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CMS blows up First Ward Elementary to relieve Eastover; spreads out Myers Park IB program

Teachers, students and parents at CMS Board meeting awaiting boundary vote.
Teachers, students and parents at CMS Board meeting awaiting boundary vote.

The current Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board ended its term by voting 5 - 3 in favor of hotly debated student assignment plans for next school year. One plan would relieve overcrowding at Eastover Elementary through a major shuffle and the other would blow up the international baccalaureate program at Myers Park High. WFAE's Simone Orendain reports.It was another capacity crowd inside school board chambers last night, with more people spilling into the overflow room upstairs. For close to four hours, parents and students from the affected schools made last ditch efforts to plead their cases. Some people vehemently opposed the CMS recommendations, while others enthusiastically supported them.In the Eastover Elementary discussion, the district would convert Dilworth Elementary- currently an arts magnet school- into a neighborhood school. It calls for moving Dilworth's magnet program to First Ward Elementary and moving the First Ward students mainly to Dilworth and some to Eastover. The plan changes a segment of Selwyn Elementary's boundary, sending about 70 of its students to Dilworth. Apart from First Ward the three schools are in an affluent part of town. And Eastover and Selwyn boast solid student achievement with low-poverty.First Ward Elementary PTA President Deborah Albritton strongly opposes the plan. First Ward is 95 percent black and has 88 percent of students on free and reduced price lunch. Still, Albritton says her school doesn't need any favors."And we should just give in and concede to the populations where entitlement is expected. While I expect that the concerns I have for my community are justified and worth fighting for, First Ward is not the poster child for your guilty consciences. And we just hope you find another charity," she said.In the end, this plea and some others from young students who could barely reach the microphone did not convince the five board members that voted in favor of the staff recommendation.Outgoing Board Chair Molly Griffin opposed it- which was a rare move for her."My respect for the superintendent and his excellent staff and the work that they've done and my respect for my colleagues, generally leads me to support such recommendations," said Griffin. "But I struggled time and time again to figure out how I could support this one. I tried to tweak it. I tried to change it. And I could never do that."Griffin says this recommendation was flawed from the start because it shuffles around 12-hundred students to thin-out attendance at Eastover by about 100 students. Kaye McGarry and Larry Gauvreau also voted against it.Griffin carried her opposition to the high school discussion. She wasn't happy about board member Tom Tate's recommendation that would remove the Myers Park magnet international baccalaureate program. Under the plan, the I-B program becomes available only to students within the Myers Park attendance zone. And those who live outside the zone would go to IB programs either at East Mecklenburg or Harding University High."I do not think it is a program that can be moved. If I thought it could be successfully moved, I might very well support the motion. The Myers Park IB program has been a model of success for CMS, much in the same way the East Meck IB program has been a model of success for CMS. I just believe there's room in CMS for both of these programs," she said.A number of speakers felt the same way. As Myers Park IB student Derrick Flakoll put it:"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"Kaye McGarry and Larry Gauvreau joined Griffin in opposing this plan. Back in August, Tate proposed looking into relieving overcrowding at Myers Park and possibly using this to fill an impending attendance hole at East Meck. When the new Mint Hill high school opens next year, East Meck will likely lose 500 to 700 students who will either go to the new school or other nearby schools. And this means East Meck would lose teachers. After the vote, some Myers Park parents said they would continue efforts to keep the IB program in-tact. They plan to raise the issue to the five new board members who will be sworn in at the next meeting in early December.