Monday was the first day of school for the majority of Charlotte-Mecklenburg students. Additional security measures and a new student assignment plan to make schools more diverse were in place. In an interview on Charlotte Talks, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said overall things went well.
Wilcox said he still needs about 35 teachers and more than 60 bus drivers, up from 44 bus vacancies last week. He said wages, just under $13 an hour, account for some of the uptick.
“People leave us all the time because they can make a higher wage,” Wilcox said. “We get them trained up, and they realize there’s another opportunity and they leave. All of our routes were staffed, but in some cases we had to use trainers or mechanics to drive some of those buses.”
In terms of extra security, Wilcox said some schools will see new fencing, additional cameras, magnetic locks and visitors will have to sign in with some form of identification at all schools. Sixty additional social workers, counselors and psychologists have also been hired to work with troubled students as part of the security plan.
This school year is also when many students will be reassigned, including six schools paired to make them more diverse.
“We tried to create an environment where both black and white, rich and poor, would see that going to school with someone who doesn’t look like you is not really a negative for you,” he said.
Elementary schools Sedgefield and Dilworth merged, and Billingsville and Cotswold were paired as part of that effort. Nathaniel Alexander and Morehead STEM also merged and the combined schools was renamed Governors Village STEM Academy. Wilcox said their plans go beyond merging schools and reassigning students. He said teachers also have to be brought into the mix through cultural sensitivity training.
“Most people look at me and think I’m white. They forget I’m Mexican-American and with that comes with privileges. Not everybody has that,” Wilcox said.
“There are some folks who come to school every day, but because they are a different color or background, they have to prove themselves in a different way," he added. "We've got to change some of that. So, we’re working hard on those kinds of things with our teachers so they understand that — and I think a lot do.”
Wilcox said he is also challenging teachers to create a curriculum where students of color see and learn about people who look like them in lessons.
“If you are going to say you want a young black kid to be a scientist, then they ought to see black scientists,” Wilcox said. “They ought not just see some old white guy running around — and I’m not trying to disparage white people, I’m not — but we’re a 21st Century school system. We’ve got to respect all cultures.”
Wilcox predicts that if those kinds of changes do not happen, CMS officials will continue to struggle with true diversification.