Kenneth L. Hardin: Why is our school system performing so poorly?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 4, 2022

As I scrolled through six years of the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s state report cards, I cringed. The troubling information detailing the schools’ performance created a cascade of sadness quickly replaced by confusion.

My eyes played a losing game of pickleball with my brain as I clicked on different screens covering 2015-2022. A 1979 Pink Floyd song kept banging inside the walls of my head as I perused the information leaping off the computer screen into my realm of consciousness. It’s already so crowded and cluttered up there, I’m surprised there was rental space available to allow me to sing the tune, “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control…Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone.”

Looking at the abhorrent performance of our school district, the true meaning of the song played eerily realistic. Having RSS designated as a N.C. Low Performing District, the grammatically incorrect, double negative lyrical intro means we desperately need education. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our local schools.

I was compelled to take this dark journey of educational discovery after receiving an unsolicited email from a well-known mover and shaker in this city. He shared concerns about graduation rates and difficulties getting answers from school administrators. After chopping it up with a few other individuals equally concerned about RSS, I was left perplexed as to why there’s such a distinct pattern of poor performance.

I’ve been often told so patronizingly and in such a surprisingly and demeaning way that I’m articulate and intelligent, as if it’s a foreign concept to skinfolk. I’ll try to opine as astutely as possible without purposely offending the fragile sensibilities of those with a stake in the game.

RSS is in the bottom 50% of rankings for all schools in N.C. and is designated as a Low-Performing District. To earn this abysmal label, the N.C. statute reads that you must have greater than 50% of schools designated as low-performing, and a school has received a Performance Grade of D or F. RSS has performed well in this beauty-less pageant with the majority of K-12 schools meeting the detestable criteria consistently over the last six years.

I don’t have a dog in this fight because all of my kids successfully matriculated through RSS and went on to education at higher institutions of learning.

I care about kids so I care about this. There are several things I don’t understand and feel they could have a correlation to why our school system is failing. Why are we so top heavy with administration titles? Eliminate some of the assistant superintendents and put that money into the classroom. Why is a new, unproven superintendent making so much?

If money were the key to the role, we wouldn’t be on the hiring merry go round. Why are we looking at spending $80 million on a new school to replace Knox and Overton? That seems to be a needless and exorbitant amount to spend when that money can be redirected into actual teachers and improving curriculums. If the voucher system that is waiting in the wings of our state legislature gets approved after a Republican win in the 2024 gubernatorial election, the money will follow the student. This allows them to go to any school they elect whether it’s private, charter or RSS. If many informed parents opt out of RSS, this leaves a big empty multimillion dollar dinosaur. Why not expand Isenberg and use the 17 RSS-owned acres adjacent to it? Why not build on the 35 acres in the southern part of the county RSS already owns? Better yet, let’s halt spending significant amounts of money on structures and focus on improving the basic fundamentals of education.

I smelled trouble years ago when my son’s teacher explained to me that she was a facilitator and not a teacher. Huh, what? I agree that introducing technology into learning is important, but I would much rather for an elementary school student to have good character and discipline, learn how to write in cursive, tell time on a standard clock, diagram a sentence and be able to add, subtract  and multiply without the use of an electronic device.

I was an involved and participative parent. I visited my sons’ classrooms regularly, attended parent-teacher conferences and rarely missed PTA meetings. It was disappointing to see the lack of men, especially men of color, in the room. Gone are the days when parents and teachers worked collaboratively to ensure their child’s educational success.

Parents treat schools like free daycare and will come with smoke for any educator who dares to request more respect and discipline in the child.

If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, change the reflection, not the mirror. I’m hopeful with the addition of new life on the school board, someone will.

Kenneth L. “Kenny” Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.