Participate in upcoming review of CMS

June 18, 2010

Everyone I’ve talked to about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board’s plan to hold community forums this summer has said, “What are they thinking? It’s summer! If they really wanted our opinions they would have given us more notice.” An Observer editorial cartoon chimed in, making fun of Superintendent Peter Gorman’s dismissal notice to teachers only to twist the message to mean dismissing the value of public comments.

I am frankly surprised by this initial response to the school board’s plan to comprehensively review the schools, starting with two opportunities next week, on Monday and Tuesday. How much notice do we need?

For more than a year, there have been news stories about CMS’s shrinking budget. We’ve heard that schools could close for lack of students. There’s been an outcry about magnet school busing and changing bell schedules.

Why not start right now? This review is designed to look at everything parents and business leaders care about – student assignment, academic curriculum, gifted and talented programs, access to AP and IB courses, transportation, magnet schools, clusters of high-poverty student populations and equity. We know all these issues will come before the school board for votes in 2010-2011. They are asking for community input now. Why wait until the vote is cast? This is not short notice, it’s way overdue.

It was 1983 when the most indicting of all reports on public education was issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk” bluntly stated, ” … the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people…” In the 27 years since, have we seen an urgent, consistent transformation of our schools? Or have we continued the disservice to a generation of children ill prepared to analyze and solve the complex problems we’ll leave to them?

Some people contend that rushing into this could prove to be hazardous for the school system. That is true if implementation of change is rushed or changes not adequately researched. But moving quickly into an assessment phase dependent on community input can’t happen too soon. To solve problems, they must first be well defined.

The school board doesn’t need to hear from more complaining protesters but rather from creative thinkers who will do their homework and speak on behalf of 130,000 students, not just their own. There is no one answer. We need hundreds of things to be considered and done differently. The school board and CMS staff can’t already know all of them. They need to hear from an informed community about what we need and expect from our schools.

Another year has passed with less than 65 percent of CMS ninth-graders graduating within four years. Can we wait another year for a comprehensive review, leaving CMS staff and board to make decisions one at a time that have strategic and dramatic impact on everyone?

You have the chance to share your ideas next week, with more community forums coming later in the summer. Make the time to get involved. We don’t have a second – or a child – to lose.

Kathy Ridge is president and executive director of Mecklenburg Citizens for Public Education. MeckEd evolved from a 2006 merger of three groups advocating for CMS improvements: the Charlotte Advocates for Education, the education advocacy operation of the Charlotte Chamber, and an appointed Citizens Task Force on Public Education. Ridge’s column was first published in the Charlotte Observer’s opinion section.