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CMS offers bonuses to recruit top educators for 10 low-performing schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrative offices.
Ann Doss Helms
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrative offices.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is offering bonuses to get top principals and teachers into 10 of the district’s lowest-performing schools.

CMS has been hiring principals over the past year, offering $18,000 signing bonuses to entice strong leaders to take on tough assignments. Their salary will continue to include an additional $18,000 a year as long as they meet goals for student achievement and school climate, said Associate Superintendent Avery Mitchell.

Those principals are now recruiting staff, with the opportunity to offer $7,500 bonuses for up to 15 positions.

“And to be able to maximize on those bonuses we allowed schools to really look at their staffing and see if there’s some people who might just not be right for these schools,” Mitchell said. “They’re good teachers but maybe just not right culturally. … This would allow schools to move some people out to bring more effective people in.”

The program also provides money to provide higher pay for high-performing teachers who take on extra duties, and for counselors who can help at Garinger and Harding high schools, which have been targeted because of low graduation rates.

The 10 schools all qualify for federal Title I aid for high-poverty schools. They were ranked among the lowest-performing 5% of all Title I schools in North Carolina in 2018.

New plan with past echoes

When the school board fired Earnest Winston last month, an investigative report referred to senior staff’s frustration with his delays in carrying out the “transformation plan” for low-performing schools. Last week, some of those senior staff provided WFAE an update on that plan, formally known as the Comprehensive Support and Improvement Differentiated Support Transformation Plan.

The longtime administrators who put the plan together acknowledge it may sound familiar to longtime CMS-watchers. It’s similar to the Strategic Staffing Initiative that Superintendent Peter Gorman rolled out in 2008. The plan was launched with local fanfare and made waves nationally. That was partly because national observers were wowed by big initial test-score gains, not realizing that a change in North Carolina testing had brought similar gains across the state.

The Great Recession brought teacher layoffs and school closings. Some of the Strategic Staffing schools were upended by a hasty move to create several high-poverty K-8 schools. Gorman left CMS in 2011 to take a job in the private industry. By the time 2012 test scores were reported, most of the initial Strategic Staffing principals had moved on and the apparent gains had vanished. One of the 10 “transformation plan” schools, Bruns Avenue Elementary, was also one of the 2008 Strategic Staffing schools.

Learning from the past

Chief School Performance Officer Kondra Rattley said the latest plan is more tailored to the needs of each school. The 10 schools range from elementary to high schools and include an alternative school and a special education school.

“Not that it’s so vastly different from something done in the past,” she said, “but we absolutely are building on what might have worked well, taking it and putting it into context that we have now, to really accelerate where we want our kids to go.”

The plan also calls for recruiting strong assistant principals so improvements won’t vanish if principals change. Teams from each school will be sent to a training program called UnboundEd this summer.

Deputy Superintendent Matt Hayes said the targeted schools will use the same curriculum as other CMS schools but will get extra support to make it work for students.

“Our greatest commodity that we have here in CMS is our people,” Hayes said. “The way that this is designed is that we’re about to build those people up at a much faster pace.”

Funding comes from ongoing federal money, including $2.4 million from the Title I program to cover the bonuses. The program does not depend on COVID-19 aid, which will disappear in a couple of years, nor on county allocations, Hayes said.

Schools targeted for the transformation plan

  • Allenbrook Elementary (PreK-5). 
  • Military and Global Leadership Academy (Magnet high school). 
  • Martin Middle (6-8). 
  • Turning Point Academy (K-12 alternative school for students with serious discipline infractions). 
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Academy (K-12 special education school for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities). 
  • Bruns Avenue Elementary (PreK-5). 
  • Renaissance West STEAM Academy (PreK-8). 
  • Sedgefield Middle (6-8). 
  • Garinger High (9-12). 
  • Harding High (9-12).

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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.