Speakers say collaboration needed for education system to work

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 7, 2014

Leaders from local colleges and the public school system stressed the need for collaboration between schools and the community during a lunch session at the Thursday’s community forum.
Representatives from Livingstone, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and the Rowan-Salisbury School System shared their organizations’ strategic visions with a variety of Rowan County citizens, educators, business leaders and municipality leaders. Catawba College was invited to participate, but officials had prior engagements.
Rowan-Salisbury School System Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody explained that the school system is in the process of developing a new strategic plan and will unveil it, along with a new vision statement and logo in May. Although the vision statement is still in the works, it currently focuses on educating extraordinary children in an innovative way.
While the school system is still developing its strategic plan, Moody said it doesn’t lack focus.
She reported that Rowan-Salisbury School System’s literacy rates are “significantly under the state average,” a fact she said, “keeps me awake at night.”
She said the school system was going to have to start doing things differently to see any real progress.
Over the next few years, “every resource we have needs to go to reading and literacy,” Moody said, adding she expects the decision will make her unpopular.
“This is a community issue,” she said, urging those in attendance to help the school system stick to that commitment.
She asked people to refrain from pushing for funding for programs that don’t support literacy. She encouraged businesses to provide books in waiting areas and for the general community to develop relationships with students and get involved in tutoring.
After the session, Jennifer Canipe, executive director of Rowan County Crosby Scholars Community Partnership, said the most important thing she gathered from the session was “the need for collaboration to make Rowan County a reading county.”
“I think we all need to be advocates for them,” said Granite Quarry Town Manager Dan Peters.
Moody added that the school system needs to work on streamlining reading instruction. At Rowan-Salisbury’s 17 elementary schools, nine different reading curriculums are being used, putting children who frequently move around at a disadvantage.
She said even though the graduation rate is up and the dropout rate is down, student retention and the increase of students receiving free and reduced lunches are a concern.
She also recognized the shift in the school system’s leadership.
Moody became superintendent five months ago. Half of her executive cabinet is new this year and nearly half of the system’s 35 principals are in the first year at their current position.
It’s a “little scary,” but very exciting as well, she said.
Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins urged Rowan County to capitalize on the number of higher education institutions in the area.
In addition to Livingstone, the community boasts of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Catawba College and Hood Theological Seminary, he said, adding that making them strong and viable does the same for the community.
He also urged attendees to focus on the institutions in their own backyard and to “move them forward.”
With nearly 1,000 graduates last May alone, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College graduates are a “dynamic resource” in Rowan County, the college’s chief human resources officer said. Tina Haynes said 96 percent of those graduates stay in the region.
She added that the college is constantly evaluating the community and the types of jobs available so it can provide training for “forward-looking careers.”
The school is also focusing on making it easier for students to access a college education by offering online programs.
Both colleges suffered a drop in enrollment when the state started giving loans rather than grants. Livingstone has lost approximately 100 students, while Rowan-Cabarrus has seen its student population level off after several years of decline.
Moody, Haynes and Jenkins spoke about teacher pay, dropout rates and enrollment during a question and answer session after their presentations.