North Rowan trying to change image
By Sarah Nagem
On a recent Wednesday, Hayden House stepped out of his marketing class at North Rowan High School wearing a beige dress shirt and a red tie ó with pride in his step.
His instructor, Lisa Cline, like many teachers at North Rowan, gives her students extra credit for dressing up on Wednesdays.
It’s all part of Dress for Success, a program that urges students to trade in their T-shirts and jeans once a week. The goal is to look professional and ready for the workforce.
When Dress for Success started a couple of months ago, about 50 students participated. Now, between 200 and 300 students ó more than a quarter of the student body ó show off their Sunday best on Wednesdays.
Students have sported suits even as the adults at North Rowan have ignited a debate about the image of the school itself.
“The way we’re dressing right now, we want to prove that we’re the top school,” House says. “We want to be somebody, you know?”
For this school, being somebody isn’t getting any easier. When most people think of the county’s most desirable high schools, North Rowan doesn’t come to mind.
The school finds itself on the governor’s watchlist of poor-performing schools.
Enrollment has gone down from 844 on the first day of school in 2003-04 to 678 this year, a drop of nearly 20 percent. Fewer students mean fewer academic opportunities. This year, North Rowan offered eight advanced-placement classes. East Rowan and Salisbury high schools each offered 11.
The school faces socio-economic obstacles. Among the county’s six high schools, North Rowan has the highest percentage of students who receive free or discounted lunch ó 56.7 percent as of March. Salisbury High follows closely behind.
North Rowan has been unofficially classified as the high school that lacks discipline, the school that has no order, even though the numbers don’t bear that out.
Last school year, North Rowan had 10 reported acts of violence or crime. At Salisbury High, that number was three, the lowest among the high schools. Jesse Carson had the highest number with 22.
And then, of course, North Rowan has its latest setback ó a drop in the school’s athletic division. It all adds up to a multitude of problems that Rodney Bass, North’s principal, deals with every day.
‘Who their daddy and mama was’
When Bass took the top job a few years ago, people warned him about the school. You’re getting yourself into a bad situation, they said. Nobody likes North Rowan, they told him.
“I think the perception from the community is a negative image,” Bass says. “That’s something we’ve been fighting all along.”
The history of it goes back long before his time at North Rowan. The problem started even as school officials first drew lines on a map defining North itself.
Attendance boundaries pull North Rowan students mainly from lower- and middle-class areas like Spencer. While Salisbury High School has its share of low-income students, it also has students from wealthier neighborhoods.
“We really don’t have a rich section that comes here,” Assistant Principal Don Knox says. “Ours is very much a working-class community.”
But the question is, how much does it matter?
It shouldn’t come into play at all, school board member Bryce Beard says.
“If they’re educated, it doesn’t really matter who their daddy and mama was,” he says.But history has shown it does ó especially when North supporters or a school-system leader talks about changing the boundaries so North can get more students.
The last example came a few years ago, when the board considered moving some students in Salisbury’s Country Club Hills and Eagle Heights neighborhoods from Salisbury High to North Rowan. Salisbury parents objected, and the board backed off.
At the same time, the school board transferred about 100 students from North Rowan to Salisbury, leaving North with about 500 fewer students than the county’s biggest school. East Rowan High had 1,238 students last school year. North Rowan had 715. North’s enrollment has since dropped another 37 students, Bass says.
“The biggest disappointment was we were dropping in enrollment,” he says.
That meant some changes when it came to academics. Before the enrollment cut, two or three instructors taught chemistry and history. Bass has reduced that staff to one teacher per subject, and he shuffled other teachers.
“Being small is great, don’t get me wrong,” Bass says. “But at the same time, I have to sometimes limit what I can offer based on my numbers. That’s taken some getting used to.”
School board members heard from parents and teachers last month who complained about the future of course offerings.
For example, North would likely have trouble offering classes like horticulture or agri-science, he says.
Students have the option of going to other schools for classes they can’t get at their own. They can also take classes online. But people see that as just another weakness.
The problem does not have an easy solution, Bass says. And now it’s reaching into an issue that really gets people talking ó sports.A long drive
House, the student who cleaned up nicely for a recent Dress for Success day, proudly wears his state championship ring.
North Rowan’s track team won the 2A title last year. As a student-athlete, House doesn’t want to drop to a 1A conference.
But starting in the 2009-2010 school year, low enrollment will put North in that division for at least two years.
That’s despite a projected increase in students next year, Bass says. He is expecting the school to have 753 students.
But no matter what, Corinne Mauldin says the drop to 1A isn’t just about athletics. Mauldin, president of the school’s PTA and mother of two North Rowan students, has taken a leadership role in asking the school board and county leaders for more support.
“That is a domino effect of the real problem,” not enough students, Mauldin says. “That is kind of the last straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Student-athletes will have to travel longer distances for games, sometimes more than 80 miles to Chatham County. High gas prices will likely keep many parents home, Mauldin says.
And being in a 1A conference could create a wider divide between North Rowan and the other high schools in the county.
“It separates us even further,” Mauldin says.
Marveo Stofford, an 18-year-old senior, is happy he spent his high school years at North Rowan. But he knows some people don’t think highly of his soon-to-be alma mater. “They think of it as negative,” he says.
Nikole Elkins, a junior, agrees.
“I think it has a bad reputation,” Elkins says. “It’s a pretty good school; it just has a bad reputation.”
Some students, like 16-year-old Brittany Owens, recognize the school’s academic shortcomings.
“We’re not academically there yet,” Owens says. “A lot of the kids here don’t care, really. I don’t think they do.”
But that’s likely the case at any school, Owens says.
As are discipline problems. But Bass says North Rowan gets more heat than other schools when a student gets in trouble. One “bad apple” fuels a negative image, he says.
Bass says North does not have more discipline problems than other Rowan schools. He knows because he talks to other principals.
House thinks North Rowan’s bad rap is unfair. To improve its reputation, he says the school needs more support from everyone and some good publicity.
“We’re good kids,” House says. “We do hard work, and we get good grades.”
Contact Sarah Nagem at 704-797-7683 or email@example.com.
What is the future of North Rowan High School?
Watch our video below.