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This Week In Education: CMS Racial Diversity, Charter Schools And For-Profits

Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE
After school program for students at Dilworth Sedgefield campus. Students have a choice of participating in either Dilworth's or Sedgefield's after school programs

It’s been busy on the education front. Another for-profit school shut its doors. The joint committee of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and municipal officials met for the first time to hash out differences over charter schools. A new CMS report shows not much has changed over the past year in terms of racial diversity, an exception being the pairing of six schools under this year’s student assignment plan. 

WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn talks with All Things Considered Host Mark Rumsey about these issues.

MARK RUMSEY: Gwen you visited two of the schools that were paired to make them more economically diverse, Sedgefield and Dilworth elementaries. How did they change besides having pre-k through second at Sedgefield and third through fifth grades at Dilworth?

GWENDOLYN GLENN: The names changed to Dilworth Elementary Sedgefield Campus and Dilworth Elementary Latta Campus. When the pairing of these schools was proposed, there was a lot of pushback from white parents at Dilworth. Some Sedgefield parents feared that in CMS’ efforts to keep whites from leaving, the Dilworth parents would be given priority as the merger played out.

MR: Did that happen?

GG: Well, Sedgefield’s principal was reassigned and Terry Hall, principal of Dilworth is now the principal for both campuses. As for the name change, there was some pushback from some Sedgefield residents, but Hall says a naming committee decided that since there still is Sedgefield Middle School, the Dilworth name would be more prominent. She says it was more marketable since Dilworth had a higher state grading than Sedgefield and they didn’t want to lose that connection to the Dilworth neighborhood.

MR:  Sedgefield had a predominately African-American enrollment of low-income students and Dilworth was a majority white, high-income school. How did that change?

GG:  Well, Sedgefield's enrollment is now predominately white and high income. Last year there were 252 black students at Sedgefield and 11 whites. Now it has only 46 black students and more than 200 whites. Dilworth ’s enrollment overall was cut almost in half but it’s still majority white with slightly fewer Asians and Hispanics and African-American enrollment dropped from 143 students to 89.

MR: Is any concern being raised about this dramatic change?

GG: The parents I talked to, who were mainly white, say they were skeptical or outright opposed the merger, but now love it. Sedgefield’s building has been spruced up, a dean of students and behavior specialist were hired and all students can choose to attend Sedgefield’s or Dilworth’s afterschool program. With fewer low income and students of color, Sedgefield looks a lot like Dilworth before the merger.

MR: I know by law CMS cannot assign students by race, but have they commented on the racial makeup change of Sedgefield and where did those students go?

GG: Principal Hall says the boundary lines were changed for students at both schools where Dilworth lost some First Ward students and about 120 black students in the Southside Homes public housing complex, who went to Sedgefield are now at Marie G. Davis. When I asked a board member and a couple of CMS officials about the dramatic racial change at Sedgefield, they didn’t want to comment on it.

MR: Well let’s move to the first meeting of the MEAC, Municipal Education Advisory Committee. It was formed after Mint Hill, Huntersville, Matthews and Cornelius were given the authority to operate charter schools. CMS countered by putting them lower on their list for new schools. How did that first meeting go?

GG:  It was mainly a data gathering meeting with reports on past bond money spending, projected growth trends and property tax collections. By 2035, CMS is expected to have 71 thousand more students with 80 percent of the increase occurring in Charlotte, and Huntersville coming in second with 11 percent of that growth. They were told that 76 percent of property taxes come from Charlotte residents and 5 percent or less from each of the municipalities.

MR: Why was this important to have instead of diving into a discussion on new schools and charters?

GG:  Well, over the past year, charges and counter-charges have been made on where schools are being built and where they are overcrowded, where funds are going, etc. So they wanted each side to have accurate data as a starting point so they can collaboratively come to decisions based on facts.

MR: Several of the municipalities have also formed their own education advisory committees to discuss charters and other needs correct?

GG:  They have and as their ideas are passed along to MEAC members, the discussions are expected to pick up a bit, but for now, everybody was cordial, saying they are about forming closer relationships versus threatening each other.

MR: Gwen, we also had another for-profit school to abruptly close its doors, the sixth in the past two years?

GG:  Yes, Brightwood College on Independence Boulevard. It has about 200 students and it’s following the likes of the Charlotte School of Law, the Art Institute of Charlotte and others, and for some of the same reasons—declining enrollment and financial and accreditation problems. Under the Obama Administration, the federal government started monitoring for-profits closer, making them more accountable to students in terms of instruction, graduation rates and job prospects.

Alabama-based Education Corporation of America bought the Kaplan chain a few years back, that became Brightwood College. ECA is one of the country’s largest for-profit chains. They have about 70 campuses around the country, with many first-generation college students from low-income families attending the schools.

MR: WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn, thanks for that update.

GG:  My pleasure.