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Rowan-Salisbury approves 10 renewal school transformation plans

The Rowan-Salisbury School Board heard detailed plans for renewal last Tuesday from 10 schools. Principals from those schools laid out the issues they had identified and their plans to address them.

Some school statistics were dramatic. Overton Elementary School has a 30% transient population, with many students changing schools three, four, or even five times a year. Their plan incorporates home visits to establish meaningful relationships with parents and staff training for trauma-based resiliency.

Of Knollwood Elementary School’s 587 students, 244 are new English learners. This year alone, the school had 20 new students who did not speak any English. The school’s plan is to provide experiences for students to identify with their reading material in the standard course of study.

Hanford-Dole Elementary School has many students who live with adults who are not their birth parents. They may move from home to home, and transportation is an issue for many. The school is implementing morning meetings for students to unpack whatever they experienced in preparing for school. Lunchtime will be lengthened to provide further respite for students. 

Landis Elementary observed that students do not have a deep understanding of math concepts. To address this, teachers have utilized professional learning communities to work on guided instruction for students. In order to engage kindergarten students, the school is returning to “the work of play.” Classrooms will utilize blocks, centers, and other tools to allow students to develop their ability to play and think critically.

West Middle School identified the need to better support non-English speakers and engage all students better. To that end, science classes will look more like labs. A partnership with Farm Bureau has funded raised beds and vermiculture. High-interest topics such as recycling, human trafficking, and poverty will be offered. Students will engage with the community and the community will visit the school. The school will offer some semester-length mixed-grade classes. With male disciplinary referrals twice as high as those for females, the school will work to bring in male role models to interact with students.

East Rowan High School seeks to increase student engagement by offering online and hybrid classes for juniors and seniors. Staggered hours will allow students to attend school as early as 7:30 a.m. or start a class as late as 3:30 p.m. A recent survey indicated 85% of families were in support of extended hours to provide flexibility for students who may work or have other needs. With attendance and graduation rates of 85%, the school hopes extended hours will help students come to school more regularly. 

With an attendance rate of 89%, South Rowan High School is working to offer classes that engage the student more. Each student will have an advisor to engage with throughout his or her four years of school to develop a personalized pathway. The goal is that every graduate, when he or she crosses the stage, is enrolled in higher education, employed, or enlisted. 

Salisbury High School’s needs assessment identified the need for civic, digital, and financial literacy. The school is implementing performance-based learning for its freshmen students this coming year. This model was started in the Lindsay School District in Lindsay, California. Under performance-based learning, courses are not identified by grade level, and students proceed at their individual paces. Principal Luke Brown said when his staff visited Lindsay to see the plan in action, a California principal stated, “Our students are our gift to our community.” Brown realized that’s not the case with Salisbury High. Further, trauma in schools is at an all-time high and the school’s plan addresses this. Finally, in order for teachers to collaborate, Salisbury High will have “Late Start Wednesdays,” when students arrive at 10:00.

North Rowan High School is separating into a lower school — grades nine and 10 — and an upper school with grades 11 and 12. The lower school will utilize problem-based learning. The school will use its financial flexibility to fund field trips and supplies for experiments. Science and math will be co-taught, as well as English and social studies. An authentic work coach will ensure students are truly engaged and have multiple opportunities to go into the community. Students in the upper school will have the option to attend community college classes on the high school campus as well as online classes. The school is working with a consultant to measure success of the efforts. 

Focus groups and surveys with West Rowan High School stakeholders identified the need for more relevance and rigor in classes offered. The school will embrace problem-based learning while leaning heavily on the agricultural influence of the community. Students can attend 40-minute seminars on topics with high interest, such as cooking, taxes, writing a college essay, or how to buy a car. Seminars will run for three weeks or six weeks. The school also plans to increase college and career counseling. The school has a goal for 50% of all students to participate in internships within two years. Implementation of SIOP, or Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, will assist non-English speakers. West Rowan High is also adding evening citizenship classes and utilizing bilingual students and staff to assist those with limited English skills.

After hearing all 10 presentations, the school board unanimously approved them all with one vote. Board chair Josh Wagoner and board member Dean Hunter were absent from the presentation, but a quorum was present.

With the gradual elimination of grade-level based coursework and Late Start Wednesdays, Salisbury High has possibly taken the greatest leap with renewal. Brown was thrilled at the approval.

“I’m excited,” he said. “This is the opportunity to do the things that need to be done for our students. I appreciate the board being open-minded to do those things. I’m eager to work with the community to deepen our plan, make it more rich, and do what we need to do for kids. Regarding performance-based learning, opportunities will increase. If a student is in a standard math class and performs at the top of the rubric, they will get honors credit. It’s a dramatic change, but we need it. We need to do something to secure the future of Salisbury.”

The shadow hanging over all the presentations is the potential consolidation of schools. The district has 36 schools with a high number of vacant seats at most. Many schools were built in the early half of the 20th century. District administration asked the board of education in December to look at consolidating some schools and closing others to reduce the burden on capital and maintenance budgets. No decisions have been made as of yet. It’s possible that some schools with approved renewal plans will not see their plans through to realization.

Maggie Blackwell

Maggie Blackwell is a freelance writer and former City Councilwoman in Salisbury, North Carolina. She started writing on her Tom Thumb typewriter at age eight and now spends her retirement playing with her grandchildren.