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CMS Wins Broad Prize For Boosting Learning


Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools representatives Eric Davis, Hugh Hattabaugh and Peter Gorman (far right), with Eli Broad, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and John Legend. Charlotte-Mecklenburg got some national recognition yesterday. The Broad Foundation named it the top urban school district for boosting student learning. The prize comes with $550,000 in scholarships for needy students who have made substantial academic gains. This is the third year CMS has been a finalist for the Broad prize and so there was some anticipation that this was the district's year to win. CMS principals gathered near uptown to watch the ceremony webcast from Washington DC. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the announcement. Everyone jumped up and the cheers lasted for about a minute. "Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Schools narrowed more ethnic achievement gaps faster than other districts in North Carolina, particularly for African American students," said Duncan. "Through a strategic staffing initiative, Charlotte-Mecklenburg sends its best teachers and principals to its struggling schools." The Broad prize is given to urban districts that have boosted student learning, while narrowing achievement gaps between minorities and white students. It also takes into account a district's policies. CMS beat out three other districts: Broward County, Florida, Miami-Dade, and Ysleta Independent Schools in El Paso, Texas. Matthew Hayes, a principal at North Mecklenburg High School sees the award as a validation of the district's policies. "I think what it means for the district and for many of the teachers, administration, executive staff is that we're doing what's needed and what's right for kids," said Hayes. He says that includes giving schools flexibility to tailor teaching to kids needs as well as looking at Pay for Performance. The Broad Foundation has given CMS about $3 million to analyze data and test students, some of that with an eye to crafting the district's Pay for Performance plans. Mark Anderson, a principal at Crown Point Elementary school, isn't so sure what he thinks about all that money, but he's proud of the district for taking the top prize. "The pay for performance, well, that varies, but I'm just happy that $550,000 will be used to send kids to college. That's the most important thing to me," said Anderson. The scholarships will range from $5,000 to $20,000 for needy seniors to help pay for college or trade school. All of the money must be awarded to this year's seniors. CMS sent several administrators to the ceremony with the help of a grant from the local CD Spangler Foundation. Former Superintendent Peter Gorman was also there. He graduated from the Broad's superintendent training academy seven years ago. With the search on for a new superintendent and school board elections in November, it's not clear what the district's direction will be. Critics say the Broad foundation and other private donors are trying to take local control away from public schools by influencing education leaders and rewarding certain policies. Eli Broad, the wealthy businessman who founded the group, says he hopes this award will help convince the public that CMS is on the right course. "I think if they look at the record and recognize they were chosen as the best district in all districts of urban America, that they'd want to continue with the successful policies they've had," says Broad. The panel that chose CMS includes three former US education secretaries and the former president of the Service Employees International Union.