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http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/06/19/1511074/cms-kicks-off-marathon-meetings.html

 

CMS kicks off marathon meetings

Forums look at big picture first, then will get specific. The goal: Lock in changes for 2011-12 by November.

By Ann Doss Helms

ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

Posted: Saturday, Jun. 19, 2010

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board has hashed out plans for nine intensive days of brainstorming about student assignment, with the first public forum Monday.

People who attend any of the four forums will be assigned to small groups to discuss the broad values that should guide a revamp of boundaries, magnets, busing and other issues connected with where kids go to school.

The big-picture talks are designed to help staff understand community values, says board Chair Eric Davis. That discussion will start by examining and probably revising the "guiding principles" the board approved after a 2005 review. Only two of the current nine members were on the board then.

In July and August, staff will start presenting specific proposals based on themes that emerge this month.

The first meeting marathon includes three special board meetings, in which members and staff will talk about how to cut costs while protecting academics.

By November, the board hopes to lock in changes for 2011-12, including closings or consolidations of under-filled schools.

All meetings are open to the public, which means die-hard participants could spend 18 hours in the first round of special sessions. Although it's not part of the formal review, the board will also hold a public hearing and discussion Tuesday on a revised policy guiding educational opportunities for disadvantaged students. That meeting will start at 8 p.m., after almost seven hours of special meetings.

But questions linger about how many families will be eager to dive into education talks so soon after the last school bell.

"Essentially, what we're going to do is have a constant stream of meetings during the one week of June that probably is the most popular vacation week for Mecklenburg County residents," said board member Trent Merchant. Merchant said he remains worried that a well-intentioned effort could backfire, leaving people alienated and upset.

Board member Kaye McGarry introduced the subject in her June newsletter by saying, "Is this process scary??? You decide." She raises questions about the time and other board members' willingness to listen. And she approvingly quotes an unnamed constituent as saying: "This is not going to help CMS to regain community trust!"

But board member Rhonda Lennon says the review is a smart business practice and honors campaign promises that she and others made to take a fresh look at student assignment. Starting now lets the board make its decisions before families must apply for 2011-12 assignments, she said.

"I hope everybody gets past 'This isn't what I wanted' and gets to 'This is what I was put on the board for,'" Lennon said.

Some PTAs and groups such as the Charlotte Chamber and Mecklenburg Citizens for Public Education are already mobilizing people to get involved in the effort.

Often, lower-income schools and neighborhoods are less likely to get involved in education debates. Davis said the question of how to engage the whole community remains.

LaTarzja Henry, CMS's public information director, said all principals have been asked to make automated phone calls and send e-mails to families notifying them of the review. She said her staff is also working with groups such as the Latin American Coalition and Helping Empower Local People to get the word out. Spanish translators will be available at all public forums, she said.

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Public forums

Participants will be expected to discuss and report on big goals of student assignment.

Monday: 6:30-8 p.m., Harding High, 2001 Alleghany St.

Tuesday: 6-8 p.m., Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.

Thursday: 6:30-8 p.m., South Meck High, 8900 Park Road.

June 28: 6:30-8 p.m., Hopewell High, 11530 Beatties Ford Road, Huntersville.

Board sessions

Anyone can attend, but only board members and staff will talk.

Tuesday, 1-4 p.m.: Government Center. Topic: Student assignment/boundaries.

Tuesday, 4:30-6 p.m.: Government Center. Magnets and prekindergarten.

Tuesday, 8 p.m.: Government Center. Regular meeting starts with public hearing and discussion of a new policy on educational equity.

June 28, noon-3 p.m.: Government Center. Topic: Use of buildings, transportation.

June 29, 1-5 p.m.: Education Center, 701 E. Martin Luther King Blvd. Topic: Summary of comments from public forums, discussion and vote on guiding principles.

Dive in

Get updates and read documents and reports presented to the board at www.cms.k12.nc.us; click "comprehensive review" at left.

Send questions and comments to ComprehensiveReview@cms.k12.nc.us (goes to staff).

Get contact information for board members: www.cms.k12.nc.us/boe/Pages/default.aspx

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Meetings that start Monday will focus on whether and how to revise these 2005 "guiding principles" of student assignment, which have been edited for length. Read the full version on CMS's public forum fliers (see accompanying box).

Stability

The student assignment plan must provide stability and predictability.

Home-school boundaries will be changed only in accordance with a schedule or when necessary because of the opening of new schools.

New schools in high-growth areas will reserve capacity for future growth.

Home schools

Every student will be guaranteed a seat in a school close to home.

There will be no capping of enrollment for students within zone.

Zones will be logically drawn, compact and contiguous. To the extent possible, the boundaries will incorporate whole neighborhoods, anticipate growth and make efficient use of facilities.

Building use

CMS will make effective use of all school buildings. Determination of capacity must consider differentiated staffing (extra teachers assigned based on poverty levels) and special-needs programs.

CMS will consider smaller schools, schools within schools, innovative scheduling and different grade configurations, and will develop a school overcrowding policy.

Diversity

CMS believes that a diverse educational environment enhances learning. Therefore, diversity should be fostered, although it should not be forced.

CMS will focus on strengthening schools in naturally diverse areas.

Magnets

Magnet programs should be strengthened. Magnet schools should offer academically distinct programs.

Ineffective magnet programs should be eliminated, and additional strong magnet programs should be considered.

Magnets should be strategically placed to make effective use of facilities and offer access from all parts of the county.

Magnet programs should offer diversity.

Consideration will be given to establishing prerequisites and/or merit-based admission to some magnets.

Consideration will be given to establishing magnet zones which will not allow a student to choose a magnet outside of his or her zone.

Possible changes

The student assignment plan should be simplified. Costs and benefits must be weighed, and costs should be reduced. Transportation costs and travel time should be minimized.

The sibling guarantee should be maintained.

Consideration will be given to reducing the size of the non-magnet zones and eligibility for transportation.

Because actual non-magnet choice options have been limited, consideration will be given to providing non-magnet choice only through No Child Left Behind and a transfer process for open seats.

Special students

To the extent possible, students with disabilities or limited English proficiency will be offered the same assignment opportunities as other students.

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