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Education

CMS Proposal Calls For Many Boundary Tweaks, A Few Big Changes

042517StudentAssignment.JPG
Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools
Boundary changes for south Charlotte.

Nearly half of CMS schools would see changes of some kind, under the proposed student assignment plan the superintendent laid out last night. But most aren't big ones. They involve shifting a neighborhood or two to a school that may be closer, less crowded or allow for a slightly more diverse student body. But there are some more substantive changes, too. WFAE's Lisa Worf discusses the plan with Morning Edition host Marshall Terry. 

TERRY: Lisa, what changes caught your eye?

WORF: The changes impact 75 schools, but, yes, most of those are just tweaks of boundaries. As for the other changes, this is how Superintendent Ann Clark described them: 

CLARK: There's a little courage involved in, perhaps, putting things in front of the community and in front of our board, that are not things we have done in our recent past. 

WORF: What she's talking about is creating three sets of paired elementary schools. So combining two attendance zones so that students would attend one school for kindergarten through second grade and the other school for third through fifth grades. That's the plan for Dilworth and Sedgefield just south of uptown, and Billingsville and Cotswold just east of uptown. In the north, Morehead k-8 STEM would become an elementary school and merge its attendance zones with Nathaniel Alexander. And, yes, this isn't something CMS has done recently, but pairing schools like this was one of the big strategies for integrating CMS many years ago. The difference is: during that time a lot of distance often separated paired schools. In this plan, those schools' attendance zones are right next to each other. 

TERRY: So how do run what basically sounds like two campuses of the same school?    

WORF: PTAs would be combined, there would be several joint faculty meetings, and start times slightly staggered to make it easier to transport students is what Ann Clark said.      

TERRY: The CMS board has been trying to figure out what to do with several struggling k-8 schools on the city's west side. How does this plan recommend dealing with those schools? 

WORF: By turning three of them back into elementary schools. Those schools are Bruns Academy, Westerly Hills and Reid Park. The plan also calls for re-opening Wilson Middle. The board closed that school and several others on the west side in 2011 to save money. It then merged those students into other schools to create the k-8s. Many parents opposed that move then and still do, partly because they feel students don't have the same academic and extracurricular options. And the schools do continue to struggle.

TERRY: The first phase of the student assignment plan starts next year, involving magnets and other school options. But I understand magnet programs are a big part of the second phase of the plan laid out last night as well. 

WORF: That's right. The superintendent's plan would essentially create several partial magnet schools. So, a neighborhood school that also has a magnet program. But CMS doesn't have a good track record of this. The district has used partial magnets in the past to attract students to struggling schools and create more diversity in these schools. Either the school isn't able to attract higher-performing students or the magnet program operates completely separate from the rest of the school and the gains don't carry over to the whole school. Clark was asked about this and this is what she said.  

CLARK: We certainly have tried to take an existing home school and add a partial magnet. And I would argue that has had mixed success. This is the opportunity to build a base off of a very strong magnet and in all cases, or most of these cases, we have waiting lists.

WORF: In other words, the higher-performing students are already there. It would just be adding neighborhood schools to the mix. She also said the district has pushed partial magnets to make sure that theme is throughout the whole school. The plan would take full magnets like Morehead STEM, University Park and First ward art magnets and make them partial magnets. It would also add another 4,200 magnet seats in 2018. 

TERRY: Diversifying schools was one things the board wanted to accomplish.  How much does this plan do that? 

WORF: In most cases it changes schools slightly, but doesn't break up concentrations of poverty much.  The biggest inroads on that you see with the paired schools. But Clark says there are opportunities down the line to continue to diversify schools, for example, when new schools open. The plan does in some cases make it so students are closer to their assigned schools and tries to ease overcrowded school.

TERRY: How many students are we talking are we talking about being impacted by these changes? 

WORF: That's really not clear at this point. The district didn't give an exact number last night, but they should be able to get that number fairly quickly. 

TERRY: How did the school board members react to the plan?

WORF: Many board members seemed positive, but they didn't say too much. This was still fresh for many of them and there are a lot of changes and so they were still processing them. Rhonda Lennon who represents North Mecklenburg County does like the overall plan. 

LENNON: I'm very impressed with what you've done. What I want to say is that it's a great proposal and this is where we start tonight and where we'll be over the next month is listening to the constituencies out in the community to see what they have to say about these ideas. 

WORF: On the other side of the spectrum, Ericka Ellis-Stewart, an at-large board member, did have some doubts that the plan did enough to break up concentrations of poverty and the challenges that creates for those schools, like higher teacher-turnover. Addressing Clark, she said, at this point she feels like it's not a comprehensive plan. 

ELLIS-STEWART: So I'm very interested to see how more of this will come together. I think, to quote you, at one point you talked about this being our moment. And I just don't want to miss what could be our moment for kids. 

WORF: The district will be holding information sessions over the next month. A public hearing is scheduled for May 9. The vote is scheduled for May 24.