I have been involved in public education for just over 20 years. During that time, I have experienced a variety of hierarchical management structures. While I was taught to be flexible and adapt, nothing would prepare me for what I have experienced this year at North Rowan High School. The reality is that North Rowan High School is a different kind of place. In many ways, it is a trendsetter although it may not always be recognized as so. But like many artists, trends, and good practices, it takes time for the world to realize innovation. Education is especially slow to recognize this.
As a restart school, North Rowan High School has trail blazed a new path, one that I would dare say that no one, including me, saw coming. It is difficult to describe what makes North Rowan High School so different since no one factor dominates. As a restart school, North Rowan High has embraced and extended its flexibility to do many cutting edge things that are light years ahead. Sometimes I don’t even appreciate where we are until I take time to stop, breathe, and reflect.
One of the most influential factors that has influenced our transition is our students. Many of our students come from challenging backgrounds that would cause them to be considered “at risk.” Our community does not have a lot of benefactors with deep pockets. But we do have a lot of people in our community that love and support our school. This feeling has carried over to how our staff and faculty work with our students. Because the community supports the school, the school, in reciprocation, supports our students. The staff is very nurturing of our students and work with them as they are. We realize the realities of the lives of our students. But instead of making excuses, we support and lift them up. Our students realize this. They know that we are there to help them. In turn, our students thrive in our school. Many of them grow up to be effective leaders in our towns and community. Our students understand resiliency better than most students. They are able to recover from setbacks quickly and move on to create better solutions. They are also willing to accept responsibility in many cases for their actions and inactions. They understand that their success is based on the effort that they are wiling to put into school, sports, and life.
Our students are the heart of what we do at North Rowan High School and our decisions are driven by creating the best possible school for them. While we may not always get it right the first time, we always let what is best for our students drive our decisions. It is our desire to create a better future for them that drives us to come to school daily. Recently, a plan was put forward that would close our school due to low enrollment. This was particularly disturbing for our students and staff. As a new staff member, I listened carefully to the concerns of my colleagues. At no time did any staff member ever talk about what was best for them instead they focused on what was best for our students. Individuals in our community would often comment how sad they felt for us as we may lose our jobs. But that was never mentioned by any staff member. Our concern, rightly so, was on doing what was best for our students. Our staff rallied for what was best for our students. We knew that deep down closing our school was not in the best interest of our students. We are the individuals who serve our students each and every day. As a result, we know what they need and seek to provide the support and nurturing needed to help them be successful.
The next factor that makes a difference at our school is that our administration seeks to empower each of us in making decisions. This is one of the areas that I most admire about our restart. We, as teachers, are treated as professionals whose input is valued. Very rarely do we have unilateral decisions made by our administration. Instead the administration pulls the staff together to work collaboratively to design solutions that are in the best interest of our students. The input of each staff member is valued. While it would be easy for an administration to simply tell (or rather dictate) what each staff member will do, our administration does not. They work to actively support us in finding the best way forward. Much like they expect us to empower our students, they empower us. During the possible closures, our administration was one of the most at risk groups of losing their jobs. While it would have been understandable for them to be frustrated and discouraged, they never showed it. Instead, they worked harder to ensure that our students and staff was supported. In many experience, this is a highly unusual response to the impeding potential of losing your job. Our administration can be routinely found around campus pitching in where needed. Recently our assistant principals were outside picking up trash around our school. While some may argue that this is not their job, I was inspired by their actions. They truly lead by service to others.
As I reflect on the changes at North Rowan High, it is my hope that other schools in Rowan-Salisbury will use this kind of model as a guide to create something extraordinary for their students. We often do not let barriers impede our progress at North Rowan. When an idea is presented, we rarely hear “No you can’t do that.” Instead, we hear “That would be really cool .. Have you thought about this?” This kind of mindset is one that leads to growth and true change over time. We need not let obstacles discourage us from pursuing a better way. Our administration has empowered us to work together to create solutions that serve all. As I have spoken with other educators in our system, I am concerned that many of them are not experiencing the ability to create true change and transformation. This could be due to not being bold enough to really thing about schools differently. Or perhaps, their thinking is too revolutionary. At North Rowan High, we no longer even discuss thinking outside the box. Instead, we say “what box?” as we have learned to think in more global, divergent ways as we seek to best serve our students. My hope is that our school system will truly allow all schools to experience true change under our system’s renewal status where schools can be created that best serve students and their communities. What we have allowed to do at North Rowan High is amazing. Our students have already experienced so many successes and we are just getting started. Recently at a conference, I heard the following quote by Alice Walker. “The nature of the flower is to bloom.” To all my fellow educators, I offer the following advice: “Be bold in your vision. Create something much better for our students because they matter. Cultivate what is needed for all students to bloom.”
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.