State education officials have notified local school superintendents across the state about the need to improve low-performing schools in their system or run the risk of having those schools taken over by an outside charter school operator.

State officials have identified 69 low-performing schools across the state as candidates for inclusion in state’s Innovative School District.

Iredell-Statesville Schools has one school, N.B. Mills Elementary, on that list.

The State Board of Education will select one of the low-performing schools this year to be taken over and included in the Innovative School District. The charter operator would have full control of that school, including all personnel decisions.

But district administrators remain confident that N.B. Mills will not be taken over by the state.

According to I-SS Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Melanie Taylor, the lowest 5 percent of the schools in state are on the list of 69 low-performing schools. They have a composite grade/score between 25 and 40.

N.B. Mills is on the upper end of that list with a score of 37.

Restart Schools

N.B. Mills is one of four low-performing schools in I-SS. The others are Statesville High, Statesville Middle and Troutman Middle; they did not make the state’s watch list.

Two years ago the I-SS school board designated those four schools as Restart schools, giving school administrators charter-like flexibility to implement strategies designed to improve student performance.

Under the Restart model, the first year is for planning and the second year is about implementation. The district’s Restart schools are now in year two.

“We’re taking our Restart plan very seriously and the staff (at N.B. Mills) is working very hard to raise achievement there,” Superintendent Brady Johnson said. “Some people have misconstrued what was actually said. They are one of 69 schools that qualify this year. N.B. will not be the one school that gets added to the Innovative School District.”

N.B. Mills Grade-Level Data

N.B. Mills Principal Sheliah Burnette said the formula for determining school grades is part of the issue. She believes grades should be based on 50 percent proficiency and 50 percent growth.

At the moment, the grades are based on an 80 percent proficiency and 20 percent growth.

N.B. Mills’ letter graded went down in the most recent N.C. Report Card despite the fact that students improved in most academic measures, Burnette said.

The principal shared some of the school’s successes and opportunities for improvement:

♦ Third-graders showed a 7.54 percent increase in English Language Arts and a 4.59 percent increase in math during the 2018-2019 school year over the 2017-2018 school year.

Fourth-grade students saw a 1.13 percent increase during the 2018-2019 school year in English Language Arts over the 2017-2018 school year. She said the students also made growth, which is a big deal.

Fourth-graders saw a 6.34 percent decrease in math during the 2018-2019 year over the 2017-2018 year.

Fifth-grade showed a 15.79 percent decrease in math the 2018-2019 over the 2017-2018 school year.

Next Steps

Burnette said teachers and staff will continue to focus on the Houses initiative, which is meant to help instill a sense of family, pride and accountability. It is based on the Ron Clark Academy teaching model.

Another important piece for the school is continuing to address socio-emotional needs with morning meetings in the first 30 to 45 minutes before instruction takes place.

Burnette and her leadership team will continue to focus on teacher capacity, including teacher content knowledge, effective instructional strategies and instructional planning.

The principal said that almost 25 percent of the kids who are at N.B. Mills in August will rotate out of the school and be replaced by another batch of kids because there is so much turmoil in those families during the school year. 

Superintendent Johnson said the data brings to light another real challenge for teachers and administrators: the learning gap.

“The learning gap is real and is impacted by your socio-economic status. If you are cold, hungry and conflicted it impacts your ability to learn. That’s what we have been saying for a couple of years. There are some other issues that have to be addressed before those children can be successful,” he said.