Tense meeting as CMS parents digest boundary proposals
This article was first published in The Charlotte Ledger.
Tempers flared Monday night in the Myers Park High School cafeteria as parents digested Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ latest draft plan to change the boundaries of 23 south Charlotte schools to make way for a new high school and a proposed new middle school.
The changes for many schools are vast under the proposed plan, and they affect tens of thousands of families who are zoned for four of Mecklenburg County’s biggest high schools, along with seven middle schools and 12 elementary schools.
In some cases, the boundary discussions are pitting neighbor against neighbor and rifts between friends who don’t agree on the next steps CMS should take in deciding which students will go to which schools. That tension was on display Monday night, as some parents aired frustration with the proposed maps as well as other parents’ advocacy for boundary requests they don’t agree with.
Hundreds attended Monday’s meeting, some arriving with typed-up copies of “talking points” they were prepared to speak about aloud and leave with CMS staff.
The crowd became rowdy at the start of the meeting, when CMS leaders asked them
to discuss the proposed boundary changes within their tables and not as a group. But they eventually complied and later were given the chance to ask questions of CMS officials in front of the whole room.
District leaders are trying to center the boundary discussions around several key factors: school capacity, travel distances, intact feeder patterns and socioeconomic diversity — priorities that are often in conflict with each other.
CMS officials said they used community feedback from earlier maps when crafting the new plan, which they said in many cases reduces home-to-school travel time, decreases the number of split feeder patterns from 39 to 32, improves socioeconomic diversity at some schools and improves utilization at some schools, which means the student population is more in line with what the building was designed for.
Here are several observations of the draft plan, and some areas that will likely be hot topics in the weeks to come:
Worries about SES diversity at some schools: CMS aims to have balanced socioeconomic (SES) diversity in its schools, with children from neighborhoods with high, mid and low socioeconomic status attending school together. The proposed changes would put more concentrated numbers of low SES students in some schools, and keep some schools with a high concentration of high SES students.
For example, the proposed plan would move Carmel Middle School from 35% to 44% low SES students, with just 1% in the mid range and 55% in the high range.
Quail Hollow Middle would move from 55% low SES students to 57% under the new plan, and South Meck High would go from 47% low SES to 50%. Meanwhile, Ardrey Kell and Providence High would stay at 1% low SES students.
“I am so sad to see this socioeconomic status for the high schools. How it is possible that in a south Charlotte, wealthy area, that we have two schools that are under 1% low SES and yet South Meck in this proposal is going to be 50%. I don’t think we’re doing anyone justice,” said one mom to applause.
Another parent asked about SES diversity in middle schools, noting that two of the middle schools, Quail Hollow and Carmel, would have high percentages of low SES students, while all the other middle schools have less than 10% of their students considered low SES. (The new proposed middle school, Community House Middle and South Charlotte Middle would have less than 1% of their students considered low SES.) “How in the world did you come up with a scenario that puts two of eight middle schools at such a different socioeconomic mix than other schools?” she asked.
Claire Schuch, director of planning services for CMS responded: “I understand your concern when it comes to that. It is extremely stark, and I think it is a part of an issue we have and part of it does relate to residential — pockets of wealth and pockets of poverty in some areas. It’s a lot harder to draw a boundary. … In some areas, you would have to drive further to get to a school to make it more diverse.”
Look for South Meck’s socioeconomic balance to be a big point of discussion at the next in-person CMS boundary meeting on Wednesday at South Meck at 6:30 p.m.
The fate of the Providences — Olde Providence and Providence High: One mom of a student at Olde Providence Elementary said she was unhappy to see a portion of Olde Providence Elementary that currently attends Myers Park be rezoned for Providence High School and not South Meck, as had been discussed in previous map iterations last year.
“For whatever reason, the rug has completely been pulled out from under us,” she said.
Providence High had been a sticking point for some families during boundary discussions last year, because most of the scenarios had its boundaries untouched, and some families who were proposed to be shifted from Myers Park High to South Meck said that Providence High is closer to their homes than South Meck is.
Another woman whose children are now zoned for Olde Providence, Carmel Middle and Myers Park piped up a minute after the first Olde Providence mom spoke: “I’d like to counter what she said. … I am not in support of going to South Meck. It is 9 minutes (from my house) to Providence. It does not make sense for me to go to South Meck, and it is not advantageous with the IB program.”
A division at Sharon Elementary: One of the more vocal groups during the rezoning process have been parents whose children attend Sharon Elementary and are slated to be rezoned from Myers Park High to South Meck. Sharon Elementary’s student body now splits when students go off to middle school, with a portion attending Alexander Graham Middle and a portion attending Carmel Middle.
The Sharon elementary students who attend Alexander Graham Middle are slated to continue attending Myers Park for high school under the current plan, while the students who attend Carmel Middle would go on to South Meck instead of Myers Park. Some parents of students at Sharon Elementary have created an online petition asking to stay zoned for Myers Park.
Verbal battle: A couple of Sharon Elementary moms waged verbal battle with each other during the meeting Monday, with one mom advocating for all of Sharon Elementary to go to Carmel Middle. Another mom piped up, saying if Sharon Elementary students pulled out of Alexander Graham, it would negatively impact the SES diversity there.
What will happen with the magnets? Parents are worried about what the future will hold for magnet programs in south Charlotte, particularly the International Baccalaureate program at Myers Park. Some families who would be rezoned out of Myers Park with the boundary changes say they’re upset to have their kids moved from an established IB program.
IB at South Meck? CMS officials have said they are considering putting an IB program at South Meck, but some in the South Meck community have spoken out against wanting the IB at their school.
CMS officials said there haven’t been any decisions made about changes to magnet programs, and they’re still seeking input from parents about what programs are offered where. They said they’ll take up the magnet issue more when they present the second draft map in April.
What will happen to the juniors (and freshmen and sophomores) whose schools are shifting? Many parents are concerned for the students who will be juniors when the boundary shifts happen, because they worry about the impact on academics and athletics in what’s considered the most rigorous year of high school. One parent asked whether students can opt to move early to what will be their new assigned school to avoid having to change schools mid-high school career. Schuch said that was something the district is considering.
Traditionally, CMS allows high school seniors to stay at their original schools and requires freshmen, sophomores and juniors to move to new schools when the new school opens.
What happens next? CMS officials will hear feedback from the community on this draft map at meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, and then will circulate a second draft of the map April 19-21 and solicit more feedback. The school board will hold a public hearing and vote on a plan in May.
Want to get involved? Mark your calendar for these meetings or submit a feedback form:
- Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., South Meck High School
- Thursday, 12 p.m. on Zoom
Phase II Draft II Scenarios:
- April 19, 6:30 p.m. at Ardrey Kell High School
- April 20, 12 p.m. on Zoom
- April 20, 6:30 p.m. at Providence High School
- April 21, 12 p.m. on Zoom
CMS school board public hearing and vote:
- May 9, 6 p.m. public hearing, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center
- May 23, 6 p.m. board vote, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center
Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger: firstname.lastname@example.org