Grissom column: Looking back and ahead to improve education

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2008

Last Tuesday, the Rowan-Salisbury School System sponsored its second Annual Report to the Community Breakfast. More than 150 business leaders, community partners and school administrators received the report about the school system’s progress over the last year, as well as the strategies for the next two years.
Even though the system’s No. 1 priority will continue to be improving student achievement, our school system is about much more than test scores. The annual report and breakfast provide an opportunity to showcase the system’s accomplishments.
The theme for this year’s annual report is “Building Our Future Today.” Highlights for this past year were:
– Re-examination of the system’s vision, mission and core beliefs and development of a new two-year District Improvement Plan.
– Hosting an eight-member District Accreditation Team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that reviewed evidence and artifacts about the school system, interviewed approximately 400 people and evaluated the district against international standards. The school system passed with flying colors.
– Improvement of math test scores. Because of new reading tests and curriculum, only math scores were included in the accountability model for elementary and middle schools. Based on math scores and end-of-course testing at the high schools, 85 percent of schools met either expected or high growth. Fifty-six percent met high growth. The improvement was accomplished by ensuring students and staff are equipped with the best instructional practices and resources (human and financial) to increase performance.
– Selection of several 21st Century Model Classroom teachers to use the latest technology hardware and projects.
– Awards on the state and local level:
ó Our teacher of the year, Mrs. Janice Raper, was named the Northwest Regional Teacher of the Year;
ó North Rowan Elementary received the competitive Lighthouse Award from the N.C. Association for Curriculum and Development;
ó Jesse Carson High and Hurley Elementary were named Regional STAR Schools;
ó The N.C. School Public Relations Association awarded the system three blue ribbon awards: (1) for last year’s Annual Report, (2) Excellence in Writing for an article on Understanding AYP, and (3) the system’s Internet Web site
– Federal grants. Not depended solely on state and local funding, the system has won several federal grants:
ó The 21st Century Community Learning Center grant for $275,000 to provide after-school programs for Hanford Dole and North Rowan elementary schools
ó The USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant to promote eating fresh produce
ó The $120,000 Clean Fuel Advanced Technology Grant to buy and install 24 diesel filters to reduce school bus emissions
ó The $6 million federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant to address high-risk behaviors that lead to dropouts.
Grants from local and state foundations have provided more than $1 million to the school system.
– Opening of the Rowan County Early College on the campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, an excellent choice for many students
– Increasing outreach to parents through the first parent newsletter, parent surveys and parent focus groups
Improvement plan
The new District Improvement Plan addresses some of the challenges that the school system will face during the next few years:
– The graduation rate and dropouts
– New curriculum and testing in reading at the elementary and middle-school levels
– The achievement gap
– Improving the quality of science instruction
– Providing technology for 21st century skills
– Recruiting, training and retaining teachers
– Encouraging parent involvement and support
Partner award
Also at the breakfast, businesses, foundations, individuals and members of the faith community were recognized for their partnership with a school or with the system.
The “Partners for Student Success Award” was presented to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in China Grove for all its help and support to students at China Grove Elementary School.
An award was presented to the Rowan Partners for Education for its support and initiatives to help the system.
The community support for our school system is amazing. Quality education is becoming more and more a priority in Rowan County. Everyone needs to embrace the momentum and expand this priority to our parents and the general public.
Our school system needs all groups within our community to come together to make sure that our students are ready for the 21st century.
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Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.