City academy makes superintendent’s list

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 8, 2015

Could Salisbury become a Purpose Built Community?

The last item on Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody’s wish list of initiatives to turn around Rowan-Salisbury Schools is an academy that would start with preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and include replacements for Overton Elementary and Knox Middle.

“I wrestled with whether to put it on the wish list,” Moody said. “But it really is a wish.”

The concept grew out of local conversations about Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit formed after the transformation of the East Lake Meadows neighborhood in Atlanta. East Lake went from a high-crime, high-poverty dead end to a thriving community with one of the highest-performing schools in the city.

Real estate developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins got the project going with a large infusion of cash in 1995. In 2009 Cousins, Warren Buffett and Julian Robertson formed Purpose Built Communities as a nonprofit consulting company to local leaders looking to help replicate that holistic framework around the nation.

Robertson, who grew up in Salisbury and went on to become a billionaire on Wall Street, asked a group from Salisbury to visit East Lake a year and a half ago, according to Moody. Purpose Built officials made presentations at Salisbury City Council’s annual planning retreat in 2013.

Recently, Rowan-Salisbury sent principals to Atlanta to learn more. That group will make a presentation about the visit to the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education on Monday.

The mediation agreement between the school board and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners sets funds for renovating or replacing Knox Middle School at $15 million. Moody’s list puts the estimated cost of the community school at an additional $40 million, for a total building cost of $55 million. There would also be a $360,000 reoccurring cost for additional teachers.

Moody said the school board has to consider all possibilities before proceeding with changes at Knox Middle, whose multi-building campus has been a security challenge.

Moody’s document refers to the proposed community school as “a Salisbury academy.” If someone gave the money to make it happen, the school could be named for that person, she said.

Tackling such a project would have to be part of a much bigger community conversation, Moody said. East Lake’s transformation included changes in housing, health care and other aspects of community life.

Salisbury is no Atlanta, but the same inner-city problems of poverty and low student achievement have plagued some Salisbury schools.

Addressing those problems with a Community Built approach would be a dream, Moody said.

“Sometimes when you throw your dream out there, the funding comes.”