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Moving school lines ‘a last resort’

By Sarah Nagem
Salisbury Post
Even though school board members often disagree, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education seems unanimous about at least one issue:
North Rowan High School needs more students.
Or, at the very least, some tender loving care.
Creating a plan to increase enrollment can be tricky, they say. The obvious way might be to shift attendance boundaries. That would bring students from Salisbury, East Rowan and West Rowan to North. But it would surely also bring the wrath of parents who don’t want their children moved.
Or maybe an academy system ó turning North into a magnet school with exclusive programs ó could attract students from other schools, board members say.
They agree either option would take careful planning.
Last month, the school board appointed three of its members to brainstorm ideas to help North Rowan. Karen Carpenter, who represents that district, serves on the committee with Bryce Beard and Jean Kennedy.
Shifting the lines
Telling children they have to switch schools isn’t an easy thing for any school system to do.
“That is such a sore thumb with so many people,” Kennedy says.
The school board faced a redistricting headache a few years ago when it considered moving some students from Salisbury High to North Rowan.
Parents told them why it was a bad idea, and they weren’t always polite about it.
In the end, those students didn’t go to North Rowan. Instead, the board transferred about 100 students ó who lived closer to Salisbury ófrom North Rowan to Salisbury.
The board might have to look again at the possibility of shifting attendance lines to boost North Rowan’s enrollment, says Dr. Jim Emerson, chairman of the school board. But he wants to eliminate all other options first.
“That would be a last resort, as far as I’m concerned,” Emerson says.
If the board redraws lines for North Rowan, it would have to do so for every high school, Carpenter says.
In the past, the school board has used a Band-Aid approach to fixing problems, she says. She doesn’t want that to happen anymore.
“I don’t want us just to slap something in place,” Carpenter says. “At some point, you really have to do things systematically and logically and not piecemeal.”
Beard says he doesn’t want the board to redraw attendance lines right now. Other options are available, he says.
Statements like that frustrate Corinne Mauldin, president of the PTA at North Rowan High.
Mauldin has emerged as a leader in asking ó demanding, rather ó help from the school board.
“That infuriates me,” Mauldin says of the school board’s hesitation to consider redistricting. “That tells me they’re not willing to change.”
Academies
School leaders are considering an academy approach in high schools.
That means students would choose early on what interests them and what they want to focus on.
At North Rowan, Principal Rodney Bass is thinking about biotechnology, business and other things that might attract students to his school.
This is how academies would work: Eighth- and ninth-graders would take a survey to determine what career paths suit their interests. Different schools could offer different academies, so students could choose which school suits them best.
Students would enter the academies their sophomore year. Core classes would have a particular slant.
For example, a student in a business academy might study writing and marketing techniques in English class.
Beard likes this idea better than “drawing lines around houses” to redistrict. Kennedy, a former North Rowan teacher, does too.
“What we would look for is that perfect fit for North,” she says.
Mauldin, who wants the board to redraw attendance lines, agrees this system could help North Rowan ó but only if the school gets desirable academies.
“If the plan is academies, give us the academy that would bring us the most students to our school,” Mauldin says. “Right now, that academy is biotechnology.”
To get the academies started, school officials plan to survey students at each school about their interests and pick academy concentrations based on those responses. But Kathy McDuffie, director of secondary education, cautions that academies might not be a magic solution because students might not flock to North’s specialties.
“What’s the saying, ‘Build it and they will come’?” she says. “I don’t believe in that.”
If academies are set up, some students might have to travel a long way. A student in Landis, for example, could travel to North Rowan for school, but the student’s parents would have to provide transportation.
Carpenter isn’t crazy about the idea of students having such broad choices of schools. But academic concentrations are beneficial within each school, she says.
Finding a solution
The three-member committee plans to meet with North Rowan parents and bring findings back to the rest of the board.
Whatever the solution might be, Mauldin says it can’t come soon enough.
North Rowan is the county’s weak link when it comes to education, she says. She doesn’t want her sons’ high school to have that title anymore.
Contact Sarah Nagem at 704-797-4763 or snagem@salisburypost.com.

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