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Salisbury High School administrators present plan for renewal

SALISBURY — As schools across the Rowan-Salisbury district continue to redesign how they operate through a systemwide renewal status, administrators at Salisbury High School stepped forward Tuesday to share their vision.

The vision, according to Principal Luke Brown, is to create a personalized educational experience through changes that could include expanded support staff, a new look to the school day and new standards for evaluating students.

The proposed changes are still pending school board approval, but Brown said he thinks they are necessary given the school’s diverse student population.

“The most frustrating thing about this school is its diversity, but the most wonderful thing about this school is its diversity,” he said. “I feel like we focused on the very bottom to get them across the finish line and the very top to get them to Duke. We’ve not done a very good job meeting the students in between.”

Explaining renewal and the freedom it will give to educators, Brown started at the beginning. Renewal was approved in late summer last year by the state legislature, extending charter-like flexibility to Rowan-Salisbury Schools, he said.

The biggest change in renewal, said Brown, is that it “made funding much easier to work with at the school level.” Money will be allotted in one pot rather than according to restricted budgetary line items.

This flexibility has given the school freedom to spend $22,000 on professional development this school year, said Brown, allowing a nine-member, educator-led design team to create a vision.

“I wanted them to take what we did well and make it better, and take the deficiencies of the school and fix them,” he said.

The team identified three main struggles for Salisbury High’s most at-risk learners: a high level of trauma, a lack of parental support, and a lack of core skills necessary for success in the working world.

To address trauma, the design team proposed adding a full-time psychologist and full-time social worker to the school’s guidance team, a request yet to be weighed by the school board. The school has also already provided professional development to teachers on ways to identify and address trauma, and it will incorporate opportunities for conflict resolution and anger management classes into the school day.

The school is also looking to create “stress-free zones,” Brown said, areas where students can decompress.

To increase parental involvement, the school is planning to partner with the Parent-Teacher-Student Association to host more cookouts, games, student performances and other programs “to get bodies on our campus so we can have some interaction with our parents,” Brown said.

The school will host “parent academies” and partnerships with local businesses and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to offer courses free of charge in language, Microsoft, personal finance and parenting.

These offerings could be overseen by  another new staff member, a dean of culture, who would work to maintain a student-centered culture at the school, Brown said.

Finally, to address core skills, the design team proposed a revamp of the Salisbury High School daily schedule, with a proposed seven classes per school year alternating on a block and traditional schedule.

The schedule would allow for a once-weekly Hornet Hour, in which students would have the opportunity to explore valuable real-world skills such as car maintenance and balancing a checkbook.

Evaluation and instruction would move to a performance-based system that allows students to move at their own pace. The focus would be on concept mastery, said Brown, rather than conforming to scholastic timelines of the past.

Students could therefore have the opportunity to revisit prior work and have grades adjusted where appropriate.

“Our goal is that by the time you graduate, you will know it,” said Brown.

Addressing concerns from audience members, Brown said the change would not mean a shift to online-based, digital-only instruction.

For now, school administrators are waiting on the financial piece of the redesign to be approved by the school board, requests that would bring in additional staff members.

The school board also will make the final call on a possible 10:30 a.m. start to the school day each Wednesday, allowing school staff time for professional development and planning.

Other aspects of the plan will be phased in slowly, said Brown. Changes in instruction and evaluation will begin with next year’s freshman class and expand each year.

“It’s a slow process. We’re not doing all of this overnight because that’s just not possible,” he said.

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