Rockdale County Public Schools Superintendent Richard Autry started in his role as the head of the 16,000 student Rockdale County Public School system two years ago, stepping up after serving as Chief Academic Officer and principal of Hightower Trail Elementary. Autry sat down with The News to talk about the priorities, initiatives and future plans for RCPS.
The News: What are the goals and priorities that if you accomplished, you would feel like you've achieved something as a superintendent.
Richard Autry: Our direction is driven from that strategic plan that we have… that drives what I do and how I allocate my resources. The major tangibles that we have deal with expanding choice, options for this community, creating these specialty programs, modeling after the success we’ve had with the Magnet School. Taking it and replicating it so more and more students can participate in programs that they have an affinity or interest for… I want excitement, I want enthusiasm. It’s like RCA. We see the thirst students have for that relevance.
The next thing that’s really on my priority list is moving towards one-to-one technology initiative, whether it’s tablets or laptops; I don’t know what the hardware is going to be. Transforming the way our teachers teach our children and the way our students learn. Our students don’t learn 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. any more. They learn at night, they learn any time, any place. Redefining that brick and mortar classroom that we know and remember is going to be part of what we do here in the next two to three years. We have a lot of work to do. We‘ve already started upgrading our wiring capacity, our bandwidth capacity. Then we look at the way teachers teach.
At the (March 3) school choice meeting, one of the parents was concerned Salem was being left out (of the school choice initiatives). Can you talk about what’s in store for Salem?
The concern the parent had made was one we recognize from the beginning. Salem absolutely has been working on a Leadership Academy and looking at a foreign language opportunities for those students. One of the things I didn’t want to do is force these opportunities. It needs to be what the community wants, what the school leadership wants… It just happens some have more definition right now and we’re able to move forward. Salem is on board to do that, I think for this Leadership Academy to progress for next year, even if it’s not a specialty choice. International Baccalaureate requires several years of training, preparation. It’s still in the conversation; it’s a little more long term than the Leadership Academy.
With reduced austerity cuts from the state, what are your priorities for those funds?
I think we’re at a critical point now. Many of our teachers teach in Rockdale because they love Rockdale County. They love the people. But in our system, we’ve asked our teachers and staff to do more with less for the past five or six years. Not only have we not given raises, we’ve had to add furlough days. You can only do that for so long and keep your good people and attract good people.
Our number one priority is reinstate the student calendar. We need more days than 180, in fact, but we can’t go any less than that.
Second, I’ve got to pay teachers for 190 days of work. It’s incredibly important to me we make whole a staff contract as much as possible. There are some positive signs from the Governor’s office, from the state department, and even hopefully positive signs from the tax digest as well. But the priority financially is to reinstate this calendar and make sure we’re competitive on a salary schedule. We compete with some very good school systems that are very aggressive in making sure they get good teachers.
What’s in store for the next two years?
In the next two years, one-to-one is on pace for significant roll out next year.
We have to get to the personalization component, making sure every student has a Personalized Learning Plan. It helps drive the pathways you need to master. Advisement is going to be critical. The model of four counselors for 1,800 students, that model doesn’t work... I’ve spoken to student government leaders who haven’t talked with a counselor. We’ve got to change that. We’ve got to make sure every child is sitting down with an adult and they’re going over that blueprint that helps them get to where they need to go. The parent has a responsibility in this too... That collaborative component of teacher, student and parent is what we need to refine... it does mean other educators are trained to look at schedules, specialty pathways. It will be your student advocate who helps guide you through your high school career.