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RSS school board interviews Marsh, Billings for vacant seat

SALISBURY — Two candidates have been interviewed to fill the vacancy on the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education.

The board spoke to two candidates during its meeting on Monday. Lynn Marsh and Travis Billings were selected out of eight applicants to be interviewed.

To be eligible for the seat, candidates must live in the Carson High School district and be eligible to vote. The seat opened after former board member Susan Cox resigned to move closer to family in Guilford County.

The board has the authority to appoint someone to fill the seat until next year’s general election, when the remainder of Cox’s term will be up for election.

The candidates took turns being interviewed by the board. When one was interviewed, the other candidate waited in the hallway outside the board room at Wallace Educational Forum.

Marsh went first. She is an adjunct professor of special education at Catawba College and a retired public school educator. She attended RSS schools. During her time in public education, she worked as a teacher and principal in RSS and Cabarrus County Schools.

Board Vice Chair Alisha Byrd-Clark asked Marsh what she knows about renewal and how the district should leverage the special status,

Marsh said she believes renewal is positive and a single test score should not determine the placement of a child. She commended the district’s focus on academics, interpersonal skills and individual goals.

She also voiced her support for teacher-led design teams, the district’s use of technology and its career and technical education programs.

“We need to start looking at developing our kids so that they can be productive citizens in our own community,” Marsh said, adding the district needs to focus more on growth than passing tests.

Board member Travis Allen asked Marsh what she would change about public education. Marsh reiterated she believes children should be assessed based on their growth, not test scores. She advocated for students with special needs and behavioral problems as well.

“I believe every child is worth saving,” Marsh said.

Board member Brian Hightower asked Marsh how the district should recruit and retain teachers.

“I’m trying to help you,” she joked, referencing her Catawba students who have gone on to teach for RSS.

She said the district needs to advertise itself and hold job fairs. She also said the district should introduce its own students to the profession while they are in high school.

Billings, a teacher and coach for Kannapolis City Schools, told the board he is also a product of RSS schools and has children who are students at Bostian Elementary.

He told the board he has had an affiliation with the Carson area schools for years and that his wife is a teacher at Bostian, too.

“It’s important to me,” Billings said. “The success of this district is important to me. I have a vested interest in it.”

Billings said there are a lot of reasons why someone may not want to serve on the board in the current circumstances, but leaders step up to do what they can.

Hightower asked Billings what makes him most proud of RSS. Billings said he is proud of the success the district has had in academics and athletics, as well as the lives the district has changed.

“I feel like being the renewal district is something to be proud of,” Billings said, noting some of the advantages the status has given the district, including a calendar outside of the rules applied to other districts.

Many districts in North Carolina take tests for the first semester after returning from winter break, but RSS starts early enough to finish the first semester before the break.

Allen asked Billings what he would change about public education. Billings said he would do away with standardized tests and tailor teaching based on what students know.

“We don’t always worry about where a student is or what they actually know,” Billings said. “We worry about what they can produce on a test. I don’t agree with it.”

Jean Kennedy asked Billings how students can get the best education possible.

“I don’t think you can make any decision that’s wrong when you put the student’s best interest at heart,” Billings said.

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