Give Us Magnets, East Side Residents Tell CMS
CMS board members heard from residents Tuesday night during the first public hearing on the district’s plan to diversify magnet programs next year. The proposal involves measuring the socio-economic status of students and re-designing the lottery to get into these schools to create a balanced mix of students. WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn attended the meeting and talks with All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey.
MR: What did the board hear last night from parents and community members?
GG: It was a good crowd, about 30 people actually spoke and many mentioned they support the district's plan to diversify magnets, before moving on to their main concern. Carol Sawyer was one of the few who actually focused on the broader plan to diversify magnets. She's pushed the board to diversify all CMS schools, but says the magnet plan could have some unintended consequences. She worries regular neighborhood schools could suffer if they lose too many students to magnets.
"Classes without critical mass would be dropped, advanced scholars classes might not be offered, elective courses reduced in scope, support services, social workers and other reduced or eliminated. How will board policy prevent this from expanding. Where is the policy language that protects schools that lose population over the years," Sawyer said.
MR: Did the board discuss that concern?
GG: Not directly, but board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart noted as this magnet plan evolves, the board still has to make sure student's have strong academic programs so that all students, be they in magnets or regular, neighborhood schools, can get a quality education.
MR: So if most people didn't focus on the broader changes, what did they talk about?
GG: They focused on plans for specific schools. The district's magnet proposal adds about 11,000 new magnet seats over the next four years. About a quarter of those will open up next year. Mark, about half of the 30 people who spoke last night were students and parents at Garinger High School in east Charlotte. They called on CMS to make their school more diverse and they think a magnet program there would help. Garinger’s population is predominately low-income and non-white. Speakers told the board that a magnet would attract more affluent students to the school and better teachers. Parent S Y Mason-Watson is troubled that next year's list of new magnets, leaves out the east side.
"East Charlotte has so much potential. We are in need of targeted, strategic help from this board. We fear that without this much needed attention, attractive options outside our neighborhoods will continue to pull our families away," Mason-Watson said.
MR: How did the board respond to this?
GG: School board member Elyse Dashew agreed that the east side is being overlooked on next year's list. She called it an area with untapped potential. She said she likes the idea of putting magnet programs in neighborhood schools.
"I love the bold vision of doubling the number magnet seats we have but magnets are not the be all end all and maybe some schools will be best served by a theme," said Dashew.
GG: A theme, for example, like public service oriented school, or one that focuses on STEM even though it's not a magnet.
MR: Did you hear concerns about other changes to magnet schools?
GG: Marie G. Davis is a military magnet program and Hawthorne is a health sciences magnet. They want to merge these schools, which are more than seven miles apart. Since it's a county-wide magnet, the district would still offer transportation. Some parents were concerned that the schools would not have separate, distinct programs anymore. They were told that would not happen. One parent, Denae Brown, says she was concerned that the commute would be much longer for her son to attend Hawthorne and criticized how the district informed them of the proposed change.
"We were not given advance notice that it was being proposed and not given the benefit of the preparation to get together collectively and decide what our plan B would be," Brown said.
MR: Another change in the proposed plan involves entry requirements being lowered in some cases for magnets. Was this an issue for residents?
GG: It was brought up by some who said the reduced entry requirements in some magnet programs, such as fewer high level math requirements for STEM programs, would result in lower quality programs. Superintendent Ann Clark says that won't happen.
"We wanted to open up the magnets so,...if you want to go, we want you to have the opportunity but if you want to stay, you have to prove you are successful," Clark said.
MR: So what's the next step for the magnet plan?
GG: There will be a public hearing the same night, the board will vote on the plan Nov 9. CMS is also holding town halls and meeting with individual schools.