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Rowan-Salisbury Schools staff go to White House summit

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — This week, Rowan-Salisbury Schools was one of only 23 school districts in the nation selected to attend the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools. It was the only district from North Carolina to attend.

The summit, the result of President Barack Obama’s 2013 Next Generation High School proposal, gathered education policy makers and district leadership teams in order to brainstorm ways to redesign high schools so that they are more rigorous and more relevant to today’s students.

Monday’s summit was the nation’s second, and according to a White House press release, could affect up to an an estimated 600,000 students.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody and Andrew Smith, district director of digital innovation, attended as the system’s representatives. The two used the one-day summit to strategize implementing a career academy at each of the district’s traditional high schools.

Smith said that each district had the chance to share ideas and discuss issues.

Much of the discussion focused on redesigning spaces as well as curriculum. Moody said that breakaway sessions and panels talked about building collaborative spaces and restructuring classrooms.

While talking about what they gleaned from the conference, Moody said that, to her, a next generation high school looked like students solving real world problems, collaboration, subject alignment, competency-based learning and personal choice — it wasn’t about structures, processes or standardized tests. Instead, it’s students inspired by learning, who fully know and understand the content and are able to articulate it.

“That’s what we want to be held accountable for,” she said.

While Rowan-Salisbury has redesigns happening in pockets all across the district, Moody said the puzzle was how to scale it up and spread it across the system. But she knows it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been very disruptive, the work we’ve been doing, because we’ve turned things upside down for our teachers,” Moody said.

But she thinks it’s paid off. When they talked about some of the redesign happening in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Moody said that other districts asked, “How do you do this without any money?”

“That’s what they want to know,” she said.

It’s been “grassroots work.” In many ways, Moody said, Rowan-Salisbury is a “typical Americana” district — it’s largely rural, but also covers a small municipality, and it has high poverty.

Smith said for a lot of other districts at the summit, hearing Rowan-Salisbury talk about its struggles sparked a realization,

“If they can do it, we can too,” he said he was told.

Moody said that she wanted to focus on teachers going and seeing innovation taking place — whether it’s visiting the classroom of another teacher in the district, or traveling down the road to another school system or another state.

“They only do it when they see it, when they believe in it,” she said.

The summit sparked new ideas and fire in both of them, and Smith said he’s eager to get to work on improving local schools and sharing ideas with the community.

“We’ve got to do things differently,” he said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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