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My turn, Tony Watlington: Creating a bright future for Rowan-Salisbury students

By Tony Watlington

Since I was sworn in as Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ superintendent this January, my priority has been listening to our students, teachers and families about what success for our schools and community looks like to develop a new five-year district strategic plan. Although managing this pandemic was, and remains, critical, it is also important to plan for a bright future for our students.

One student’s story stuck with me. Clara Brown, one of our co-valedictorians from Salisbury High School, has attended RSS for all 13 years. And it was in her first year of school, in Mrs. Wineka’s kindergarten class at Koontz Elementary, when she discovered that being a teacher was her “dream career.” This fall, she’s headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to major in elementary education and become a middle school teacher at a public school, making her dream come true.

And she has a very specific vision for what kind of teacher she wants to be. She was influenced by Melanie Burton, her math teacher at Salisbury High School, who made an effort to speak the language that connected with all students, helping them love math. Clara says, “I grew up truly loving school, and my school system loved me back. I came from a very supportive family. But as a teacher, I want to flip that script and give every student equal opportunity to achieve.”

I am so inspired by the dreams and ambitions of our students who want to make the future a brighter place. At our recent graduations, 1,460 of RSS students like Clara received their high school diplomas.

I love this time of year because it is filled with hope and promise. I’m excited our seniors are off to great careers, colleges and to serve our country because I know they are embarking on their journey with all the right tools to succeed. They haven’t just mastered the basics in English, math, science and social studies. Our skilled educators have taught them how to think critically by solving real-world challenges, developing skills like communication and collaboration they need to thrive as adults. With this foundation, I know they will go on to do great things and make their community, teachers and families proud.

This is a great time for RSS to both celebrate our students who are taking the next step in their lives and to plan how we can best support our incoming students this fall. My most important task right now is building a five-year strategic plan that will make RSS the best district in the state, not just for some students, but for all of our students.

Our students walk through our doors on the first day of school with endless possibilities. My commitment to this community is to empower our amazing educators and give them the tools to personalize learning to fit individual student needs.

Since we are the only Renewal school system in the state, our teachers and principals have the flexibility they need to modify curricula, budgets, hiring, staffing and schedules to ensure that every day, every child discovers and achieves the extraordinary.

As I look to the next school year, I am proud to serve as the superintendent of the Rowan- Salisbury School System, where our students experience the power of a transformative and engaging learning opportunity every day. RSS has extraordinary students who excel in every area and I look forward to us working together to achieve extraordinary outcomes for all.

Watlington is superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

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