New Grants Spotlight

Improving education has been one of the core focuses of the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation since its inception in 1997. In this context, the Foundation has supported its local school district, Rowan Salisbury Schools (“RSS”), as well as many educational initiatives in Rowan County.

When former RSS Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody was considering innovative approaches to public education, our Foundation committed to providing funding and opportunities for her and her team to “go see” and learn from successful educational systems around the country.

As early as 2012, RSS leadership visited Drew Charter School, a successful charter school nestled in the Purpose Built Community of East Lake in Atlanta. In the following few years, RSS staff and School Board members visited schools in Spartanburg, Charleston, New York City, Rocky Mount, Durham, Charlotte, Indianapolis, and even California. In the process, they spoke with thought leaders from KIPP Schools, Purpose Built Schools, Teach for America, and Success Academy.

Following these “go see it” travels, leadership in RSS set about trying to implement some of the most promising public education innovations they had observed. However, many of the high performing schools that RSS leadership had visited were charter schools, which enjoy much more flexibility than traditional school districts. RSS quickly recognized that they, too, would need flexibility to pilot and scale meaningful innovation in service of better student outcomes.

This realization was at the heart of RSS’ pursuit of a “Renewal District” designation. This unprecedented recognition by the North Carolina General Assembly, granted in 2017, provided RSS some noteworthy “charter-like” flexibilities to pursue systemic improvement and implement practices observed in high-performing systems.

Building on this progress, in 2019, RSS began a formal partnership with the Success Academy charter network in New York City, which is recognized as a national leader in educational innovation and impact. Through teacher and administrative consultation and training, Success Academy has helped RSS pursue several initiatives to improve student-level outcomes. This year, RSS’ Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Jason Gardner, has been leading an initiative to translate part of Success’ approach to reading instruction and teacher support across RSS’ elementary school classrooms.

“The guided reading grant from the Robertson Foundation provided us the opportunity to launch and accelerate the work taking place around guided reading in our school system,” notes Dr. Gardner. “The financial support to purchase key curriculum has allowed us to scale up the work at a pace we would not be able to manage otherwise. Aside from the financial element, what has been more important to us is the collaborative support from the Robertson family foundation as well as the Robertson Center and Success Academy in New York City. They have all been willing to join us as collaborative thought partners, especially during the unique challenges related to Covid-19. That consistent follow-up and support has been the most critical element of our early success. We look forward to this continued partnership for years to come”

Early results from these efforts seem quite promising. We are confident that RSS is on the right track to becoming a national model for transformation and innovation in public education, and we are proud to stand with them in their journey.