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Charlotte Area News

Home Schools Get Priority In CMS Guiding Principles

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Board has approved a set of guiding principles for deciding how students are assigned to schools. The top priority is keeping kids in schools close to home. "Home school" isn't a term that got top billing in the district's guiding principles approved in 2005. But now it's the most important factor the board wants Superintendent Peter Gorman and his staff to keep in mind. "What that tells us is that we should put our resources--time, people, and money--towards making every home school a great school first and foremost," says Gorman. The new guiding principles put "stability and predictability" as the second priority. In other words, school boundaries should stay the same for several years. And third is diversity. That's defined as creating a relative balance of low-income kids at a school. Relative is the key word since there can only be so much diversity at a school when it draws students from an immediate area that is mostly white or mostly black or mostly well-to-do or mostly poor. That third place status for diversity was the sticking point last night. The board voted 5-to-3 in support of the guiding principles. Tom Tate, along with the board's only two black members, Richard McElrath and Joyce Waddell, were the hold outs. "Attending a home school in CMS does not guarantee access to a good education," said Waddell. "In fact, some home schools are deficient in high quality teachers and resources. So a guarantee to attend those schools is not exactly what we want." Instead, Waddell wants the district to put more emphasis on diversity and trying to break up clusters of low-performing students when assigning kids to school. Joe White says he shares the same concern about the achievement gap between whites and minorities and children from comfortable homes and those from poor ones, but he says student assignment isn't the right way to go about narrowing it. "Having watched my own children be bussed, re-bussed, cross-bussed and satellited, I am of a very strong opinion that there are no guiding principles on student assignment that are going to all of a sudden become a panacea," said White. White pointed to other efforts the district is making to narrow the achievement gap. "We're working on strategic staffing. We're working on quality teachers. We're working on a lot of different things and a lot of different places that I think will have an impact on providing that quality education for each and every child," said White. It took eleven tries and more than twenty hours of board sessions to come up with the new guiding principles. But Gorman says the real work is still ahead when the principles run up against more than $55 million in expected budget cuts for next year. "The tough point is in the application when you really go to make the final call," says Gorman. One of those first calls may be which schools to close.