Editorial: School system set on better course

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 18, 2008

Turning around a school system that has lacked unity and common vision for several years is a slow process, like turning a huge ship as it steams forward. Changing course too sharply can be disastrous. The Rowan-Salisbury School System’s good report from an accreditation team last week is another sign the system is successfully making that gradual turn.
The system’s rosy report came from the visitation committee of AdvancEd ó a new accrediting group that includes the more-familiar Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The committee OK’d Rowan-Salisbury’s accreditation and said the community should be proud. There is a real sense the system is poised to deal with challenges, the committee chairman said.
Rowan residents are accustomed to reading about individual schools earning accreditation, but this is the first time the system has sought that recognition as a whole ó which may be a telling fact. Rowan-Salisbury’s 30-plus schools may have been accustomed in the past to acting independently rather than following standards set down by central administration. Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom has been working on changing that since she took the helm two years ago. She sets high goals, and this is one of them. Only 28 of the more than 100 school systems in the state had earned systemwide accreditation as of April 1. Rowan-Salisbury makes it 29.
Naturally, AdvancEd touts district accreditation as a good thing, “a powerful systems approach to improving student performance results over time.” While good classroom instruction is vital, increased student achievement is a sign of much more, the organization believes. “It is a result of how well all the parts of the education system ó the district, school and classroom ó work together to meet the needs of students.”
No Child Left Behind has made the public supremely aware of student achievement for each school and the system. Only three systems in the state could claim Adequate Yearly Progress last year, so Rowan-Salisbury is far from alone in missing the mark. It met 50 of its 66 target goals in the all-or-nothing program. But if the system is poised to face challenges, as the committee said, performing better under No Child Left Behind is certainly one of them ó systemwide and school by school. Only seven elementary schools made AYP last year, and none of the system’s seven middle schools reached the goal. While No Child is far from the only measure by which the public should assess schools, it is an important one and indicates that there is work to be done, especially with subgroups of students who are not making progress.
The AdvancEd approval suggests system personnel are coordinating their efforts and should be able to lift test scores. Centralization can go too far ó each school is unique ó but so can independence. Congratulations to Grissom and her staff for pulling the system together in the right ways and getting it on a positive course.