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CMS Vice Chair Reacts To District's Equity Report

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education
Michael Tomsic
FILE: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board of education.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board of education vice chair Rhonda Cheek says that the school’s equity report, which found students at high poverty schools and students of color were falling behind, offered more profound insights on absenteeism and gauging high-quality teachers than those two takeaways.

Cheek, who represents Northern Mecklenburg County, joined WFAE’s Alex Olgin for a conversation on All Things Considered to discuss the report, “Breaking the Link,” Friday afternoon. She offered some ideas about what CMS needs to do next to improve the achievement gap. 

Alex Olgin: Did you learn anything new in this report?

Rhonda Cheek: That some of the things I learned that I kind of expected but it did surprise me to see the depths of some of the issues. 

Alex Olgin: What specifically was a little bit surprising about the depth of the issues? 

Rhonda Cheek: I think that the best thing we did was we push this information through two lenses one just looking at poverty and then looking at the next level of race. So it was very interesting that regardless of the race low poverty versus high poverty schools had significant differences. The high poverty schools in every instance across the board really had challenges. The one that was really, I think, shocking and disappointing to me is one that the CMS can own but we have to get our partners to help us with this. It was extremely high chronic absenteeism from high poverty schools. All over one third of our students are chronically absent in high school, in the high poverty schools. 

And a lot of that stems from all the other demands on them. A lot of them are taking care of families. They're working and they don't get to school. The 36 percent of our students are chronically absent in high poverty schools. And that to me is incredibly troubling. 

Alex Olgin: So what do you expect the CMS board to do in response to this report? 

Rhonda Cheek: What I really see this work helping define the next roles of the staff looking at things like how can you deliver more rigorous classes to students in all parts of the county. They spoke a little bit today about you know you may only have four kids that want to take AP Calculus. Can you actually put a teacher in that class? Or how else could we deliver that class to a school that only has four kids needing it; could we do it virtually? Can we do it through video conferencing and have like three or four schools that have a very small demand. In my opinion, every school should have the wide array of AP offerings even if they don't have very many kids that can take them. But it's up to our staff then to figure out how to get that class delivered to that student. 

Alex Olgin: I know you're a big proponent of neighborhood schools which were largely left intact with the last student assignment plan. Does this report change your view at all on whether the current plan is what's best for overall the CMS population? 

Rhonda Cheek: I think that we've got a very clear message from the community that they want to go to school close to home but they want their school to be a good school. So what we need to do is we need to make sure in high poverty areas that we're addressing those needs. We see that students have more likelihood to have first-year teachers in high poverty schools they're less likely to have a high performing teacher in a high poverty school. So we need to make sure we're staffing things in a more equitable way. 

Alex Olgin: What do you think can be done to get more of these high-quality teachers into the high poverty schools? 

Rhonda Cheek: I think it's a little bit of a chicken and the egg. The way that teachers are measured as highly effective is if they achieve growth in students it's hard sometimes when you have students that are very far behind and they're making a lot of schools to grow. So a little bit of that could be the chicken and the egg is it the teacher or is the data that causing the teacher not to have the high performance. We also know that there are a lot of challenges that teachers face that in high poverty schools that are beyond just their expertise in teaching and learning and spans the social-emotional needs spectrum of those students. And we need to make sure we give them the support that allowed them to focus on teaching and learning as much as possible.