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CMS strategies show the complexity of public education

CMS students getting on buses.
Ann Doss Helms
CMS students getting on buses.

This article originally appeared in WFAE reporter Ann Doss Helms' weekly education newsletter. To get the latest school news in your inbox first, sign up for our email newsletters here.

Last week the public got a look at the strategies Superintendent Crystal Hill plans to use to meet the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board’s five-year goals for academic improvement.

Hill and Chief Strategy Officer Beth Thompson said that even when the ultimate goal is student performance, it’s essential to include the things that make that happen, such as recruiting great people, engaging the community and having a strong support for everything from building maintenance to student data.

So the tally came in at 70 itemized strategies. You can read them here or go with Thompson’s synopsis: “Teaching the whole child. Using a comprehensive curriculum. Developing, recruiting and retaining educators. Attending to school environments and technologies, and engaging with our community. That’s what’s in our strategic plan. And that’s what we’ll be doing over the next five years to achieve our goals and guardrails.”

As much ground as those strategies cover, school board members peppered Thompson with questions seeking more: What about Latino students? Or those with special needs? How will we deal with disruptive behavior? Shouldn’t there be more about magnet programs?

Thompson said the plan is still evolving. There will be additional action steps for each strategy. And some of the strategies will require more money in the coming years.

Some people like to say public schools would improve if they’d just narrow the focus — shrink administration, forget about distracting extras and let teachers zero in on academic basics. And it’s true that every school system (and institution) has programs that pop up and fade with little impact.

But watching this plan evolve has mostly served as a reminder of the extraordinary complexity of public education. You can’t teach kids who are hungry or overcome with anxiety or unable to get to school. You can’t crank out teachers on a 3D printer. We may not have standardized exams on the arts and world languages and sports, but often those are the things that spark a student’s passion and help them plan for their future. So yes, we end up with book-length planning documents and thousands of people working in support services. If we’re lucky, it pays off for kids and moves us a few steps closer to the goal of equal opportunity.

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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.