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Friday, October 8, 2010

Charlotte's White Parents Vs Black Students: CMS Vs Segregation

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' Board Chair States School Closings Could Be Inevitable

As dozens argued to keep Davidson IB Middle School open, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board chair said closing schools may be the best hope of saving teacher jobs next year.

"We all know what we've been through the past two years, and unfortunately, the next two are going to be tougher," board Chair Eric Davis told about 120 people who came to Hopewell High Thursday for a forum on school changes in 2011-12.

Most were supporters of Davidson, a high-performing International Baccalaureate magnet with only 250 students, in what officials call the district's most dilapidated building. Superintendent Peter Gorman has recommended closing that building, avoiding renovation costs and moving the magnet to Alexander Middle in Huntersville, a newer building with room to add magnet seats.

But parents and students argued that the move would sacrifice academic success, safety and community spirit.

"It's like trying to force two families into the same house," said Davidson seventh-grader Sophie Swallow.

"It's like a bad marriage," someone else called out.

Signs of the race, class and neighborhood rifts that dog student assignment changes quickly emerged.

Rhonda Lennon, the board member who represents the northern District 1, got tears in her eyes talking about how it seemed to her that Davidson families were unwilling to send their kids to school with poor black students, who make up a larger portion of enrollment at Alexander.

"I hurts me that they are talking about children like that," she said during a break between segments.

Moninda Eslick, an educator at Alexander, urged the Davidson families not to assume the worst about students there.

"We love our babies, and they're just as valued and just as worthy as theirs are," she said during the break.

Thursday's forum focused on a handful of northern schools. But about 15 parents, students and faculty from Waddell High in southwest Charlotte also turned out, wearing "Save Waddell" T-shirts. Their underfilled school is slated to close, with students dispersed to other high schools and the Smith Language Academy K-8 magnet taking over the building.

The Waddell boosters said they'll be at each of the six public forums this month, which let people weigh in on proposals to change about 70 of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's 170-plus schools. Those plans include 10 school closings, with many others seeing major shifts in programs or enrollment.

The board has been working since July to revamp student assignment in hopes of saving money and improving academics. Members plan to vote Nov. 9 on a list of 2011-12 changes that include closing three low-performing middle schools and moving the students to new K-8 schools.

About a dozen adults and a handful of children showed up to talk about a plan to turn Winding Springs Elementary into a neighborhood school, with students who now attend the global leadership magnet there being offered seats at Marie G. Davis Military/Leadership Academy. Davis, which now houses grades 6-12, would become CMS's first K-12 school.

Parents raised questions about the age mix, diversity and appropriateness of a military theme for young children.

Eric Davis told the crowd that looming cuts mean postponing action is not an option. Not only will millions in federal stimulus money disappear, he said, but the governor is warning school districts to prepare for a 5 percent to 15 percent cut. In CMS, that's $30 million to $90 million, which could mean another big round of teacher layoffs, he said.

"We all know the pain that's caused in terms of class size," Davis said.

Next week, Gorman plans to give the board estimates of how much each proposed change would cost or save, and to outline how the changes would affect staff.

Several parents asked why officials are pushing school closings if those numbers aren't on the table: "We're making decisions without all the facts," one said.

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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