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Creation Of K-8 Home Schools Central To CMS Closure Plan

CMS staff on Tuesday recommended the school board close 12 schools next year to save money. They include popular Davidson IB Middle School, Bishop Spaugh Middle - a school that has made a lot of gains - and one high school, E.E. Waddell. CMS would also like to adjust boundaries for a handful of other schools to relieve overcrowding. In this segment, WFAE's Lisa Miller talks to Scott Graf talks about the proposed changes and the board's reaction to them. SCOTT: Lisa, were there any surprises on this list that was released yesterday? LISA: One of the proposals that's surprising is the creation of eight schools that would house kindergarten through eighth grade. Essentially, what the district wants to do is close three middle schools -- Bishop Spaugh, J.T. Williams and Wilson Middle. They've struggled in the past. Instead of sending these kids to different middle schools, CMS wants to expand the elementary schools that feed into those schools. So under the plan, most of those students would go back to their elementary schools. Those include Berryhill, Walter G. Byers and Thomasboro. Now, CMS already does this with a few magnets, but these would be the first home schools to take that approach. SCOTT: So why does the district want to put so many grades under one roof and is there any concern about the age discrepancy here with eighth graders going to schools with much younger kids? LISA: The district says it could possibly improve student performance by eliminating the transition between 5th and 6th grades. In other words, there's no time needed for kids to adjust to new surroundings when they begin 6th grade. In these middle schools, the district is talking about closing, there are a lot of kids from low-income families who might not have much stability. The district's Chief Academic Officer, Ann Clark, says staying in the same school for nine years will provide them with more stability and smaller class-sizes as well. But during this discussion, board member Joyce Waddell brought up a good point. You'll hear Ann Clark answer her. WADDELL: "In the past we said we were not interested in taking low-performing schools and combining them." CLARK: "I would say a different way to look at this since we're going to a K-8 structure is we're just allowing the kids at Ashley Park, Westerley and Thomasboro to remain at their school through the 8th grade." LISA: Clark also pointed out that several of the elementary schools that would be expanded are strategically staffed, so they have strong teachers and principals. But I didn't hear any concerns about older kids going to school with younger ones from CMS staff or board members. But one woman I talked to after the meeting didn't like the idea of her grandchildren going to school with eighth graders. SCOTT: How did the board react to those recommendations? LISA: They were pretty supportive in general about the recommendations. They asked for a lot of details, including how much this would save, but they didn't ask staff to take any options off the table at this point. SCOTT: Were there any proposals board members did challenge? LISA: Those changes that involved magnet schools received the most discussion. Kaye McGarry did not like the recommendation to close Davidson IB. That's a top-performing school that's housed in one of the district's oldest buildings. Under the plan, those students would transfer to an IB program at Alexander middle. Rhonda Lennon who represents that district was more on the fence. "I hear things so strongly on both sides of this. The piece of the parents who are so passionate about this program I respect them very much. I also respect the very quiet amount of parents on the other side of it that can't get into the program," Lennon said. LISA: A few board members didn't like the proposal to convert Myers Park Traditional into a year-round school, and then dissolve the current magnet program at Elizabeth Traditional and move Villa Heights into that school. SCOTT: Here we are, the district is talking about closing schools to save money, but it was just a few years ago we couldn't build schools fast enough. Is there a concern that when the economy turns around and growth in Charlotte picks back up and enrollment starts picking up again that we'll have to undo all these potential changes? LISA: The district says no, at least not for several years. They don't expect enrollment to shoot up at least like it was before any time soon, even though the economy may improve. SCOTT: So what happens from here? The district will hold a series of community forums over the next month. That schedule should be out by the end of this week. Superintendent Peter Gorman told the board the list of schools up for closings isn't going to grow any more at this point. So it's up to the board to adopt these changes, tweak them or reject them. And the board expects to make those decisions by November 9th.