CMS released a report last month showing that huge achievement gaps exist in district schools along racial and economic lines. School officials are asking for public input on how to narrow this gap as they set goals for the next six years. They are holding a series of meetings with the first one held today.
The report shows that many schools with predominantly low-income students of color have less-experienced teachers and students miss more classes due to absenteeism and suspensions—contributing factors to the performance gap.
About 60 or so parents, former teachers and others showed up at Central Piedmont College to give their feedback on how the district can turn that around. Superintendent Clayton Wilcox told them that their goal can’t be just to treat students equally.
“Treating someone equally means we are gonna treat everybody the same, so for the young person who didn’t have quality pre-k or didn’t have a mom or dad who could stay at home to teach them their ABCs or prime colors so, if we treat them the same those kids are forever behind and we think we can do better than that,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox asked people to be frank in expressing what they feel district officials need to do to close the achievement gaps. After he spoke, people broke off into groups of two to discuss teacher effectiveness and access to advanced courses.
“The biggest issue I see right now is just getting quality teachers in front of our students,” said Claudia Ollivierre, whose children are CMS graduates. According to the report, nearly 37 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Hispanics in high-poverty schools are likely to have a first-year teacher, compared to 26 percent of whites.
Ollivierre says she wants to “make sure that the kids that need the best teachers get the best and make sure teachers have what they need to stay in the teaching profession and not feel they have to go into administration or other things.
"A lot of times we lose our best teachers because they can’t have a life on the salary they are paid,” she said.
Ollivierre and some others in the room talked about the need for alternatives to out of school suspensions. Twenty-two percent of blacks in low-income high schools were suspended versus nearly 10 percent of whites. Ollivierre thinks their ideas will be included in the strategic plan. Her discussion- partner, education advocate Blanche Penn is skeptical. She didn’t think the meeting’s format led to meaningful input, since they basically talked to one person and wrote their thoughts on a handout.
“I’m not gonna sit here any longer for this,” Penn said. “Even if I sit here and do all this, what they gonna do? Throw it in the trash. Thank you for the lunch but I don’t think the input will be taken seriously.”
CMS is holding eight more community meetings over the next month and is also getting input through surveys. Wilcox says a plan will be drafted only after the public input is received and compiled.