Rowan-Salisbury Schools kicked off its new status as a renewal school district by holding a breakfast with education leaders and lawmakers from around the state yesterday.
The renewal school district designation gives all schools in the district charter-like flexibility, and a bevy of politicians pledged their support and talked about the importance of the opportunity Wednesday.
“I know that I am hopeful that this is something that will lead to great expansion of flexibility statewide,” said Joshua Wagner, chair of Rowan-Salisbury’s Board of Education. “Unless we can expand these flexibilities and get other districts this opportunity, I think we have failed in some way.”
The renewal school district has its roots in this past General Assembly short session when lawmakers passed legislation that would allow the school district in the state with the highest percentage of restart schools to become a “renewal school district,” essentially granting charter-like flexibility to all the schools in its district. That school district was Rowan-Salisbury.
Restart schools are continually low-performing schools that apply for a restart status with the state. The status allows schools to operate exempt from some of the rules most traditional schools follow, much like charter schools. It allows them to do things like change their school calendars and use money in ways not designated by the state.
While the legislation enshrined the renewal school district in law, conversations about the program started earlier with a chat between Lynn Moody, superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Sen. Mike Lee, R-New Hanover, and Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union.
Lee couldn’t attend the event Wednesday, but Horn was there giving a historic view on education. He talked about the incredible progress of aviation between the inaugural plane flight of the Wright Brothers, the first record-breaking attempt to surpass the sound barrier, and humanity’s first step on the moon, all of which happened within 70 years.
“And now it’s taken us 50 years to loosen the bonds of Raleigh and turn it over to you all to take us actually into the next iteration of education for our state,” he said.
He told the room full of Rowan-Salisbury Schools staffers that they are pioneers, and that he understands there will be failures along the way as they try to institute this new program.
“We’re going to try and have the good sense to give you the latitude and to work with you through some of the failures we will inevitably encounter,” he said. “That’s life. That’s the growing process.”
Horn was followed by state Superintendent Mark Johnson who told the crowd what Rowan-Salisbury is attempting with the renewal school district is groundbreaking.
“Don’t let anyone understate what you are doing here. And if you haven’t gotten yet that it’s a big deal, this day should make it seem like it’s a big deal,” Johnson said. “You have the opportunity ahead of you to help us transform the education system.”
He also talked about the renewal school district as a possible harbinger of things to come in the state.
“We know this is the right direction. We just need someone to show it to the rest of the state and give us the model that we can scale to the rest of the state,” he said.
Senator Tom McInnis, a Republican who represents Rowan County, told the crowd that education leaders can no longer wait around for something to happen to improve education if they want a better future for their children. He said there are three types of people in the world:
“Those who watch things happen. There are those who make things happen. And there are those who don’t know what happened,” he said. “We want to make sure that we continue to be in the group that makes things happen. And the Rowan-Salisbury School District has that ability.”
Rep. Carl Ford, a Republican representing Rowan County, reminded the room that Rowan-Salisbury Schools is in an enviable position.
“There’s 114 other school systems that are looking at you and saying I wish I had that,” he said. “They’re also looking at what you’re doing bad and good.”
He said when the idea for the renewal school district was first floated, he was skeptical that the Senate would go for it. The Senate and House have a notoriously contentious relationship. But he said he was caught off guard when the proposal actually made its way through the General Assembly. He left the crowd with words of encouragement.
“It’s going to work. It’s going to work. It’s going to work. Because you have control. You have more flexibility,” he said.
At one point, Wagner reminded the audience that change will not necessarily be evident on day one. The renewal school district is going to be a process, he said.
“None of us are really sure what this is going to look like,” he said. “There’s a lot of planning that has to take place.”