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CMS under microscope during forum series
Community input sought as district plans for future

Published Wednesday, June 23, 2010 5:04 pm

by Michaela L. Duckett, For The Charlotte Post

Which is more important – fostering a diverse educational environment or providing students with the most stable and predictable student assignment possible?

That was one of many questions hundreds of parents and community members sought to answer this week as they answered the call to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools develop a framework for the district’s future.

Over the next year, CMS officials will make decisions on issues ranging from consolidating or closing schools to minimizing transportation costs in a district with fewer resources.

“It is critically important for us to find solutions to run the district more efficiently,” school board Chair Eric Davis said.

On Monday, CMS kicked off the first of four community engagement forums at Harding High School. Nearly 300 people showed up. The next night, the second forum was held during the regular school board meeting, and about 200 people attended.

Davis said that early in the process, a common theme has already begun to emerge. “I’m hearing parents say ‘I want a good school for my child to go to,’” he said.

He said the balancing game comes into play as some parents say that having a good school close to home is just an added bonus, while others say it’s a necessity.

“Guaranteeing that a child has a seat in a school close to home is no good if it is not a quality school,” education advocate Blanche Penn said.

Like many participants, Penn plans to attend all four forums. She said they are not long enough to cover everything that needs to take place. “It’s too much information,” she said.

The forums are designed to get feedback from parents, staff and community members about the guiding principles that provide the framework for the district’s operations.

The board currently has seven guiding principles, but a vote next week could revise them for the first time since 2005.

“They were written at a time when we were in a significantly different place than we are now,” Davis said.

Many parents have expressed discontent that the principles have more to do with student assignment than academic achievement.

Penn said she believes board members should be more committed to representing all students and not just those in their districts.

Penn knows firsthand that not all students have the same needs. Her children had their own unique set of needs – from overcoming a disability to undertaking challenging AP and honors courses. She said that she hopes board members are really listening to what the community is saying.

“I would like to see some changes,” she said. “I am almost 60 years old. I have four kids and five grandchildren. I have not seen (change) yet.”

CMS is holding two more forums before Tuesday’s vote. The third forum will be held at South Mecklenburg High School on June 24 from 6:30-8 p.m. The finale will be held at the same time on June 28 at Hopewell High School.

Parents can email suggestions to [email protected]