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School board discusses three more charter restart schools

SALISBURY — Three additional schools in the Rowan-Salisbury district will apply for a charter restart after Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Salisbury High, Knox Middle and Hanford Dole Elementary schools are now eligible to join the district’s other restart schools, bringing the total number to 16 for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

The North Carolina General Assembly ruled that continually low-performing schools may apply for freedoms similar to those for charter schools. If approved, the schools will have the ability to set their own calendar, design their own curriculum, and have hiring and financial flexibility.

Thirteen Rowan-Salisbury Schools were approved for charter restart last year, including Erwin Middle, Overton Elementary, China Grove Elementary, Corriher-Lipe Middle, Koontz Elementary, Isenberg Elementary, Hurley Elementary, Knollwood Elementary, Landis Elementary, North Rowan Elementary, North Rowan High, Southeast Middle and West Rowan Middle.

All 13 schools gained approval for restarts from the Board of Education and the state in 2017. Currently, each school is working to design charter-like curriculums.

“This is our planning year,” Assistant Superintendent Julie Morrow said at Monday’s meeting.

While Salisbury, Knox and Hanford Dole made some gains during 2015-16, test scores from the 2016-17 year knocked them back and made them qualify under the state’s requirements.

“They had been low-performing schools in the past, and it’s just for recurring low-performing schools,” Morrow said at Monday’s meeting.

Knox Middle and Salisbury High failed to meet state growth expectations for the 2016-17 year. While Hanford Dole did meet growth goals, the school still ranked on the district’s low-performing list.

School board members had some concerns.

“If my math is right, that puts us at almost half of our schools,” board Chairman Josh Wagner said.

Of the district’s 35 — soon to be 34 — schools, 16 will be charter restarts and are, thus, recurring low-performance schools. But that does not make Rowan-Salisbury Schools a low-performing district. To receive that label, half a district’s schools must be low-performing in a single testing period, not over time.

As part of its restart status, each school must come up with a special program or area of focus. China Grove Elementary submitted its plan to become an arts-integrated school at a recent board meeting, and Koontz is focusing on trauma intervention and resilience.

Most of the 13 schools have at least some idea of what type of curriculum they want to build, but Morrow warned that those ideas are not set in stone.

“They will all start with something next year. But it may change. It will be fluid as we move through the process,” she said.

Superintendent Lynn Moody cautioned that not all schools will succeed with their plans and that higher test scores and improvement won’t show up immediately.

But school board members remained optimistic. Board member Travis Allen said one thing he hears from teachers, parents and students is a desire for customized learning, and restart schools could provide that.

“They desire to be individuals. They desire to fit the education to fit the child they have,” he said. “… This is the opportunity to put education, really, into the hands of the principals and the teachers at that school.”

While Allen said he knows some schools may not succeed immediately, “I think it’s a step in a good direction.”

The request will be filed under the consent agenda for the board’s Jan. 22 business meeting. If approved, Salisbury High, Koontz and Hanford Dole will submit applications to the State Board of Education. And if approved there, the three schools will use the 2018-19 school year as a planning year.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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