Rowan’s unique position: Renewal school system could blaze trails

Published 9:40 pm Monday, June 25, 2018

By Phil Kirk

Special to the Salisbury Post

The Rowan-Salisbury Schools system, a recognized national leader in cutting-edge technology, now has the unique opportunity to become the first and only school system in our state to transform all 35 schools into renewal schools.

As I understand it, this is not an “honor” which RSS sought. The system was asked by key Republican legislators if it would be willing to take on this monumental challenge. Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody, her staff, principals and teachers, supported by a thoughtful Board of Education, appear ready to accept the challenge. Their goal is to do what’s best for the children. In other words, “An Extraordinary Education Every Day.”

What exactly does this new law allow Rowan-Salisbury Schools to change? The key word is “flexibility.” Flexibility in curriculum, finances, personnel, calendar, hours in class and other areas. However, accountability and results will still be important.

In other words, the 35 schools in the district will be able to operate with the freedom from many state regulations as charter public schools have for the past 20 or so years.

This legislation is an important step in fulfilling a commitment which I, and others, made when charter public schools were first approved by our state. As president/CEO of the North Carolina Chamber, I supported charter public schools as a form of competition for traditional schools as long as they were a responsibility of the State Board of Education. Some of my traditional school friends yelled “foul” because they said an unlevel playing field was being created. I responded that was one of the primary purposes of charter schools — to eliminate many of the regulations so charters could experiment and see which changes led to innovation and improved student proficiency. Then, I promised, we would identify those barriers and remove them from the traditional public schools.

I continued this commitment and support for charters when Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley gave me the opportunity to chair the State Board of Education for six and one-half years. However, as I have stated publicly in many speeches in the last decade, we have failed to live up to that commitment made to the traditional public school community.

RSS is being given the opportunity to deliver on that promise made more than 20 years ago,

The administration and the Board of Education realize that the road ahead will not be an easy one. It reminds me of the story about the dog chasing the car; if the dog caught the car, would he/she know what to do with it?

Educators have asked for flexibility and more local control for decades. Now that RSS has the opportunity for more flexibility and local decision-making than any school system has had in modern history, what will they do with this unique opportunity? Will the community be supportive, especially parents, teachers and students? Will the naysayers try to sabotage this somewhat radical change in how schools operate with their rhetoric, or will they become a positive force in the community discussion and contribute to the changes?

I would encourage thoughtful collaboration, a willingness to change and to compromise on often long-held beliefs, transparency and effective communication. As a recent editorial stated, “Rowan residents are new to this discussion and uncertain, but it beats trying the same thing over and over again. … Change makes many people nervous. But this change offers exciting possibilities.”

As a native of Rowan County who began his career teaching at Knox and Salisbury High after graduating from East Rowan High and Catawba College, I am very excited that Rowan-Salisbury Schools will be THE leader in renewal schools in our state and perhaps the nation.

Phil Kirk, a native of Rowan County, lives in Raleigh and is chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education.