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Public speaks up on search for new schools chief

EAST SPENCER — Just two people spoke at a public forum Monday evening about the search for a new school superintendent.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has been looking for a new superintendent since early April, just after Dr. Judy Grissom announced she will retire Sept. 30. Grissom has been superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System since 2005.
The school board tentatively plans to announce its choice on Aug. 26, and that person would take over the position on Oct. 1.
In addition to sending out opinion surveys, board members agreed to hold a forum to hear more about what the community wants to see in the person who will lead its schools.
Karen Lilly-Bowyer, a retired educator and Salisbury resident, said the board’s top priority in its superintendent search should be “finding a proven academic leader.”
In the 2011-12 North Carolina School Report Card, she said, students in the Rowan-Salisbury School System performed below state average on end-of-course tests in third through eighth grades and in high school.
“The deficiency is not minor,” Lilly-Bowyer said. “In many cases, Rowan-Salisbury Schools students were 10 points or more below the state average. This is inexcusable.”
She said three-year trends showed the same results, with the gap between local scores and the state average actually increasing.
“There are certainly schools in our district that are exceptions,” Lilly-Bowyer said. “Salisbury High School, when it was under Dr. (Windsor) Eagle’s leadership, was a sterling example of how academic leadership can change a school.”
U.S. News and World Report has evaluated student performance at high schools to determine college readiness, based on advanced placement classes, end-of-course tests and national tests like the SAT and ACT.
In 2012, 31 percent of students at Salisbury High were considered college ready. At other high schools in the district, that number was between 10 and 16 percent.
Lilly-Bowyer said Eagle’s high expectations of both students and teachers helped his school succeed.
“If you want to see improvement in student scores,” she said, “the only way that’s going to happen is for the next superintendent to be a superintendent who has those high expectations and is a proven academic leader.”
Dee Dee Wright, of Salisbury, said her number one priority for the next superintendent is someone who is business-minded and has budget experience.
“I think that is crucial when you’re dealing with million-dollar budgets,” Wright said. “A lot of times, we tend to think only about people who are in education.”
She also said she would like the school board to conduct a broad search and be open-minded.
“I would not like to see somebody that we already know,” Wright said.
After living in Salisbury for a long time, Wright said, she would like to see the first black superintendent of the local school system.
“I think it is something that is needed, given the number of African-Americans in our school system,” she said. “I make my plea, as an African-American female, to see an African-American male or female lead this school board. I think it would bring new blood and a new breath of fresh air here.”
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To give more people the chance to come and speak, the school board paused to discuss upcoming state legislation and even took a recess. The public hearing was scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m., but the school board finally adjourned at 6:45 p.m.
Tanya Giovanni, a representative with the N.C. School Boards Association, said this kind of turnout is normal – even impressive under the circumstances.
“Most boards don’t even offer this opportunity. I think it is to be commended that you would offer this public forum for people who wanted to speak directly to you,” Giovanni said.
She said a lot of people are probably satisfied, or simply more comfortable, with filling out anonymous surveys to share their opinions. As of Monday, 286 community members and 531 staff members had filled out the surveys.
The public opinion surveys are still available through May 21.
For the online version of the community survey, visit www.surveymonkey.com/s/BR3FBQV.
For a downloadable PDF (a hard copy), visit www.rss.k12.nc.us.
Hard copies also are available at the Rowan-Salisbury School System Administrative Offices, community centers, libraries and as advertised through the local news media outlets.
The superintendent position is being advertised now with an application deadline of June 3.
The N.C. School Boards Association will then take about a week to process the applications, Giovanni said, and send them out to the school board. The local board will then schedule a meeting to discuss the applications in closed session and decide who to invite for interviews.
“When we get those packets and we are in our homes, we need to be guided by whatever principles we said we are looking for,” said Board Member Kay Wright Norman.
Giovanni said that when the community and staff surveys close, the results will be sent to the board along with a statistical analysis. This will give the board a sense of what respondents are looking for in a superintendent.
With those results in mind, board members then will be asked to create a “leadership profile” based on qualities that each of them would like to prioritize. The board also will work from the North Carolina Superintendent Evaluation Rubric.
“You can honestly say to your constituents, ‘We did consider what you said,’” Giovanni said. “But ultimately, it’s up to this board to make a decision.”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Karissa.SalisburyPost

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