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Anticipating a big dip in attendance at East Meck

The sign in front of East Mecklenburg High School.

A few thousand students will be shuffled around next school year, after the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board's recent votes to ease overcrowding at several schools. WFAE is taking a closer look at the ramifications of these decisions. When the new Rocky River High School opens in Mint Hill next year, East Mecklenburg High will loose more than 600 students. Two other nearby high schools will also lose hundreds of kids. It happens when a new school opens. Still, East Meck parents and teachers have been concerned, really concerned. In this story, Simone Orendain explores more closely what the loss would mean to East Meck. Early on a Monday morning at East Mecklenburg High, history students debate the pros and cons of U.S. reparations to descendants of African slaves and native Americans. Larry Bosc keeps students in his International Baccalaureate History class engaged with an easy conversational style. But behind his easy-going manner Bosc has a nagging worry. He also teaches Advanced Placement European History, which usually draws around 15 students. He's concerned by next year, the class will be canceled. "If we lose programs, if we lose the ability to offer these courses because we don't have enough students or enough teachers to teach them, then our reputation in the community will lessen," says Bosc. "And that will hurt the number of students we have at the school." When the new Mint Hill high school opens next year, East Meck will have 600 or so fewer students and 16 less teachers. Bosc says those would include teachers who specialize in higher level courses. Parents and teachers see this as the start of a downward spiral. East Meck will be a smaller school with still nearly half of the students on free and reduced price lunch. They worry these students will not only have fewer courses to choose from, but that entire programs will be gone. And all this begins a cycle of lowered academic expectations. The way to uphold academic quality is to keep kids interested in school. Bosc says students don't always opt for higher level classes, but when they're available, teachers can nudge them along. He says, "So a student can challenge himself by taking an Advanced Placement class. If that class isn't available then he can't. So it's not just for the accelerated students, it's also for kids who want to challenge themselves and want to prepare for college by taking one or two Advanced Placement classes." This is what parents and teachers think will happen. But we can't know for sure until students have signed up for next year's classes. Registration starts in January. To try to address the enrollment drop, the school board voted to move about 400 IB students from Myers Park High to East Meck and Harding University High. In the long run, the move is irrelevant because IB is a stand alone magnet program. It works like a school within a school. Besides, there's no guarantee Myers Park IB students will transfer to East Meck. A recent survey of Myers Park IB parents found less than three percent of those 400 kids will transfer to East Meck. Instead, most will go to their neighborhood schools or private school. Honors Spanish teacher Bill Allen stands to lose a class or two next year. He says the plan to relieve overcrowding only brings more anxiety. Allen says, "People think, 'oh that would be great if it was 1,600.' That's great if you maybe gradually work your way down in an organized process. But to whack off 600-700 people at one time and expect everything is just going to be the same, that's absurd." CMS student placement executive director Scott McCully says shuffling students from the three high schools in the eastern part of the county addresses high growth in the Mint Hill area. "It's more of a shift as opposed to a specific loss. Certainly schools are declining enrollment. And we view that as a good thing because of the overcrowding these schools have experienced over a number of years," says McCully. Nearby Butler High is losing nearly 600 kids and Independence will lose more than 700. The difference is, Bosc says, those schools are in areas that are vibrant, while East Meck's neighborhood is older and in decline.