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CMS Student Assignment Plan Gets Mixed Reviews At Packed Hearing

Gwendolyn Glenn/WFAE
Parents showed up with signs to let CMS school board know that they do not want their magnet schools turned into partial magnets.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' proposed student assignment plan drew a big crowd Tuesday night. So many people turned up, many had to watch the public hearing on TVs outside the meeting chamber. It was an orderly crowd. About 90 people spoke. Many of them supported the plan, but just as many opposed it, mainly because their children would change schools under it. WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn discusses the meeting with Morning Edition host Marshall Terry. 

TERRY:  First, Gwen, Superintendent Ann Clark had some new information about the plan last night. What was that? 

GLENN: Yes, parents and reporters had been asking CMS for the past two weeks how many students would attend different schools under this plan. Clark finally had that number last night. It's more than 7,100 students or about 5 percent of CMS students. The bulk, just under half of those, would be elementary students. Many of those would go to one of three sets of paired schools, where k-2 grades are in one school and 3rd-5th grades are in the other. That's part of an effort to make those schools more economically diverse, better academically and, in some cases, to reduce overcrowding. And it's those elementary pairings that received the most comments.

TERRY: What did parents have to say about that? 

GLENN: There was certainly a mixture of views. Take Cotswold and Billingsville elementaries east of uptown. Cotswold is a B ranked school with more than half of its students in the high-income category, or what the district calls high socio-economic status. Billingsville is a D ranked school with nearly all of its students in the low income, low socio-economic status range. Only Cotswold parents spoke. Here’s Mendy Godman, who has two children at Cotswold:

GODMAN: The power and durability of Cotswold flowing into Billingsville is very exciting. To have a school with limited resources and little or no diversity getting opportunities that every child deserves gives me hope in our system.

GLENN: Some other Cotswold parents talked about fear and apprehension in the community regarding the proposed plan and were highly critical of it, like Cotswold parent Lecil Sullivan.

SULLIVAN: This is an idea not a plan and our children deserve better than that. CMS needs to provide specific information about how this idea will be executed before the vote so the community can react and engage in dialogue. We have asked a lot of questions as a community that have not been answered.

TERRY: Dilworth and Sedgefield elementary parents have been quite vocal about that pairing. What was their reaction last night?  

GLENN: Again, a lot of people showed up to testify for and against that part of the plan. Dilworth is a B school where most students are well-to-do. It's about twice the size of Sedgefield. Sedgefield is a D school where 75 percent of students are low-income. Some Dilworth parents talked about how Dilworth children would be made responsible for improving academics at Sedgefield. Others, from both Dilworth and Sedgefield, said they welcome the diversity and think both schools will thrive. And there was still a lot of concern about Dilworth students having to go to Sedgefield Middle, a D ranked school, later on.

TERRY:  The plan calls for breaking up several full magnets and making them into partial magnets. In other words, spreading the full magnet program to neighborhood schools. How did this go over with parents? 

GLENN: Not well for those at the full k-8 magnet, Morehead STEM Academy. A lot of Morehead parents and school officials came with signs saying the school should stay the way it is. Eric Emerson has a first grader at Morehead and his wife teaches there:

EMERSON: Make no mistake, if you dismantle Morehead and try to spread it around multiple schools, you will hurt every student at Morehead today. Why? CMS has a poor track record of taking an outstanding school, combing it with an underperforming school and getting anything of value. It has not worked in the past. Morehead is working and our job is to maintain it and not dismantle it.

GLENN: Under the plan, Morehead would be turned into an elementary school and partial magnet. The school is now predominately middle income and has a B ranking. It would be paired with Nathaniel Alexander, a C ranked school, with the magnet program spread between the two schools and James Martin Middle, a D ranked school where these students would go for their 6-8 grade years. Some Morehead parents talked about buying homes where their children could go to Morehead and some told the board they would take their children out of CMS schools if this plan is approved.

TERRY: How did board members respond to the three hours of comments?

GLENN: Some said they're still digesting the plan and the comments. Board Chair Mary McCray noted it was a humongous task and a short time to accomplish it. Ericka Ellis-Stewart had the most critical words. She said the district has become segregated by race and socio-economic status and that CMS has to do something different. 

ELLIS-STEWART: That will mean that some people will be uncomfortable. That will mean that some people will have recommendations that they disagree with. Everyone will not be happy with this process. Heck, I’m not happy with this process. 

GLENN: Board members will meet next Tuesday to go over the proposed changes and alternatives. The board is expected to vote on a plan May 24.  

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.