Johnston schools Superintendent Ross Renfrow and his senior staff recently returned to the classroom for a firsthand look at how students across the county are learning.
Renfrow challenged himself and his cabinet to shadow a student for an entire day to better understand what it’s like to be a student in Johnston County in 2016.
“I thought the Shadow a Student Challenge was a great idea, because the more time you’re out of the classroom, the more you forget what the classroom was like,” Renfrow said. “Even though we know what happens in Johnston County schools each day, we want to look at it through the lens of a student and what they deal with and encounter each day in a Johnston County public school.”
The superintendent and his cabinet, 10 senior staff in all, shadowed students in various grade levels and schools across the county.
“It doesn’t matter how busy we are, or how consumed we are with the daily chores that we have in our current role, we are only here because of students,” Renfrow said. “If we can’t take the time to go back to our roots and our beginnings and see things as our students see them, then we don’t need to be in these positions.”
Every member of the superintendent’s cabinet took part in the Shadow a Student Challenge. They were Dolores Gill, area superintendent; Patrick Jacobs, chief operations officer; Oliver Johnson, assistant superintendent for student services; Tracey Peedin Jones, public information officer; Eddie Price, chief academic officer; Rodney Peterson, area superintendent; Fran Riddick, assistant superintendent for innovation and strategic development; Art Stanley, chief financial officer; and Brian Vetrano, chief personnel officer.
“It was a very exhilarating experience,” Johnson said. “I learned quite a bit. It completely changed my perception about what it’s like being a student in 2016.”
From the first bell to dismissal, the superintendent and cabinet members assumed the role of students. They took part in everything from math lessons to lunch to physical education and science experiments.
“I hope that they saw that there’s a good amount of people who care about their school and care about their education,” said Emily Benedict, a junior at North Johnston High School. “I hope that they can find a way to encourage more people to feel that way, and more people will want to pursue things after high school.”
Jacobs, the chief operations officer, shadowed Benedict, who said it was important for Renfrow and his staff to see a student’s perspective.
“There are a lot of things that are different than they were in my parents day,” Benedict said. “I think adults need to realize what students are learning and how difficult the material can be.”
The superintendent and his staff also had an opportunity to interact with teachers on a more personal level.
Jonathan Holt teaches science at Benson Middle School. “I think it’s important for senior staff and cabinet members to see what a traditional class in Johnston County looks like so that we can feel a better connection between us on the front lines as teachers and that cabinet staff,” he said.
After the Shadow a Student Challenge, Renfrow and his staff were able to reflect on their findings and discuss ways to improve education.
“The Shadow a Student Challenge affirmed that we have great pockets of personalized learning that currently occur in our classrooms each and every day,” said Renfrow. “This is essential to know as we move forward with our JoCo 2020 initiative, which is our vision for what quality classroom instruction looks like in Johnston County public schools in the year 2020. What we have affirmed is that there is a solid foundation of personalized learning between teachers and students that currently exists today.”
Renfrow said Johnston County schools plan to establish more personalized learning, with students engaged in lessons specific to their needs.
“We have great students in Johnston County Schools, and they don’t get enough credit,” Renfrow said. “The perception out there is that our students are problems, they’re underachieving, and that they don’t meet the standard that our community sets before them, and that’s hogwash. Our students do a great job. They listen, they’re respectful, and we’re fortunate and blessed.”