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Rowan-Salisbury school board settles on new school calendar

By Rebecca Rider

For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Schools calendar for the 2019-20 year was decided with little fanfare Monday evening.

The decision came after a public survey asking teachers, parents, students and others to choose between two options. Both broke away from the norm — starting classes at the beginning of August instead of nearer September.

The calendars were created with input from teachers from each school and presented to the community. A committee designed three separate calendars, but in a preliminary survey, nearly 3,500 respondents rejected one of the options. That left a choice between the two others, which were presented to the board then put out in another survey.

“So it wasn’t a vote necessarily, but they were able to indicate their preference,” said Alesia Burnette, district accountability director, at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Education.

In a surprise to district staff and board members, more than 7,000 people responded to the second survey — bringing the total number of responses to both surveys to more than 11,000.

“In the 13 years that I’ve been here … I haven’t seen that kind of interest and input from our community,” Burnette said.

In the second survey, more than 50 percent of responders said they preferred Calendar A, which has teachers beginning school Aug. 1 for an optional workday. Students would begin school on Wednesday, Aug. 7.

The earlier start would not only allow schools to close early — by May 21, 2020, just before Memorial Day weekend — it also allows high schools to wrap up the first semester and testing before winter break.

The calendar also has several shorter breaks for students throughout the year. Those days would be teacher workdays, allowing time for training, planning or professional development. One of those days is Nov. 5 to allow schools to be used as polling places.

Students would receive a full two weeks off for winter break and a full week off in spring.

Both teachers and parents preferred this calendar.

However, roughly 40 percent of respondents said they liked Calendar C, which had a student start date of Aug. 1.

Either calendar would have been a change from tradition.

“One may not be as drastic as the other, but it’s going to be different for our parents,” Burnette said.

At the end of her presentation, Burnette recommended the board approve either Calendar A or Calendar C, prompting some laughter from board members.

“So you’re not recommending that we choose A,” Chairman Josh Wagner said. “You’re recommending that we choose A or C. … I see what you did there.”

The board unanimously voted to approve Calendar A, but this isn’t the end of calendar discussions. Since an earlier start date is a new — born of RSS’ role as a renewal system — the staff still needs to iron out details such as the Summer Meals Program.

For now, however, the discussion can rest.

“So we have survived that for another year,” Wagner joked.

In other business, the school board:

• Swore in Kevin Jones, Jean Kennedy and Dean Hunter for new terms on the board. All were elected in November.

• Voted Wagner as chairman and Susan Cox as vice chairwoman.

• Said goodbye to Richard Miller, who has served on the board for more than eight years and chose not to seek re-election. In his goodbyes, Miller urged fellow board members to keep fighting to try innovative approaches to issues because “to continue to do the same things and expect different results is insanity.” He also discussed the importance of consolidating schools for the continued health of the system and the necessity of a vocational high school.

Finally, he said, “Be brave, be bold, and always do what’s in the best interests of students.”

• Had a heated discussion about creating a pilot program for lead teachers — complete with a salary increase — at Knox Middle School. Principal Michael Courtwright said the staff hopes the move will increase teacher retention. The plan was developed as part of Knox’s restart strategy.

Courtwright proposed paying lead teachers about $75,000 per year — significantly more than their peers. The salary proposed, as well as issues with how the success of the program would be evaluated, drew backlash from board members. The issue was tabled until January’s work session.

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