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Friday, October 1, 2010

Charlotte Observer (Subtlely) Opposes Diverse Charlotte Schools Student Assignment Proposal

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools New Diverse Student Assignment Proposals Spark angst And Questions

Like many Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents, we have a lot of questions about a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools proposal that could close 12 schools next year and bring significant changes to dozens more. Some of the changes appear to be good; others seem loopy.

School officials have a lot more explaining to do to persuade the public that some of these moves are best for the students, the school system and this community.

We understand why changes are needed. The bleak economic picture - CMS anticipates a budget shortfall of at least $20 million next school year - has forced the schools to find ways to cut costs while boosting academic performance.

That's a tough undertaking, but not unique nationally. Local, state and federal money has shriveled. Many districts are closing schools to save money.

CMS closings won't produce enough savings to plug the shortfall, CMS superintendent Peter Gorman said this summer. But it would help. Gorman also said the moves are being discussed to make the system more efficient and to sustain and improve academic performance.

But it will be hard to sell some moves as a way to boost academics. Programs such as Villa Heights Elementary's gifted program and Davidson Middle's IB program are popular and successful in high student achievement. We understand the desire to move them to bigger buildings to give more kids an opportunity to attend. But it's a risky strategy, putting their success in jeopardy by eliminating some things that likely contribute to high achievement - small schools and classes that allow more personal attention to each student.

Other proposed changes potentially threaten the stability of surrounding neighborhoods. The presence of schools in fragile, high-poverty neighborhoods is often critical to maintaining the health of those neighborhoods. For example, a vacant school building could become a problem much like an abandoned big-box store. City and county governments should be at the table for conversations on closing or altering schools.

We hope school officials are providing presentations on these changes to the City Council and the Mecklenburg County commissioners. The issues being discussed - transportation, student assignment, facility use - affect the vitality and growth of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County just as city and county actions on housing, social services and transit affect the vitality of schools.

Some moves may improve performance. Converting some schools to K-8 could help smooth the bumpy transition to middle school that derails some students' academic progress. We're encouraged that CMS is considering bringing back year-round schools (a few operated during the 1990s) though we'd have to know more about the multi-track magnet planned for Myers Park Traditional. Year-round schools have proven to help students who need more consistent school time to retain what they've learned.

We have concerns about the K-12 move planned for Marie G. Davis Military/Leadership magnet. Having students as young as kindergarten age with high-schoolers seems imprudent.

Change is always difficult. School officials must provide compelling reasons why these moves will improve the schools. For many changes, we haven't heard them. But we're willing to listen.

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Sources: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, McClatchy Newspapers, Wikipedia, WCNC, Google Maps

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