Jeanie Groh column: As board chair, Wagner sees things from a different perspective

Published 12:10 am Thursday, March 26, 2015

Less than six months ago, Josh Wagner was a minority member on the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, but now, the two-year member is leading the board.

The Salisbury Post’s editorial board sat down with Wagner last week to discuss how things have changed with the board’s new makeup and his transition to chairman. I had the opportunity to sit in on the conversation and learn more about the school board’s new leader.

November’s election shook things up a bit, and when Dean Hunter and Travis Allen replaced L.A. Overcash and Kay Wright Norman on the board, Wagner was no longer on the minority side of things, and he was elected chairman.

In his new role, Wagner says he has a new perspective on things.

“You’re put in some weird situations,” he said.

“People assume you have this magical power to get things done,” he said. “You’re still just one board member.”

“It’s not as easy as saying, ‘let’s take a vote on it,’” Wagner said, adding that the board has to think about what’s best for the students, staff and parents.

He added that people ask him more questions, and he spends more time managing the board and less time participating than before.

“Sometimes you kind of have to corral folks,” he said.

Wagner said the board’s No. 1 goal right now is to support Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody.

“We’re trying to make sure Dr. Moody has the tools to look at literacy,” he said.

The Rowan-Salisbury School System has undergone drastic changes since Moody took the helm a year and a half ago.

They’ve made improvements, including streamlining literacy curriculum, and implemented a one-to-one digital conversion for students in third through 12th grade. Now, they’re waiting for those improvements to start working.

Wagner said he hopes those improvements will spill over into other things.

On top of that, 71 percent of the district’s principals and cabinet-level administrators have been in their position less than two years.

While that change, if done right, promises to bring about positive results, it’s still unnerving, Wagner said.

Since Wagner took the chair, the board has also started working on developing a long-range plan for the district, which includes safety, roofing, paving, land and space needs.

They’re also trying to streamline some things, such as school start times, he said.

Wagner said Rowan-Salisbury performance must change for the general perception of the district to change.

The Board of Education isn’t the only entity that experienced change in November’s election.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners underwent significant changes as well, which has led to a much healthier relationship between the two boards.

“The relationship changed,” Wagner said. “We work well together.”

He added that there’s more communication and less a sense of the boards fighting against each other to protect their own side.

In April, the school board and county commissioners are meeting to discuss the school system’s budget – a first for the two groups.

“Teacher pay is a priority,” Wagner said, adding that Rowan-Salisbury is in the bottom 10 percent of school districts in the state for teacher pay.

The district wants to be able to attract qualified teachers and retain the ones who are already in place.

He added that with the central office project nearing groundbreaking, it’s time for the board – and the community – to move on.

“We need to be done with this,” Wagner said. “This problem has gone on too long.”

“Richard and I had a lot of heated disagreements about that,” he said of former school board chairman Dr. Richard Miller, but added that “everything was done legally” and he’s not looking to overturn any decisions made by the previous board.

Did you know:

  • Wagner grew up in Rowan County and attended public and private school
  • He works for Kaiser compressors, a company that sells industry-sized air compressors
  • Wagner is married to Brittney Wagner and they have two daughters.
  • He plays the drums.