Racial Equity Rowan’s “Exploring Education” forum paints picture of Rowan-Salisbury School System

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, May 1, 2024

SALISBURY — In February, Racial Equity Rowan held a forum to discuss inequity within the county and the outlook to ratify those wrongdoings. One of the leading subjects mentioned during the meeting was education and on April 29 at the Wallace Educational Forum, Racial Equity Rowan organized a follow-up gathering called “Exploring Education” to invite the public to dive deeper into those previous conversations.

Rowan-Salisbury School System Superintendent Dr. Kelly Withers spoke on the overall state of the district and the trajectory it is heading and Chief Resources Officer Carol Herndon touched upon the district’s funding and its financial status.

Withers mentioned RSSS’ “accountability model” is based on 80 percent proficiency and 20 percent growth, but also said that educators believe it to be “broken” and “not a great representation.” Proficiency means “on grade level” and growth is the amount of growth in one school year and because economically disadvantaged students tend to be further behind academically, it takes away from the overall progress both the students and teachers make. 

“The current model of 80/20, the grades actually reflect poverty status more than they reflect the impact of the teachers in the classrooms,” Withers said. 

There are 18,195 students enrolled in RSSS with 72 percent of them economically disadvantaged as of June 2023. Withers specified they are a public school district, but have charter school “flexibilities” in scheduling, curriculum, personnel and finances. 

Withers summarized the district’s action plan entitled “Renewal in Action,” their upcoming strategies, and how they will accomplish their goals.

“We are determined to be a system whose student outcomes actually dictate the economic status of the community,” Withers said. 

In addition to that, Withers gave an update on the status of the previous Knox Middle School site that was recently demolished and how there will be a presentation over the summer to the board of education regarding where the project is going.

In the next three years, Withers wants to witness improvements in the four-year graduation rate, work-based learning expectations like internships, students having a career development plan, and positive outcomes in enrollment, enlistment, and employment after graduation, as well as the number of schools that meet or exceed growth. 

When it came time for Herndon to present, she outlined how school funding comes from a variety of sources including state, local, federal, and grants/donations. 

“Unlike corporations, we don’t make anything to sell, we don’t provide services for a fee. We are totally dependent, for the most part, on the state, local, and federal governments for our funding. That is challenging at times because you don’t know what their budgets might look like therefore it’s hard to predict what our budgets might need to be summarized to reflect however that is,” Herndon said. 

Herndon explained a majority of funding comes from the state and that a vast proportion of expenditures goes towards instructional services for the salaries and benefits of staff members. 

RSSS’ A.D.M., or average daily membership, has steadily decreased since the 2016-2017 school year and Herndon describes that as the “biggest challenge for us” due it correlating with how much funding they receive. 

Herndon said RSSS and Rowan County are ranked last in local per pupil expenditure and local per pupil appropriation, respectively. 

“We want to see our county and our district move up on these two charts because that way we will have the money to bring to life the strategic plan,” Herndon said.

Once their lectures were over, the audience had the opportunity to ask Withers and Herndon questions related to teacher shortages, the status of diversity, equity and inclusion departments, how diversity is taught in schools, requirements for diversity training, and discipline. 

East Spencer Board of Alderman Shawn Rush thought the forum was highly informative. As an elected official, Rush has interacted with many parents who are worried about the school system. His main takeaway from the evening was the importance of RSSS retaining teachers.

“Getting back to our legislators in the county, it’s going to be up to them to raise the pay so we can keep teachers from moving out of state or moving to other districts,” Rush said.