RSS talks strategic plan, goal of 12% increase in reading proficiency

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2021

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ strategic plan took another step toward completion on Monday after the Board of Education approved draft goals that district administrators created.

The plan is a project of a 45-member steering committee and more than 30 focus groups. The hope is to implement a plan in early 2021 as the blueprint for what the district wants to accomplish for the next five years.

There are 13 goals, including:

  • Improving student engagement and wellness
  • Improving literacy
  • Increasing academic growth of all students
  • Decreasing the number of low-performing schools
  • Increasing interpersonal skills
  • Increasing graduation rate
  • Increasing the percent of students enrolled, enlisted or employed upon graduation
  • Improving employee satisfaction and staff wellness
  • Decreasing teacher attrition and improving recruitment practices
  • Improve the overall operational efficiency of the district
  • Increase student enrollment and parent/community satisfaction

During a presentation on Monday, some of the board members questioned why there were so many categories with “to be determined” listed under measurement tools and targets the district plans to use to assess each goal.

“It still feels like we are kind of agreeing to, or saying these are our goals but we don’t really know what our goals are,” board member Kevin Jones said.

Superintendent Tony Watlington said part of the goals include getting the board to agree on them as concepts and establishing a baseline measurement by which to measure some of them. However, some goals already have a final destination in mind by the 2026-2027 school year. For example, the district hopes to increase its graduation rate from 85.5% to 90% and improve third-grade reading proficiency from 38% to 50%.

Watlington pre-empted the board on the 38% proficiency figure.

“You might ask, well, ‘If 38% of our third graders were proficient on the third-grade end-of-grade test, why is it that five years from now we want that to be 50% at a minimum for the district as a whole?'” Watlington said, adding white students are sitting at 51% proficiency, Black students at 14%, Hispanic students at 24% and multi-race students at 31%.

Watlington said the district wants to narrow the performance gaps between minority and white students, but it does not want to achieve that by reducing the proficiency of white students and increasing that of minority students.

“We want everybody to increase, but because some of our students of color are so low they’ve got a greater amount of ground to cover or they won’t ever catch up and we won’t ever improve the economic condition of Rowan County,” Watlington said. “Because we must be alarmed if there is any group with very low percentages of third-grade reading.”

Watlington went on to pose the question of why RSS would only set a goal to increase 12%. He referenced research that goals must be measurable and achievable so he can hold principals accountable to them and he can be held accountable by the board. He tapped Chief Academic Officer Jason Gardner to explain why the goal was set.

Gardner told the board the largest increase staffers could find among North Carolina districts was 12% and the average increase was .5%.

“We wanted to set a goal that was ambitious yet still attainable,” Gardner said.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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