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Josh Bergeron: Aim no lower than fundamental change

There’s something different about these educators, Stacey Gershkovich told a Rowan County Chamber of Commerce meeting on Thursday.

“When I met Lynn (Moody) and I met the team, I was just amazed that there was this district, public school district in North Carolina, who seems to have the same DNA as we do,” said Gershkovich, managing director of sharing at Success Academy, a network of charter schools based in New York City. “And Lynn mentioned that we’re controversial. And we are. That’s because we’re willing to try new things and we change. And that’s exactly what Lynn does.”

Gershkovich was the featured speaker during the Chamber of Commerce’s Power in Partnership breakfast event, and she said that education and, in fact, the world are in need of change right now. Gershkovich and Rowan-Salisbury Schools have forged a partnership in recent years intent on finding ways to improve themselves, with each institution sharing lessons and experiences. As part of their partnership, staffers from both institutions have visited their counterpart, with the first occurring in June 2019.

And while they’ve forged a partnership, it’s critical to note that the two school systems are vastly different from each other. Most notably, Success Academy is a charter school while Rowan-Salisbury remains public even with its renewal status. Success Academy high-performing, but it’s also highly criticized and controversial for decisions related to student performance and discipline.

“We are similar-sized, but that’s kind of where the similarities stop,” Gershkovich said. “We serve different students. We have different teachers. We are in very different communities. We have different regulations and laws and rules  and all of that, but what is similar about us is our ability to change.”

Gershkovich spoke excitedly about RSS’ renewal status, that Moody took charge of and required staff commitments for changes, buy-in from local educators to make change and a continued commitment to guided reading despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

To hear Moody tell it, her coming retirement will have little effect on the change-oriented mindset in Rowan-Salisbury Schools. She’s proud of the team she’s built and encouraged those listening, which included current and future community leaders, to remain confident in local public schools. It’s important, she said, for local folks to ensure educators have the opportunity to see new and different methods.

But Moody’s coming retirement will have an effect on the school system, particularly if her successor is not as change-minded as she is. The basic premise of renewal is a high floor to start from — a complete reimagining of public education in Rowan County. Anything less than someone completely committed to the cause of creating a new model of public education threatens to tank the entire renewal project.

When COVID-19 upended public education, Rowan-Salisbury Schools had just begun to roll out a new model for student performance. And that work appears to have waned in the following months, with local educators focused simply on getting students learning again.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools, which has just a few more years to make renewal work, remains at the early stages of its ambitious project.

To ensure renewal is a success, the school board should begin its superintendent search by looking internally first and picking someone to serve in the interim. If Moody is confident in the team and local educators feel the same way, there should be no rush to name a new superintendent by the time Moody retires. The board should instead prioritize finding an experienced educator whose mind is set no lower than completely changing what public education looks like in America. Rowan-Salisbury Schools is the only district in North Carolina where that dream can become a reality.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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