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Board considers redistricting

By Sarah Nagem
Salisbury Post
If members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education decide to shift attendance lines to boost enrollment at North Rowan High School, they could consider pulling students from West Rowan High, a school official said.
But during its annual retreat meeting Monday, the school board made no decisions about ways to help North, which has seen its enrollment shrink the last few years.
And while some board members said that a school system the size of Rowan-Salisbury can’t avoid redistricting from time to time, others seemed hesitant to discuss that as an option Monday.
Suggestions among school officials and North supporters have included redrawing attendance lines and establishing academies that could draw students from other schools.
The board could move 21 students who live near the intersections of Woodleaf and Goodson roads and Woodleaf and Gheen roads from West Rowan High School to North, said Gene Miller, assistant superintendent for operations.
“It would probably be a shorter drive to North,” Miller said.
West’s attendance line borders that of North. But the school’s enrollment figures are very different.
North has 705 students now, well below its capacity of about 1,100, Miller said.
This school year, West has 1,196 students — 35 students over its intended limit. By the 2012-13 school year, the enrollment is expected to jump to about 1,230, according to the school system’s projections.
Numbers aside, school board chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said the prospect of forcing students to switch schools concerns him.
Parents would likely object, as they did a few years ago when the board considered moving some students from Salisbury High to North.
Redrawing attendance lines would inevitably anger some people, but the school board shouldn’t be unwilling to at least consider it, said Karen Carpenter, who represents the north district of the county.
“That’s our job,” Carpenter said. “That’s what we were elected to do.”
Linda Freeze, another board member, said the school system needs to help parents and students get used to the idea that shifting lines is sometimes necessary.
“In a county this size, it is my thinking that we need to look at redistricting,” Freeze said. She added that the board should rethink attendance maps every three years.
But most people would agree it’s not that simple. In the past, parents have been quick to protest redrawings partly due to a desire for community schools.
“If proximity and community are the two top priorities, you’re not going to be able to redistrict that much,” said board member Bryce Beard.
Freeze suggested that the school system hire an outside firm to redraw attendance lines.
Another option would be to put desirable academies, or academic concentrations at North. The idea is to attract students to North based on opportunities instead of forcing them to go there.
Carpenter, Beard and fellow board member Jean Kennedy are on a committee to help North. The school improvement team told the committee that North needs an academy that would attract a lot of students, Carpenter said.
She said their suggestions included biotechnology, international baccalaureate, allied health, business, multimedia, culinary arts, computer technology and visual and performing arts.
Recently, the school system administered a career-interest survey to current eighth- and ninth-graders across the county.
At North, 88 freshman who took the survey selected a health sciences academy as their first choice. Their second choice was business and finance.
Freshman at three other schools — South, East and West — also said health sciences was their top pick.
The question becomes whether several schools could have the same academy. If that’s the case, students would have little incentive to switch from another school to North.
An academy system would likely not solve North’s enrollment problems, said Kathy McDuffie, director of secondary education for the school system.
The problem, some school board members said, is about perception — even among themselves.
“North has never been perceived as a good school,” said Kennedy, who taught at North for several years.
“We have to change some of our mindsets,” she continued.
Kennedy said she thinks the negative perception has to do with the high percentage of minority students at North.
Almost 47 percent of the students at North are black, according to school numbers. That’s the second highest number in the county — Salisbury High has a student population that is about 50 percent black.
A systematic redistricting plan could change the demographics at schools, such as the percentage of students who qualify for free or discounted lunch, Carpenter said.
But the board might need to talk more about North’s image problem, Kennedy said.
“We’re not looking at why people don’t want to go to North,” she said. “That’s what we’re not looking at.”
Board member Kay Wright Norman said the board needed to continue their discussion in closed session. Closed sessions are reserved for topics like personnel issues.
“The first issue is perception,” Norman said. “The other is leadership. … It looks like we need some changes.”
Also during the meeting Monday:
The school board tweaked its policy on public-comment periods during meetings.
From now on, anyone who wants to address the board can do so in three or minutes or less, and the public session will not last longer than 30 minutes.
Also, speakers can no longer take allotted minutes from other people.
Until the change, the public-comment period had no limit.
Contact Sarah Nagem at 704-797-7683 or snagem@salisburypost.com.

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