The State Superintendent, Robeson County, and the Innovative School District

The special session of the GOP-controlled North Carolina General Assembly that convened last December was nothing but a power-grab for a party that had lost control of the governor’s mansion. One of the most egregious acts was HB17 which transferred significant powers from the State Board of Education to the newly elected state superintendent Mark Johnson.

It was called HB17.

Granted, Johnson was elected with the understanding that his powers and scope of office would be the same as stipulated for previous state superintendents. But what HB17 did was seismic.

Two of the items in the HB17 power grab involved the Achievement School District. As WRAL reported after HB17 was passed:

The power struggle between the State Board and Johnson is still locked up in court, but Johnson has commented that he believes that what HB17 gives him is rightful and just.

Just a few days ago in response to the recent continuance of the stay of power in the court battle, Johnson stated,

“Chairman Cobey and Vice Chair Collins are vigorously defending the status quo for our education system at the expense of students, educators, and taxpayers,” Johnson said. “I am confident I will eventually be able to lead the positive transformation for our schools that the people of North Carolina voted for over 10 months ago” (

Apparently, Johnson welcomes a chance to lead the ASD (now the Innovative School District). That “ISD” has actually chosen its first school in Robeson County. While Johnson himself did not choose the new superintendent, Eric Hall, he did endorse his hiring and he certainly has endorsed the ISD.


However, the people in Robeson County seem to be against a takeover of their school. Billy Ball’s recent report in NC Policy Watch gives voice to many in Robeson County who are not very welcoming to the idea of a takeover. Some excerpts of Ball’s report include:

Members of the county’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education unanimously approved a joint resolution Monday night opposing Southside-Ashpole’s selection for the state’s Innovative School District (ISD), which could allow charter or education management organizations—including, possibly, for-profit groups—to seize control of operations and staffing in hopes of turning around lagging test scores…

District leaders say they plan to spend more than $50 million on construction after Hurricane Matthew left extensive damage to seven Robeson schools and flooded the district’s central office in 2016.

Wilkins-Chavis said state leaders were not considering the district’s hardships when they chose Southside-Ashpole for the ISD…

Southside-Ashpole earned “F” scores in reading and math and did not meet growth expectations in 2016-2017, according to state data, although, like many of those schools eyed for the takeover district, it’s located in a high-poverty community.

Roughly 30 percent of the county’s population is considered impoverished, according to Census data. Children from low-income families tend to lag their more affluent peers in academic performance (

Johnson has more than implicitly and explicitly indicated that he champions what the ISD stands for and is doing. He also wants to be in charge of its overall function. Johnson has also preached transparency and open communication.

Maybe Mark Johnson should be willing to go down to Lumberton and “convince” them to accept the ISD takeover. If he is going to be the leader of the public schools and lead them in new innovative directions, he should not only have to defend those measures but explain them well to the very people who had no choice in being selected for the ISD.

Maybe Johnson should stand up in front of all of those and explain how an ISD will help their school when other models of the ASD have proven to be absolutely horrific like it is explained here:

Maybe Johnson should stand up on front of those people and try to explain to them that in an area that is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, has a high poverty rate, and experiences higher than average transient rates, people should trust bureaucrats in Raleigh who have not been of great help so far with their children’s well-being outside of the classroom.

Then afterwards, Johnson should explain how a state takeover with the potential of a for-profit charter chain to seize control of a local school aligns with his mantra of local control during his campaign.

But it might be worth just witnessing this chance meeting between the man who wants to control the entire public school system without any real checks or balances and be asked a question from a parent which requires the very things that Johnson never offers: specifics and details.

Keep fighting, Robeson.

One thought on “The State Superintendent, Robeson County, and the Innovative School District

  1. It is important for the Robeson parents to know that they do have a real choice in how their children will be educated. They need to also know that the idea of a state takeover diminishes their choice and it is being forced. They have the choice of attending other schools in their county as the Board allows. If this is a Title I school then parents have more power than they think in this hostile corporate takeover. All surrounding counties need to be a part of this fight in NC. If they do it to one school then they will eventually come to another county. Robeson parents need to take a look at what happened in New Orleans and see how charter schools have not performed according to what their charter proposals promised. Education is a Right! We must Fight! Fight! Fight! I doubt if our state superintendent can convince the families that this will be a good experiment for their children. If these families are Black and poor then the takeover could be considered racist in nature. Parents can really choose not to be a part of this experiment.


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