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4 commissioners urge CMS to postpone vote
They say closings would hit poor areas hardest. CMS board chair says Tuesday vote can’t wait

By Fred Clasen-Kelly
[email protected]
Posted: Saturday, Nov. 06, 2010

Four Mecklenburg County commissioners, including Chair Jennifer Roberts, said Friday they want school leaders to postpone next week’s vote on plans to close schools and revamp others, citing a new report that suggests low-income neighborhoods will bear the brunt of the impact.

The report, which the county released this week, shows seven of nine school buildings that might be closed are located in “fragile” and “transitioning” neighborhoods in west Charlotte and other urban areas.

Severe cuts in library service and the closure of recreation centers earlier this year also hit those areas especially hard, the report says.

Roberts said she urged the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board to delay Tuesday’s vote until December to help commissioners and citizens obtain more information about the plans. The county provides the district roughly $300 million a year, which the school board decides how to spend.

“I continue to feel that this is happening way too fast for the community, the staff, the students and the parents to absorb and to weigh in on some good options,” Roberts wrote in a Oct. 26 e-mail to school board members.

On Friday, school board chair Eric Davis said the district had no plans to postpone the vote.

Davis said the board won’t wait because it pledged to make a decision by Nov. 15 and give administrators enough time to work on next year’s budget and school-assignment plans for students. “We’re in a financial crisis,” he said. “We cannot afford to delay.”

School officials are considering an overhaul as part of budget cuts projected to reach as high as $100 million next year.

CMS’ proposed closings would affect almost 5,000 students, who are mostly black, Hispanic and low-income.

The plan has sparked protests from parents, students and the NAACP, which has accused CMS of discrimination. Anger grew when the board voted to keep some suburban neighborhood schools and magnet schools off the list of potential closures or other changes.

State and local NAACP leaders said they are planning a rally next week in advance of the school board vote.

“All this suffering and all this sacrifice fell on the minorities,” said the Rev. Kojo Nantambu, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch of the NAACP. “It should be shared sacrifice.”

Superintendent Peter Gorman has said the schools were targeted for closing because they have empty classrooms or low student performance. The moves will help the district save teacher jobs, he said.

But Friday, county commissioners Harold Cogdell, Dan Murrey and George Dunlap joined Roberts in saying the district should postpone a decision. Two days earlier, commissioner Vilma Leake complained that the proposed changes are unfair to blacks and the poor.

Commissioners said the school board should review the county’s report before taking a vote.

The report shows that if the school board approves its proposals, more than 50 schools, libraries and recreation centers would close or have reduced hours or service. Slightly more than half are in neighborhoods struggling with poverty, blight, crime and other problems.

Multiple facilities could close in some neighborhoods. For example, the Villa Heights neighborhood north of uptown is home to a library branch that shut down, as well as Villa Heights Elementary, which has been proposed for closure.

County Manager Harry Jones said he is concerned closed schools and other empty public buildings could attract crime. He said the county should look for an alternative use for the buildings.

“It always seems to be my people and poor people suffering,” Leake said. “They are the ones who carry the brunt of these problems in the community.”

But Commissioner Bill James said commissioners are “hypocritical” when they criticize CMS because county commissioners approved deep budget cuts earlier this year. The votes forced library and recreation center closures and pushed CMS to reduce its budget, James said.

“We did the exact same thing in the exact same areas,” he said. “You could say that CMS got the idea from us.”

James, a Republican, contends Democratic commissioners are using the issue as a political ploy to quell complaints. He said the calls for CMS to delay a decision came just before last Tuesday’s election, when Roberts and Cogdell won re-election.

Democrats denied they were motivated by politics.

Commissioner Dan Murrey, who lost his seat in the election, said he asked the school board about delaying a vote because residents constantly raised the issue while he was campaigning.

Murrey said he does not believe school board members are singling out minority areas for cuts, saying some of the schools targeted for closing are old.

He and other commissioners said they want to find a way for city, county and school officials to discuss the potential impact of their decision on neighborhoods, particularly impoverished areas.

“We are working in silos,” Roberts said.


Will the aggregators inherit the earth?

Sept. 23, 2010

A friend sent me a link to the YouTube video. The video is a promotion for a book written by Steve Johnson, no relation to the current writer. But it is an eye-popping visual experience, and may help some folks re-imagine some school issues that are the focus of this website. Happy viewing!.


Reform ideas

Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010

Participants at the day’s Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum pooled their suggestions for education reform. The Powerpoint slides from that conversation are here. The F0rum web page is here.


CMS reading results, Grades 3-5, 2009-2010

July 19, 2010

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

Comparing 2010 fourth-graders to 2009 third-graders at Central Zone schools, 36 schools saw increases in reading scores, while 8 saw decreases.

But between 2010 fifth-graders and 2009 fourth-graders, only 26 saw increases, while 18 saw decreases.

Parents may not think of the fourth- to fifth-grade step as a transitional year or one where the testing should be more rigorous. Perhaps it is. Or are the results a canary in the coal mine?

ELEMENTARIES Totl. Bl His Wh G3 '09 G3 '10 G4 '09 G4 '10 G5 '09 G5 '10
Providence Sp 8460.060.030.82
Eastover 5880.140.020.82
Davidson 8890.10.060.82
Torrence Cr 11870.110.040.79
Selwyn 7720.140.050.79
Beverly Wds 7470.140.050.79
Olde Prov. 6730.130.040.78
JV Washam 9340.120.070.78
Huntersville 7990.140.080.77
Sharon 7190.150.050.76
Elizabeth Lane 10350.090.040.76
Bain 10330.140.070.75
Polo Ridge 8490.090.040.73
McKee Rd 5000.130.050.73
Cornelius 6990.140.120.7
Hawk Ridge 8300.120.070.7
Barnette 7320.220.080.67
Matthews 10230.190.080.67
McAlpine 5130.190.110.65
Elon Park 8910.160.050.64
Park Road 4270.280.050.63
Ballantyne 7780.180.070.6
Myers Park 7380.360.040.58
Endhaven 6940.180.120.57
Highland Cr 12220.320.060.56
Chantilly 2520.370.060.54
Cotswold 5870.370.10.52
Clear Creek 7010.360.140.48
Lansdowne 5640.410.110.47
Croft 6900.430.050.46
Blythe 9100.350.170.44
Winget Park 9130.330.170.44
Mountain Is 8340.460.050.44
River Gate 6810.350.190.42
Pineville 6720.280.260.41
Long Creek 4860.50.060.4
Smith Lang. 11890.360.20.4
Metro 2270.510.10.37
Crown Point 7330.370.190.37
Smithfield 5610.320.260.37
Elizabeth Trad 5550.590.030.36
Lake Wylie 7150.380.240.29
Lebanon Rd 7530.420.330.23
Berryhill 3290.
Mallard Cr 6650.540.110.21
Greenway Pk 5800.510.280.20.650.5140.7550.6560.6740.8
Whitewater 4640.590.150.190.4720.6360.5370.6410.70.679
Paw Creek 5580.580.190.190.6120.5870.6730.6520.5270.604
Highland Mill 2300.720.070.19
Collinswood 5290.230.570.19
David Cox Rd 9060.650.10.18
Rama Rd 5230.560.220.180.5360.50.4850.5790.6140.676
Villa Heights 3040.680.010.18
Dilworth 5380.710.10.17
Reedy Creek 7930.60.190.17
Berewick 5240.490.250.17
Oakhurst 5760.680.110.16
Pinewood 5290.40.420.160.5830.4440.5630.50.4880.561
River Oaks 5540.70.110.15
Steele Creek 7250.460.330.14
Stoney Creek 6650.620.170.14
J H Gunn 7000.50.330.140.5220.520.6470.4960.5460.637
Piney Grove 7590.480.350.140.6170.5850.6790.6640.6190.619
Hunt'towne F. 7280.420.420.130.4890.5780.5740.4960.6180.594
Tuckaseegee 8100.540.250.120.6320.6120.7050.7340.6270.65
Univ Meadows 6410.650.180.12
Idlewild 8010.550.30.10.5930.6930.6970.7090.730.744
Oakdale 6260.740.130.090.5310.6190.6560.5330.4750.633
Barringer 5610.80.020.08
Pawtuckett 2200.720.140.080.4290.4620.5310.4190.4670.394
Newell 6670.450.430.080.560.5340.5980.5560.5310.604
Shamrock Gar 3380.650.
Hornets Nest 8670.670.260.060.4780.3920.5370.5610.5440.624
Morehead 7020.730.140.06
Statesville Rd 5220.780.110.050.4690.4760.5130.5380.4210.526
Windsor Pk 7520.360.50.050.520.5390.5590.6050.4330.617
Winding Sp. 5760.670.240.05
Albemarle Rd 9600.430.460.050.4910.4970.4580.5390.460.469
Grier 8490.610.30.050.4740.5680.5520.5780.6130.605
University Pk 5250.850.070.050.670.6860.5830.6240.6810.674
Nath. Alex. 10140.
Westerly Hills 2780.790.040.040.4240.4890.5960.4390.3020.537
Montclaire 4500.210.720.040.4620.4130.50.5680.4830.592
Thomasboro 3120.750.
Briarwood 6790.550.370.040.4190.5040.4130.5360.4170.462
Billingsville 4520.610.220.040.3020.1850.4910.2620.3830.29
Sedgefield 3850.710.230.030.2380.4190.5250.3830.4750.431
Winterfield 5490.490.460.030.4660.440.580.5790.4320.513
Allenbrook 4210.670.160.030.2870.4680.3250.430.3820.478
Hickory Grove 9720.60.350.030.4690.5630.5650.50.4290.519
Merry Oaks 5550.370.520.030.4560.520.5850.6220.6460.556
Lincoln Hts 2770.760.190.030.6610.4380.5520.5690.5570.447
Nations Ford 6000.440.530.030.3660.3570.5730.4730.4680.5
Sterling 4720.590.360.020.6450.6620.6230.6830.4920.629
Highland Ren 4770.640.310.020.4630.4940.5060.5780.4710.652
Irwin Avenue 4780.
W.G. Byers 3930.
Oaklawn Ave 3350.670.30.02
Ashley Park 2450.920.040.020.3250.3890.4580.4870.3080.581
Devonshire 5040.530.420.010.4190.4850.6520.4950.5920.733
Hidden Valley 6110.510.460.010.6360.6150.4310.7170.5780.544
First Ward 3760.970.010.01
Reid Park 5580.940.030.010.3330.2670.3850.3820.3330.371
Druid Hills 3920.890.0700.3860.50.4360.3730.3450.351
Bruns Ave 5280.910.0700.4240.3950.2910.5560.3750.312

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CMS board ranks priorities in student assignment
Individual members ranked categories of interest in assignment debate. Board vote on goals set for July 20.

By Ann Doss Helms
[email protected]
Posted: Saturday, Jul. 10, 2010

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is moving toward a July 20 vote on student-assignment goals now that all board members have weighed in on their desired goals.

On Friday, board Chair Eric Davis and Vice Chair Tom Tate released a list of broad categories that rate high and low among board members.

Promoting student achievement remains at the top, with near-unanimous agreement that it should dominate decision-making. Davis and Tate, who have been talking with other members since the last public meeting, say the goal is to seek gains for individual students.

“We’re not into just moving students around to make a school look good,” Davis said.

Magnet programs and “equity of educational opportunity” remain high. Members showed little enthusiasm for capping the size of neighborhood schools, and ranked cutting busing costs low on the list.

Still unclear is whether the full board will be ready to vote at the July 20 special meeting, at 2 p.m. at the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.

Kaye McGarry e-mailed her colleagues Friday afternoon to say she is not ready to vote. She said she doesn’t think members have even defined their terms clearly, let alone come to agreement on goals.

“This is a disservice to our families in our community. They have yet to know what our ‘hidden agenda’ is and ‘if’ we even have one,” McGarry wrote. “Are we planning to revise the entire student assignment plan for the 2011-12 year??? They need to know this. I need to be clear on this point as well. I think we are, but there is more work to be done.”

Richard McElrath said he thinks the process has been good for getting public feedback, but he has no idea what the rest of the board is thinking about priorities.

Davis said he’s still trying to figure out points of agreement and difference. “Obviously, the most difficult is ‘diversity,'” he said.

The list released Friday defines diversity as “Respect for people of all cultures. Inclusion of people of all cultures, not exclusion.”

It was not clear how that would play out in student assignment, with some board members pushing to balance enrollment by race and family income, while others say “diversity” applies to ideas, national origin and/or academic offerings.

McElrath, elected to the board last November, said he’s been shocked to realize how many schools have very few white students.

“We need to bring white people back into the system,” said McElrath, who is African-American. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Davis and Tate announced locations for the next two public forums, which will be used to start “brainstorming solutions,” Davis said. The format hasn’t been set, but he said participants might discuss such questions as what it would take to make weak neighborhood schools successful.

More public forums
Those forums will be at 6:30 p.m. July 20 at Ridge Road Middle School, 7260 Highland Creek Parkway, and 6:30 p.m. July 29 at Crestdale Middle School, 940 Sam Newell Road, Matthews.

The rankings

Posted: Friday, Jul. 09, 2010

With all nine members of the school board voting, here’s how broad goals for student assignment ranked, from highest to lowest.

Student achievement: All decisions will be judged on whether they advance academic performance.

Equity: Decisions should provide “equity of educational opportunity.”

Magnets: Magnets are “part of our comprehensive student assignment plan,” but further research is needed to make decisions about specific programs.

Predictability: Families should know what to expect.

Effective building use: Officials will look at use, costs, building age and condition. “Community participation may influence.

Stability: Decisions will promote stability in student assignment and school administration, faculty and program.

Proximity: “Student assignment that connects a school that offers desired programs to family residence or workplace intended to foster parental involvement.”

Diversity: “Respect for people of all cultures, inclusion of people of all cultures, not exclusion.”

Neighborhood schools: “Schools located in the community from which their students are assigned.”

Shared sacrifice and benefit: Officials will consider the cost of students who aren’t achieving and “unintended consequences of not doing.”

Transportation cost: Decisions will reduce busing cost.

Sibling guarantee: Younger siblings of students admitted to magnets will have guaranteed admission unless there are requirements they don’t meet.

Capping enrollment: Setting limits for the size of neighborhood schools and reassigning students if schools exceed the cap.


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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]


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CMS hopes to avoid student assignment turmoil

School board’s summer project: Start talking, listening about new school boundaries.

By Ann Doss Helms

[email protected]

Posted: Monday, Jun. 21, 2010

Few topics in public education evoke as much angst as student assignment.

In Raleigh, sudden, drastic changes have led to community turmoil, with protests and arrests at school board meetings.

That’s what the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education hopes to avoid with a review that starts Monday. The board is asking citizens to weigh in on broad guidelines before it proposes any changes in where kids go to school in 2011-12.

Stakes are high. School boundaries can shape property values, community identity and support for public education.

Today’s CMS student assignment system has its roots in the 2002 “choice plan,” which emerged as an alternative to court-ordered desegregation. Students were assigned to neighborhood schools, with magnets and some other options for those who didn’t like their assignments.

But schools in affluent suburban neighborhoods quickly overflowed into encampments of mobile classrooms. Meanwhile, families fled schools in low-income areas, leaving many schools with rising poverty levels and plunging test scores.

The guidelines that have evolved since then embrace a range of values: Stability, diversity, schools close to home, logical planning.

Trouble is, those values often prove tough to juggle.

Neighborhood schools may lack diversity and encourage concentrations of poverty.

Successful, popular schools tend to attract families with children – leading to enrollment growth that forces boundary changes and undermines stability.

Struggling schools may end up partially empty, leading to complaints about poor planning and wasted money.

In recent years, boundary changes have been forced by the opening of new schools. In 2011-12, for the first time in memory, changes will likely be driven by school closings.

Soon after five new board members were sworn in last December, the board vowed to review student assignment. Members say they want to clarify and simplify the guidelines they’ll use as they move into a new era.

But they also discovered that a serious look at drawing new boundaries raises big questions about all aspects of education. And feelings run high, even when the board shifts boundaries for only a handful of schools.

Monday, it begins.


In 2010-11, CMS will have 138 schools serving neighborhood zones (CMS calls them home schools).

All students have a guaranteed seat in one of those schools. Last year, about 87 percent of the district’s 133,700 students attended a neighborhood school, with the rest in magnets.

Current guidelines

CMS will provide schools close to home and strive for stability.

Zones should be “logical, compact and contiguous.”

Diversity should be “fostered but not forced,” and CMS will “focus on strengthening schools in naturally diverse areas.”

Key questions

How does student assignment affect students’ chances at academic success?

Should boundaries be drawn to balance poverty levels or otherwise promote diversity?

Can CMS simplify its student assignment policy without alienating large parts of the community?

Academic issues

Test scores, graduation rates and other measures of success tend to be highest in the suburbs and lowest in a band of high-poverty, mostly-minority schools running east-west across Mecklenburg County.

Some say breaking up the concentrations of poverty and failure would give center-city kids a better shot at learning. Others say forcing diversity risks driving families out of public schools, leading to more failing schools and less public support.

Budget issues

CMS spends millions to provide extra teachers and otherwise bolster academic quality at high-poverty schools.

Zones that are more focused on keeping kids close to home could save busing costs.

Reducing frustration with student assignment could build community support to pay for public education.

Dive in

Find student assignment policies, boundary maps and a chart listing how many students in each zone attend their neighborhood school at (click “Comprehensive review,” then “Documents.”)

Public forums

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

Today: 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.

Contact officials

Send questions and comments to [email protected]

Get contact information for board members:

This week The Observer will provide daily features on the big issues CMS is studying, with tips for getting involved. Coming Tuesday: Magnets.

Read archived articles at


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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

[email protected]

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.

Public forums

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