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An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

Paired Schools See Significant Changes In Racial Makeup

Not much has changed over the past year in the racial makeup of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools under the new student assignment plan, according to the district’s diversity report released last week.

The few exceptions include the pairing of six schools — Billingsville and Cotswold elementary schools; Nathaniel Alexander and Morehead STEM; and Sedgefield and Dilworth elementary schools. 

A number of changes have occurred for both schools this year in the pairing of Sedgefield and Dilworth elementary schools.

The number of students enrolled at Sedgefield remained about the same, but Dilworth’s dropped by about 46 percent to 367 students. Only pre-K through second grades attend Sedgefield while third- through fifth-grade students attend Dilworth. 

Both schools’ names changed slightly. They are now Dilworth Elementary Sedgefield Campus and Dilworth Elementary Latta campus.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Dilworth Elementary Sedgefield Campus Principal Terry Hall

Terry Hall, the principal of both schools, says the entire merger was a delicate process

"At the beginning of this we held our breath, is this the right thing, is this the way to take care of pockets of poverty and share resources," Hall said. "And so I kind of held my breath hoping this was the right thing - I’m 100% on board that this was the right thing to do."

The schools' biggest change comes in the form of Sedgefield's racial makeup. What was once a school with predominately black students has become a school that is predominately white, with more than 200 students now attending, a remarkable increase from the 11 that were enrolled last year.

Meanwhile, black enrollment dropped significantly from 252 to 46.

Hall says that’s partly because the boundaries were changed for a number of African-American students who attended Sedgefield in the past but are now going to Marie G. Davis.  

When school officials were finalizing the student assignment plan to make schools more economically diverse, many Dilworth parents vehemently opposed the idea when the pairings were proposed. They threatened to send their children to charter, magnet or private schools - and Hall says some did just that.

"So at Latta, did I lose some of those that were pretty vocal? Yes, I did, probably 20, 25 families that could have always gone to private schools. Did I hang on to most of my families? I did," Hall said.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Sara Weiers is PTA president for the merged PTAs of Dilworth and Sedgefield elementary schools

According to Sara Weiers, the schools’ PTA president, parents are "super" happy.

"We decided we’re one school with two campuses and we are one parent population and student population," she said. "The people who are committed to come are here and everyone seems to be united and I don’t feel any ripples at all."

Last year some parents expressed concern about the physical appearance of Sedgefield, the quality of instruction — Sedgefield was rated a D school by the state — and perceived behavior problems that they associated with Sedgefield’s mainly low-income students.

The Sedgefield campus has since been spruced up. In fact, painters still working inside and outside the school.

Hall says she has kept the majority of her teachers who are now intermingled between the two schools. She says they also have more space, especially at Dilworth Latta, which was overcrowded.

As for student behavior problems, she says, the students are exceeding their expectations.

"We did at both campuses initially set up an in-school suspension room, thinking we might need it based on some of the discipline concerns in previous years at Sedgefield, and we didn’t need either. They are tutoring rooms now," Hall said.

A Title 1 school, Sedgefield was able to use funds for a behavior management technician, which Hall says has made a "huge" difference.

"He was to float between the two campuses but there’s a greater need with the older students so he’s there give those that need it an extra push."

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Sedgefield Elementary, now Dilworth Elementary Sedgefiled Campus received sprucing up this year as part of the pairing process

But next year, Sedgefield’s Title 1 funds will be cut, as the social economic status of students has gone from 75 percent low income to a projected 24 percent.

Hall is not sure if CMS will pay the behavior specialist’s salary.

Both schools received funds for cultural diversity training for teachers from district officials last year. The schools also have a buddy system, in which students of different gender, age, economic status and race are paired to allow them to get to know each other better.

As Kelly Jeltrup waited in line with other vehicles to pick up her son at the Dilworth Latta campus, she said she was skeptical about the pairing initially, but not anymore.

"I think it is awesome," Jeltrup said. "We’ve gone to all the open houses about the merger and it’s worked out. They have more room right now where my son goes and it benefits him a lot. Last year it was a madhouse. There were so many kids and to have a smaller amount of kids is better."

Parent Maureen Muller also likes the smaller enrollment despite also being against the pairing initially.

"A lot of people didn’t want them to go to Sedgefield but now that they merged a lot of people are like 'Let’s give Sedgefield a chance.'" Muller said. "I was skeptical because I heard stuff about Sedgefield, but now with the diversity of everybody, I’m giving it a chance and I’m not worried and so far so good."

Karen Cossas, the language translator for Dilworth Sedgefield and a first-grade teacher’s assistant, says she was always optimistic about the pairing.

"I never thought it was going to be terrible," Cossas said. "I always thought it was the greatest solution to what we had at this and the other campus. Blending the families, communities and staff and taking the strengths from both of those areas and I’m loving every day of it."

Principal Hall says that even with the success they have had, there are still challenges.

"We have kids two and three grade levels behind, so it will take several years to get everybody up to speed and close those gaps but I think it has been a really good start," Hall said.

Hall and PTA leaders say they want the students who left to come back. They are inviting them to open houses so they can see the changes for themselves and maybe return.

Charlotte Area Education
Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.