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Renewal offers revamp for 5 Salisbury-Rowan high schools

Former Livingstone player putting points on the scoreboard

Drew Powell

SALISBURY — Last week, the Board of Education approved new plans of operation for 10 area schools, with common themes arising in each: Rowan-Salisbury learners needed coursework that was engaging, personalized and relevant to everyday life in the working world.

Through House Bill 986 and Rowan-Salisbury’s new status as a “renewal” district, educators are now working to give them just that. The legislation provides the district with charter-like flexibilities in terms of curriculum, funding, personnel, calendar and scheduling.

For the five high schools approved — North Rowan, West Rowan, Salisbury, South Rowan and East Rowan, each plan focused on a pivotal concept — authentic learning, the moment when learning ties into functionality and practicality and students move beyond engaged to comprehension.

Below are highlights from each high school plan:

North Rowan High School

At North Rowan High School, a new model of operations has resulted in a so-called lower and upper school. The lower school, said Principal Meredith Williams, centers around a pair of design labs, wherein students are tasked to design solutions to real-world problems such as how to assist people in poverty or how to provide schools in developing countries.

The design experiences are meant to expose students to a wide array of skills, needs and careers where they can serve, Williams said. But the ultimate goal is, she said, is to authenticate learning.

With learners engaged and their interests peaked in particular areas, they move to the upper school, which features cross-curricular and college-level courses designed to “offer students the opportunity to build their own pathway,” Williams said.

“As we personalize and authenticate the education students are receiving, students self-report they are thinking more, collaborating more and finding more challenge in education,” she said.

West Rowan High School

Thinking similarly to educators at North, the West Rowan teacher-led design team identified needs to increase student engagement. To do so, the team adjusted the school schedule to allow for two new periods of instruction — one hour-long, problem-based learning or design period and a 40-minute block for seminars.

The seminars, said Principal Jamie Durant, are selected by students and focus on topics students “have a strong interest in.” Students have identified a selection of these, he said, and they include everyday necessities not built into a traditional high school curriculum, such as how to buy a  car, taxes and how to write a college entrance essay.

West Rowan will also make strides to increase student connectivity and interest in college and careers by providing funding and transportation for college tours and putting an increased focus on internship and job shadowing opportunities. The goal, Durant said, was to have 50% of all juniors and seniors successfully complete an internship in their field of interest.

South Rowan High School

According to South Rowan Principal Dr. Kelly Withers, South Rowan’s new modus operandi was “rooted in student voice and need.”

Like her fellow educators, Withers said that students at South Rowan struggled with engagement. At South Rowan, this lack of engagement could be seen in stagnant graduation and attendance rates.

To meet the need, students will continue in an already existing advisory program, where they will be matched with a faculty member who will help students “graduate enrolled, employed or enlisted in their next step in life.”

The school will also provide integrated coursework such as combined arts and social studies classes or math and technical classes.

“We want to make the pathway narrow enough to capture student interest but broad enough that they can pivot,” Withers said.

Salisbury High School

Principal Luke Brown said that renewal and funding for “go-and-see” experiences had allowed Salisbury High School’s design team to see schools addressing students at their true level of need.

“Our students are our gift to the community,” he said.

To address the needs of Salisbury learners, the school will implement initiatives focusing on mental health, such as a trauma team, the addition of a full-time therapist, stress-free zones and additional staff training in restorative practices and intervention strategies.

The school will also offer students the opportunity to be graded based on mastery. Students will have the opportunity to go back and redo assignments to demonstrate their mastery of concepts and adjust their grades.

Aiding in additional training and new mastery-based techniques, the school will also implement a Wednesday late start, allowing teachers time for professional development and training.

East Rowan High School

Echoing many of the same messages of other school principals, East Rowan Principal Tonya German said the school’s design team worked to create a new system of operations with a “mission to provide all students with personalized pathways for success.”

The key to this planning was personalization. High school students will now receive a more collegiate-like experience, with extended school hours from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., allowing scheduling flexibility and the opportunity for students to “attend in shifts,” German said.

Students will be able to select and customize their own schedules through “arena-style scheduling,” where they will register for classes of interest to meet a variety of requirements.

The school will also put an increased focus on internships, with a goal to have all students participate in an internship or externship experience at some point through their high school career. This push would be overseen by a new, repurposed internship coordinator.

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