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School board talks competency-based learning, receives new offer on Faith Elementary

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Schools administration gave the school board an update on the progress of its competency-based learning implementation Monday.

Competency-based learning is a model of education that removes traditional grading and focuses on mastery. The model allows students to progress at the pace they master concepts, with the goal of allowing some students to move more quickly in subjects where they perform while not leaving behind students who do not understand a concept.

The district has been slowly moving toward the model for the previous two years, and Morgan Elementary School has been a district leader on the model.

Several school board members had questions about the model during Monday’smeeting. Member Brian Hightower was critical of the model and expressed concern about its impact on student accountability.

Superintendent Tony Watlington said he supports competency-based learning and said the district wants to develop a strategic plan from the end of March through June that will create measurable goals for the district’s renewal plan. Watlington noted the district is exempt from some of the litany of standards that have to be taught in other public school districts.

Speaking to his experience as a history teacher, he talked about the value of being able to dive deep on subjects rather than covering a lot of content at a surface level.

“What I don’t support is lowering standards,” Watlington said.

School board member Travis Allen said he sees value in the model but also expressed concerns it would allow students to underachieve. Allen said educators do more than just teach curriculum content to students, but the schools need to hold kids accountable and instill discipline.

Susan Cox, a retired teacher, said the model allows the district to get as much education in during a full school year as it can.

“I don’t think that switching to a competency-based education system would enhance the students not working or refusing to do work more than it already does,” Cox said.

Cox said when she was in school kids were left behind.

In other news from the meeting:

• Faith Academy Charter School entered another offer on the Faith Elementary property after rescinding its previous $250,000 offer to move ahead with other plans to install mobile units on Shiloh Reformed Church property so it can begin classes this fall. RSS Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said the new offer is for $100,000.

Board member Travis Allen made a motion coming out of closed session at the end of the meeting to amend the night’s agenda to entertain offers on the property, but the motion failed. Board Chair Kevin Jones noted the issue would likely be part of the board’s business agenda in two weeks.

If the board entertains an offer, it would then need to start an upset bid process wherein other parties could counter.

• About 870 local school employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19 either through mass vaccination events or other outlets, according to Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

Vaccinations became available for all school employees two weeks ago. More than 500 people were vaccinated at one of the county’s weekend mass vaccination clinics. Others were vaccinated through their primary care providers or Walgreens.

As of Friday, the district had eight positive cases in staff and 13 in students. There were 19 staff and 252 students in quarantine. The numbers have continued a steady decline since January. RSS is planning to send elementary students back to school four days per week beginning March 29.

• Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Jason Gardner spoke to the board about ready-made resources the district wants to purchase through federal grant funding to develop problem-based learning in RSS schools. The lessons included in the $300,000 grant-funded cost are “cross-curricular in nature and support students in the development of real-world problem-solving strategies.”

• Vann updated the board on the former Woodleaf Elementary property, noting it has been transferred to the county.

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