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April 21, 2021

Phil Kirk: School system has a plan to succeed

By Phil Kirk

For the Salisbury Post

Patience is a challenge, especially when dealing with public education issues!

Much has been written and said in the past several weeks about the Rowan-Salisbury Schools and I would like to add my “two cents worth” based on my experiences as the chairman of the State Board of Education for six-and-one-half years and as a former student and teacher in the local schools.

The good news is that people care about our schools, our faculty and staff, and our students.  The overwhelming majority want RSSS to succeed.  Of course, there will always be the critics — some who are very sincere and others who are intent on destroying public education primarily through inaccurate and often unfair criticism.  During my six decades as a student, teacher, parent and grandparent, I am often amazed at the experts on public education who have not been inside a school in decades!

In Rowan-Salisbury Schools, former Superintendent Judy Grissom and her staff guided the schools on a path of progress despite a lack of consistent financial support needed for implementation.  The list of state, regional, and national recognitions, especially in technology, is impressive but often overlooked by the critics.

The local Board of Education chose wisely when they selected Dr. Lynn Moody as the new Superintendent.  She brings a great deal of enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment to high standards, and accountability.  She is involved in the community, is a good listener, and collaborates well with partners inside and outside the school system.

Most importantly, Dr. Moody led the effort to draft a strategic plan to guide the schools in a systematic way, not reacting and changing course every time a different challenge arose.  The decision by the board to stick with the strategic plan in order to strengthen and improve the low-performing schools was a wise one.

While I have never been one to accept a lot of excuses for poor performance, I would point out that the well-intended state-mandated  grading system is misguided in that it does not put a strong emphasis on improvement during the year.  For example, the actual test scores account for 80 percent of the grade and growth/improvement for only 20 percent.  While I think it should be reversed with an emphasis on progress, a 50-50 split could be an acceptable compromise.

The increasing incidence of poverty in Rowan County as reflected in the growing number of students on free and reduced lunches also should not be used as an excuse for mediocre results.  ALL children can learn but not in the same way and at the same rate. Increased and targeted resources are necessary for those who come to school without having the basic skills. Extra pay may be necessary to get the best teachers to teach in the most challenging schools, as well as those who teach science and math, for example. As a former English teacher, I have a problem with differential pay but believe market conditions are appropriate to be taken into consideration.

The emphasis on reading and the use of digital learning, among other priorities, will in time result in improvements in the schools. The nay-sayers on the use of technology should realize that the nation is headed that way. In fact, Rowan-Salisbury has been ahead of most schools in technology in recent years.

Yes, parental involvement is also extremely important; however, that cannot be legislated or mandated. The frequent open houses in schools provide excellent opportunities for parents, as well as the community, to learn what is really going on in the schools, other than testing. Volunteers are also needed and encouraged.

I was pleased last year to speak to the Knox Middle School faculty on the daily challenges which they face and to encourage and thank them for their dedication and hard work. Because I began my teaching career there, I have a special interest in the school. At the opening of school this fall, I was honored to participate in a marketing and public relations workshop for school administrators; I was so impressed with the enthusiasm, dedication, work ethic and “can do” attitude.

With the strong leadership and support of the Rowan County commissioners and RSSS Board of Education members, coupled with the central office staff, faculty and school-based staff, the future for RSSS students is indeed bright.

The question remains, “Do we have the patience and the political will to stick with the strategic plan, tweaking it when necessary?” I think so. I believe so.  I hope so — for the children!

 

Rowan County native Phil Kirk is chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education.

 

 

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