The Innovative School District Is Not a Cure, But A Symptom of NC’s Attempt to Privatize Public Education

The following is from an essay that Mark Johnson wrote in September of 2016 toward the end of the political campaign that brought about his election and the subsequent takeover of DPI. It is from “Our American dream” published in

“We face this challenge here in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Despite the hard work of staff at Cook Elementary, the reading proficiency for third grade through fifth grade is only ten percent. If we followed the status quo political model, we would simply demand more money and keep doing everything the same.

But that’s not leadership.

Instead, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and tried to figure out new strategies to achieve different, better results. When school started in August, we became home to the new “Cook Literacy Model School.” This program offers more instructional hours, a longer school year, more focused literacy programing, insightful professional development for teachers, curriculum and testing flexibility, and much more robust community outreach.”

In this passage, Johnson is talking about as how part of the local school board (for a term he never finished), he and the local school system found a way to help one of its school in raising performance levels. Local school administrators researched ways to help their own and the local officials removed the obstacles.

Two years later, Johnson seems to have veered from that “hometown” perspective as a champion of the Innovative School District which has allowed a private company to run a public school, remove it from local control, and create a new status-quo with our state’s relationship with the charter school industry.

The following is a recent news post from Public School First:

On September 5, 2018 Dr. Eric Hall, Deputy State Superintendent of Innovation announced the names of the schools that will be considered for inclusion in the ISD for the 2019-20 school year. The schools selected include both urban and rural schools and are considered low-performing based on school performance data provided by the NCDPI.

The rural schools under consideration are:

Carver Heights Elementary – Wayne County Public SchoolsGaston Middle – Northampton County SchoolsHillcrest Elementary – Alamance Burlington Schools, and Williford Elementary – Nash-Rocky Mount Schools.

The urban schools under consideration are:

Fairview Elementary – Guilford County School and Hall-Woodward Elementary – Forsyth County Schools.

The ISD will select two to four schools from the six schools listed above. The ISD superintendent will then locate operators to run the selected schools. At the end of a five-year contract with the State Board of Education, the schools will be transitioned back to the control and management of the local school district, unless an alternative is agreed upon by the local school board, the ISD Superintendent and the State Board of Education” ( 

Funny how the school that Johnson highlighted in his campaign for creatively looking for ways to combat problems that actually exist outside of the classroom but affect student achievement is in the same district as one of the urban schools under consideration for a charter school takeover.

The home district of Mark Johnson.


There’s this malady that the state says some low-performing public schools have – low test scores. Now, the powers that be in the North Carolina General Assembly and the state superintendent automatically assume that they have the remedy – pour money into a “cure” that allows for some private business to profit when there are home-grown remedies that have proven more effective.

But what is ironic here is that the malady the state is trying to “cure” is actually a condition of its own creation. The poverty levels, socio-economic factors, the ever-changing standards for school achievement, and a rigged school performance grading system all helped to incubate this supposed sickness.

And maybe it is better that the people who know the malady best, educators and community members, have a say in how it is dealt with – kind of like the local people of Cook Elementary School finding ways to help their students.

North Carolina’s public school system already has remedies that have proven effective in turning around schools without bringing outside entities that really just want to profit.

Besides, the Innovative School District idea had never worked in other places. Just look at Tennessee’s Achievement School District.