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Superintendent presents CMS plan for five-year gains and seeks community’s aid

Superintendent Crytal Hill talks about her five-year plan as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools summer leadership conference began Monday at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Ann Doss Helms
Superintendent Crytal Hill talks about her five-year plan as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools summer leadership conference began Monday at the Charlotte Convention Center.

The five-year academic plan that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools posted Monday has been hashed out for almost a year in talks with CMS employees, families and community members. It’s 31 pages of goals and guardrails, pillars and priorities — with 69 strategies for how Superintendent Crystal Hill expects her staff to make a difference for kids.

When Hill formally unveiled the plan to about 1,300 CMS administrators Monday, she offered more of a pep talk on how to make steady progress toward consistently high academic achievement, racial equity and graduates who are well prepared for adult life.

Hill, who is completing her first year as superintendent, told the school and central office administrators that her mantra of “excellence without exception” requires small, steady improvements, not perfection.

“I am so happy to say that I am not the same leader that stood before you last year, because I took very seriously the importance of getting 1% better each and every day,” she said.

Hill used images of crowns, boats and cars to inspire her staff to focus on customer service, leadership and teamwork. She urged them all to watch the 2023 movie “The Boys in the Boat” to get inspired by the metaphor of everyone rowing together.

The protagonist, she says, “learned from his coach that it’s not about you. It’s about the boat. And I’ll just say right now, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools it is not about me. It is not about you. It is about the students that we serve every single day.”

Getting better at goals

The new plan builds on a previous five-year plan that took shape in a stretch of leadership churn and pandemic turmoil. Like the old plan, the new one sets targets for improvements in reading and math scores and preparation for life after high school. But there have been changes:

  • The old plan set goals for improvement in reading scores for Black and Latino third-graders. The new one includes two reading goals: One for K-2 students and another for grades 3-8, when students take state reading exams. It doesn’t narrow the focus by race, but Hill said racial equity has to be part of the work.
  • Both plans call for improvement in high school Math 1 scores, but the new one includes students who take the course in middle school.
  • Both plans encourage schools to make sure students go beyond a basic diploma to build skills and credentials that will help them in college and careers. The old one focused on diploma endorsements, a measure that proved problematic in CMS and across the state. A one-year plan that was also released Monday outlines plans to collect data on a new mix of test scores and credentials in the coming year. That will be used to set goals for ensuring that students are prepared for what Hill calls “the three E’s,” employment, enrollment in college or enlistment in the military.

Hill urged the assembled administrators to help people understand goals that can look unambitious — such as raising the percentage of students earning college-and-career-ready scores on reading exams from 31% to 50% by 2029 — are challenging but realistic. She said a national speaker recently said that raising scores by 3 percentage points a year requires “a Herculean effort” — a phrase she asked the group to repeat aloud — and says CMS will go beyond that.
And she said falling short of the score that qualifies as college- and career-ready does not mean kids can’t read.

It takes a county

Sherri Chisholm, executive director of Leading on Opportunity, was keynote speaker for the CMS leadership conference. The group was created in 2017 to focus corporate, civic and philanthropic efforts on economic mobility in Mecklenburg County.

Chisholm teamed up with Hill to drive home the theme of communitywide efforts to improve student outcomes. She said educators play a key role in breaking cycles of poverty.

“You know what it means to make some impacts for children,” she said. “You know that your children are living in circumstances that are less than what they deserve. And yet you do the work every day because you believe in the possibility.”

She said the rest of the community should rally to support children and families, while leaving instruction to educators.

Hill, meanwhile, noted that engagement with the community is one of four pillars of her plan.

“This plan includes all of us,” she said. “And the strategies in this plan leverage the skills, the passion and the expertise of the entire community.”

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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.