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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

NAACP Promise More Protests To Save Failing, Segregated Charlotte Schools

NAACP Leaders Vow More Protests Against CMS Plan To Close Schools

Local and state NAACP leaders vowed Monday there will be more protests and civil disobedience at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board meeting next week, and announced a push to get an independent audit of the district's budget.

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, asked a crowd of about 200 to point at two people arrested at a CMS forum last week and chant, "Next time you will not be alone!'"

The crowd stood, cheered and applauded as Barber and the Rev. Kojo Nantambu, president of the local NAACP branch, railed against CMS leaders for encouraging Re-Segregation of schools and planning to close schools that serve mostly Poor and Minority students.

Barber has been arrested more than once at sit-ins and protests involving plans to dismantle a diversity-based student assignment plan in Wake County. Nantambu was arrested last week while protesting the CMS board's decision to cut short public comments on Charlotte school closings.

Monday's follow-up meeting at Little Rock AME Zion Church drew a crowd that included CMS board members Joyce Waddell and Richard McElrath, Mecklenburg County commissioner Vilma Leake and commissioners chair Jennifer Roberts.

Nantambu had the crowd standing and cheering as he accused Superintendent Peter Gorman of promoting segregation and exaggerating the district's budget problems. Gorman says proposals to close eight schools are driven by the likelihood of large budget cuts in 2011-12.

Nantambu said he is going to demand an independent audit of the CMS budget, and said that "these people have a diabolical plan, a national plan to close all the inner-city schools."

Barber put the proposed closings in the context of long-standing efforts to fight school integration, including a federal court decision that led to the end of court-ordered desegregation in CMS and the launch of a neighborhood-based assignment plan in 2002.

"Neighborhood schools for the suburbs and wealthy communities meant private schools with public dollars," Barber said.

In black neighborhoods, he said, it brought high-poverty, racially isolated schools.

"When you make a mess, then you want to punish the schoolchildren in the inner city," he said.

Barber said Nantambu and Hans Plotseneder, a West Mecklenburg High School teacher who was arrested after refusing to leave meeting chamber last week, broke the law to protest a greater violation that occurred when the school board cut short speakers' time and closed the meeting before 19 people had a chance to say anything.

Board Chair Eric Davis has said those 19 will be invited to a special session before next week's meeting to make their comments. The board meets at 6 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Government Center for a session that will include final staff recommendations for closings and other changes to schools.

Grant Funds Lost If Waddell High School Closed

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will lose at least $1.8 million from the federal government if it closes Waddell High as part of a money-saving shake-up, a state official said Monday.

In July, Waddell was one of 24 N.C. high schools awarded School Improvement Grants to revamp low-performing, high-poverty schools. CMS got $3.7 million to spend at Waddell over the next three years, along with $4.6 million for West Mecklenburg High.

In September, Superintendent Peter Gorman proposed closing Waddell and giving the southwest Charlotte building to Smith Language Academy. Students from the current Waddell zone would be sent to West Meck, South Meck and Harding high schools.

If the board approves that plan Nov. 9, CMS will seek to keep the grant and use it to help Waddell students moving to new schools, Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark says.

But the state official in charge of the grants said Monday the most that would be available for a closing is half of the three-year total, or about $1.8 million.

If CMS takes that route, it would be the first in North Carolina to use the money to shut down a school, rather than replacing staff and revamping academics, said Donna Brown, chief of federal program monitoring for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Gaston and Hickory school districts are also among those splitting almost $90 million in grants for N.C. schools.

Brown said Waddell's students would have to be moved to a higher-performing school to qualify for any of the money. It is not clear whether West Meck, which also qualified for the grant based on low achievement or graduation rates, would fall in the higher-performing category.

"You're walking away from money," said school board member Joyce Waddell, who opposes the closing plan.

Quest for change

Gorman and the school board launched a study of student assignment and school closings with the goal of protecting academic achievement while cutting the 2011-12 budget. Waddell is one of eight schools currently under review for closing. Others would be relocated or face major changes in enrollment and/or programs.

Gorman and board Chair Eric Davis say closing underfilled schools such as Waddell offers the best hope of averting massive teacher layoffs next year.

Gorman estimates that all the proposed changes, which would affect about 70 schools, would save $9.5 million in the first two years.

The grants received by Waddell and West Meck are part of the Obama administration's quest to force a shakeup at low-performing schools.

In August, Clark notified the school board that both schools would use the money for "transformation," one of four options the federal government allows. The others are "restart," "turnaround" and closing.

Transformation, which is the plan for 17 of the 24 N.C. schools that got the grants, involves "replacing the principal of the school if hired before July 1, 2008; evaluating teachers and principals using data on student growth and multiple observations; identifying and rewarding teachers who increase student achievement and removing teachers who do not, and providing financial incentives to attract effective teachers," according to Clark's memo.

Waddell Principal Lisa Bowen took the job in January 2008, but CMS had gotten a waiver to keep her because the school is making progress, Clark said in a recent interview.

Why close?

Asked why CMS decided shortly after getting the grant to close Waddell, Clark referred the question to chief planner Mike Raible, who is leading the student-assignment review.

Proposed closings are based partly on a rating Raible generated to measure per-pupil spending and academic achievement. Waddell got the worst rating of CMS's full-sized high schools.

The school's location, on Nations Ford Road near I-77 in southwest Charlotte, was controversial from the start, with some board members and community leaders arguing for a site closer to booming southeastern suburbs. Built to hold about 1,500 students, Waddell never filled; this year it has 1,076.

Raible said the proposal to close Waddell would provide a newer, bigger home for Smith Language Academy, a popular foreign-language magnet for elementary and middle-school students. The shuffle would also help fill Harding, which would pick up neighborhood students from Waddell, and help Berry Academy of Technology, which would get math-science magnet students now at Harding, he said.

The grant to Waddell was discussed but wasn't enough to sway the decision, he said.

Waddell parents and faculty have been protesting the proposed closing, joined by families from other schools slated to be shuttered.

Joyce Waddell supports their cause, saying schools serving poor and minority students have been unfairly targeted. She says the answer for filling Waddell is to enlarge its boundaries, relieving other crowded high schools.

Raible said staff will present its final recommendations to the school board at its Oct. 26 meeting, with a board vote on Nov. 9.

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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