Editorial: Rowan-Salisbury Schools can be more strategic about coming school year

Published 12:01 am Sunday, May 31, 2020

This school year, in particular the final few months, were not what Rowan-Salisbury Schools leaders expected from the first year in which its renewal status was district-wide.

A model to measure the effectiveness of learning with renewal moved many spots down the district’s priority list as the COVID-19 outbreak grew and shut down schools. A study set to be conducted by the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation didn’t move forward because of the failure by state legislators to pass a budget. Renewal plans for most schools have been approved, but the district this year was still very much in the infancy of its renewal status.

Still, the next few months should be one for reflection about what went well and what could be improved. And those conversations also have to recognize that COVID-19 is here to stay for a little while.

While there’s still value in letting schools develop their own renewal plans, district leaders also must ensure the proliferation of plans isn’t hurting instruction. A more consistent model doesn’t mean a return to standardized testing as the primary measure of success. More consistent plans will still allow educators to teach the whole student.

If schools are required to close their buildings and move to remote instruction again, however, it’s worth debating which plans or individual strategies worked best in the first pandemic-interrupted school year and focus on those. School leaders needed to quickly transition to remote instruction this school year, but they will have time during the summer to be more strategic about the 2020-2021 year. They’ll likely find that some parts of renewal plans are more important to pursue than others.

Isenberg Elementary’s plan, for example, will provide staff with training focused on creating a better understanding of social and emotional needs of students. With students in and out of the classroom and dealing with other interruptions in their lives, that may be among the most important items to ensure for all schools. Knox Middle School in its renewal plan has prioritized training for teaching about how to serve students with different learning styles, interests and needs — another especially important item if classes continue to be remote.

As part of renewal, East Rowan High School launched a virtual academy in which students would be able to get a diploma entirely online. Rowan-Salisbury Schools should devote more resources to ensuring development of that project. If done correctly, those students may be best suited to continue learning when buildings are closed again.

There will be many lessons from the 2019-2020 school year for educators across the country because of COVID-19, but those lessons will be particularly poignant for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, which is trying to create a new model for public education.