Board members voted to give preliminary full accreditation status to Lincoln County Schools, based on a recommendation from Gus Penix, director of the Office of Education Performance Audits.
Penix's office will conduct a full audit this fall, and if the report is favorable, then Lincoln County can be moved to full autonomy.
In late 2010, the state returned numerous powers back to Lincoln County, which had been under state control since 2000. Last year, the state board learned of allegations that Lincoln County school board members tried to influence the local superintendent's hiring actions, which prompted continued oversight by Penix's office. The school system had previously been under "provisional oversight."
In Wayne County, three schools have been under scrutiny by the state board for habitually low performance: Fort Gay Elementary, East Lynn Elementary and Wayne Middle.
Penix said that Fort Gay had corrected all deficiencies, and thus should be moved back to full accreditation. However, the other two schools were still failing.
"Unfortunately, this school has slipped further," Penix said of East Lynn.
Among eight deficiencies his office had previously found at East Lynn, only three had been corrected. If the remaining deficiencies are not corrected by January 2013, the school will drop to "low performance" status.
Deficiencies can include ineffective instruction methods and lack of communication between the administration and teachers, both of which East Lynn faces.
"In the second grade class, the atmosphere is very negative," Penix said. "The [OEPA] team did not observe positive comments."
Wayne County Schools Director of Elementary Schools Deborah Russell said that East Lynn is working to remedy the deficiencies, but it faces issues outside the school as well. Russell had previously been principal at Wayne Elementary, which had received several awards for academic excellence during her tenure.
"There are lots of problems at that school," she said.
East Lynn is in a lower-income part of Wayne County, and also has a high number of "transient" (i.e. foster care) students. The school has also has a large turnover, with half of the staff leaving in the last five years, Russell said.
The school board noted there may need to be a different approach to correcting East Lynn's problems.
"We certainly don't want to do the same thing as this year ... and expect the same result," said board member Gayle Manchin. "A lot of these issues reach beyond the school door."
To make matters worse, East Lynn Elementary feeds into Wayne Middle, which has not met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two years. Penix said Wayne Middle originally had deficiencies in five areas and all but two have been corrected: instruction issues and problems in counseling services.
At Wayne, there are also 38 classes identified as "math and reading skills" that have no content objectives and are often used as study halls.
"Students can work if they want to, but are not required," Penix said.
As a result, the board decided to keep the schools under strong watch from the state, but the state will not take over the schools - yet.
"We're running more counties than we want to right now," board member Lloyd Jackson. "Right now, we need to make sure we don't pick up counties."