This op-ed originally appeared in the Greensboro News & Record.

At last week’s State Board of Education meeting, Eric Hall officially announced the North Carolina Innovative School District, which he will lead as its first superintendent.

With this launch, North Carolina added a tool to provide educational equity for all children. We at NorthCarolinaCAN are excited to partner with Dr. Hall, as well as the parents, educators and community members who care deeply about their children and schools. Working together, we will ensure the ISD is successful in fulfilling its mission of dramatically improving student achievement across the state.

The Innovative School District will increase our state’s capacity to provide a quality education in some of our lowest-performing schools serving some of our neediest kids. We all agree a child’s future shouldn’t be dictated by geography, race or family income.

Access to a high-quality education is every child’s right, and we envision a North Carolina where this can be a reality. However, to bring that vision to life, we must embrace innovative new approaches to schooling, administration and teaching.

A child born into poverty today likely will stay there into adulthood. Fewer than one-third of low-income children in our state will find a path to middle-class prosperity in their lifetimes, ranking North Carolina among the toughest places in the country to achieve economic mobility. While we’ve tried many policies and programs to reverse that trend, our students suffer from perpetual cycles of poverty and schools continue to systematically fail entire generations of children.

There is no one explanation for these problems, nor is there a single solution. Those looking for a single innovation to act as a “magic bullet” won’t find it. This is a community problem and it will take our collective efforts as a community to fix it. To truly improve our educational system, we must continue to be innovative and take a more holistic approach that bridges communities and classrooms. A system that embraces equity and builds capacity to make sure that all children come to school ready to learn will give students the best opportunity to succeed in 21st-century careers.

The state’s newest innovation is the ISD, which was created to improve student and school outcomes in low-performing districts. It will do so by inviting school districts and communities into a collaborative partnership through the creation of two innovative models: Innovative Schools and Innovation Zones. A small number of low-performing schools will become Innovative Schools with additional flexibility to engage new practices designed to promote student achievement, and local school districts where an Innovative School is located will be given the opportunity to form an “I-Zone” — a group of low-performing schools that will be granted similar flexibility to create opportunities for broader, systemic change across campuses and grade levels. We are excited to engage with parents and community leaders to ensure that schools that have been chronically failing will receive the support, flexibility and resources they need to quickly and dramatically improve student achievement.

We need a willingness — if not an eagerness — to embrace a wide range of innovative methods, working in tandem with one another to build the capacity necessary to provide the excellent education every child deserves. We must all work together to build effective educational solutions that will bring communities together and propel students forward.

The ISD is not the only solution to curing our ailing school system, but it is a crucial part of our broader vision of success and one way to return hope to the students attending some of the state’s lowest-performing schools.


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