Technology, literacy the focus for Moody
SALISBURY — It’s hard to predict where Dr. Lynn Moody will steer the Rowan-Salisbury School System as its next superintendent.
Moody, who starts her new job Oct. 1, isn’t sure of that herself.
But there are some hints in her seven years at the helm of the Rock Hill School System in South Carolina. As its superintendent, Moody has been involved with and visible in her community, drumming up support for technology and literacy programs.
She also helped her school district navigate through a budget crisis, but without the need for county approval that has challenged the school board here.
The Rock Hill School System, one of three districts in York County, S.C., has about 2,400 employees and nearly 18,000 students at 27 schools. It’s slightly smaller than Rowan-Salisbury, which has nearly 20,000 students who attend 35 schools.
Its demographics also look a bit different. About 55 percent of Rock Hill students are eligible for free or reduced lunch compared to 63 percent of students in Rowan-Salisbury, according to school system reports.
For both systems, that number has risen by around 15 points over the past decade — even before the “great recession” of 2008.
Moody said the district has made a lot of academic progress in the past several years, but it might not always show in statistics.
“The easiest way to increase academic performance is to let students drop out of school, if you really think about it,” Moody said.
But the district refused to do that. It mobilized an at-risk coordinator to go out and recruit students to go back to school. As a result, Rock Hill’s dropout rate declined steadily from 2008 to 2010, and after jumping higher again in 2011, decreased to an even lower rate in 2013.
The school system’s SAT scores decreased along with the dropout rate, though there have been small improvements in the past couple of years. (The ACT scores have stayed fairly flat.)
The graduation rate has followed the same pattern — an improvement from 2008 to 2009, followed by a drop in 2010 before a bigger increase through 2012.
Its rate of 77.3 percent in 2011-12 is three points lower than Rowan-Salisbury’s 81.1 percent from the same year. Data from 2013 for Rock Hill was not available in time for this story.
Results from the Palmetto Assessment of state Standards (PASS) tests have been mixed since 2009, when South Carolina’s state testing program was last revised.
Average scores have continued to rise, while the percentage of students meeting grade level standards has wavered. The percentage of students with “exemplary performance” on the tests, though, rose fairly steadily in all five tested subjects.
Jim Vining, chairman of the Rock Hill Board of Education, said he’s been on the board for three superintendents.
“Often, you pick the superintendent for the times you’re in,” Vining said.
These days, he said, people get their information differently and want more interaction. It’s not enough anymore for the head of a school system to only be an expert on education, he said.
“A superintendent also needs to be selling the school and developing relationships with the community,” Vining said. “I would say Dr. Moody is maybe a prototype for where the superintendent needs to go in the future.”
He said Moody helped to rally the public and the business community behind an effort to transform the district with technology.
Moody led a technology initiative called “iRock,” which this fall will provide every student in grades 4 through 8 with an iPad.
“A lot of superintendents don’t take any initiative, and they play the safe route,” Vining said — but not Moody.
Moody said she thinks it’s important to involve the community in public education, and as superintendent, she wants to be a good example for her staff.
She said she also tries to be out in the schools as often as she can.
“I enjoy interacting with people,” she said. “You would rarely find me in my office.”
Moody said she hopes to “do a lot of listening and learning” in her first six months at Rowan-Salisbury, to find out what has already been accomplished, what needs to be changed and how to move forward.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System has been trying to consolidate its five administrative offices into one building, but it has disagreed with county commissioners about the location and cost.
Moody said she has been keeping up with the central office issue, but she doesn’t feel comfortable drawing conclusions until she can have longer conversations about it.
She said she hopes a solution will be found before she starts as superintendent. If it isn’t, though, Moody said she’s no stranger to controversial decisions and projects.
When she came to Rock Hill in 2003 as assistant superintendent, her first job was to help reassign all of the high school students as the district opened a third high school.
“They still hired me as superintendent three years later, so it must have come out OK,” she said, laughing.
As the district’s first female superintendent, she led the effort to develop a two-year plan to get the schools through the worst of the recession.
In 2009, the Rock Hill School System was faced with a $10 million revenue shortfall, requiring it to reduce its budget from nearly $128 million down to about $117 million.
The district decided to make cuts according to its professional code, which Moody and her staff worked together to develop before the financial crisis. An important part of that code is putting students first – not the adults in the school system.
Rock Hill Schools ended up implementing furloughs for one year, along with other cutbacks that spanned two years.
Moody said one of her goals at Rowan-Salisbury would be to “bridge the communication gap” between county commissioners, the school board and the public about what the school system’s needs and priorities are — and why.
In a way, that will be new territory for Moody.
In South Carolina, the school board does not have to approach the county council for local funding. Instead, it has limited taxing authority – with a cap on any increases – to generate its own revenue in addition to state funding.
“Even in the light of a revenue shortfall, we have not raised taxes,” Vining said. “It took teamwork between the administration and the board to find a way to run the district without raising taxes.”
Part of the process in Rock Hill is holding community meetings, Vining said, where the public could ask questions, learn more about the budget and offer input.
With Rowan-Salisbury, Moody said she wants to make sure to have some kind of community involvement in the budget before bringing it to Rowan County Commissioners.
“It’s important that the community is knowledgeable of what we’re trying to achieve, and that they become partners in the process,” she said.
One of Moody’s top priorities in education is literacy, which she said Rock Hill Schools was already focused on before she became superintendent.
“I believe reading is foundational for students to learn,” she said. “It’s critically important that students learn how to read and increase their reading ability as they grow, at each grade level.”
Moody said the district has provided literacy training and developed literacy expectation guides for all of its teachers – not just those in English language arts or early grades.
She said one of the school system’s achievements that she’s most proud of is Phoenix Academy, a non-traditional high school that opened when she was assistant superintendent. It has later hours, a four-day week, small class sizes and more flexibility to meet students’ needs.
“It is not an alternative school. It’s a flexible learning environment,” Moody said.
A teen mother might find it easier to find child care in the evenings than in the mornings, she said. Other students might favor the smaller school or the chance to take more courses at a time and graduate early.
Overall, Moody said she feels like she’s leaving Rock Hill Schools in a great place.
“We have a very strong leadership team, and they’re making progress,” Moody said. “I’m just proud of the work we’ve done, and I’m excited about this next new journey.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.