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Friday, October 15, 2010

Charlotte NAACP Plans Protest To Save Failing, Segregated Schools: STUPID!

Charlotte NAACP Members & CMS Critics Vow To Fight On; March Planned Saturday

As a low-key group of about 100 gathered at Vance High to discuss proposed school changes Thursday, an NAACP leader vowed to fight Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' school-closing plan with "litigation, legislation, agitation and organization."

Kojo Nantambu, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was charged with disorderly conduct Tuesday at a forum that drew an estimated 600 people, many of them angry about plans to close westside schools serving minority and low-income children.

"There was no chaos. There was no disorder. What you saw was massive discontent," Nantambu said at a Thursday news conference with about 30 people representing several community, faith and school-parent groups. An uptown march is planned Saturday to protest the closings, which would happen in 2011-12 if the school board approves the plans Nov.9.

The targeted schools have empty classrooms and/or low test scores. Superintendent Peter Gorman and school board Chair Eric Davis say the school shakeup, which will bring some change to about 70 schools, is needed to boost academics while cutting costs in a looming budget crunch.

"We need to get together and tell the school board that we will not stand for what they're doing to our minority children," said Hector Vaca of Action NC, a group that advocates for low-income neighborhoods.

Thursday's forum at Vance, the third of six, focused on less drastic changes, such as turning Cochrane Middle into a 6-12 school and moving Villa Heights Elementary, a magnet for gifted students, into Lincoln Heights Elementary.

Most came to talk about the Villa Heights/Lincoln Heights plan. They questioned whether it is fair to neighborhood students who would be displaced from Lincoln Heights, and whether Villa Heights' academic success would be preserved.

Paul Reali, president of the Villa Heights PTA, offered a message to Lincoln Heights families: "We didn't ask for this. We have been happy where we are. We didn't ask for your building."

The Vance forum ended 30 minutes early, after all speakers had finished.

Speakers at the news conference, held at Little Rock AME Zion Church uptown, chastised Gorman and the school board for concentrating the proposed school closings in impoverished minority areas.

They also voiced anger that Tuesday's forum denied westside residents a chance to weigh in on the changes.

The forum allowed one hour for small-group discussion of specific plans and an hour for "open mike" comments.

Because the crowd was so big, speaking time was cut from three minutes to one, and Davis ended the session shortly after 8 p.m., even though 19 people who had signed up hadn't had a chance to speak.

Davis said Thursday the board will hold a special forum before its Oct. 26 meeting to allow those 19 people their say.

Two people, Nantambu and a West Mecklenburg High teacher who refused to leave the room, were arrested as police tried to clear the meeting chamber at the Government Center after Tuesday's forum. Nantambu led a chant of "We want more time!"

Minister Yusef Muhammad of the Nation of Islam called on Gorman to apologize to Nantambu, adding, "I think all of us should be willing to go to jail if we are going to stand and defend our children."

Gorman said he does not plan to apologize. From what he saw, he said, CMS police Chief Bud Cesena and his staff handled crowd-control appropriately on Tuesday.

He said he and the board remain dedicated to hearing what people have to say at the forums: "We hope the community will continue to come out."

Mary McCray, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, and school board member Joyce Waddell attended the NAACP news conference but didn't speak.

Waddell said afterward she shares the group's concern that schools serving minority neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of the changes and believes the arrests damaged trust in CMS.

It would have been better to just escort the two out of the room, she said.

"I think once you tell people one thing, you've got to stick to it, especially when you have a large, emotional crowd," Waddell said.

Hundreds Fight For Segregated Westside Schools; Teacher & Charlotte NAACP Leader Arrested

Parents turned out by the hundreds Tuesday night to fight for Charlotte's Westside schools, saying the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools closing plan threatens the city's most fragile students and neighborhoods.

"They're not targeting the schools that have these giant PTAs.
They're targeting our children because we are who we are," said Tasha Houston, parent of a student at J.T. Williams Middle.

Kojo Nantambu, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct when he led a chant of "We want more time!" as the public forum ended at 8 p.m.

CMS teacher Hans Plotseneder was then charged with trespassing when he refused CMS police orders to clear the room.

The proposed 2011-12 school shakeup includes the latest step in CMS's quest to improve results in neighborhood schools where most students are Poor, Black and Performing below grade level.

It calls for closing three such middle schools - Wilson, Spaugh and Williams, in west and central Charlotte - that serve about 1,500 students. Eight nearby elementary schools would convert to prekindergarten through eighth grade.

More than 300 people came to the Government Center to challenge the CMS plans, which also include closing University Park and Irwin Avenue elementary schools. Speakers said schools slated to close are mainstays of communities that will see crime and economic instability rise if the buildings stand empty next year.

"We're losing jobs. We're losing our homes. Now we're going to lose our schools?" said Niksa Balbosa. "It's time to stop losing. We need to stand up and fight for what's ours."

CMS is studying changes to about 70 schools in a bid to save money and boost academic achievement. The board expects to vote Nov. 9 on 2011-12 changes that could include closings, mergers and changes in programs and enrollment.

One of the most dramatic changes is the proposed shift from middle schools to pre-K-8 schools in some low-income neighborhoods. Superintendent Peter Gorman and his staff say the new structure will prevent the academic slump many students suffer when they move up to middle schools.

"I know that kids leave Ashley Park on grade level, and by grade seven they're not on grade level," CMS planner Dennis LaCaria told one discussion group. "The data says that."

"Why don't we make all schools K-8?" a woman asked.

"That's probably where we're headed. This is the vanguard," LaCaria said, adding that it's harder to merge large suburban schools.

A Johns Hopkins University study that Gorman gave the school board recently raises doubts about the effectiveness of such conversions, especially when most of the students are impoverished and minorities. That is the case for all the CMS schools involved.

Except for Berryhill Elementary, on Mecklenburg's western border, all of the elementary schools that would add grades 6-8 had poverty levels over 90 percent and pass rates below 60 percent last year and are in the midst of efforts to improve student achievement. Three - Byers, Druid Hill and Reid Park - had pass rates below 50 percent, failed to show adequate progress and are on the state's low-performing list.

The high poverty levels mean the schools get extra federal money, Gorman told parents who questioned the plan at a community meeting earlier in the day. And he noted that the potential savings from closing the three middle schools are roughly equal to salaries for a high-school staff.

Ericka Ellis-Stewart, who has children in CMS magnets, questioned whether it's worth it: "In sacrificing these kids for the money, are we really going to see the gains?"

Middle-school students in the new pre-K-8 schools might have fewer "electives," or optional classes, than students in larger middle schools, officials have said. The latest plan calls for them to ride buses to traditional middle schools to take part in sports and other after-school activities.

Several parents of Williams students said their kids are being penalized for adult failures.

"If the middle-schooler ends up going backwards to elementary, it's like an emotional demotion," said Alison Boulding.

Debra Goldman Holds Forum On Wake County Schools

With uniformed officers at every exit, Wake County school board member Debra Goldman held a forum on the divisive issue of student assignment at Cary Town Hall on Tuesday night.

The meeting was orderly and quick, absent the heated emotions that have become staples at recent full board meetings on the topic.

Some attendees thanked Goldman for breaking with the board majority last week and voting to pull the plug on a plan to put a community-based assignment policy into effect by creating a series of school assignment zones. The plan would have dropped socio-economic diversity as a criterion for student assignment.

“I just want to thank you very much for standing up in a very difficult situation and doing what you did,” attendee Mary Ann Meagher said.

Others at the meeting voted for Goldman last election and expressed feeling of betrayal by her recent departure from the board’s majority.

“Your double talk and empty promises serve no one but yourself,” parent Allison Backhouse said. “I think I speak for many when I ask, ‘What’s next?’”

Goldman said she still supports a neighborhood school model for Wake County, but said she changed her mind because too many people were being left out of the decision making process.

Goldman stressed to those in the crowd that whether they agree or disagree with her decisions, she valued their thoughts.

“It’s really important to hear the opinions and get the feedback from as many people as possible,” she said.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, NAACP, WCNC, WRAL, Google Maps

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