School board chairman sees challenger

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

The chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education won’t run for re-election unchallenged this year. Michael Julian, a manager at Packaging Corporation of America, has stepped up to the plate and is running against Chairman Josh Wagner for the board’s seat 3. Seat 3 represents the eastern part of the county, including Morgan Elementary, Rockwell Elementary, Shive Elementary, Granite Quarry Elementary, Erwin Middle and East Rowan High School.

If elected, Wagner wants to see everything finalized for the new western elementary school, to continue updating system policies and work to finalize the system’s long range facilities plan. Julian said he’d like to bring fiscal responsibility to the school system, keep small community schools open and push for school choice.

Wagner said his experience on the board is what sets him apart from his opponent.

“I understand the process,” he said.

But Julian, parent to an East Rowan High School senior, said he has a “heart for the young population,” and a vested interest in the well being of Rowan-Salisbury students.
Rowan-Salisbury Schools officials have cited growing maintenance costs and number of aging buildings coupled with a small capital needs budget as a cause for concern, but those running for the Board of Education have different ideas about the appropriate solution.

Wagner said the current board is working to address the issue by finalizing a long-range facilities plan, something that previously did not exist. Once the plan is finalized, the board will have a better idea of its available funds and which projects need to be done later down the road. Then, it will be able to make a decision about whether new schools or remodeling would be appropriate.

“There’s definitely something that has to be done,” he said.

Julian pointed to two bonds that will be paid off in the next few years. With the permission of the county commissioners, that money could be used to address maintenance issues.

“It’s just going to continue to be something that needs to be pecked away at,” he said.

However, he said, several newer schools have higher upkeep costs than older schools.

The celebration surrounding the latest round of test scores drew community criticism, but Wagner said that progress is something that’s worth celebrating. But the journey’s not over yet.

“I think some folks look at celebration as we’re acknowledging the end. Which is absolutely not the case,” he said.

For Wagner, the 2015-16 test scores are something to build on, and the celebration was an acknowledgement of the hard work of staff and students. From here on out, he said, the district is going to continue moving forward.

Julian said the results were encouraging, but did not think they were worth celebrating.

“One year doesn’t necessarily make a trend,” he said.

If the scores have improved again next year, then a celebration would be appropriate, he said. And if grades are to really improve, it will take parental involvement.

“If the parents aren’t involved in what their students are doing, if the parents are involved in the schools then it could all be for naught,” he said.

The 2016-17 school year is the third year that every district student has had access to an iPad or laptop — it’s also the final year of the district’s contract with Apple, Inc. While district officials say that the initiative has let teachers individualize lessons, not everyone is sure that technology is the answer.

Wagner said he believes that the initiative has been successful, but that the results are likely hard to quantify. Supplemental apps and literacy tools on the devices can open up “so many other worlds to students.”

Ultimately, he said, technology is just a tool for teachers to use. Once they’ve become comfortable with the devices, it will make their lives easier — Wagner said he thinks the district has just reached that point.

But Julian said he’s still “not a fan,” and thinks that too many teachers are relying on it to teach their lessons for them, instead of as a tool. He also said that the money used to purchase and lease the devices could have been used more wisely.