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Grissom column: Staff numbers grow for good reasons

Several weeks ago, the Salisbury Post reported the results of the county’s annual audit. The headline for the article read “Percentage of increase in schools’ employees outpaces increase in schools’ enrollment.”
There are numerous reasons for this difference between student growth and employee growth over the last 10 years:
– Decreased classroom size: The State Department of Public Instruction has decreased class size in grades K-3 during this period. Lowering class size at these four grade levels in every elementary school increased the number of state allotted positions for teachers and teacher assistants. There is a need for additional personnel to lower class size in other grade levels.
– Increase in non-English speaking students: Our schools have seen tremendous growth in the number of non-English speaking students. Ten years ago, there were only 585 students in our system identified as non-English speakers. Today we have 1,520, with 39 different languages. That is a 160 percent increase in 10 years. The state recognizes that these students need extra support outside the classrooms and provides additional funding to systems with large numbers of identified students. We use the extra funds to hire second-language teachers to work closely with these students. The number of teachers has increased as the number of identified students has increased.
– Mandates for special needs’ students: Due to state and federal mandates, the degree of services provided to students with disabilities has increased positions needed to serve them. Our funding is used to hire certified and highly qualified exceptional children’s staff to work directly with students who have special needs or work within the classroom assisting teachers who serve special need students.
– Increased emphasis on accountability: The addition of No Child Left Behind and increased emphasis on accountability require us to examine the needs of every child. No Child Left Behind expects every child to master the same material in the same time. To strive for this near-impossible goal, the system has added remediation teachers and tutors to work with struggling children. Ten years ago, only 12 of our schools were labeled as Title I schools with large numbers of free-and-reduced-lunch students. Now 19 out of 20 schools have this label. These schools receive extra federal resources for additional teachers.
– Opened six new schools: In the last 10 years, our system has opened four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Even though students were moved from existing schools, many positions in a school are single positions and cannot be moved ó principal, assistant principal, media coordinator, custodians, clerical personnel, band director, etc. Opening six schools increased the number of system personnel without necessarily increasing the number of students.
– Increased technology: The use of technology is a priority for our school system. Keeping our technology up and running requires technicians. We have been able to add some technicians through the last few years, but still do not have the number of technicians per computers that is recommended by the state. We have made a priority to have technology facilitators who help provide technology instruction in the computer labs, as well as train and support teachers. The system still does not have a technology facilitator at every school, even though these support persons are needed.
– Assistant principals and curriculum coaches: Our school system committed this past year to having an assistant principal at every school. The state does not allocate these positions for small schools. However, all schools need an administrator on campus at all times for safety reasons. We also committed to having curriculum teacher coaches at each school. These coaches have been invaluable working with new teachers and providing onsite staff development for all teachers. Some schools are sharing these positions; they are needed in every school.
– Cultural arts specialists: Our school system feels strongly that cultural arts and physical education instruction are imperative for the development of the whole child and for addressing childhood obesity. Ten years ago, there were 30 full-time and two part-time art, music and P.E. teachers. Now we have 42 full-time art, music and P.E. teachers. The system needs three more positions to equalize the present services.
There are definitely excellent reasons for the increase in personnel in our school system. I have mentioned only a few. Obviously, all the increases have centered around one goal, and that is to improve student achievement and provide the knowledge, support and safety needed for students to excel.
The Rowan Salisbury School System and the Board of Education take any additions in staff very seriously. Unfortunately, the increase in personnel is not enough to match the increase in identified needs of our students.
nnn
Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

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