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CMS Draft Promotes 'Home Schools,' Income Consideration For Magnets

Ann Doss Helms
Charlotte Observer

The CMS school board meeting had a surprise ending Monday night. The board released a draft of guiding principles for student assignment. This is a big step that took more than a year of discussion to make. The draft includes continuing the policy of guaranteeing access to “home schools” and makes socioeconomic status a factor in magnet lotteries. 

WFAE’s Lisa Worf joins All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey:

MR: What kind of glimpse do these guiding principles give as to what we may see with a student assignment plan?

LW: First, let me emphasize this is only a draft. These principles could well change. But the idea that stands out is that – and I’m quoting here – every student will be assigned to a designated home school within proximity to where he or she lives.  In other words, students will not be forced to take long bus rides to schools far from home. Many suburban parents pushed the board to include this idea in their goals early on.

MR: So how is socioeconomic status going to be a factor in the magnet lottery?

LW: That’s still to be determined. Right now there are a few things that will give a student a preference in the lottery. For example, having a sibling already in that program or living within a third of a mile of the school. This could give low-income students a preference like that.

MR: So what about magnet programs being full of mostly students from low-income families?

LW: That’s unlikely. The board has not gotten into how these principles may play out, but in past discussions, even the goals behind these principles, the board has stressed wanting a balance of kids from different socio-economic backgrounds. The original concept of magnets was to increase diversity in schools.  Some CMS magnets do that better than others. This is an attempt to make all magnets live up to that original goal. Students would also get a preference if their home school was designated by the state as low-performing for three consecutive years. The district has used variations of both of these preferences in the past. 

MR: We heard a lot about reducing concentrations of poverty as part of the board’s goals. How much do you see that in these guiding principles? 

LW: Well, the magnet priorities are one of a few ways you see it. The principles also mention expanding or creating partial magnets in schools that struggle. But you also see it in the section on home schools.  For example, the principles say the board will consider creating a socioeconomically diverse student population when creating attendance boundaries, especially for new schools. 

MR: How much leeway does this give the board to craft a student assignment plan?

LW: A good bit. Superintendent Ann Clark said last night the board’s goals set up a healthy tension. Here she is:

CLARK: I believe these guiding principles will put those guardrails into place that will not constrain staff but allow staff to be guided by the spirit and intent of your goals. 

LW: Board member Tom Tate who helped oversee this process as chair of the policy committee likes its because it doesn’t narrow the options too much. 

MR: How did the rest of the board receive it?

LW: Most of the board praised it. Rhonda Lennon called it a uniting document. Elyse Dashew called it remarkable and had this to say.

DASHEW: I do feel like we’ve been climbing a mountain and we have hit a peak.  I’m so relieved and I know we have more mountains to climb But I do think this is a good milestone. I think this principles set us up to do some powerful work.

MR: What’s the next stop in the process?

LW: The board’s policy committee meets tomorrow to discuss the draft principles.  There will be a public hearing on them next Wednesday and the board could vote on them as soon as Tuesday, April 26.