Welcome back: Students return to school on Wednesday

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 6, 2023

Students return to Rowan-Salisbury Schools on Wednesday. For some, it will be their first day at a new school, while others return to friends not seen since before summer vacation.

It can be an exciting time or a nerve-wracking time for students. RSS Superintendent Dr. Kelly Withers says it’s a “new beginning” for everyone. As a kid, it was her favorite day of school, and that sentiment has continued throughout her career.

“Everyone is positive,” Wither said. “You get to see your friends and your new teachers. Everything is new. You’re getting an opportunity to start fresh, to start over, or a brand new experience.

“The same thing happens as a teacher, as an assistant principal, principal and then at the central office as well. It’s a new beginning for everyone and a time to reset and set new priorities or visions.”

Withers acknowledged that not everyone looks forward to that first day, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a positive student experience.

“My advice would be to build relationships with the people around you, like your peers,” Withers said. “Everything is easier when there is someone there. Finding that person for you is extremely important. One of the things we are working on with our district is making sure every one of our students has an adult advocate to make those transitions easier as they come back to school.”

That advice is the same for teachers, and with many new staff members coming on board, it can be helpful.

“I am sure there are a lot of people who are nervous — not just our new students, but our new staff as well,” Withers said. “We have over 20 international teachers who are joining us for the first time this year.”

The superintendent said the district used a third-party organization that recruits teachers from around the globe to fill teaching positions in the U.S.

“We partner with those organizations to bring teachers to us and to expand, of course, from a diversity perspective, but we also have a teaching shortage, so it allows us to bring in diverse perspectives and fill the needs we have to serve our students,” Withers said. “We are working really hard to address the staffing shortages. We are working to continue to recruit high-quality staff to get into our classrooms. We continue to look for those people, but there will be a level of patience as we look to hire them in those positions.”

With construction efforts displacing Knox Middle students, the district has been working to make that move as seamless as possible.

“Our middle school staff has worked really hard on transition events at the schools where students were moved from Knox to those locations to make sure those students have a chance to go into the school, see the school and experience the school,” Withers. “As you get older, there are different cultures in every building. Middle schools and high schools start to take on that school spirit culture, so (we’re) really trying to celebrate that.”

Students at RSS can look forward to free lunch this year.

“It’s one less worry for our families and one great support for our students,” Withers said.

The district has also set its own goals toward a tailored educational experience.

“I hope what students will see is a renewed focus on student experiences and creating those experiences for students in their learning journey,” Withers said. “That is academic skills paired with what does life look like after (they) get out of school — not just career exploration, but service exploration as well.

“I hope they see that almost immediately as they enter the buildings because we have spent a lot of time this summer speaking with our leaders about the power of moments and experiential learning.”