A look back on RSS in 2016

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, December 27, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

It’s been a busy year for Rowan-Salisbury Schools and the local Board of Education. In 2016, the system jump-started several pilot programs, wrestled with difficult issues and rode out more than one controversy.

It was a long, event-filled year from start to finish, with projects continuing into 2017 and many issues still to be resolved. But here’s a look back on the accomplishments and struggles of the past year.

In 2016, Rowan-Salisbury schools and the Board of Education:

  • Finished construction on and moved into a new, centralized office building. Since the city and county systems merged in 1989, the Rowan-Salisbury School system operated out of five offices scattered around the county. In March, after years of wrestling with county officials, the system finally moved to the Wallace Educational Forum at 500 N. Main St.
  • Approved bonuses and supplements for employees. The board twice voted to provide bonuses to principals and assistant principals in 2016, once for the end of the 2015-16 school year, and once looking forward in the 2016-17 school year. It also approved salary supplements for certified staff and a one-time, $250 bonus to non-certified staff.
  • Drew local ire after the board in April heard a presentation from SfL+a Architects that proposed the closure of six area elementary schools. The schools mentioned in the presentation included Enochville, Faith, Morgan and Mount Ulla elementaries in addition to Cleveland and Woodleaf elementaries. The board voted to toss the proposal after a heated, month-long back-and-forth with the community.
  • Launched a pilot restorative classroom program. Two classrooms were created and staffed to work with elementary-aged children who dealt with severe, chronic behavior issues. The goal of the program is to teach children to manage their behavior, while still ensuring that they receive proper instruction — and eventually to restore them back to a regular classroom.
  • Fielded local complaints about a policy amendment that allowed high school students to carry pepper spray. The amendment was quickly repealed.
  • Celebrated after the district was removed from the state’s list of low-performing schools in September. The school system was placed on the list in September, 2015. According to board Chair Josh Wagner, had current assessment measures been retroactively consistent, the district would have been flagged as low performing for the past seven years.
  • Settled on a location for the new western elementary school. The board began hunting for alternatives after safety concerns were raised about a site at the intersection of Godbey Road and N.C. 801. Another property was selected on Foster Road, but the board backed out after residents protested the building of a school there and the property owner stipulated which tracts of land could be purchased. The board eventually chose a parcel located behind Cleveland Elementary School.
  • Launched a magnet program at Knox Middle School. The Knox Center for Accelerated Studies allows students the chance to take up to five courses for high school credit.
  • Drastically increased the number of students reached by its Summer Feeding Program.
  • Celebrated Isenberg Elementary teacher Anthony Johnson after he was selected as the regional Teacher of the Year.
  • Extended Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody’s contract until June of 2020.
  • Struggled with hiring and retaining teachers. The district began the school year with roughly 70 teacher vacancies, and is still finding strategies to deal with long-term openings. The board voted to hire a teacher recruiter early in the year, and also voted to provide sign-up bonuses to new teachers.
  • Agreed to hire 15 international teachers via Visiting International Faculty. The teachers filled long-vacant positions at hard-to-recruit-for schools.
  • Moved graduation back to individual high schools. Between the early 2000s and 2014, most graduations were held at Keppel auditorium on Catawba College’s campus. But a bee infestation in 2015 forced high schools back to their own campuses. In 2016, schools voluntarily continued to hold graduations on their home ground.
  • Voted to lower parking fees for the 2017-18 school year. Fees were cut from $50 to $35.
  • Was one of only 23 school districts in the nation selected to attend the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools.
  • Was awarded the Digital Content and Curriculum Achievement Award, presented by the Center for Digital Education, for its “digital citizenship” curriculum at the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education conference in Denver, Colo.
  • Added a new member in the Salisbury seat when Alisha Byrd ousted incumbent Chuck Hughes in the November election.
  • Celebrated the first graduating class of Crosby Scholars.
  • Bid goodbye to Latoya Dixon, one of the co-principals at Knox. Dixon left before her four-year contract ran out. Other schools experiencing turnover at the top included Mount Ulla, Millbridge and Rockwell elementaries; Henderson Independent High School; Rowan County Early College; Faith Elementary; North Rowan High and North Rowan Middle; and Overton and Hurley elementary schools.