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An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

CMS Board Passes Whole Student Assignment Plan With Several Close Votes

Lisa Worf
The crowd at the beginning of Wednesday's CMS board meeting.

CMS now has a student assignment plan after a 6 1/2 hour meeting that was often contentious.

The closest votes involved changes to k-8 schools on the city's west side and breaking up University Park Creative Arts into a partial magnet. Those fell along racial lines with the board's African American members voting against them.

At-large board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said, overall the plan fell short when it came to breaking up concentrations of poverty.  

"I think we have not been bold as we had been encouraged to be. I think we've not been as courageous as we've been encouraged to be," said Ellis-Stewart.

But Eric Davis who represents south Charlotte praised it as a good start.   

"While we still face too many schools with high concentrations of poverty, too many overcrowded and underfunded schools, too many challenged neighborhoods, too many families struggling to survive, this vote tonight is the first step, which is the most important step," said Davis.

The board decided to go ahead with a couple revisions announced earlier this week, including changing the boundaries for both Sedgefield and Alexander Graham Middle Schools. The board also approved breaking up Morehead K-8 into a partial magnet, paired with Nathaniel Alexander. Motions to pair Cotswold and Billingsville elementaries, reopen Villa Heights, and transfer some Hough High students to Hopewell all received unanimous approval. 

Editor’s note: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is scheduled to vote on a new student assignment plan this evening. The board meeting begins with a public hearing, followed by a vote on the plan. WFAE’s Lisa Worf will blog on the meeting in this space throughout the evening. The agenda is here.

6:36pm: The CMS board meeting is just getting underway with a public hearing. The meeting chamber has open seats still, far fewer people here now than compared to the public hearing two weeks ago. You can identify parents and students by their t-shirts. There are lots of University Park Creative Arts parents, Dilworth Elementary, Eastover Elementary, and Morehead STEM k-8. 

Public Hearing

6:40pm: Several University Park parents and students say they want to keep their school as is, not made into a partial magnet.  They say they don't want neighborhood students forced to take an arts curriculum and take up valuable magnet seats. (The plan calls for creating partial magnets at Greenway and Long Creek.) They worry about more low-income students being added to the school. 

Two Eastover parents spoke urging the board not to adopt the revised plan for Sedgefield Middle School that would change the boundaries for both Sedgefield and Alexander Graham Middle Schools. The revised plan has Eastover Elementary, a mostly high socio-economic status school, feed to Sedgefield Middle, instead of AG.  The two middle schools would be about half high SES and a third low-SES. Eastover parents are upset they received only one day notice of the revised plan.  

6:55pm: Several parents zoned for Sedgefield Elementary and Middle schools praise the board.  Christine Padgett says she's going to send her kids to Sedgefield. She notes Sedgefield Elementary and Middle struggle, but "there's so much momentum in the neighborhood. Paired with Dilworth, we can accomplish so much."

7:09pm: Dilworth Elementary parents speaking are very much split on the plan. There are those that are excited about the revised plan that changes both Sedgefield and Alexander Graham Middle Schools. They say it'll create "two strong middle schools in central Charlotte." Others urge the board to vote against the whole plan.  Incoming Dilworth PTA President Jennifer Loeffler says to board, "Be something worth choosing." Lots of applause follows.   

7:14pm: Some parents living in Myers Park say they feel singled out student assignment changes over the years. One parent says, "we're repeatedly outsourced to improve CMS."

7:25pm: Thomasboro parent Cynthia Hayes thanks board for not touching her daughter's k-8 school, but wants to speak up for district 2, which includes most of the west side.  "You keep moving schools around - k-5, k-8 - just tearing them up and not satisfied," she tells the board. "That's discombobulating children." Give them a chance to get used to the latest change. In 2011, the board closed several schools on the west side to save money. Elementary schools were made into k-8 schools.  The superintendent's plan calls for re-opening Wilson Middle and turning three k-8 schools back into elementary schools.  Reid Park Academy would become a k-5 under the plan. Several parents there want to keep it as a k-8. But Hayes does call on the board to ease over-crowing at west side schools by re-opening Lincoln Heights and JT Williams. She calls on the board to postpone the vote so families on the west side have time to digest the plan.  

7:48pm: Several Oakhurst STEAM parents criticized the plan to switch their high school from Myers Park to Garinger. They say this doesn't live up to the board's goals, partly because it hardly changes the socio-economic diversity at Garinger. After the change, Garinger would be 94-percent low-socio economic status.  One parent says, "Chantilly families need a viable high school."

8:20pm: Morehead STEM's revised plan isn't going over well with parents here.  It would leave out James Martin Middle School from the mix and spread the STEM magnet only between Morehead and Nathaniel Alexander Elementary. Over the past few weeks, Morehead parents spoke out against breaking up the full magnet. This revised plan would still make Morehead a partial magnet. One parent says, "Don't they deserve a full experience, not a partial experience."  

8:28pm: And the public hearing ends.  

Board Members Weigh-In On Plan

8:52pm: Board Chair Mary McCray gives each board member 2 minutes to weigh in on overall plan, just like public speakers. Rhonda Lennon runs over and asks, "Are my 2 minutes up?" Audience groans.  

9:05pm: This is what board members had to say in their 2 minute recaps. These are not exact quotes.

Chair Mary McCray: We spent four months on the boundary portion of the student assignment plan, that's about a quarter of the time we spent on the magnet portion and this one impacts so many more people (more than 7,000 students).  Doing nothing is always better than doing the wrong thing.     

Paul Bailey: It saddens me to see the audience with signs that say "No Table. No Bond." We need your support. Some time I'd like to imagine what we can do as a community, if we can get city council, county commission and board of education on the same page.  

Vice Chair Elyse Dashew: I will only support plan that will be well-implemented. Your engagement and your suggested improvements have already made this plan better. It has been powerful.  I've listened to you in many engagement sessions and many meetings. I want University Park parents know that I listened to you and your words went to my heart. I hope you hear me and my heart. I believe we have the power in this room, community, if we work together to implement this plan well. 

Ericka Ellis-Stewart: I know how it feels to be in your [audience's] shoes.  I was sitting here in 2010 with a kid in Harding. We received late notice that school was impacted.  Our school was a full magnet, despite outrage and well-reasoned argument, it was dismantled and it hasn't recovered. I understand the angst you feel. We've been looking at this for over 18 months, in terms of framework, policy. The past month we've looked at the specifics. [She didn't finish as her 2 minutes were up.]

Motion To Delay Vote Fails 5-4

9:15pm: Motion to delay vote on student assignment plan until June 6 fails 5-4. Chair Mary McCray, board members Ruby Jones, Thelma Byers-Bailey, and Ericka Ellis-Stewart vote for the delay.   

Board Discusses Creating Several Partial Magnets

9:31pm: The board is discussing motion creating partial magnets. Superintendent Ann Clark says move will allow district to add 380 creative art magnet seats.  

1. Crestdale Middle, Creative Arts

2. Eastway Middle, Leadership and Environmental STEM

3. Harding, Institue of Technology

4. Long Creek Elementary, Creative Arts

5. Northeast Middle, Computer Science and Coding 

6.Northridge Middle, Computer Science and Coding

7. Quail Hollow Middle, Leadership and Paideia

Creating partial magnet programs has concerned a few board members. CMS hasn't had a good track record with creating successful partial magnets.  Board member Ruby Jones is asking Clark how this would exactly work - cost, number of magnet seats. "It's still not educationally sound to me to bring students in who aren't revved up by magnet program," says Jones.  

At-large board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart sand she'd like to have more detail about how to make sure the new partial magnets don't look like the older partial magnets. In other words, make sure the benefits of having a magnet in a school are spread throughout the school among both magnet and neighborhood students.  

9:54pm: Motion passes 6-3. Board members Ruby Jones, Ericka Ellis-Stewart, and Thelma Byers-Bailey vote against it.  

Hough/Hopewell Vote

9:58pm: Motion to reassign some students currently zoned to Hough High School to Hopewell High passes unanimously.

More Motions

10:18pm: Motion passes 6-3

10:20pm: Motion to tweak boundaries for East Mecklenburg, Myers Park, and Garinger High Schools passes 8-1 with Ericka Ellis-Stewart voting against it. [This would change the high school for Oakhurst STEAM, so that all students go to Garinger.]

Billingsville/Cotswold Pairing Gets Unanimous Support

10:25pm: Several board members praise parents' support of this. "I saw the best of what our community had to offer with this," says Elyse Dashew.

Changing Reid Park Academy Into An Elementary School

10:35pm: Thelma Byers-Bailey doesn't like the plan. "Reid Park doesn't want to dismantle their program. I'm not in favor of this," says Byers-Bailey. 

Ruby Jones wants to understand the "vitality of Reid Park's instructional program." Does it have the array of program options that good, thriving elementary schools have, plus middle schools.   

[WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn had this story about push back on proposed changes for some pre-k-8 schools, including Reid Park Academy.]

10:40pm: Ann Clark responds to questions about academic rigor and electives at k-8 schools:  "Do our k-8s have the same variety of courses as big middle schools? No. But, yes, they have access to rigor as honors courses, but don't have exact same electives as comprehensive middle schools. 

Vote: Passes 5-to-4, with Mary McCray, Ericka Ellis-Stewart, Thelma Byers-Bailey, and Ruby Jones voting against it.  

Dilworth/Sedgefield Pairing, Changes to Sedgefield/AG Middles, First Ward Elementary and Marie G. Davis Become Partial Magnets

The motion is here and includes several pdfs on the main agenda page

10:50pm: Eric Davis responds to his motion: Tonight is the time when this board has opportunity to lead the way – to do our part not only for our children, but also our neighbor's child. I'm certain this plan will work because I believe in this board. We need to make this vote tonight to end the division and begin planning on how we'll take care of every one of your children and move ahead together.   

11:12pm: A motion to separate First Ward Elementary from the main motion fails 6-3, with Ruby Jones, Ericka Ellis-Stewart, and Thelma Byers-Bailey voting to separate it.  

11:22pm: Motion passes 8-1 with Thelma Byers-Bailey voting against it. 

Morehead STEM k-8

Motion would make Morehead and Nathaniel Alexander partial STEM schools. This is a revision to the original proposal that would have added James Martin Middle to the mix.  

11:40pm: Ruby Jones and Thelma Byers-Bailey are very much against this, along with many Morehead parents.  Here's a glimpse of the discussion: 

Jones: I'm not against partial magnets, but why are you going to break down a good magnet that was and can be a model site....This smacks of another Harding. 

[In 2010, board voted to break up the full magnet Harding into a partial magnet. It was mostly African-American and high-performing. As Ericka Ellis-Stewart noted earlier, that didn't end up well.  The school now struggles.]

Jones: Dismantling, ramshackling Morehead will weigh heavily on you for years to come. 

Clark: Morehead is a B. Nathaniel Alexander is a C. There's not a wide gap as far as student performance.  

McCray has to quiet down a couple members of the audience. A few dozen people still here.  

11:47pm: McCray recounts coming to teach at Morehead in 1996, when Nathaniel Alexander was the higher-performing school.  She says she doesn't see this as a watering down of Morehead's program and shame on us, if the board allows it to be watered down.  She says she talked to several Morehead parents recently that said they had angst, but were willing to make the pairing work.  

The motion passes 6-3 with Ruby Jones, Ericka Ellis-Stewart, and Thelma Byers-Bailey voting against it. 

Re-open Villa Heights As An Elementary School

12:10am Board approves the motion unanimously. 

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.