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Josh Bergeron: RSS updates public on journey to transform public education

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson may be right. The future of public education in our state, and perhaps our country, may have its genesis in Salisbury.

The Rowan-Salisbury School System on Friday celebrated a milestone in its launch of a “renewal district” — it was ready to unveil plans to the public.

And community leaders are on board with the plan.

Educating our children will is the most important thing we do as a community, F&M Bank executive Steve Fisher said. For too long, we’ve done the same thing in public education.

Now, Fisher said, Rowan County is saying it doesn’t want the same result.

Rep. Harry Warren, in addition to expressing support for renewal after Friday’s event, expressed confidence that the legislature will look upon the bold experiment kindly.

Rowan County Economic Development Commission President and CEO Rod Crider says he’s excited about the direction of the school system, too.

Importantly, however, Johnson expressed full-throated support for the plan.

“This is an amazing opportunity, not just for Rowan-Salisbury, but for all of North Carolina,” Johnson said. “We know we have an education system that was designed 100 years ago, with the best tools at the time … So, what we are doing here in Rowan-Salisbury is so exciting because we are breaking out of that mold and allowing teachers and principals to do what’s best for those students to find their own personal pathways to success.”

So, what exactly did RSS unveil Friday? Cut away the talk about why renewal is the right path and you’ll find a pie chart called the “directional system.” It contains the three areas on which RSS will focus to ensure students are engaged:

• Academic skills

• Unique life goals

• Interpersonal skills

The system did not describe in detail individual plans for schools. That wouldn’t make for a very interesting unveiling and many haven’t been finalized yet. Only three, so far, have received approval for their renewal plans. The school board is scheduled to approve 11 more on May 28.

Instead, RSS posted a document online that Superintendent Lynn Moody promised would evolve. At the moment, it lays out which flexibilities schools will use. All schools will use curriculum and calendar flexibility. Seven elementary schools — Granite Quarry, Handford-Dole, Hurley, Isenberg, Knollwood, North and Overton — will use budget flexibility. That means having the authority to alter the destination where money has traditionally been allocated. Money allocated to a vacant staff position might become funding for professional development.

Four middle schools, so far, have opted for budget flexibility — China Grove, Corriher-Lipe, Erwin and Knox. Only Henderson and West Rowan haven’t yet opted for budget flexibility among high schools.

China Grove and Knollwood elementaries as well as Knox Middle and North and South high schools are planning for personnel flexibility.

Only East Rowan and Salisbury high schools have opted for schedule flexibility — different from calendar flexibility in that it’s related to the structure of the school day.

The truth is that, as Moody said Friday, there’s still large amounts of work in front of teachers and administrators in the school system. So, Friday’s unveiling wasn’t so much a kickoff of renewal rather than an update on work so far.

As an example of work to come, consider that the Rowan-Salisbury School System is simultaneously weighing closing and consolidating schools. Moody said some schools “mentally shut down” because of consolidation talks. Some school system staff determined that renewal simply wasn’t for them. So, creating and implementing plans for curriculum as well as filling out the school system with educators willing to think boldly remains a monumental task.

But Moody and leadership at RSS are taking a gutsy step in the right direction by re-imaging what public education looks like. For too long, students’ dreams have been mentally trained on attaining a four-year degree by parents and educations. And students from less fortunate families often don’t receive the chance to dream about what their future might look like, learn about new and different career paths or visit other parts of our state.

Change won’t come easy and, as Fisher said, it may be messy, but we will only fail if we first fail to try.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.



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