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Editorial: Renewal concept ready for takeoff

State Superintendent Mark Johnson made what to him was a big announcement during his visit to Salisbury on Wednesday. He said the state had identified $6 million to provide iPads to reading teachers in grades K-3. That’s probably a boon to those teachers, but to a county where teachers, teaching assistants and students started receiving iPads and laptops in 2014, the news seemed like a throwback.

Rowan-Salisbury took the digital leap years ago. While the devices have not sent test scores soaring, our teachers and students are way ahead of many other counties when it comes to figuring out classroom technology.

Now our local school system is venturing into new territory again, this time by becoming the state’s first Renewal District. Rowan-Salisbury schools will gradually gain some of the flexibility that taxpayer-supported charter schools have enjoyed for years — flexibility in setting the calendar, hiring teachers, giving standardized tests and prioritizing how money is spent, among other things. The pilot program offers an opportunity that many school systems would like to have.

The state officials at Wednesday’s kickoff breakfast for the renewal district voiced complete support. “Yes, we know you are going to be building the plane as you fly it,” said Rep. Craig Horn, chair of the House Education Policy Committee. That’s a scary proposition, and there may be screw-ups, he said. Failure is an option if you can learn from it and move on.

The most important message of the day may have come from Josh Wagner, the school board chairman. Be present in the system, he asked local residents. Be patient with the process. And be proud — able to speak up and push back when something is not going right, but still taking pride in the system and where it’s going.

Wednesday’s fanfare settled any doubts about state officials’ support for Rowan-Salisbury. Even more encouraging are the conversations among teachers about the opportunity to steer the process in their schools. The digital conversion was foisted upon teachers, whether they liked it or not. The renewal model, by comparison, will depend on teacher-led teams to build each school’s focus. Their experience, insights and ideas are pivotal. To build on Horn’s metaphor, they won’t just be passengers on the plane. Teachers will be charting the course.

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