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Elementary and middle schools plan for renewal

SALISBURY — With just 15 minutes allotted to each of 10 schools on Tuesday, the principals presented plans that would reshape models of instruction across the Rowan-Salisbury Schools district.

The schools included West Rowan Middle and Knollwood, Overton, Landis and Hanford Dole elementary schools.

The plans, approved unanimously by the school board, made use of flexibilities provided through legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly designating Rowan-Salisbury Schools as a renewal school system. The provision allows each school to be flexible in budgeting, curriculum, scheduling, the calendar and personnel to meet identified needs of their student populations.

Plans ranged from radical shifts like returning kindergarten’s focus to play to smaller, behind-the-scenes opportunities such as trauma training for personnel and additional support staff.

Highlights of the coming changes are as follows:

West Rowan Middle School

In developing a plan for West Rowan middle schoolers, Principal Daisy White summed up the biggest obstacle with one sentence: “Middle schoolers have no idea what their passions are.”

Accordingly, she said the school would put things in place to give its learners opportunities to explore that avenue before entering high school.

To do this, the school will implement a focus on sustainable development, allowing the students to use problem-based learning to explore the economy, environment, equality and more.

The school will also provide male mentors in an effort to reduce discipline incidents for male students, which are currently double those of female students.

Knollwood Elementary School

Knollwood Principal Shonda Hairston presented her plan by first giving some statistics on her school. Of its 587 students, 366 are Hispanic. Moreover, 244 students take English language courses.

This year alone, she said, the school had 20 newcomers to the English language program, tying into one of the school’s three identified needs: a need for experience on which to hook new vocabulary principles.

To meet this need, the school is using renewal funding to provide field trips and other experiences for students and their families.

“We remember 10% of what we read, but we remember 90% of what we do,” Hairston said.

Overton Elementary School

Overton Elementary Principal Candice Austin said the school’s renewal focus is on providing a “robust school experience by meeting the whole child.”

This means accounting for the social and emotional needs of students, exemplified in the campus’ high percentage of transient families. More than 30% of the school’s students enrolled late or withdrew early, she said.

Though there are no means of preventing the high rate of family mobility, the school is repurposing personnel to provide a team of support specialists to help students as they transition to and from the school.

The school will also work to provide trauma-informed training for its staff.

Landis Elementary School

Principal Jessica Zehmer said Landis Elementary intends to use renewal funding to tackle two areas: to increase mathematical conceptual understanding and bring developmentally appropriate play back into kindergarten.

Addressing the shift from a purely academic kindergarten focus to one that incorporates play, she quoted Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget: “Play is the work of childhood,” she said.

To aid this shift, the school will use funding flexibility to redesign kindergarten classrooms to enable child-initiated and child-directed play for experiences that would be balanced with instruction.

Hanford Dole Elementary School

Beginning her presentation, Principal Stephanie Sanders painted a picture of the traumas mentioned by her educator peers: Of students waking up in unfamiliar places, facing transportation barriers and the brunt of stress felt by caregivers.

Students, she said, are given no time to decompress from these stressful situations before they are tasked with going to school.

Through renewal, the school will offer optional times for decompression in the morning. It will also extend lunch periods to 30 minutes from the previous 20 minutes.

In an effort to keep students engaged after their decompression, the school will expand its enhancement or exploratory offerings to meet their interests.

Information on high school renewal plans will follow in Sunday’s Salisbury Post.

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