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CMS approves changes for Trillium Springs, Waddell and early college options

PLC parent Cornelia Coles was one of about a dozen speakers who urged the CMS board not to close the small school as part of a high school shuffle.
Ann Doss Helms
PLC parent Cornelia Coles was one of about a dozen speakers who urged the CMS board not to close the small school as part of a high school shuffle.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved several magnet changes Tuesday, after hearing from parents, students and staff who urged them not to close two schools in the process.

The board unanimously approved reopening E.E. Waddell in southwest Charlotte as a full magnet high school and creating a new early college high school at the uptown campus of Central Piedmont Community College.

Waddell will offer a range of career-tech programs, including some that focus on aviation. It will also host a new PACE academy for teens who are learning English. It’s expected to open in August with 500 ninth and 10th graders.

Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said the school will be too small to offer varsity sports at first, but that can be added as the school grows.

The early college magnet expects to open in August with 300 students in grades 9-11. Those students will take high school classes at the college campus while earning tuition-free credits.

PLC will phase out

About a dozen parents, students and staff from Performance Learning Center showed up to object to part of the high school shuffle: Closing their school. PLC is a small opt-in setting that offers a mix of remote and in-person instruction for students who don’t do well in traditional high schools. Speakers said it can be a lifeline for struggling teens.

Shaquana Woolfolk said PLC helped her daughter become a straight-A student.

“There are many more bright students, and yes, they do have issues,” Woolfolk said. “But they leave with success stories.”

But Hattabaugh said enrollment at PLC has dropped steadily, from 125 students two years ago to 73 this year. He said only federal COVID-19 aid has allowed CMS to keep paying teachers for so few students.

“Once the federal dollars go away, this is nothing we can sustain in this district. I’m sorry,” he said.

Hattabaugh said two classrooms at Waddell will be set aside for about 35 current PLC students who will be juniors and seniors next year so they can finish that program.

Suburban Montessori magnet moves

The board split on closing Trillium Springs Montessori, a preK-6 magnet in Huntersville, and moving staff and students to a refurbished Lincoln Heights school in north Charlotte. CMS planners say the move will provide a better building with room to expand the popular magnet program.

Trillium Springs parents lined up at the last two board meetings to tell the school board they don’t want their school relocated. North suburban parents have fought for years to get magnet programs located near them, and they said the added distance and traffic make the new location impractical. They also said CMS already has trouble finding Montessori-certified teachers and questioned whether the district can staff an expansion.

The plan was approved anyway, but board member Jennifer De La Jara offered this blunt critique of staff: “I really feel like I have been misled through this process.”

She noted that Hattabaugh opened the discussion by saying the board had voted in August to reopen Lincoln Heights.

“And that’s exactly what we did: We voted to reopen Lincoln Heights as a Montessori program,” she said. “We did not vote to move Trillium Springs or any other program.”

De La Jara joined Rhonda Cheek and Sean Strain in voting against the move, which passed 6-3.

All the changes will be part of the 2023 choice lottery, which begins Jan. 16.

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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.