Column: Schools must fast forward to the future

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 15, 2006

By Bryce P. Beard

Special to the Post

In my first six months on the Rowan-Salisbury School Board, I was trying to learn the job. My only agenda or objective was to learn how things worked. I chose to be a careful listener and observer. Early in the process, I saw there wasn’t a “master plan” for carrying out the stated goals of our system. For example, we said we wanted to “maximize learning for maximized success,” and wanted to be “one of the best school systems in America.” But in conflict with these high and mighty goals, we were not addressing our poor test scores.

The answer given for low test scores under the difficult No Child Left Behind mandate was “RSS is no different than the rest. All LEAs (school systems) in the state are having problems.” At that time, we were 3 percent below the state average and our staff showed little concern that all our middle schools were failing to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP), and annually only one or two high schools met AYP standards. These past numbers and non-productive attitudes were of grave concern to a majority of the board.

There was no protocol to prescribe and monitor curriculum and instruction within our school system. We need an accountability system that will measure progress and enable schools, through better data systems, to share “best practices.” The fact was our school system was heading for a train wreck in the world of test scores. Over a year ago, the board began to look at a plan of our own corrective action.

With initial support from Linda Freeze, and later from Sharon Deal, Kyle Huffman and Kay Norman, I looked into the possibility of Dr. Judy Grissom returning to Rowan-Salisbury as our academic leader. After checking multiple references and talking with Dr. Grissom, the board gave me the official directive to actively recruit Dr. Grissom as our new superintendent. It was the hope of the board that we could get her here by the first of April. This would effect a seamless transition in leadership in time for budget talks with the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

We succeeded. Since that time, the atmosphere and morale of not only the central office staff, but also the teachers and principals who guide the daily learning of our students, have improved.

By April 2006, the board desperately needed to redevelop trust with the Rowan County Commission. Dr. Grissom’s contributions were vital in that successful budget process. These timely efforts resulted in per-pupil funding at the state average for the first time in four years. This increase in funding was critical to allow us to provide some of the missing elements our system needed to address poor test scores that were being generated by some of our “at risk” subgroups.

On Monday night, Dr. Grissom, along with Alesia Burnette, our new director of school improvement, presented AYP report results detailing our decreasing test scores. Our new staff has the knowledge, determination and courage to take ownership of our problems and present the district with a plan aimed at getting back on track. The centerpiece of this plan is the system-wide adoption of the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, including following a comprehensive tracking guide.

We expect to turn things around this year and build momentum going forward for years to come. It will not happen overnight, but positive signs of improvement should become evident in the near future.

The No Child Left Behind mandates have many flaws, but not succeeding to meet those standards will have serious consequences for our school system. Looking deep within ourselves to understand the crossroad we faced, the 2005-06 board made tremendous changes, and dramatic change is difficult for people to accept. Hope is not a strategy. For lack of progress to be replaced with progress, change must happen. For problems to be replaced with opportunity, change is essential.

We have brought about positive change. I appreciate the opportunity to see students and staff through a complete year of improvement under Dr. Grissom’s leadership. I desire, more than anything else, to leave the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education knowing that we will achieve our goals, and that these goals are appropriate to our mission.

Our “new” board has deep experience in and commitment to education. All board members are excited about the opportunity to work with Dr. Grissom. The recent test scores are a component of the past. This board and superintendent take full ownership of the future. Please judge us upon our progress from this point forward.

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Bryce P. Beard is chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.