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CMS In Focus: Teachers Get Ready For Students Amid Budget Cuts And Talks Of Closings

Raukell Robinson, Bishop Spaugh Middle School counselor.

Teachers have a lot to juggle to get ready for their students. There are bland classrooms to transform into places kids can learn, teaching strategies to share, and lessons to prepare. There's also a lot of uncertainty to contend with as the school board begins to plan for next year's budget. Another round of layoffs is expected next year and closing schools has been suggested as a way to save money. At Bishop Spaugh Middle School in west Charlotte, teachers know they're being closely watched. But their minds are on more immediate demands. Budget cuts or not, kids are coming back to learn tomorrow. Sally Davis is at Bishop Spaugh to teach eighth grade social studies. But she's also here, as she puts it, to learn from the best. Davis is a veteran teacher, but it's her first year here. She never thought of leaving her previous school, until she met Spaugh's former principal Denise Watts. "She came to talk to our class one night at 8 o'clock after, you know, she'd worked here all day long and her attitude was, 'Hey, I'm so glad to be here. Let me tell you all about my school. . . and these are the things I did,'" recounts Davis. "I'm like, 'If you can have that attitude after this long day, something's going right.'" It sure is. For a long time, Bishop Spaugh students performed poorly on standardized tests. Then, the district began investing more in the school as it did with other high- poverty schools. Last year, students made big gains on tests, but scores still aren't where they should be. Superintendent Peter Gorman has made it clear, schools like Bishop Spaugh where 56 percent of kids don't meet math and reading standards will be considered for closure. But he's also said he doesn't want to automatically pull the plug on schools where the extra attention is beginning to pay off. "At the end of the day if they close this school next year, I'll just go to another school. Would I want that to happen? Absolutely not," says Davis. "I see this school and this staff flourishing." Words like citizenship and honesty are painted across beams in the school's hallway. Counselor Raukell Robinson is putting up more signs outside the library. "'Teaching to the top' is Dr. Gorman's theme or motto for the school year and my take is 'On your way to the top. Follow the signs,'" says Robinson. Her street signs say things like "no bullying zone" and "anger is only one letter short of danger." Of course the reality is: bullying and anger do break out and when they do Robinson is there to provide guidance and stability. But last year her situation was anything but stable. Robinson like many other counselors across the district received reduction in force letters. "I think for the first time I watched a board meeting from the start to the end," remembers Robinson. "Still at that point the TVs still on cause I'm like glued to my seat. What else are they going to say? And then you know all the news channels are broadcasting. You're trying to stay positive, but everyone felt it in a way." But Robinson was called back for at least another year. In the library, teachers are exchanging reading strategies. Earlier in the day, it was a mix of celebration and motivation as teachers talked about what they'd accomplished last year and where they still need to go. "Budget cuts never came up in the conversation, position cuts never came up in the conversation, but they're there. It's a living, breathing thing right now," says Jan McIver, Bishop's Spaugh's new principal. McIver says budget cuts mean she and her staff will have to take on many other duties not included in their job descriptions. For one, teachers may have to solve their own computer problems. In other words, this year will be more challenging than last. "They're coming on August 25th and it doesn't matter if we have bigger class sizes and it doesn't matter if we can't buy smart boards," says McIver. "We're still going to teach the kids. We're going to accept the kids that come in, find a desk for them and we're going to teach." She says no threat of school closings will change that.