RSS superintendent talks to Chamber of Commerce about renewal, state of public training – Salisbury Submit
SALISBURY – Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Tony Watlington was the keynote speaker at the start of this year’s Power in Partnership series for the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
The lecture series usually includes a personal breakfast and networking time, but the program is virtual for the time being.
Watlington made a presentation to attendees similar to the local and state education authorities. He discussed the district’s good performance, including increasing graduation rates and reducing dropout rates, as well as areas the district needs to improve, including enrollment, achieving growth goals in more schools, and closing performance gaps between demographics Pupils.
“Education is the key that can open the door to great American society,” said Watlington. “It’s the only difference that can always work when we invest in young people, when they have the right opportunities and when we’re all willing to roll up our sleeves.”
Watlington said he was an idealist who still believes in the idea of the American dream. The district needs to take steps so that children can achieve this dream, he said.
RSS attracted him because of its special renewal status. It is unique in the state, with freedoms normally only granted to charter schools given to the district as a whole. Watlington said the district was just tapping the tip of the iceberg, which it could do with the added flexibility.
The district is in the process of creating a new accountability model and strategic plan that will guide it for the next several years.
Watlington said the district needs to focus on building partnerships with families. He would like to found a parents’ academy this school year and develop further partnerships in the community.
“We have many agencies in Rowan County that we could work with more specifically,” said Watlington.
He was referring to a traditional greeting from the Maasai, an ethnic group living predominantly in Kenya, which translates as “and how are the children?”
“We ask ourselves: How are the children? How are the kids? ”Watlington said. “All children, we want to be able to say, are doing well. Our data tells us that not all children are fine. Our data shows us that we do a really good job at Rowan-Salisbury Schools, but we don’t just try to do a good job. “
Rowan County Chamber President Elaine Spalding said education is always the top priority in the organization’s membership surveys. She began asking Watlington by asking him the most important things business can do for schools.
The business community should stay aligned with RSS’s strategic plan and partner in future initiatives, he said.
Andrew Smith, RSS Chief Administrative and Strategic Planning Officer, answered Watlington with additional questions.
Watlington was asked what RSS is doing to address teacher shortages that affect the entire state. He said the pipeline of people to become teachers is vital to national security and the number of people participating in teacher education programs is falling. Watlington said the district was using federal grant money to incentivize and recruit teachers with signing bonuses, but found the district rivaled more affluent counties.
When asked about RSS’s renewal status, Watlington told the chamber that the district’s biggest achievement to date with the status has been budget flexibility.
“North Carolina is a very prescriptive state when it comes to how you can use your resources,” he said.
Another question was where are the students going when they leave the district? Watlington said charter schools are a common perception, but the reality is that Rowan County has large numbers of home students. Watlington said RSS should ask them what they are looking for.
“We are a renewal district,” said Watlington. “We should be the most innovative district in the country.”
The last two questions were about why districts don’t compare to charter schools and teachers who express political views in class.
In response to the first question, Watlington said that public school districts and charters have operated under different rules in the past, but RSS might be worth checking. On the issue of teachers’ political opinions, Watlington said that the role of a teacher is not to indoctrinate students into their political opinions. Teachers shouldn’t feel like they’re on public display every second of the day, he said.
“We want people to come in, do their jobs, be professionals,” said Watlington.