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CMS Superintendent Ann Clark Recommends Adding Magnet Programs

Ann Clark

The CMS board is once again looking at adding magnet programs for students to choose from.  Superintendent Ann Clark told the board she wants to start several of them over the next few years and get rid of shuttle stops. 

WFAE's Lisa Worf joins Morning Edition host Marshall Terry in the studio. 

  MT: Lisa, how many new magnet programs are we talking about?

LW: About six over the next three years scattered throughout the county. They include one inside Billingsville Elementary in southeast Charlotte. A STEM magnet in west Charlotte, a language immersion magnet in the northern part of the county and another language focused one at a school opening in east Charlotte. And then are ones that don’t have a timeline.  Those are mainly high schools.  They include a Montessori high school somewhere, (a lot of parents came to push for that), an early college high school uptown focused on business where kids can earn associate degrees, plus an arts high school and International Baccalaureate or STEM high school for the southern half of the county. And then there’s the recommendation to increase seats in existing magnets, too.

MT: That’s a lot of magnets. How do you add so many and keep programs strong for students who don’t attend magnets, which are the vast majority of students?

LW: That’s certainly the concern of some parents and board members.  The plan tries to address that by strengthening career and technology programs at five high schools serving low-income neighborhoods.  So for example at Harding where the majority of students aren’t in the IB program, the suggestion there is to offer an Academy of Technology. They would have the option to split their time at Philip O Berry down the street studying carpentry, automotive, and design and fabrication and earn professional credentials.   

MT: What was the response to these recommendations?    

LW: Generally, the board was pretty positive. CMS has been adding magnets over the past couple years. And most, if not all board members, have said CMS needs to continue expanding those programs.

MT: Why? 

LW: Many magnets have wait lists, so there’s certainly a demand for some of these schools. And there’s the hope that magnets will help keep those families in the district who might be thinking about sending their child to a charter school.  That’s what school board member Eric Davis had on his mind last night when he urged his colleagues to expand magnets.

ED: If parent and student demand is telling us we need a Montessori high school and a STEM K-8 school in the south and a language academy in the north, by god let's do it. And let's frankly forget about the impact on our home schools. I would never have said that a year ago. 

LW: He would like to see more thrive like Collinswood.  That’s a full magnet that has both high test scores and racial and economic diversity. Part of the original intent of magnets was creating that kind of diversity at schools, since research shows students in schools with high concentrations of poverty are far less likely to succeed. And as the CMS board looks at drawing new boundary lines, several of them have said they hope magnets will be a way to diversify schools without busing.

MT: But most magnets are not Collinswood. 

LW: You’re right. CMS paid a group called Magnet Schools of America to review the district’s programs…and they had a lot of criticisms. For example, most magnets aren’t diverse. Many are heavily white or heavily black. The group suggested doing more targeted marketing to parents, dropping admission requirements at some schools, and getting rid of what are called shuttle stops. CMS uses these drop-off points to transport a lot of kids attending magnets. The district used to just always pick up magnet students at stops closer to their homes.  But much of that got cut got cut several years ago to save money.

MT: And getting rid of shuttle stops is part of the plan. 

LW: It is, indeed.

MT: How much will that cost?

LW: Superintendent Ann Clark said at the most $6 million. 

MT: So what’s the next step? 

LW: There will be a public hearing on the magnet changes October 27 at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.  And then the board will vote on them November 10. 

MT: Thank you.

LW: Thank you.