Controversial Changes Remain Part Of CMS Student Assignment Proposal

May 16, 2017

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark isn't proposing any big changes to her student assignment proposal. The board met Tuesday night to go over potential revisions to the plan, after three weeks of community feedback.

The proposal’s most controversial parts remain intact. The plan is still for Morehead STEM K-8 to split up into three schools - partial magnets that neighbor each other. That did draw a mixed reaction from board members.

"I thought we were expanding, doing things that were creative and instructionally-sound and this just does not pass the sniff test," said Ruby Jones who represents northeast Mecklenburg County.

Rhonda Lennon, who represents the northern part of the county, said it makes a lot of sense to expand the magnet over three schools that are so close.  

"I think this is an incredible opportunity to put the Governor's Village back to what it was originally dreamed of and its original vision. And I am 100 percent behind this," said Lennon.

The board did briefly look at revisions suggested by Dilworth elementary parents. It wasn’t clear if they had much support. Under the plan, Dilworth and Sedgefield elementary schools would be paired, so that Sedgefield would have grades K-2 and Dilworth grades 3-5.

Clark says she'll post any revisions to the plan by Monday. The board is expected to vote on the proposal next Wednesday.

The meeting did provide some insight into what board members think about aspects of the plan...and there are areas where they disagree.

Q&A ON THE CMS PLAN

WFAE’s Lisa Worf was at Tuesday’s meeting and talked with “Morning Edition” host Marshall Terry Wednesday morning. Here’s a transcript of their conversation:  

This transcript includes a correction regarding the cost of the assignment plan.

MARSHALL TERRY: Lisa, where did you see the biggest disagreement? 

LISA WORF: That was with the plan to break up a few full magnet schools into partial magnets. Think Morehead K-8 STEM. That was the school that came up a lot, but there are other examples of this like University Park Creative Arts School. A couple board members including Thelma Byers-Bailey have problems with that. You see, CMS doesn't have a strong track record, in the case of partial magnets, of making sure the benefits of the magnet spread throughout the school or attracting high-performing students to these schools. 

BYERS-BAILEY: That solution is one that I have some issue with, in that we're taking successful full magnets, and it seems as though we're destroying them. 

WORF: In response, Clark said the district has learned its lessons and made sure magnet programs are integrated throughout the whole school. And she points out this plan does something different. It takes a strong magnet, adds extra magnet seats by spreading it out over a few schools, and adds a neighborhood component to them, not the other way around. 

TERRY: How did other board members approach the partial magnets?

WORF: Several of them hold out a lot of hope for that model and believe this is a way to both add more magnet seats and create more strong schools. At-large member Elyse Dashew said she understands the concern, but has seen the model work at her son's school McClintock Middle.    

DASHEW: The skepticism comes from a real place, from real history. So it's incumbent on us to implement this well and make it work. 

WORF: Rhonda Lennon also spoke in favor of the approach, especially at Morehead STEM.

TERRY: Now, one of the biggest changes under the plan is to create three sets of paired elementary schools. How's that going over with board members?

WORF: No one spoke out against the idea, apart from breaking up Morehead STEM. And, remember, the idea here is to create more space at schools, but also more economic diversity. The other two pairings are in Eric Davis's district.

Those are Cotswold and Billingsville elementary schools just east of uptown. He said parents, initially had some trepidation about that, but praised the way those communities have rallied around the idea of one school on two campuses. As for the Dilworth/Sedgefield elementary pairings just south of uptown, Dilworth parents have come up with lots of ideas to revise that plan. 

TERRY:  Was there any particular one that piqued the board's interest? 

WORF: There were a few that Davis mentioned, but seemed to dismiss or have questions about how they'd work. Wrapping up, he said pairing Dilworth and Sedgefield elementaries makes sense. But he seemed intrigued by one proposal that would change the middle school plan for these schools.

DAVIS: It doesn't include what was proposed by all, but it seems to me to be the best path longterm toward creating a solution here that results in a stronger Myers Park feeder pattern and doesn't put the next board right back here in four or five years, facing the same issue all over again. 

WORF: That middle school plan involves moving attendance boundaries for both Sedgefield and Alexander Graham Middle schools. For example, Eastover elementary would feed to Sedgefield Middle, instead of AG. The idea is that there would be more of a balance between high and low socio-economic status students. 

TERRY: What other things stood out to you from the meeting?

WORF: The plan calls for opening Villa Heights as an elementary school. But it would open with nearly all low-income students. Ruby Jones said that's a non-starter. She worries it won't attract more families in the gentrifying area.

JONES: We're not putting an invitational school there. They're going to roll right past it with an idea of somewhere else. That's just the nature of what parents who are very engaged and thoughtful about the quality of their children's education.

WORF: There was also new information about how much the plan would cost. There wasn't that information on transportation, but as far as upfitting schools, it looks like this plan would cost about $7 million $12.6 million over two years and most $5.4 million of that would be to re-open Wilson Middle School.