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No Clear Direction From CMS Board Results

Three candidates with different takes on the direction of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools won school board at-large seats. Ericka Ellis-Stewart, who has run a dropout prevention program, Mary McCray, a former head of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators, and Tim Morgan, a current school board member who represents south Charlotte. Ellis-Stewart was the top vote-getter. McCray and Morgan followed her by about 10,000 votes. WFAE's Lisa Miller talks to Scott Graf about what these results mean for the district's future. SG: What kind of different perspectives will these candidates bring to the school board? Lisa: McCray says she brings a teacher's view to the board. She's no longer a teacher, but she taught at CMS for 20 years. She also led the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators. She says her first order of business is boosting teacher morale. She said that's a real problem now after former Superintendent Peter Gorman tried to change legislation this year so teachers wouldn't have a final vote in a performance-based pay plan. Ellis-Stewart got attention last year as a critic of the district's decision to close eleven schools. She hasn't hit on that note a whole lot in her campaign, but she does stress that working with a lot of non-profits, she knows how to get people to collaborateand that's what she says the district really needs right now as it faces some big decisions. Now those school closures last year brought up a lot of racial tension, since nearly all of them were in low-income African-American neighborhoods. So it bears noting McCray and Ellis-Stewart will mean the board will now have four African-Americans on it. And Tim Morgan is the current school board representative for district six in south Charlotte. Morgan's said he'd continue to push for reform efforts that he says have helped the district succeed and get national attention like the Broad prize. SG: The board has a lot of work ahead of it. The district is currently developing a plan to evaluate teachers and pay them in part based on student test scores. How will the new make up of the board change its current direction? Lisa: The board has had close votes on performance pay. Two of the three board members stepping down this year are staunch supporters of performance pay. And, remember, the new board will appoint someone to district 6. Obviously we don't know who that is. McCray has said she's not totally opposed to it, she just wants teachers more involved in developing the system.and she doesn't like how the district has approached increased testing. She's been highly critical of the way former Superintendent Peter Gorman led the district. Morgan has certainly been a big advocate of performance pay: "I am a firm believer that we need to find ways to pay our most successful teachers more. The question is how do we measure, and how do we make that happen? I think that's going to be part of some deep, powerful discussions as we meet over the next year or two," Morgan said. Lisa: "It's not so clear where Ellis-Stewart stands on it. But she has said standardized testing allows a teacher to understand where students are at and what they still need to learn. She does say teachers should be careful to also teach critical thinking skills which she says don't readily come through on tests. SG: The new school board will choose a new superintendent early next year. Is there any indication what these new at-large members will look for? Lisa: Morgan has been a big supporter of Superintendent Peter Gorman. And he wants to continue leadership that pushes for some of those concerns. McCray has said she wants someone who's been a teacher, "because that person understands the role of a teacher," McCray says.