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RSS board talks future of Henderson Independent School

SALISBURY — A committee formed by Rowan-Salisbury Schools to figure out the future for Henderson Independent came back with a recommendation to keep the alternative program at the school for next school year, but the Board of Education wants to keep pushing forward.

Superintendent Tony Watlington told the board the district needs to be cautious with how it handles the program and not adversely impact its students or other schools.

Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said two ideas that have continued to come up in committee discussions are relocating the program to other high schools or to a leased space.

The board has agreed the district needs to find a new location for the program. Board members Alisha Byrd-Clark and Dean Hunter have both cited first-hand experience of the Henderson facility while attending an awards ceremony. Then, several buckets were required to catch leaking water from the roof.

Vann said during Monday night’s school board meeting administration is asking for students to remain at Henderson so it has time to make the correct decision.

Hunter on Monday described the capital needs committee the district created years ago, which produced a chart in 2017 that detailed a long list of capital needs and expensive operating costs for a facility that serves a low number of students.

At Henderson, students have been referred for serious conduct violations. The number of students is low, fewer than 100, and fluctuates as students are returned to their home schools or to Henderson.

During the previous few years, the number of students referred to the school has decreased and the length of time they stay has declined. The school board and administration have cited the dwindling number of students as signs of the success of the program and district-wide culture change.

Several board members expressed their continued support for finding an appropriate new location on Monday.

“These kids deserve the best and I think we can deliver on that,” board member Brian Hightower said.

Hunter said he thinks the district is making progress but the issue was one of the first raised by the capital needs committee.

“I think those students deserve better,” Hunter said, adding he thinks there needs to be a plan for fall of 2022 if there are no changes for fall of this year.

In other news from the meeting:

• Associate Superintendent of Resources Carol Herndon presented an overview and timeline of the district’s annual budget process. Herndon said the district is expecting similar state funding to the past three years and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction is expected to release allotments for planning purposes soon.

The district usually creates a budget needs presentation for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners along with a budget message. A local budget recommendation is expected to be ready in April and a budget resolution for approval in August.

• Assistant Superintendent of Transformation Andrew Smith presented the board with a contract with N.C. State University to provide evaluation for a $26.3 million federal grant the district was awarded late last year.

Smith described the evaluation as important to assess the success of the district’s renewal progress and important for research that can impact education nationally.

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