students. We must return our focus on the single most important task; the education of the students of Robeson County. The time for action is now. Respectfully submitted, Dr. Shanita W. Wooten Superintendent cc: Mr. Mark Johnson, State Superintendent Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin, Deputy State Superintendent Attorney Eric Snider, Agency General Counsel (State Board of Education) Alexis Schauss, Chief School Business Officer Sherry H. Thomas, Director Exceptional Children Division Deanna Townsend-Smith, Director of Operations and Policy Dr. Ben Matthews, Director of School Planning Section (School Operations Division)

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