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Education NC finds mixed opinions in survey on renewal school district

By Alex Granados

Education NC

The North Carolina General Assembly granted Rowan-Salisbury Schools the “renewal school system” designation last year, and the 2018-19 year was the district’s first under the program.

Renewal gives all schools in the district charter-like flexibility. Schools can be exempt from state mandates on how money is spent, which teachers are hired, what curriculum is used, when classes start and stop, and more.

EdNC.org wanted to see what people thought about the concept. More than 650 people responded to a survey.

The majority of respondents said they live in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools district. Among those who live in the district, there was a 50-50 split when asked if they had concerns about how the renewal system is rolling out.

Many of the comments from the survey praise the innovative approach the district is taking, while others complained about the speed of the rollout and a perceived lack of information.

“I think it is great that funds can be put where they are needed rather than being allocated for specific areas. Different schools have different needs, and those specific needs can be focused on more in a renewal system,” wrote Kelly Reinholz.

Norma Honeycutt, on the other hand, said the program is rolling out way too fast and more research should have been done ahead of time.

Elizabeth Faw said she is excited for the future.

“We are excited about the opportunities our girls have with this renewal. This school year is shaping up to be amazing. We can’t wait to see what the future holds,” Faw wrote.

But Julie File said lack of information is a problem.

“It has all been done without letting either the teachers or the parents actually know what will change. If you ask any of my children’s teachers what it means, they have no clue and can’t tell us how it will affect the classroom,” File wrote.

The shifting school calendar elicited particular criticism from Shannon Lloyd.

“I think that school started way too early losing three weeks of summer and family time with my children. I enjoy the summer with my children,” Lloyd wrote. “Private schools don’t even start this early. Most of the Rowan County school systems don’t even have air conditioning that work throughout the whole school, not to mention it is way too hot for children to be playing outside in this heat.”

The majority of survey respondents were aware of both the renewal school system and the fact that the state mandates certain requirements for most traditional public schools.

Most respondents said other school districts should have the same flexibility as RSS. Respondents were a little more mixed, however, as to whether individual schools should have more independent flexibility.

When asked whether they had concerns about districts or schools having the same flexibility as Rowan-Salisbury, 53% said yes and 47% said no.

Rick Hudson said flexibility has promise, but it all depends on the implementation.

“This is an opportunity which can be leveraged for the benefit of the pupils or squandered,” Hudson wrote. “If it fails, it is not indicative of the weakness of the concept but of those tasked with implementation and ongoing operations. The lion’s share of the effort should be invested in selecting the personnel with the skills and vision to activate the concept and then giving them the space to act.”

Many anonymous respondents said they worried about the fact that schools with charter-like flexibility can hire teachers who aren’t licensed in their subject area, raising concerns that those teachers wouldn’t be qualified.

Most respondents were either parents (36%) or teachers (37%). The next largest category was other (22%).

Rowan-Salisbury Superintendent Lynn Moody gave the State Board of Education an update on the first year of renewal last Wednesday.

Moody said the renewal plan — particularly the flexibility utilized — for individual schools is largely directed by the district, but that each school has the ability to make some choices for themselves.

Moody likened it to the grocery chain Food Lion. She said that if you were to go to any Food Lion, 80% of each store would be exactly the same. But that last 20% would be dictated by the store manager. So, for instance, a Food Lion on the coast of North Carolina may sell flip-flops while one in the Piedmont wouldn’t.

“That’s how we look at our 34 renewal plans,” Moody said.

She showed state board members a snapshot of all the schools in the district and the kinds of flexibility they are using in elementary and secondary grades.

She also explained the staggered rollout the district is using to implement the renewal plan.

EducationNC is a collection of nonprofit groups and initiatives that was established to provide an independent source of news, data and analysis about education in North Carolina.

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