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RSS increases graduation rates, drops in other areas

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury School System increased graduation rates in its high schools, but the news was not all good in a state public education report for the county.
In Rowan, 23 of 35 public schools met “expected” or “high growth” levels in the 2010-2011 ABCs of Public Education Report released Thursday by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
That number is down from last year, when 31 of 35 schools in the system met or exceeded growth expectations.
“It is disappointing that it seems that we have fallen back,” Dr. James Emerson, chairman of the school board, said in a press release, “but we are still going to keep pushing to turn around next year.
“I am sure the schools that have not achieved are disappointed, too.”
The drop was expected this year because of higher reading and math standards.
While 65.7 percent of Rowan-Salisbury schools met expected academic growth or registered high growth, the state average was 81.4 percent. The state figure dropped from 88 percent in 2010.
Of the 68 targets Rowan-Salisbury has under the accountability program, it met 36, or 52.9 percent. Only two school systems in the state met a lower percentage, Vance and Buncombe.
In Knox Middle School, Rowan-Salisbury also had one of the 13 “low-performing” schools in the state.
That means a school did not meet its improvement goals and had more than half of its students fail the tests.
Low-performing schools are eligible to get assistance from the N.C. Department of Instruction’s District and School Transformation Division.
‘Exciting news’
But school officials labeled the system’s higher graduation rate as “exciting news.”
Rowan-Salisbury Schools had a 76.9 percent graduation rate, up from 73 percent in 2010 and the second straight year of improvement.
Statewide, the high school graduation rate also improved to 77.7 percent, meaning Rowan County falls just below the state average.
Of Rowan County’s seven high schools, five showed improvement in graduation rates: East Rowan (89.5 percent), Carson (86.8 percent), North Rowan (70.7 percent), Salisbury (66.5 percent) and Henderson (34.6 percent).
West Rowan High’s 2011 graduation rate dropped to 79.9 percent, after registering 85.6 percent a year earlier. South Rowan’s graduation rate also dropped to 73.3 percent, from 2010’s 73.4 percent.
“Any move toward a positive is good, even though the results are not dramatic,” Emerson said. “I know that we are making an effort and using available resources to improve. There is still no magic bullet.”
Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Judy Grissom said she was “very pleased” to see the graduation rate increase and expressed pride in students and faculty.
Grissom added: “We have worked hard in implementing numerous creative programs targeting at-risk students to keep them in school and on track to graduate from high school with a diploma.”
Some of the initiatives cited by the school system include:
• The LINKS program, a $6 million federal grant aimed at problems such as alcohol, gang activity, drug abuse and bullying.
• The Rowan County Early College program, which will graduate its first class next spring.
• Online classes.
• Henderson Independent High School, the district’s alternative school program.
• Night-school graduation programs at Carson and West Rowan high schools.
• More individualized scheduling with students to provide options.
School officials said all the initiatives work toward keeping students in school and achieving higher goals.
Performance
The ABCs of Public Education Report also includes student growth and performance measures and information about Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as required in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

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The Post reported last month on the AYP results, which showed only five Rowan-Salisbury schools meeting their AYP targets.
The 23 Rowan County schools which met or exceeded academic growth expectations in 2011 were Bostian, China Grove, Cleveland, Dole, Enochville, Granite Quarry, Isenberg, Koontz, Landis, Millbridge, Mount Ulla, Rockwell and Shive elementaries; China Grove, Corriher-Lipe, Erwin, North Rowan, Southeast and West Rowan middle schools; and Carson, East Rowan, Salisbury and South Rowan high schools.
The schools not meeting growth expectations were Faith, Hurley, Knollwood, Morgan, North Rowan, Overton and Woodleaf elementaries; Knox Middle; and North Rowan, West Rowan, Henderson and Rowan Early College high schools.
In the state report, Rowan-Salisbury Schools came in with seven “Schools of Distinction”: Bostian, Cleveland, Enochville and Millbridge elementaries; West Rowan Middle School and Carson and East Rowan high schools.
Schools of Distinction met their expected growth and had a performance composite of 80 to 89 percent.
The system had 14 “Schools of Progress”: China Grove, Dole, Granite Quarry, Koontz, Landis, Mount Ulla, Rockwell and Shive elementaries; China Grove, Corriher-Lipe, Erwin and Southeast middle schools; and Salisbury and South Rowan high schools.
Schools of Progress met their expected growth and had a performance composite of 60 to 79 percent.
“No Recognition Schools” did not meet expected growth but had a performance composite of 60 percent or more. They include Faith, Hurley, Knollwood, Morgan, Overton and Woodleaf elementaries, West Rowan High and Rowan Early College.
Rowan-Salisbury had four “Priority Schools,” which had less than a 60 percent performance composite, irrespective of making expected growth. They are not considered low-performing.
The Priority Schools are Isenberg and North Rowan elementaries, North Rowan Middle and North Rowan High.
“I am pleased to be able to hold the level of student achievement at a time when public education is operating on reduced resources,” Grissom said in a release.
“We have been forced to make many cuts in areas that support the classroom. I am proud of the accomplishments of our students in the district.”
Grissom added that this is “a time of change, ranging from higher federal accountability standards, reduced funding and new curriculum standards.”
She said additional teacher training days have been added to the school calendar this coming year, because of the transition from teaching the N.C. Standard Course of Study to the Common Core and Essential Standards.
“It is a challenging time and student achievement and success will continue to be our focus,” Grissom said.
Socio-economic fall
Asked about the system meeting only 52.9 percent of its targets, Grissom said budget cuts contributed to that showing.
“We identified during this past school year our concerns with literacy within our county as a whole and within the school system. At the same time, our budget situation forced us to cut the majority of our literacy coaches,” she said.
The transition from having the support of those coaches — through training, modeled lessons, shared strategies — to no coaches has been difficult, Grissom said.
“Our teachers have worked extremely hard and I know that they are very discouraged with their results. Our curriculum directors are working closely with our principals in developing literacy plans for the new school year.”
Surrounding counties met a greater percentage of their targets: Cabarrus, 83.3 percent; Kannapolis, 77.8 percent; Iredell, 75 percent; Davie, 83 percent.
Because of its diversity, Rowan-Salisbury has more targets to meet than most systems, she said; the system is 20th among the state’s 115 school districts in its number of targets.
“As our county continues to struggle with unemployment and loss of jobs, our socio-economically disadvantaged students continue to grow. RSS is now over 60 percent free and reduced lunch, as compared to other systems, such as Cabarrus County at 38.5 percent free and reduced.”
Elizabeth Cook contributed to this story.

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