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Workshop: Schools need more involvement

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
There are no easy solutions to the problems facing public education, said people gathered Thursday at the Salisbury Civic Center for “Education Challenge: A Community Workshop.”
But, they said, the first step toward improvement starts with the individual.
Organizers welcomed about 80 educators, nonprofit representatives and community leaders to the session that was a follow-up to the Feb. 27 Education Summit that drew almost 1,000 people to Keppel Auditorium.
Both events were sponsored by Rowan Partners for Education.
“Evolutionary change requires the whole community,” said Jeff Smith, board chairman of Rowan Partners, speaking as the 90-minute event was winding to a close. “It only happens when you decide to take action.”
The event kicked off with an overview of material that Dr. Willard Daggett covered at the February summit ó focusing on 21st century job skills.
Participants then broke into six groups where they worked with facilitators to come up with suggestions on what needs to change in the schools and how.
One of the first group activities involved participants discussing what they’d learned when they’d attended school and how those lessons applied to their day-to-day lives.
Several members of one group mentioned that typing skills were something that had served them a lifetime.
Dr. Walter Hart, an assistant superintendent with the Rowan-Salisbury School System, noted that he benefitted most from the ball teams on which he’d played.
“Work ethic and team work,” Hart said of the life lessons he’d garnered from athletics.
Group members also discussed whether state-mandated testing was a good thing and debated possible alternatives to such tests.
Rep. Lorene Coates (D-Rowan), who represents the 77th N.C. House District, noted that schools are failing “if we teach for the test.”
Most other participants agreed. Colby Cochran, the system’s director of assessment/accountability services, noted that what he’d like to do is load five students into his car one day after they’ve just finished End of Grade testing.
Cochran said he’d like to drive the students to an area business and test the students on the same material they’d just tested on at school. “To see if it translated into the real world,” Cochran said.
Participants were asked to choose from 14 selections the five most important 21st century skills. The results of all six groups were then posted on the school system’s newest piece of technology ó an interactive whiteboard that allows the discussion leader to post a question and receive responses.
The gadgetry impressed workshop participants.
“What do you think of the technology?” Smith asked. “Is this the first time you’ve seen it? Did you know it existed?”
He then noted that students ó weaned on computer technology ó would pick up on it much faster than most of the adults participating in the workshop.
Ways to get more community leaders involved in the schools were suggested.
– For getting parents into the schools:
Hold more events like Overton Elementary’s Heart Field Day, where more than 300 people showed up to learn ways to develop healthy hearts.
– For getting the business community more actively involved:Hold more projects like Construction Challenge, for which PowerCurbers sponsored students from the local school system in a competition in Las Vegas.
Participants noted that fewer than 50 percent of the schools are served by churches, a surprisingly low number considering there are more than 400 churches in Rowan County and only 34 schools.
“Why is it we can’t get a partner for each school?” Smith asked.
Coates agreed. “All of us go to church,” she said. “Why don’t we get our churches involved in mentoring?”
Steps in the right direction are being made, some said. One participant said the city of Salisbury allows each employee 48 hours away from work in order to mentor in the schools.
Several participants noted that a number of volunteer agencies ó Communities in Schools, Rowan County Youth Services Bureau and the Rowan County Literacy Guild, included ó all have volunteers who serve the schools.
“Every group up there needs volunteers,” Hart said.
Smith concluded the event with some simple words.
“We’ve already determined there is no silver bullet,” he said. “Rowan Partners is here to assist.”
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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