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

Big CMS Committee Tackles Bigger Equity Challenge

The CMS Equity Committee held its first meeting Tuesday.

How do you organize a 40-member committee with a charge so broad and daunting that it’s stumped experts for decades?

Superintendent Earnest Winston greets members of the CMS Equity Committee at their first meeting Tuesday.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and its community Equity Committee set about figuring that out Tuesday night.

Parents, educators, students and community members gathered at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus on Wilkinson Boulevard for the panel's first meeting. Superintendent Earnest Winston reminded them that they were chosen from approximately 150 volunteers who wanted to help CMS sort out its equity issues.

The school board spent months just defining equity. Consultant Valda Valbrun, who led the meeting, told the group it means "we’re doing the work, the hard work, of ensuring that students are going to be successful in CMS. All students are going to be successful."

She said that means focusing on children who have come from poverty or been marginalized, such as LGBTQ students.

"In some instances equity means giving those with less more – more time for learning, more highly effective teachers to reduce learning gaps, more access to challenging classes," Valbrun said.

As for how to make the massive task manageable, Valbrun had the group divide itself into six subcommittees:

  • One will track changes in the socioeconomic makeup of schools and recommend ways to increase diversity.
  • One will review whether all students have access to a rich, challenging curriculum.
  • One will look at measures of students' social and emotional wellness, including the impact of trauma and poverty and racial disparities in discipline.
  • One will study "a perceived link" between school poverty levels and the condition of buildings and grounds.
  • One will look at diversity, experience, performance and qualifications of faculty at each school.
  • One will report on how well schools are engaging families and creating mentorship opportunities, including a review of whether schools are culturally competent to deal with their families.

School board member Carol Sawyer offered a stark summary of what’s at stake.
"We are losing talent in our failure to meet the educational needs of large segments of our community," she said. "We are throwing away future scientists and leaders and politicians."

This committee can only advise the board and superintendent, and it’s unclear how much they can do to solve problems that have plagued CMS and other districts for decades. In the early 2000s, Sawyer was among a group of volunteers who served on a previous CMS equity committee, which disbanded with no clear results.

But CMS parent and pastor Lionel Means offered a hopeful vision for what the group can accomplish.

"I’m here because I believe that something great’s going to happen in this room," Means said. "I believe that the people in this room are going to do something amazing that’s going to impact the lives of many."

The subcommittees will start meeting soon, and the full group will convene again in April.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.