Next Tuesday the CMS board will hold a hearing on the student assignment plan Superintendent Ann Clark unveiled last week. The board has scheduled a vote on it later this month. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll break down how people are digesting the plan. There’s a range of feelings. In some cases, relief, excitement. In others, anger and concern. There are a lot of questions all around about the challenges ahead.
Now we look at one of three pairs of schools that are set to see the greatest change in their student bodies. We attended meetings at Dilworth and Sedgefield Elementaries, just south of uptown, to gauge where students stand on the plan.
WORF: I’m Lisa Worf and I went to Dilworth.
GLENN: I’m Gwendolyn Glenn and I went to Sedgefield Elementary. These two schools are close, about 2.5 miles away from each other.
WORF: Dilworth Elementary is right in the center of the historic district, surrounded by some pricey homes. However, the zone doesn't all fall into that category. It used to be an arts magnet, but in 2010 was turned into a neighborhood school after a contentious re-zoning. Its student body is 70 percent white, largely well-off and performs well. The state has given Dilworth a high B rating.
GLENN: That’s based on test scores and academic growth. Sedgefield Elementary has a D rating and CMS numbers show about 75 percent are considered low-socio-economic status
WORF: That's a new measure CMS uses based mostly on parent's income, education-level, and English-fluency.
GLENN: Sedgefield Elementary is between Freedom Park and South Boulevard. There are a mixture of small homes with neat lawns near the school, a few newly- renovated, larger homes, and also many low-income homes in that area. The school is predominately African American, but this crowd of 250 people was nearly all white.
WORF: So these parents don't have children at Sedgefield?
GLENN: Not any that I talked to. Some came from Dilworth but there were many like Lauren Clitch, who have children zoned for Sedgefield, but aren’t old enough to go to school. She had a three-week old baby in her arms.
CLITCH: I think it provides a great option for both our family and a lot of other families in our neighborhood. A lot of people don't come to our home school of Sedgefield. Instead, they either go to magnets or move into a different school zone and, so this would potentially improve Sedgefield Elementary.
WORF: The school would look a lot different under the proposed plan. Sedgefield would have kindergarten through 2nd grades. And Dilworth would have 3rd-5th grades. By merging the students, CMS numbers show 2/3rds of students at both schools would be high socio-economic status.
GLENN: That shift in the makeup of the student body allayed some of these parents' fears of sending their children to Sedgefield. Sharon Thorsland’s three children attend a magnet, Park Road Montessori. She never considered Sedgefield as an option, but may be changing her mind now.
THORSLAND: We’re absolutely thrilled with this proposal because it gives us back a home school. Right now, the way things have been, this has been a failing school for years and we’ve had to go to the private school, magnet, or charter school route. So we’re excited to bring in a really great community like Dilworth and work together to make both schools great for our children.
WORF: I hear a lot of excitement from these parents.
GLENN: On the whole, those I talked to liked or were open to the plan. But a lot of parents wouldn’t talk to me at all.
WORF: A lot wouldn’t talk to me either. At Dilworth, parents worry about sending their kids to a D school. And not much that Superintendent Ann Clark had to say made them feel better about the situation. In fact, it made many more frustrated. Dan Tedrick has a first-grader at Dilworth and a four year-old.
TEDRICK: My immediate concern is with the elementary school and the fact that my children are being used as high-SES pawns to move on the CMS chess board.
WORF: SES, being socio-economic status. Basically, he thinks CMS wants to improve student test scores at those schools by importing Dilworth kids.
GLENN: The CMS board says breaking down concentrations of poverty helps tackle problems in schools with lots of low-income students like high teacher-turnover, fewer veteran teachers and less rigorous course offerings.
WORF: But this isn’t just about elementary school. It’s about middle school. All the students would go to Sedgefield Middle. That would be a change for Dilworth students.
GLENN: That school is also a D school, but with an even greater portion of low socio-economic status students.
WORF: Some parents, like Betsy Grider, said they could see the elementary school pairing work. But it’s Sedgefield Middle that has her really concerned. She has a 1 and a 3 year-old.
GRIDER: Now that I'm Googling Sedgefield Middle and realizing what they're dealing with, it's heartbreaking to me. None of these kids should be in this position. Because I feel like CMS has failed them, how do I expect them not to fail me in this process? I want to rally. I want to be a part of it. I believe in it. I just don't have confidence yet.
WORF: She wanted to hear more of an academic plan for how the school would actually work.
GLENN: I talked to parents who had that same sentiment when it came to their children attending Sedgefield Middle. They were okay with the pairing, but wanted their children to continue to Alexander Graham, which is where most would go now.
WORF: The superintendent kept urging parents not to judge Sedgefield Elementary and middle as they are now, but as they would be with all the new students and a mix of teachers from both schools. But many parents don’t trust those numbers.
GLENN: Why is that?
WORF: Two reasons. They think parents would deal with the change, by enrolling their kids in magnets, charters, or private schools.
GLENN: Of course, the parents I spoke to said it would make them more willing to send their students to Sedgefield because it would be a better school.
WORF: And the second reason: The district’s new numbers on socio-economic status and its old-measure of poverty don’t always match up. That makes Ian Wyatt skeptical. He’s got a daughter who will be a kindergartner at Dilworth next year and a baby too. He could work with the elementary pairing, but worries Sedgefield Middle would be overwhelmingly low-income.
WYATT: I’m not someone who runs away from the problems of society, but I’m also not ignorant of challenges a high-performing kid would face in a school that’s generally low-performing.
GLENN: Now, Sedgefield Elementary and middle get extra federal money, called Title I funds, because there are so many low-income students there now. If the plan goes through as is, they’d receive that money for one additional year, but after that Superintendent Ann Clark said Sedgefield elementary would lose the money and that would likely be the case for Sedgefield Middle too because the district would want to spend the money on schools with higher levels of poverty.
WORF: And that concerns parents I spoke with. They think CMS should contribute more to these schools, not less. They feel like they’re being asked to bear the district’s burden of breaking up concentrations of poverty. And they were clear that might make them look elsewhere.
GLENN: There are clearly issues that were not discussed at these meetings that are part of the debate. Property values, for example. And there weren’t any questions about race, which is notable because CMS used this pairing system as a strategy to desegregate schools many years ago.