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Should Renaissance West STEAM Academy be split?

Kids in the gym at Renaissance West STEAM.
Ann Doss Helms
Kids in the gym at Renaissance West STEAM.

This story first appeared in education reporter Ann Doss Helms' weekly newsletter. Sign up here to get it straight to your inbox

The day my talk with Morning Edition host Marshall Terry about the CMS bond plan aired last week, I spoke with Mack McDonald, CEO of Renaissance West Community Initiative. He was taken aback to learn that CMS has decided to end neighborhood K-8 schools. Renaissance West STEAM Academy, a pre-K-8 school that’s the centerpiece of the development near the airport, is slated to become a middle school.

Here’s a quick sketch of Renaissance West’s origin story: The Charlotte Housing Authority (since renamed Inlivian) got a federal grant in 2009 to demolish the Boulevard Homes public housing project and replace it with mixed-income housing, a school, a child care center and senior housing.

After considering a charter school, the Renaissance West Community Initiative partnered with CMS, which opened the pre-K-8 school in 2017.

A few years earlier, CMS had hastily created K-8 schools at several high-poverty elementary and middle schools. It was part of a series of school closures and consolidations following the Great Recession.

District officials have now concluded that the arrangement can’t provide middle school students with the range of sports and extracurricular activities they’d get at a full-size middle school. CMS plans to reserve the K-8 arrangement for magnet schools, where students and their families might decide that’s a good trade-off for something like language immersion.

McDonald says Renaissance West STEAM (it stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math) is different. It was planned as part of the community. And he says the Housing Authority gave CMS the land with a memorandum of understanding that it would be used for a combined elementary-middle school.

This is exactly the kind of information CMS is gathering now, as Hill refines the proposal she’ll take to the school board on Feb. 14.

So I’ll say it again: Now’s the time to check the list of projects and consider attending one of the last remaining community engagement sessions coming in the next several days.

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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.