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School board approves renewal plans for 10 schools

SALISBURY — In just two hours of discussion, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education on Tuesday approved renewal plans for 10 of the district’s 34 schools.

Educators at each school — Hanford Dole, Knollwood, Landis and Overton elementaries; West Rowan Middle; and East Rowan, North Rowan, Salisbury, South Rowan and West Rowan high schools — have been crafting these plans since August, when the system received charter-like flexibility for all schools from the General Assembly.

The legislature liberated the school system from many state-mandated standards, allowing it certain freedoms in terms of curriculum, budget, personnel, calendar and scheduling.

Since then, teacher-led design teams have worked to compose models of operation that meet the needs of the unique student populations at each school: English-language students, victims of trauma or transient learners, to name a few categories.

According to principal-led presentations on Tuesday, each of the plans focuses on not only meeting site-specific needs but preparing students for today’s ever-advancing job market.

At North Rowan High, Principal Meredith Williams said the new model of instruction takes into account the new world of social media, globalization and technology.

“We typically think of the work done in school as something students turn in to a teacher for a grade,” Williams said. “This is underwhelming for our students.”

Accordingly, the shift is going from compliant learning to learning that is authenticated through problem-solving rooted in reality. Through design labs, students will be designing solutions to real-world problems.

Their solutions are often shared with community stakeholders, Williams said, providing wider feedback and more community engage and buy-in.

But renewal flexibility has provided more opportunities than just the funding for new labs at North Rowan. The school is also implementing cross-curricular course work and hiring additional support personnel such as an authentic work coach and student success coordinator.

The notion of authentic learning — learning that captivates and engages students through critical thinking and teamwork — proved to be a focus for a number of other schools Tuesday. West Rowan High School will be implementing hour-long problem-based learning sessions in each school day, alongside 40-minute seminars on real-world topics such as taxes, buying a car and college essays.

For Principal Jamie Durant, this new, authentic and problem-based focus may be the greatest struggle for many schools under the renewal effort.

He echoed sentiments expressed by Williams, saying in traditional school settings, students are fed information to memorize that they later regurgitate on tests before moving on.

Students used to this manner of schooling will likely experience some level of frustration with a new model that tasks them to engage with and prove their learning rather than passively receiving it.

“Problem-based learning is different, and it’s more difficult,” said Durant.

But he said that conversations with neighborhood corporations and business owners had indicated employers need workers who can collaborate and engage in creative thinking more than they need learners who can memorize outlined information.

Other common threads in the 10 presented plans included needs to engage and include English-language students, to address student trauma, and to provide more time for teacher professional development and training.

Superintendent Lynn Moody said the school administration is currently most concerned about the time it would take teachers to design curricula around problem-based learning.

Therein, the system has already requested funding for design teachers from the General Assembly, “because it’s a lot of extra work,” Moody said.

With site-specific needs identified, solutions outlined and goals set, the school board passed all 10 plans unanimously.

For more information about specific renewal plans, visit www.rssed.org/about/renewal. Additional information will follow in Thursday’s Salisbury Post.

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