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An old-new twist on neighborhood schools

Aug. 31, 2010 

There are a gazillion reasons why this idea should not be pursued. But something said this morning offers a single reason why maybe this idea is worth looking at again.

 The idea is to take CMS teaching right into the neighborhoods where many children drop out of school. They drop out because big schools never provide them the environment in which they can succeed.

Mister Landlord has a vacant duplex? Get the Hands on Charlotte corporate teams in for a day of freshening up and starting a learning garden. Dispatch the CMS delivery truck with the basics for a basics schoolhouse. Then hand the school  over to the children nearby, led by a  couple of truly outstanding educators and every parent and grandparent and greatgrandparent within walking distance.

At the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum this morning, a participant asked whether it was even legal for CMS to retain a kindergartner for a second year of kindergarden.

Area Supt. Tyler Ream oversees the district's most fragile elementaries. He was in the audience and he offered to answer the question. He said retention is a principal's perogative, then added this:

"One retention is a large predictor of dropping out. A second retention in elementary school, you are almost doomed to drop out. You have like a zero percent chance of graduating high school….

"If you are going to retain a child you have to make sure where they are going to connect, and where they are going to have a teacher that is going to be a real advocate for them. Somebody that is going to reach out to the parents…. Somebody that's going to constantly be involved in that family. Somebody that doesn't just see their job as an 8 to 3….

"While the academics is certainly important, I think that emotional connection to a caring adult is probably the most important thing that we can do for a child."

And where else is that going to happen than in the neighborhood? It's hardly likely to happen in an environment where one child easily gets lost among 800, where one child with lots of needs in reality MUST be ignored so that all the classmates can thrive.

CMS will no doubt start its own charter school operations under that new law passed by the General Assembly to make North Carolina look good in the Race to the Top federal grant sweepstakes.

When it does, one charter should be a necklace of neighborhood outposts in high-dropout neighborhoods, where educators who thrive on less bureaucracy, more freedom and total responsibility for educational outcomes will be able to work in the classroom and the garden with students who need the emotional connection that Tyler Ream knows is essential.

– Steve Johnston