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‘Better chance of succeeding’: Moody, colleagues reflect on tenure, retirement

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Lynn Moody was not a strong reader when she began attending North Carolina State University.

The outgoing Rowan-Salisbury Schools superintendent wanted to be a lawyer when she left Ruffin, a small community in Rockingham County, for Raleigh. She intended to be a political science major, but says she couldn’t keep up with the concepts when she took her first class on the subject. She decided to change majors.

So, Moody decided to major in industrial formative training — no longer a program at N.C. State. And for part of her teaching career, she helped high school students get and keep jobs. She went on to earn a master’s degree from N.C. State as well and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University

Moody took extra classes and graduated early with her bachelor’s degree. She became a teacher when she was 21 and took her first job teaching exploratories at Carroll Middle School in Raleigh. She taught a few subjects. The school needed someone to teach drama, and Moody took up the challenge even though she had never been cast in a school play.

During her first year of teaching, Moody was pregnant and a teacher of family and consumer sciences named Betty Honeycutt took her under her wing. Honeycutt packed Moody’s lunch every day, helped her get her classroom set up and mentored Moody. Today, years after that first job and as she prepares to retire as Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ superintendent in December, Moody speaks highly of the entire team at Carroll. Some of those people went onto important jobs in education, Moody says. One became a professor at N.C. Agricultural and Technical University. Another became an assistant superintendent. Moody, of course, became a superintendent herself.

“We just had a great staff,” Moody said.

A particular critic of standardized testing today, Moody looks back on teaching in the 1980s and remembers freedom from standardized testing as a good thing.

“How I wish school could look more like it did when I was teaching 30 years ago,” Moody said. “As a teacher, I was creating exciting work with children, and it wasn’t necessarily tied to really stringent outcomes.”

There were things that were worse as well, including how little schools understood trauma and disability at the time. In an interview with the Post, Moody remembered one student who she taught at Carroll, misbehaved in the classroom and had attention deficit disorder. Moody said one of her regrets is that she took such punitive approach to disciplining the student.

“There’s so many things that we learned over time that makes education so much stronger,” Moody said. “There are things about children’s disabilities and how to work with those disabilities that are important research.”

Moody had a student years later while teaching high school. One student had mental health diagnoses, he was belligerent in class and threw work back at her.

That student’s probation officer, someone who championed him, took her to see where he lived. He lived with his grandmother with nothing but a sleeping bag and a box to his name. That student had been discarded and by his family for his entire life. The experience helped her connect with that student and find him employment and stability in his life.

Moody says she moved around so much during the beginning of her career she has trouble remembering all of the places she taught. Her husband opened new branches of the engineering firm he worked for and the couple moved often together during those early years. Moody says she is still unsure what she did to end up where she is now. But at each stop in her career, Moody recalls, there was usually someone working to try and bring her to the next level.

She worked for Wake County Schools for a number of years. Her last post there was as the career and technical education for the district. Eventually, her husband moved because of her new post as superintendent of Rock Hill Schools in South Carolina.

Eight years later, in 2013, she would be hired as superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, taking over for another retiring superintendent, Judy Grissom. Last week, Moody announced that she would be retiring effective Dec. 31.

Reflecting on seven years of change

Since her start in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Moody has been the district’s champion for renewal, pushing to obtain the special status from the state. She is an advocate of 21st century education methods like competency-based learning and a critic of standardized testing.

Renewal is a special status granted by the state that gives the entire district freedoms normally only afforded to charter schools and private institutions. It’s aided by a device policy that means every student is issued a laptop or tablet. The district is rolling out its latest lease of Apple products right now, and every student is being issued a new iPad. The district also has more freedom to hire lateral entries into teaching and has used that freedom to pursue candidates in technical fields like manufacturing as teachers. The 2019-2020 year was the first of district-wide renewal. And Moody says getting a new superintendent in place in January would give the new candidate time to understand the district before making preparations for the 2021-2022 school year.

Moody said she regrets not making more progress on school consolidation. That there are too many schools, Moody said, takes resources away from students. The district estimates at least $500,000 in extra cost to keep a school open. That funding can be used to support other schools, and more schools means fewer programs in the existing facilities.

When faced with the possibility of closing Knox and Overton earlier this year, the board agreed to instead build a new K-8 between them and combine the two schools. The board is now exploring closing Henderson Independent School and again looking at Faith and Enochville elementary schools.

Whether it’s been the work of school board members or staff, there have also been new facilities built during Moody’s watch. A new elementary school in Cleveland consolidated Cleveland and Mount Ulla elementaries. Wallace Educational Forum, which hosts district administration and the Board of Education, was finished in 2016 after years of debate.

The district also created Summit Virtual Academy as a dedicated, permanent all-virtual school for K-8 students leading up to the current fall semester.

“I think we’re going to miss her terribly,” says Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann, who was hired by Moody six years ago.

Vann says he wasn’t shocked by the news of her retirement but that he thought she would stay on as superintendent for longer. He joined others who spoke to the Post in describing Moody as a visionary and a driven leader.

Vann said the district improved under Moody, that she built a good team with varied strengths around her and always wanted the administration to make decisions that were best for students. Vann pointed out that, out of the state’s 115 school districts, there’s something special in RSS for it to be chosen for renewal.

“I think our students have a better chance of succeeding now than they have in the past,” Vann said.

Vann said Moody would be the first to admit she can be impatient, but he attributed that to her drive because she has a vision she wants to reach. She likes to keep things moving.

Associate Superintendent of Resources Carol Herndon, hired in 2017, said she doesn’t know of a good leader who is not sometimes intense. Herndon spent more than 20 years working for Food Lion’s corporate office before she pursued other opportunities looking for a change of pace. Taking charge of the district’s finances is a second career for her, and she knew Moody before she was hired by serving on nonprofit boards with her.

Herndon said she had no public education experience when she started, but Moody welcomed her contributions beyond the district’s finances.

“She considered me a partner as well as a colleague,” Herndon said.

Hiring process

RSS Board of Education member Susan Cox was on the the board when Moody was hired and recalled there being “quite a few” applicants. Cox said she wasn’t sure of the exact number but that it was less than 100. The N.C. School Boards Association assisted with the hiring process, including advertising the position.

After receiving applications, the board, with the help of the association, discussed, ranked, eliminated and interviewed their way down to the top few candidates.

Cox said Moody’s honesty was one of the impressive things about Moody. During the interview process, Cox recalled, Moody told the board there was a lot of work to be done on the district’s reading scores.

“I felt like she leveled with us,” Cox said.

Cox also described Moody as a visionary and an “extreme asset” for the district. But Cox says she’s also been reassured by Moody that the district is in a solid, sustainable position without the retiring superintendent.

Josh Wagner was also on the school board when Moody was hired. Wagner said the hiring process was a learning experience for him and commended Moody’s work as superintendent. Wagner thinks she was successful and was honest with the board even when he disagreed with her.

An example Wagner gave was when he voted against the recommendation to enter into a new lease contract with Apple for a district-wide device refresh. Wagner cited a desire to explore possibilities of other brands and change the lease length before moving ahead with a decision. In an interview with the Post, though, Wagner said Moody’s recommendation was based on feedback from teachers and administration.

Community relationships

Eight years ago, the district was in a different place. The Board of Education and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners were at the precipice of a lawsuit over funding. The county provides millions in funding for the district each year, and is responsible for providing capital funding for the district that allows it to build schools and maintain buildings. The relationship between the two groups was contentious and adversarial, Cox recalled.
Today, that’s different and reflected by statements from commissioners Chairman Greg Edds. Edds said the working relationship with Moody has been positive. The one-to-one device policy she has implemented, Edds said, puts Rowan-Salisbury Schools at the top of technology in the state and equipped to handle COVID-19 disruptions better than most districts.

Edds said Moody has been a trailblazer with the district’s renewal status. He said Moody has spent time with elected officials of all stripes to get them to think about public education in different ways.

He said being in a position like superintendent always makes people a target for criticism. That can wear on someone, he said.

Rowan County Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Spalding said Moody worked with the chamber on linking the local business community with the school district to help place students locally once they complete their education. Spalding said Moody is a good friend and the chamber of commerce does not want to see Moody go, but Spalding said she understands doing what’s best for herself and her family.

“She has been a wonderful partner,” Spalding said.

RSS Board Chair Kevin Jones echoed Cox, calling Moody a visionary thinker for education on the community level who has pushed the district to do some atypical things like one-to-one and renewal.

“The overall direction of our system has a lot to do with her leadership,” Jones said. “I think she’s done a very good job of building a team around her that is very capable and very able to lead the district.”

Jones said he never expected Moody to be around forever, but he anticipated her retirement to come in the next several years instead of the next several months.

“It was sooner than I expected it to be,” Jones said.

What’s next

Moody and her husband currently live in Landis and are not from Rowan County, and Moody says they intend to move. The couple has two granddaughters in Texas with whom they hope to spend more time, but Moody didn’t entirely write off returning to education in another capacity at some point in the future. That return, though, will come with fewer and more flexible hours.

Cox said she trusts Moody when she told the Rowan County Board of Education she was replaceable, and Cox said she thinks the team Moody has built is sustainable. But the school board will need to choose a new superintendent, and it’s scheduled to discuss the matter as part of a called meeting at 4 p.m. Monday. The board is also scheduled to talk about the possibility of returning K-5 students to classes full time.

Wagner, who is not running for reelection, told the Post he’s open to the possibility of placing an interim superintendent in the role and taking on an extended search.

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