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Superintendent's view: In first eight months, system is changing

By Dr. Judy S. Grissom

Special to the Salisbury Post

During the last few weeks, there have been numerous articles about the Rowan-Salisbury School System being in corrective action for not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) as a district as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Although this information is factual and is of concern, AYP is not the only means for evaluating how well a school system is performing.

School systems are also judged on: (1) proficiency levels of their students in multiple contents, (2) the percentage of high school graduates and dropouts, (3) SAT scores, (4) number of discipline referrals and suspensions, (5) teacher working conditions, (6) cultural achievements and (7) athletic accomplishments.

As a school system, I believe all of us recognize that we are not where we would like to be in student achievement. As I reflect on the eight months that I have been a part of the school system, I have observed that our employees have not been sitting idly by and wringing their hands. Our schools are working hard to meet the multiple needs of our students and realize the complexities of how we are judged by the public and the media.

Many very positive things have been happening in the school system and are continuing to happen. There are excellent teachers, classified employees and administrators who are dedicated and work every single day to put children first.

Better communication

Upon my return home to the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, and after numerous meetings with staff and community organizations, I was able to identify two main areas of concern that needed immediate attention. The first area of concern was communication. We have since implemented several improvements to enhance our communication efforts internally and externally such as:

* A Teacher Advisory Committee with representatives from every school which meets with the superintendent every two months.

* A Classified Advisory Committee with representatives from each school and each department which meets with the superintendent four times per year.

* The superintendent’s involvement in the monthly PTA council meetings.

* Student Advisory Councils at each high school which meet with the superintendent, assistant superintendent and several curriculum directors (a different high school is visited for lunch twice a month).

* A monthly systemwide newsletter that goes to every staff member.

* The superintendent’s Friday notes listed on the district website (www.rss.k12.nc.us) describing weekly activities in the school system.

* A new design to the district website.

* Connect-Ed, a communications system that can contact every student and faculty’s home.

* A get-acquainted breakfast with the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners.

* A paperless agenda so that all information for the Board of Education meetings is on-line and easily accessible.

* A brochure for all ninth graders describing new graduation requirements.

Student achievement

The second area of concern identified was student achievement. A few of the efforts that have been implemented to further enhance student achievement are:

* A High School Task Force to make recommendations for restructuring our high schools.

* Acceptance into District Accreditation of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

* A district vision, mission and core beliefs developed by the Board of Education and posted in all our schools and central offices.

* A District Improvement Plan which was disseminated through a brochure to numerous stakeholders in the schools and community.

* A guide for school improvement planning and a template for new school improvement plans.

* New school improvement plans at every school developed and presented to a panel of peers.

* A formula for equitable distribution of teachers and teacher assistants across the school system.

* An administrative retreat centered on leadership skills.

* A new high school curriculum guide with consistency in core courses and registration across the district.

* A Biotechnology Task Force to explore recommendations for addressing the future.

* A leadership development program for aspiring principals.

* A literacy facilitator for each elementary school and one for each middle/high school combination.

* Increased funding to the schools in instructional supplies, copies for copiers, travel and staff development.

* Small group meetings for grade level principals, assistant principals, content teachers and department chairs to dialogue about best practices.

Teachers are also working on developing pacing guides and formative assessment instruments, and principals will participate in professional development in February and March on conducting walk-through monitoring of classroom instruction.

In addition, we were able to successfully open two brand new schools, Jesse C. Carson High School and Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Elementary School, with very few problems.

It has certainly been a busy few months. I feel confident that our district has a plan for improvement and a focus. I thank the Salisbury Post for allowing me to share this information. I will be periodically sharing updates about the state of our school system to better inform the public.

***

Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

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