Tuesday night, the CMS school board meets to review the proposed student assignment plan and alternative proposals. The changes planned for William Amos Hough and Hopewell high schools are surely expected to come up.
A small portion of Hough students will be reassigned to Hopewell. Hough is ranked as an A school by the state and Hopewell has a C ranking. But, the opposition goes beyond just academics, but first, some background.
Hopewell High is a large, modern-looking school that sits on a wooded, two-lane highway on Beatties Ford Road in Huntersville. It opened in 2001.
“Hopewell is somewhere between 45 and 50 percent African-American. We are about 30 percent Caucasian,” said Dino Gisiano, Hopewell’s principal. “Our most recent socio-economic data point shows about 27 percent economically disadvantaged.”
And high income students represent about 29 percent of Hopewell’s student population, whereas at Hough in Cornelius, 72 percent of the students are high-income and close to 80 percent are white. One goal of the student assignment plan is to make schools more economically diverse. Hough would get a few more low and middle income students. Hopewell would get fewer low and middle income students but their high income student total would jump by 12 points to 41 percent.
This month, at a community meeting on the proposed plan Hough parents expressed mixed opinions. The fact that rising juniors and seniors won’t have to change schools works for Tiffany and Mike Dunn for their oldest son but not the youngest.
“Our oldest will be a junior at Hough when our youngest would be a freshman at Hopewell and so we’d have two full years of kids at two different high schools,” said Mike Dunn.
“Putting them in different schools with different sets of teachers and community involvement doesn’t create family closeness and togetherness,” Tiffany Dunn said.
Parent Michael Rayburn says he does not want his daughter to be assigned to Hopewell because of sports.
"She’s a big soccer player and Hough regularly contends for the state title every year and that’s always her dream and that’s what we’d like to make happen,” Rayburn said. “We’re hoping this proposal gets shot down and that we stay zoned for Hough.”
CMS officials say that’s probably not going to happen because Hough, with more than 2,500 students, is overcrowded to the point where some teachers don’t have assigned classrooms. Only 89 percent of Hopewell’s space is being used.
Parent Lauren Lowery says that should be solved by building a new high school for the area and not moving students around. She is concerned about sending her son to Hopewell because of an ongoing investigation into cases of a rare form of eye cancer in that part of Huntersville and the curriculum.
“The programs at Hopewell are not comparable to the programs at Hough but I’m fine with attending Hopewell if there’s no ocular cancer scare and the programs are equitable or similar to the ones at Hough,” Lowery said.
Many parents critical of Hopewell’s programs base it on the state’s ratings. Principal Gisiano defends academics at Hopewell, which houses the rigorous Cambridge Programme in addition to honors and AP classes.
“Yes, we’re a C school but for the last four school years we’ve gotten better academically and were a couple of points from being a B school last year. We have an amazing group of kids, educators in this building and I want every parent to learn about the potential in this school,” Gisiano said.
Gisiano invited parents to tour the school when classes are in session. He also scheduled 2-hour meetings in the areas proposed for reassignment. He says about 70 families attended the first meeting and several parents have taken school tours, including Lauren Lowery.
“He walked us through the classes in session and they seem like great programs, a great engineering program, I was happy to see that," Lowery said. “I saw a Cambridge English class and that was great.”
Even though she said she liked the school, when asked if the tour had changed her mind about her son attending Hopewell, Lowery said, “No, not necessarily. I’m trying to stay open minded. I still have some concerns.”
She referred again to the ocular cancer cases in the Hopewell area and academics. But parents Hannah Stover and Chaney Jackson say they have no reservations about having their children reassigned to Hopewell if the student assignment plan is approved.
"I'm excited about it," said Stover, the PTA president of Bradley Middle School. "It will be a great opportunity for her because she's in the Cambridge Programme at Bradley and will move on to the Cambridge Programme at Hopewell.
"I'm not worried at all because I feel if a child goes to school and they work and do their best and have family support behind them and if teachers are doing what they are supposed to do, they'll be fine," Jackson said. "A lot of people look at test scores and automatically assume that the quality of education is poor and as a teacher I know a test score is only one measure of a school."
Hopewell parent Dee Rankin thinks some parents just may be uncomfortable sending their children to Hopewell because it will be a different mix of students economically and racially.
“There’s a stigma that now I’m going to Hopewell and with certain kids that may not value education and at Hopewell you have kids saying, ‘Oh my God, these kids from Hough are coming here and I don’t want to hang out with those snobby kids,’” Rankin said. “In order for those barriers to be removed, they have to be able to talk and go to school with one another.”
Hopewell Principal Gisiano says the criticism he’s heard about his school doesn’t bother him because he knows parents are passionate about their children’s education. He just hopes more will see what Hopewell has to offer before the school board votes on the reassignment plan May 24.