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CMS enrollment '09-'10
Schools in descending order of white enrollment at the end of the first month of the school year, fall 2009. Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Providence Sp 8466% 3% 82%
Eastover 58814%2%82%
Davidson 88910%6%82%
Torrence Cr 1,18711%4%79%
Beverly Wds 74714%5%79%
Olde Providence 67313%4%78%
JV Washam 93412%7%78%
Huntersville 79914%8%77%
Sharon 71915%5%76%
Elizabeth Lane 1,0359%4%76%
Bain 1,03314%7%75%
Polo Ridge 8499%4%73%
McKee Rd 50013%5%73%
Cornelius 69914%12%70%
Hawk Ridge 83012%7%70%
Barnette 73222%8%67%
Matthews 1,02319%8%67%
McAlpine 51319%11%65%
Elon Park 89116%5%64%
Park Road 42728%5%63%
Ballantyne 77818%7%60%
Myers Park 73836%4%58%
Endhaven 69418%12%57%
Highland Cr 1,22232%6%56%
Chantilly 25237%6%54%
Cotswold 58737%10%52%
Clear Creek70136%14%48%
Lansdowne 56441%11%47%
Croft 69043%5%46%
Blythe 91035%17%44%
Winget Park 91333%17%44%
Mountain Is 83446%5%44%
River Gate 68135%19%42%
Pineville 67228%26%41%
Long Creek 48650%6%40%
Smith Language 1,18936%20%40%
Metro 22751%10%37%
Crown Point 73337%19%37%
Smithfield 56132%26%37%
Elizabeth Trad 55559%3%36%
Lake Wylie 71538%24%29%
Lebanon Rd 75342%33%23%
Berryhill 32918%50%22%
Mallard Cr 66554%11%21%
Greenway Pk 58051%28%20%
Whitewater 46459%15%19%
Paw Creek 55858%19%19%
Highland Mill 23072%7%19%
Collinswood 52923%57%19%
David Cox Rd 90665%10%18%
Rama Rd 52356%22%18%
Villa Heights 30468%1%18%
Dilworth 53871%10%17%
Reedy Creek 79360%19%17%
Berewick 52449%25%17%
Oakhurst 57668%11%16%
Pinewood 52940%42%16%
River Oaks 55470%11%15%
Steele Creek 72546%33%14%
Stoney Creek 66562%17%14%
J H Gunn 70050%33%14%
Piney Grove 75948%35%14%
Hunt'towne Fms 72842%42%13%
Tuckaseegee 81054%25%12%
Univ Meadows 64165%18%12%
Idlewild 80155%30%10%
Oakdale 62674%13%9%
Barringer 56180%2%8%
Pawtuckett 22072%14%8%
Newell 66745%43%8%
Shamrock Gar 33865%23%6%
Hornets Nest 86767%26%6%
Morehead 70273%14%6%
Statesville Rd 52278%11%5%
Windsor Pk 75236%50%5%
Winding Springs 57667%24%5%
Albemarle Rd 96043%46%5%
Grier 84961%30%5%
University Pk 52585%7%5%
Westerly Hills 27879%4%4%
Montclaire 45021%72%4%
Thomasboro 31275%8%4%
Briarwood 67955%37%4%
Billingsville 45261%22%4%
Sedgefield 38571%23%3%
Winterfield 54949%46%3%
Allenbrook 42167%16%3%
Hickory Grove 97260%35%3%
Merry Oaks 55537%52%3%
Lincoln Hts 27776%19%3%
Nations Ford 60044%53%3%
Sterling 47259%36%2%
Highland Ren 47764%31%2%
Irwin Avenue 47890%6%2%
Buers 39390%6%2%
Oaklawn Ave33567%30%2%
Ashley Park 24592%4%2%
Devonshire 50453%42%1%
Hidden Valley 61151%46%1%
First Ward 37697%1%1%
Reid Park 55894%3%1%
Druid Hills 39289%7%0%
Bruns Ave 52891%7%0%
MIDDLE Totl.Bl HisWh
Bailey 1,19514%8%77%
South Charlotte 94417%8%68%
 Robinson 1,13117%7%67%
Crestdale 1,00820%7%67%
Alex Graham 1,15030%5%63%
Community House 1,53418%9%62%
Carmel 1,12826%15%56%
Davidson IB 24831%5%55%
Bradley 1,19834%9%54%
Mint Hill1,28928%15%53%
Smith Language 1,18936%20%40%
Northwest Arts 1,09254%5%38%
Metro 22751%10%37%
Northeast 85145%17%34%
J M Alexander 57354%9%33%
Quail Hollow 89143%25%29%
Randolph 92847%16%28%
Southwest 1,29847%21%27%
Ridge Road 96860%10%25%
Coulwood 83668%11%18%
Piedmont 90972%5%16%
Marie G. Davis 38868%14%15%
McClintock 62159%23%12%
Whitewater 56167%14%11%
Kennedy 61853%29%10%
Sedgefield 38150%38%8%
Albemarle Rd 81655%33%7%
Wilson 58166%18%6%
Northridge 90168%22%6%
Martin 1,26572%18%5%
Eastway 77749%35%5%
Ranson 1,17179%13%4%
Nath Alexander 1,01470%20%4%
Cochrane 61068%24%3%
Spaugh 53385%5%3%
ML King 86962%32%3%
J T Williams 52790%3%1%
Providence 2,07210%4%79%
Butler 2,34520%7%67%
Ardrey Kell 2,02117%7%65%
North Meck 2,16127%8%61%
Myers Park 2,94826%9%57%
South Meck 1,87524%17%55%
Perf. Learning 10440%8%48%
Olympic Math 40430%14%47%
Hopewell 2,51943%8%46%
Olympic Ren 37839%18%39%
Northwest Arts 1,09254%5%38%
Mallard Creek 1,98759%7%28%
Morgan 9469%4%27%
East Meck 2,13252%16%26%
Cato College 10060%9%25%
Olympic Biotech 37847%18%22%
Independence 2,57759%21%16%
Olympic Global 37349%24%16%
Marie G Davis 38868%14%15%
Garinger Tech 42758%24%11%
West Meck 2,21370%11%11%
Olympic Intl Biz 37062%27%9%
Berry Academy 1,22878%11%9%
E E Waddell 96954%37%8%
Vance 1,79869%21%6%
Turning Point 24183%12%5%
Garinger Lead 36270%22%4%
Garinger Intl 37257%36%4%
Garinger Biz 36470%21%4%
Garinger Math 34563%28%3%
Hawthorne 25788%9%3%
Midwood 20992%3%3%
Harding Univ 1,04391%3%2%
West Charlotte 2,07886%7%1%

Talk about perceptions,
then guiding principles

July 12, 2010

Here’s hoping that the good people of Charlotte-Mecklenburg can talk out some guiding perceptions before they need to decide on guiding principles.

For it is perceptions that have long shaped the principles of CMS school assignment policy. And created the massive separations by race and by economics that are embodied in the attendance numbers at the right.

I was reminded to start with perceptions by an aphorism long connected with former chair and current CMS board member Joe White.

People want to go to their neighborhood school, he often says, as long as it is a good school. By extension, even the most rabid neighborhood-schools advocate will exercise other options if the neighborhood school does not have a reputation of being a good school. So what factors contribute to a school’s reputation?

Any school’s reputation is composed of truths and falsities – along with stories about one-time realities, both good and bad, that no longer apply. Example: A school can suffer from a reputation for bad plumbing long after the problem is fixed. So what are the realities and the perceptions that mix together to create a reputation? Your thoughts? A response button is below, but here’s the list so far.

Test scores. That’s a reality, right? Only, we all know that school-wide averages on the state achievement tests are a blunt and misleading instrument. I am reminded of the principal of a high-flying CMS school who realized that the cause for a huge reported school-wide achievement gap was a group of six students. Three of those were fine. The other three were way behind but making progress in self-contained classes for the hearing-impaired. The test scores of the three students gave the school a reputation for “bad” test scores.

Schoolhouse condition. We all have stories about children thriving in unattractive circumstances. But adult perceptions are deeply important in attracting and retaining both staff and parents. For decades in CMS, adults with choices shunned run-down schools. The CMS building program of the last 30 years has largely removed building conditions as an issue. But any parent visiting a schoolhouse who sees unkempt conditions has every reason to be suspicious that the neglect goes deeper.

Neighborhood condition. Adults are highly sensitive to crime statistics, visual neighborhood conditions, what their neighbors say about the neighborhood surrounding the schoolhouse, the potholes in the streets, you name it. Some or absolutely none of these pieces of information may be good cues to a school’s classroom learning environment. But that will not stop adults from pre-judging a school’s excellence based on neighborhood conditions.

Poverty statistics. For the non-poor of all ethnicities, children of poverty appear to be the default guide to whether a school is good or bad. If this were not so, why do boundary lines sort out the poor so carefully from their wealthier immediate neighbors? If this were not so, and when the statistics on poverty and race track each other so well, why would the numbers at the right look the way they do?

Supt. Peter Gorman has written these words:

“Too many of our kids come to school not ready to learn. It might be because they're hungry. Or maybe they have not had medical care, or immunizations. Or maybe they're frightened because the family is troubled or homeless. These social conditions come to school with too many of our students every single day – and although CMS works hard to overcome the barriers these conditions represent, we can't do it alone. We need more family and community support to help solve the underlying problems that are causing some students to struggle in school.

“We still have an achievement gap linked to poverty and race. Many of our schools lack racial or economic diversity, based on housing patterns in the community. Our current student-assignment plan follows those housing patterns. This results in less diversity in individual schools. We want to close the achievement gap, and we're working to close it – but the unfortunate fact is this: No large school district in America has yet closed the achievement gap for all students.

“So how will we do it? We are putting more of our resources – both financial and human resources -- into struggling schools, because we believe every child deserves a great teacher. We're giving teachers and principals substantial incentives to work in these schools and help them improve – but is that enough? Can we do more to close the achievement gap – can we do more as a district and as a community?

“We know the achievement gap is linked to poverty and difficult family circumstances. We still have a dropout rate that is far too high, and that is linked to the same factors that we see in the achievement gaps.

“All of these things are barriers to learning. All of them affect achievement. So I believe that as a community, we must ask ourselves: Are we doing everything we can for our children? Are we involved enough in our schools? Are there ways we can do more to help all children?

“These are substantial challenges for CMS and for our community as a whole. They will require substantial commitments of time, energy and money from all of us. Many are linked to complex social issues with no easy, one-step answers.

“Do we want our community to prosper? Do we want a unified school district that offers every child an equal opportunity? Or do we want schools that lack racial and economic diversity? Do we want schools of widely varying quality? Or do we want our children to have the opportunities we have had, and more?

“As a community, we must rise to these substantial challenges.”

In the years since 2008 when he included the comments above in his State of the Schools address, most of Gorman’s time has been spent slashing budgets. Perhaps he hasn’t had time to mobilize Charlotte-Mecklenburg leaders to answer his challenge. But he also hasn’t risked the wrath of well-connected parents by doing what every police and fire official does every day – assign personnel to where they are needed most. That would mess with another key perception of this age: that my child deserves the best, irrespective of other community needs.

For readers not steeped in North Carolina history, the writers of the N.C. Constitution created a mandate that every child should have access to a sound basic education. A Superior Court judge, Howard Manning, oversees a long-running court case on this topic. In previous sessions of that case he has accused CMS of inflicting “academic genocide” on low-income children. Manning has the support of the N.C. Supreme Court, and will not shut up or go away.

My own perception is that CMS will forever fail this constitutional mandate so long as it isolates its highest-needs students. That’s in large part because adults with choices, both teachers and parents, will shun those places, and so the children will not have what they need to get a sound basic education. But it is also because children learn from each other. And we have cut high-needs children off from the children who can teach them, and learn themselves in the process. We do none of the children a favor by doing so.

Adult perceptions are getting in the way of educating our children. Delivery of education is effectively controlled not by guiding principles but perceptions, most of which boil down to adult fears of “the other,” the “not like me,” the “less than me,” the “not my kind.”

So let’s talk through those perceptions. If they were discussed at length in public forums, held up to the light of day, who would champion them? They would fall away of their own weight.

Then we could talk about guiding principles.

– Steve Johnston