Scott Maddox: What happened to Salisbury schools?

Published 6:22 am Sunday, October 1, 2017

Community should step up, demand better

Education is the backbone of a community; the level of success a school system attains directly affects the quality of life in a community.

As a community, we flood city council meetings complaining of crime. We write passionate letters about things we believe to be unjust. We will turn the rezoning of property into a knock-down, drag out affair. But rarely — if ever — do we display this same passion towards the education of our future leaders.

The recent state report card gave schools within the city of Salisbury horrendous scores. I have heard the argument that, if the scores were just looked at this way, we would look a lot better. Unfortunately that’s not how it works.

These are the numbers people use when trying to decide if they should live here.

The “report card” shows we are not making meaningful progress, especially in light of the millions we have spent on technology with the promise of improvement.

Rowan-Salisbury schools as a group were down in 51 percent of measured categories, and up in 44 percent, according to the report. Salisbury High went down in 85 percent of measurable categories.

In the same report, blacks in the system faired far worse, with only 12.5 percent meeting college-and-career-ready proficiency in all EOC subjects, compared to 16.1 percent in the previous year.

Grade-level proficiency in all EOC subjects for black students slipped from 25.2 percent to 20.6 percent. Yet as a system, we are graduating 86.5 percent of our students. Are these students ready?

A little more than five years ago, Salisbury High was a source of pride for the community. The school’s success was envied by many and was one of the things Salisbury could hang its hat on. US News and World Report included Salisbury High as one of the top thousand high schools in the country.

A drop was expected with the retirement of Principal Windsor Eagle, but not to this level.

Salisbury High is now statistically the worst high school in Rowan County, with the same student body make-up it has had for decades. How did that happen? Why have we accepted it? I don’t know what the answer is, but we need to help it improve.

Knox Middle, Overton and Isenberg Elementary have struggled for years with test scores. We, as a community, rationalized that eventually things would even out in high school. Unfortunately that rationale is no longer in play.

Those of us who have sat by and allowed our schools to get this way without taking action are as much to blame as anyone. We are sitting idly by as thousands of our children are systematically being sent into the world without adequate preparation.

Poor education puts our children on a path of low self-esteem, little hope, and a limited future. Mix those all together and you get poverty, crime and a community in trouble.

We need to set expectations for the people we put in charge of our children’s — and ultimately our — future. From elected officials, to administrators to the teachers, all should be held accountable. How can we do that?

First, we can demand that people who have an “all-in” interest in our community be placed in positions of leadership. Driving in everyday from outside the county isn’t “all-in.”

“All-In” means from the administrators down, you are entrenched in the community; you see the students and parents when you go to the grocery store, church on Sunday, and socially. When you have to see the people your actions affect on a daily basis, I believe it raises the bar for you as an educator.

We should expect leaders to surround themselves with people who tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Leaders who are willing to make changes based on performance, not how obedient and loyal a person might be. Leaders need to make the hard decisions even if they aren’t always the popular ones.

As a community we have to put the “what’s best for me” mentality aside, start using the “us” mentality and do what’s best for the system, even if it means closing a school or changing districts.

We need to support the system by being active in our schools; you don’t have to have children in school to be active. There are many PTAs in the county that could use you as a member. Take the time to tutor a child, read a book to a class, and go to the events schools hold. It all makes a difference.

We can no longer accept celebrating mediocrity; we have to hold the celebration for real success. That celebration can be a few years away but it will not happen unless we as a community tackle education with the same passion we put into other issues. The time is now to make things happen; our children deserve it.

Scott Maddox of Salisbury is a retired educator.