Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison last night laid out his long-range plans for the district’s future.
“It is about every child. It is about not narrowing gaps, but closing gaps. And it is having every student graduate with a post-secondary plan,” said Morrison.
It was a highly anticipated address at the Belk Theater to help mark his first 100 days on the job. A CMS orchestra opened the evening and a student choir closed out his speech.
Morrison said he wants to put more students in advanced level classes, provide more coaching for teachers, get kids to create electronic portfolios of their work, and open more magnet schools.
MCFADYEN: WFAE’s Lisa Miller covered last night’s address and she joins us now. Good morning, Lisa.
MILLER: Good morning.
MCFADYEN: So let’s start with those advanced-level classes. Does Morrison think more students need to qualify for them, or are there just students who should be enrolled in the classes, but aren’t for some reason?
MILLER: Yes, he would like more students to work to qualify for those classes. But really what he stressed is that there are kids now who should be in those classes, but aren’t. The district has started identifying these students by looking at test scores. It’s about pushing those students toward advanced classes. Now, on the other side of things, Morrison wants more intervention programs to help kids who fall behind. He says too often schools overlook these kids. All of this is part of his approach to tailoring education to the needs of individual students wherever their abilities are. Here’s what he said last night.
MORRISON: In a nation with AYP and No Child Left Behind we’ve become a nation of bubble children. In other words, who is close to that proficient mark. And, in many cases, that’s caused us in public education to not be as focused on students who are far behind and also not to be as focused on students who are ahead. We can be better than that and we will be better than that.
MCFADYEN: “A nation of “bubble children?” Was that a criticism of the priority we place on standardized tests?
MILLER: So, somewhat. Morrison acknowledged that CMS does get lots of complaints about too much standardized testing. Now, he certainly is in favor of some of those tests, but he says the district needs to strike a healthy balance between tests that, say, help learning by gauging where kids are and need to be and those that just get in the way.
MCFADYEN: Let’s move on to what Morrison says about magnet schools. He wants more of them, but CMS has made some changes to magnets in recent years because of budget problems. Does Morrison say that was a mistake and why does he want more of them now?
MILLER: No, he hasn’t gone so far to say that was a mistake...only that the district needs processes in place to make big decisions like closing schools or trimming programs. Morrison says CMS needs more magnets to be competitive. Keep in mind, all the private schools here and there are more charter schools opening too. He says the district is working with local colleges and universities to come up with ideas for new magnets. He’s also trying to partner with high tech firms. Strengthening alternative schools for kids who struggle in regular schools is also on Morrison’s to do list. Think of these schools that blend classroom work with online work, maybe one that starts later and gets out later in the day.
MCFADYEN: So how does he want to implement and fund all of these proposals?
MILLER: Some of his plans are already in motion. Others will need to be hashed out as the district comes up with a budget for next year. Morrison wants groups of parents, educators, and community members to tackle approaches to some areas like early childhood education, teacher compensation and ways to get parents involved. He hasn’t put a price tag on this, but all these discussions will be going on as the district comes up with a budget for next year.
MCFADYEN: So who was there at the Belk theater last night and how did they react to Morrison’s speech?
MILLER: There were a lot of people there, more than 1,500. There were teachers, principals, parents, even a few students. Many of them like Gwen Shannon, she’s a principal at Westerly Hills, said the plans are reinvigorating.
SHANNON: With anything it’s always scary about how you’re going to do it. But it is very refreshing and rejuvenating to say, ‘Okay, I have an opportunity to try.” You know, how you start off sometimes and you just need a start off. This is our fresh start, so I’m excited about it.
MILLER: I talked to a few teachers who said that’s their big question…how exactly CMS is going to accomplish all of this. The plan covers a whole lot of territory. Pam Grundy, she’s a CMS parent, quite active in the district, said she liked what she heard, but she has that same concern. She worries CMS will go in many of those directions and maybe not get very far along any of them.
MCFADYEN: Did any of Heath Morrison’s plans last night surprise you?
MILLER: Yes, the collaboration with charter and private schools is surprising. Morrison says he wants to learn from them. Next month he’s even planning to meet with a bunch of private school headmasters and charter school leaders to try and work together and be more efficient. It should be interesting to see what comes of that.
MCFADYEN: Thanks, Lisa.
LM: Thank you.