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Rowan County residents explain mixed feelings about renewal school system

The renewal school system is a novel approach to education in North Carolina. The General Assembly granted the Rowan-Salisbury School District (RSS) this designation last year, and the 2018-19 year was the district’s first under the new program. Renewal gives all the schools in the district charter-like flexibility. Schools can be exempt from state mandates related to how money is spent, which teachers can be hired, what curriculum can be used, when schools can start and stop, and more. 

Courtesy of Rowan-Salisbury School District

EdNC.org wanted to see what people thought about the concept ahead an update on the renewal school system during last week’s State Board of Education meeting, so we used Reach NC Voices to ask. More than 650 people responded. Here is what they said.

Residents split on renewal school system

You can look at the entire report created from our questions and the comments here, but let’s look at some particular points. 

The majority of respondents said they live in the Rowan-Salisbury School District. Among those who do live in the district, there was a 50-50 split when asked if they had concerns about how the renewal school system is rolling out.

Many of the comments in the survey praise the innovative approach the district is taking, while others complain about the speed of the roll out and the perceived lack of information.

“I think it is great that funds can be put where they are needed rather than being allocated for specific areas. Different schools have different needs and those specific needs can be focused on more in a renewal system,” wrote Kelly Reinholz. 

Norma Honeycutt, on the other hand, said the program is rolling out way too fast and more research should have been done ahead of time. 

Elizabeth Faw said she is excited for the future. 

“We are excited about the opportunities our girls have with this renewal! This school year is shaping up to be amazing! We can’t wait to see what the future holds!” she wrote.

But Julie File said lack of information is a problem.

“It has all been done without letting either the teachers or the parents actually know what will change. If you ask any of my children’s teachers what it means they have no clue and can’t tell us how it will effect the classroom,” she wrote.

The shifting school calendar in RSS garnered particular criticism from Shannon Lloyd.  

“I think that school started way too early losing three weeks of summer and family time with my children. I enjoy the summer with my children. Private schools don’t even start this early. Most of the Rowan County school systems don’t even have air conditioning that work throughout the whole school not to mention it is way too hot for children to be playing outside in this heat,” she wrote.

The majority of survey respondents were aware of both the renewal school system and the fact that the state mandates certain requirements for most traditional public schools. 

 

Most respondents said that school districts should have the same flexibility as RSS.

Respondents were a little more mixed, however, as to whether individual schools should have more independent flexibility.

When asked whether they had concerns about districts or schools having the same flexibility as Rowan-Salisbury, 53% said yes and 47% said no. 

Rick Hudson said flexibility has promise, but it all depends on the implementation.

“This is an opportunity which can be leveraged for the benefit of the pupils or squandered. If it fails, it is not indicative of the weakness of the concept but of those tasked with implementation and ongoing operations. The lion’s share of the effort should be invested in selecting the personnel with the skills and vision to activate the concept and then giving them the space to act,” he wrote.

Tina Barringer, on the other hand, had some advice for any district that might take up the renewal mantle in the future. 

“Even with renewal, all schools in the district should use the same schedules so that students can go from school to school as needed for certain classes without complications from scheduling. Also, CTE teachers with other licenses should be paid accordingly. Teachers with Master’s degrees make more money than teachers without masters, but teachers with other licenses do not make any more money for having an additional license (that is required for their job),” he wrote.

Many anonymous respondents were worried about the fact that schools with charter-like flexibility can hire teachers who aren’t licensed in their subject area, raising concerns that such teachers wouldn’t be qualified. 

Most of the respondents to the survey were either parents (36%) or teachers (37%). The next largest category was other (22%). 

State Board presentation on renewal

Rowan-Salisbury District Superintendent Lynn Moody gave the State Board of Education an update on the first year of renewal last Wednesday. 

Read her full presentation here and watch a video of the presentation below.

Because of the calendar flexibility granted to Rowan-Salisbury Schools, the first day of school for the district was last Wednesday. Moody explains that the renewal plan — particularly the flexibility utilized — for individual schools is largely directed from the district, but that each school has the ability to make some of their own choices. 

She likened it to the grocery store chain Food Lion. She said that if you were to go to any Food Lion, 80% of each store would be exactly the same. But that last 20% would be dictated by the store manager. So, for instance, a Food Lion on the coast of North Carolina may sell flip flops while one in the Piedmont wouldn’t.

“That’s how we look at our 34 renewal plans,” she said. 

She showed State Board members a snapshot of all the schools in the district and the kinds of flexibility they are using in elementary and secondary grades. 

She also explained the staggered roll out the district is using in implementing the renewal school system plan overall. 

On the NC Public School Forum’s latest episode of Education Matters, host Keith Poston talked with Moody about the renewal school system. 

Regional teachers and principals of the year

The State Board of Education also recognized its regional teachers and principals of the year last Thursday. 

The regional teachers of the year are: 

  • Northeast: Damon Walcott, Washington High (Beaufort County Schools);
  • Southeast: Christy Howe, Bradley Creek Elementary (New Hanover County Schools);
  • North Central: C.R. “Katie” Eddings, Lee County High (Lee County Schools);
  • Sandhills: Mariah Morris, West Pine Elementary (Moore County Schools);
  • Piedmont-Triad: Shiela Patterson, South Stokes High (Stokes County Schools);
  • Southwest: Kate Culbreth, Wolf Meadow Elementary (Cabarrus County Schools);
  • Northwest: Laura Brooks, Wilkes Central High (Wilkes County Schools);
  • Western: Caesar Campana IV, Hayesville High (Clay County Schools); and
  • Charter Schools: Douglas Price, Voyager Academy, (Durham, NC)

Mariah Morris was named the 2019 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year. 

NC regional teachers of the year along with state Superintendent Mark Johnson, members of the State Board of Education, Board advisors and others. Courtesy of DPI

The regional principals are: 

  • Northeast: Melissa Fields, Perquimans Central (Perquimans County Schools);
  • Southeast: Elizabeth P. Pierce, Frink Middle (Lenoir County Schools);
  • North Central: Matthew Bristow-Smith, Edgecombe Early College High (Edgecombe County Public Schools);
  • Sandhills: James “Bo” Mullins, Clement Elementary (Sampson County Schools);
  • Piedmont-Triad: Sean Gaillard, Lexington Middle (Lexington City Schools);
  • Southwest: Dr. Timisha Barnes-Jones, West Charlotte High (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools);
  • Northwest: Michelle Baker, Eastfield Global Magnet (McDowell County Schools); and
  • Western: Brandon Sutton, Swain Middle (Swain County Schools)

Matthew Bristow-Smith was named the 2019 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year.

NC regional principals of the year along with state Superintendent Mark Johnson, members of the State Board of Education, Board advisors and others. Courtesy of DPI

Charter school news

The State Board of Education voted last week to allow charter school Bishop George W. Brooks Male Academy to give up its charter. The school was originally slated to open in 2019 but asked for a one-year delay to open in 2020 because the facility it wanted to operate out of in Guilford County wouldn’t be available until then. It asked to relinquish its charter because the occupant of the building has decided to stay. 

The board also approved requests by both the Central Park School for Children in Durham and Exploris School in downtown Raleigh to amend their missions. 

Here is Exploris’ original and revised mission:

Original 
“The mission of the Exploris School is to engage students in a rigorous, relevant, relationship‐based education. This is done through experiential, project ­based learning that empowers students to build a connected, just and sustainable world.”

Revised 
“Exploris is a diverse learning community that engages students in a challenging, relevant, relationship-based education. Through experiential, project-based learning we empower students to foster a just and sustainable world.” 

Here is Central Park School’s original and revised mission:

Original 
“The Central Park School for Children is committed to three principles: 1) that children are naturally full of life, power and confidence; 2) that we must use the best available child-development research on how children learn; and 3) that children develop best in a community where everyone values curiosity, challenge and learning. The Central Park School for Children will nurture and guide children’s passion to grow, their curiosity, their ability to be amazed, their determination to relate to others and their exploration of their emerging strengths and potential. The School will create a community of partners to guide, to cherish and to be amazed by the children.”

Revised
“To create a community rooted in justice and equity where all children thrive.”

The state Department of Public Instruction also received five applications for charter schools that want to open under “Fast-Track” or “Accelerated” timelines. These are more rapid approval processes allowed by the state assuming the applicants meet certain conditions laid out by the State Board of Education. 

Below is a tally of charter schools in North Carolina. I’ll be updating this information in future columns.

NC charter school tally for 2019-20 school year: 198
NC charter schools slated to open next August: 12
Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.