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Don't Mess With Strategies That Are Working, CMS Board Told

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Parents, students and teachers gathered to show support for their schools.

http://66.225.205.104/LM20101022.mp3

The CMS proposal to merge several elementary and middle schools in West Charlotte isn't going over well. Parents and community leaders who attended a forum last night are frustrated because their schools are starting to show significant improvement. They say it doesn't make sense to interrupt a district improvement plan that's working. Sean Weaver has done his homework. He knows district leaders want to close Wilson Middle where he runs a mentoring program and send the students back to elementary schools that would house pre-k through eighth grades. He's heard CMS board members say it's partly to save money, but mostly to boost academic achievement by eliminating a transition year and keeping kids in a small community. But closing Wilson now after the pass rate has gone from 36 to 61 percent in three years just doesn't make sense to him. "We've been there when everyone thought they should've closed the school, but CMS invested in them by giving them a major leader who saw the vision and implemented the vision. So let's get the fruit," says Weaver. That's why he came to last night's forum at West Meck to convince the district to follow through on Wilson's turnaround. Parents and teachers from Bishop Spaugh another middle school that struggles but has seen big gains also showed up. Weaver attends a break-out session focused on Wilson. There are a couple parents, several teachers and volunteers. They all want to know why CMS is trying to close schools that have improved so much. "We have been working our butts off and putting it with the data. Our principal, Mr. Ward, came in and made changes across the school and I'm concerned we're throwing it all away," says one Wilson teacher. "I hear this from every school that we've proposed to do something structurally with," replies Mike Raible who's in charge of planning at CMS. "Number one, 'Give us more time. Number two from staff and parents, 'We're doing our job. Just leave us alone.' Our surveys indicate that 75 percent of our staff and parents believe in the schools they're in. We expect to hear this kind of passion about the schools you guys are in." Raible explains there are other factors working against Wilson and Spaugh. The buildings are old and under capacity. Also although students there are performing better, they're not up to the district's standards. Weaver sits in the middle of the classroom, listening to the discussion. One woman points out the district would be sending the middle-schoolers to other low-performing schools. After the break-out session, Weaver hurries into West Meck's auditorium to be one of the first to speak in the public comment portion of the evening. "We have closed the achievement gap every year for the past three years," says Weaver. "The reality is that Wilson is executing the mission. Keep our principal and our instructional staff in the unity for another three years and we will continue the surge and continue bringing you, CMS, the return in the investment you want." Many others get up to urge the board not to close their schools, but the evening proceeds orderly. An hour later, school board Chairman Eric Davis dismisses the crowd and Weaver stops to talk to him. Davis thanks him for his comments. "The thing that's so frustrating about this is the gains that Eric and his team have made at Wilson," Davis tells Weaver. "Absolutely. We want to continue the dialogue and whatever solutions we can come up together, it's for the kids. Good night," replies Weaver. As Weaver leaves he wonders if he has accomplished what he came to do. "I was hoping to test the hearts of some board members and have them at least re-consider making the decision," says Weaver. But he's not sure he's done that. Wilson Middle's principal Eric Ward is also walking out. He's spent the whole evening listening. At school he's had to do plenty of talking. This is what he tells his students: "This school is great. We've moved you, but we are not what makes your education. We're going to get you the tools that you need to continue beyond here. So concentrate on that and you'll be successful wherever you go." He says his student say, "Yeah, I hear that Mr. Ward, but I want to stay here." The CMS board plans to make its final decision on school closings and boundary changes November 9th. The district's last forum on the proposal is Monday evening at South Meck.