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State takes direct role in Halifax County Schools

By LANCE MARTIN

rrspin.com

HALIFAX – The chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education on Monday sent a strongly worded letter to the Halifax County Board of Education saying it will immediately take a more direct role in the district’s budget, employment decisions and student course assignment decisions.

The letter, signed by William B. Cobey Jr., says he is “writing, once again, out of the utmost concern for the children of Halifax County Schools.”

The letter says the state board “is united in its resolve to assist students of HCS to receive the opportunity for a sound, basic education. With the start of the 2015-2016 school year a few days away, it is clear that the HCS board and leadership are unable or unwilling to make sound financial decisions in order to sustain a financially viable school district. To our dismay, irresponsible decisions by the HCS Board signal a failure to cooperate with the recommendations by the SBE’s designees.”

The letter notes in 2009, after years of chronic poor academic performance, the county agreed to comply with a court order in which it would fully cooperate with the state board to improve educational opportunities and provide all students with the equal opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education. The letter also notes the school system was to independently exercise its judicial functions and to appear and testify at any future hearing in the case involving the court for not taking action or voting against any proposals endorsed by the state board or its designees.

It is the second strongly worded letter to the school system written by Cobey since one sent in 2013.

In a news release on the matter, the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction says the state stressed it is acting on behalf of the students in the district to support their quality education.

“We are concerned that the Halifax Board is making decisions that are unaffordable and that undermine the many quality teachers and principals who are trying to make a difference for students,” Cobey said in the news release.

Since 2009, the state has placed employees of its District and School Transformation division in the schools and central office in Halifax County to support better instruction for students and to guide policy decisions that matter the most. This activity has provided hands-on teacher support – with DPI staff often working side-by-side in classrooms — and principal and central office coaches to improve professionalism and decision-making.

Cobey’s letter says the school system must do the following:

Submit the Halifax budget for detailed review by the State Board of Education or its designees;

Require all employment actions to be approved by the SBE or designees; and

Require the district enroll middle and high school students in the state Virtual Public School when there is not a licensed teacher employed to teach a course required for high school graduation.

“These three directives will address concerns about unsustainable financial commitments that the Halifax Board has made, poor personnel decisions and poor instructional decisions that shortchange student learning,” the news release said.

Halifax County Schools Superintendent Elease Frederick said she and her staff have been working with DPI all along on issues such as personnel hiring in an effort to decide on recommendations. But Frederick is only able to make recommendations to the Halifax Board, which then has the final say.

(Lance Martin is Editor and Publisher of www.rrspin.com. This story is reprinted with his permission.)