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My Turn: City of Salisbury should avoid funding school salaries

By Scott Maddox

Special to the Salisbury Post

After reading the article in last Thursdays Salisbury Post titled “New Rowan-Salisbury School Plan Could Help Retain Principals,” I was surprised at the reasoning behind requesting additional funding from the city.

Don’t get me wrong I am for administrators, teachers, custodians and any other school employees getting more money, just not on the back of the city taxpayers.

I don’t believe increasing the salaries of administrators is the answer to retaining principals or any other administrator. A good educator has a passion for what they do and a real desire to make a difference. Money is nice but not the deal breaker.

You need look no further than the hiring of the co-principals at Knox Middle three years ago to see how money is not the answer to retaining principals. Both of the individuals, despite making well in excess of $100,000, will be gone before their contracts expired.

Why?

I know the reasons they gave and have no reason to believe otherwise. Both individuals left because they only worked here. Their lives, family, friends and community existed elsewhere. If more than double the normal salary can’t keep well qualified people here, what’s to make us think a few extra thousand dollars will?

In recent years, I have watched as many qualified individuals have been passed over for administrative jobs for people outside the school system. One solution that doesn’t involve money might be to give people who have been in the school system an opportunity. People who live here aren’t as likely to leave. Hiring people outside the system often lends itself to being nothing more than a training ground. These people take new jobs in their own communities.

The current RSS leadership seems data driven, but that isn’t the only piece of the puzzle. When a large percentage of your school population is made up of economically disadvantaged students, such as those in Salisbury’s schools, the challenges are much greater than data could ever address. Many teachers will tell you that before you can begin to teach these children you have to develop a relationship with them. It’s imperative you take the time to understand where these students are coming from. Then, and only then, inroads can be made into the actual educational process. In my mind, this same principal applies for the administrators of schools.

It’s hard to develop relationships when you get in your car and leave the community every day. It’s also important that the people hired are a good match for the school. Hypothetically speaking, bringing in someone whose entire school experience from student to teacher to administrator is at a school that consists of 95 percent Caucasian, and placing them at a school that is 70 percent minority just isn’t a good recipe for success. So, it is important that the person being hired be more than a qualified data person. They need to have the intangibles that aren’t necessarily obtained with a college degree.

Most people aren’t aware of the following, but they are much more important than salary increases as I see it.

Between 70 and 80 percent of our African-American student population goes to two of our high schools and their feeder schools, North Rowan and Salisbury. Yet, we expect the young people in our county to grow up and be understanding and accepting of people of different color.

For instance, only around 15 percent of the teachers at Salisbury High are African-American. But the student population is well over 60 percent African-American. (I feel certain the numbers are comparable at the other schools that have a high minority population) I don’t have any idea what the applications that come into the system look like, so there may be no other choice than to have it this way. Regardless of what anyone says a majority of people look first for people who look like them as role models; that is not possible as it stands now in many of our schools with high minority populations.

In the 2015-16 accountability numbers for RSS roughly 80 percent of African-Americans and 94 percent of Caucasians graduated, which is great. However, that same report says that roughly 15 percent of African Americans and 64 percent of Caucasians are grade level proficient. I’m sure some convoluted explanation can be given for the discrepancy, but to me it appears we are graduating unprepared students for the sake of numbers. (In fairness this is not just a RSS problem, but one that is reflected in numbers across the state)

A large percentage of our school leadership, from the school level to the central office, don’t live in Rowan County. That may not be uncommon, and I understand there are good reasons people live where they do. However, it seems to me that it would be very difficult to be all-in for our community when you call another community home.

We spend millions of dollars to put some form of technology in the hands of every student in the RSS. Something I support, but without proper training teachers aren’t prepared to maximize the use of this technology. If put a laptop in the hands of an A-B student, the chances are that they will benefit greatly. If you put a laptop in the hands of a C-F student, the chances are that the results will be negligible. There is a reason each of these groups are where they are. Simply placing a laptop in their hands doesn’t change that.

I say all the above to say this: Instead of giving city money for salaries, why don’t we use it for the recruitment of more African-American teachers, A feasibility study to give more diversity to all our schools, incentives for school leaders to move their homes to Rowan County, for administrators to live in the same district as the schools they lead or to fund intensive training for teachers to better understand how to teach with technology.

I’m sure there are many more ideas that could improve the big picture far better than a salary increase that leads to a need for continuous funding.

I support the city’s involvement in the schools within our city. As they go, so will our city in many ways. Unless the RSS wants to give the city of Salisbury hiring and firing power, then the business of salaries needs to be covered by RSS, the state, and county of Rowan. I ask that the city not get in the salary business with schools, we tried that at Knox and it didn’t work out as planned Let’s not make the same mistake again.

Scott Maddox lives in Salisbury.

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