• 66°

RSS visited by Senate education co-chair as ‘renewal’ launch gets closer

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SPENCER — N.C. Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-45, says she wants to set up Rowan-Salisbury Schools for success.

Ballard, from Watauga County, is co-chairwoman of the Senate committees on education and higher education as well as appropriations for education and higher education. She was one of two state legislators who traveled to North Rowan High School on Friday to meet with school system staff, students and school board members about the district’s renewal plans, which launch districtwide in the 2019-20 school year.

Rep. Larry Pittman, a Republican whose district includes part of Rowan County, also attended.

With some schools already starting to implement renewal plans and others still preparing plans, Superintendent Lynn Moody said she invited the legislators to the district to show off RSS’ work.

“We want to show how we’re using our flexibility in a different way,” Moody said.

Moody said she also hoped to start a dialogue about what the General Assembly, State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction will expect from RSS at the end of the five years and how the district will be evaluated.

Because “renewal” is new in North Carolina, it’s difficult for anybody to understand it without seeing it in person, Board of Education Chairman Josh Wagner said.

“If the state hopes that this is successful here and can be replicated, they need to be able to understand and know what we have done, where are they now, where are they going and how did they get there,” Wagner said.

The renewal status means Rowan-Salisbury Schools will have unprecedented flexibility for a public school system, including its calendar, funding and personnel requirements. In some cases, renewal has allowed RSS schools to make changes that state regulations might have otherwise prevented. But regardless of whether a change would have been allowed, local educators have thought more creatively about what education in Rowan County looks like, Moody said.

At Knollwood Elementary, for example, the school repurposed its Title 1 funds — distributed to schools with a high percentage of low-income students — from being used for remediation classes to field trips and experiences outside the classroom, said Principal Shona Hairston.

Knox Middle School Principal Michael Courtwright said his school has repurposed funding to hire “highly trained” teachers at a salary that, in some cases, is equal to assistant principal or principal pay. Six teachers, Moody said, have a base pay of at least $75,000 a year. That helps the district compete with surrounding counties as well as much larger districts such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County.

At South Rowan High School, Principal Kelly Withers said, money has been repurposed from paying for a staff position to professional development. That’s allowed for trips across the country to learn about practices in other school districts.

JON C. LAKEY/SALISBURY POST Rowan Salisbury School officials gathered at North Rowan High school on Friday to host a visit from state Rep. Larry Pittman (R-82nd) and Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-45th). The State legislators were visiting Rowan-Salisbury schools district to learn about the progress of school renewal., Spencer, NC, 3/15/19

Because of her role as co-chairwoman of the education committees and that Rowan-Salisbury is entering uncharted territory, Ballard says she wants to “get in and see what’s working, what students and teachers are doing.”

“We talk a lot about local control and flexibility in education. So let’s see what it really looks like and how can we do it,” she said. “How do you untangle years and years and years of bureaucracy while also maintaining and improving student outcomes?”

On Friday, Ballard and Pittman spoke with ninth-graders at North Rowan in the school’s design classroom about their experience with renewal, as a number of schools in the district are “restart schools” and already granted some charter-like flexibility. After that, Pittman said it is clear that the students are success stories and asked about broader outcomes of the renewal project.

Moody told the crowd of staff members, students and school board members that nine to 10 schools in RSS are “on fire.” Two principals have said they’re not sure renewal is right for them, and the rest are somewhere in the middle.

North Rowan teacher Kimberly Greer said some students are adapting well to new teaching techniques. Others are not. However, Greer said, teachers are able to tap into what students are passionate about to teach them about subjects they may not have been interested in otherwise.

“They have the opportunity to learn without the fear of whether it’s going to be on a test or an exam,” Greer said.

Exactly how the school system will be judged on its “renewal” is not yet clear, as N.C. State University’s Friday Institute will begin designing those standards in April. Also in April, individual schools will present renewal plans to administrators and the school board. Moody expects some to include relatively small changes while others are further ahead in planning and will have “more dramatic plans.”

JON C. LAKEY/SALISBURY POST Rowan Salisbury School officials gathered at North Rowan High school on Friday to host a visit from state Rep. Larry Pittman (R-82nd) and Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-45th). The legislators were visiting Rowan-Salisbury schools district to learn about the progress of school renewal., Spencer, NC, 3/15/19

One things seems clear, according to RSS staff and state legislators: test scores won’t be the best way to judge success.

Pittman told those gathered Friday that he feels state government is “chasing its tail” by using test scores and letter grades to judge public schools. Letter grades are well intentioned but are not useful now, he said.

Ballard told the Post there must be accountability for districts and individual schools, but it’s unclear what that should entail.

“Who knows? That could be transformed. That’s part of why we’re here today,” she said.

As districtwide renewal gets closer to its launch date — next school year — Ballard said she’ll be paying attention to the district’s leadership — from the administrative office to classroom teachers.

“We really want to figure out and make sure we’re doing all we can to support our principals, be helpful and make sure we’re setting the district up for success. That’s why I’m here,” Ballard told the Post. “We want to make sure we’re putting the right elements in place to give them a platform to unleash themselves.”

Speaking to the group, Pittman said RSS should make sure state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson is aware of the good work Rowan-Salisbury Schools is doing and that more of it is needed across the state. Pittman told school staff members he would “back you up on that.”

“They can’t argue with the evidence,” Pittman said.

Comments

Business

County commissioners delay consideration of new events center in China Grove

Coronavirus

New COVID-19 outbreak emerges at N.C. State Veterans Home, another declared over

Crime

Police: Two armed men rob local convenience store

Crime

Blotter: Local woman swindled out of hundreds in gift card scam

News

‘People are the parade’: Salisbury’s annual Christmas parade reinvents itself in year of coronavirus

News

Commissioners grant permit, allow Reaper’s Realm to continue operations for remainder of Halloween season

Elections

Republican Rep. Budd maintains fundraising lead over Democratic challenger Huffman

Local

City council to consider ‘Share 2 Care’ fund for locals behind on water, sewer payments

Education

None speak against closure during hearing to shutter Faith Elementary

Crime

Blotter: Police find car windows shot out, bullet holes in home on West Horah Street

Crime

Five held at gunpoint in East Lafayette Street robbery

Ask Us

Ask Us: Readers ask questions about Shober Bridge, voting safeguards

Elections

Political notebook: More than 1.4 million votes cast already in North Carolina

Elections

‘Souls to the polls’: More than 1,300 cast ballots on first Sunday of early voting

Crime

Crime blotter: Salisbury man faces charges for firing shotgun in city limits, drug possession

Local

Search continues for missing hiker from Asheville

Local

A stroll through the scarecrows: fall-themed activity draws visitors to NC Transportation Museum

Elections

Despite scandal, Cunningham maintains small lead in Senate race; supporters say policy positions more important

Lifestyle

Rowan Helping Ministries golf tournament raises $20,000

Local

Town of Spencer forging ahead five years after drafting plans for Park Plaza

Business

Biz Roundup: RCCC to host conference on diversity, equity and inclusion

Business

Elderberry syrup: the popular purple product that has become a mainstay in local stores

Local

Trinity Oaks to host Halloween Spooktacular

Entertainment

Lee Street theatre improves virus prevention tactics, “determined” for ‘Fun Home’ to open